Friday, March 24, 2017

Don't provoke the "nuclear option" over Gorsuch

I think I have been too didactic, polemic, and left wing since the advent of Trump and Trumpism.  I want to feel more balanced as I think about America and the world.  To that end, I am thinking liberals are sometimes moving unwisely out of their disgust of Trump.

I think liberals make a mistake by going all out to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.  I understand that the left think that the Republicans stole the vacated Scalia seat from them by refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s moderate left nominee – Merrick Garland.  And I think it was appalling that they did that.  But, in truth, what chance would he have had to be confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate?  I disagreed with the tactic, but I don’t think Obama would have gotten a nominee confirmed.

And now the Republicans control the White House and the Senate.  They will decide who becomes the next Supreme Court judge.  If the Democrats exact revenge for Garland, don’t they use up all of their weapons on this confirmation – i.e. the filibuster?  Gorsuch will replace Scalia, and the court balance becomes what it had been before Scalia’s passing.  I didn’t like many of the decisions of that court, but it’s not really a change. 

If the Dems block Gorsuch, isn’t there another Gorsuch in the wings for the job?  If they  tempt the Republicans to use the “nuclear option” of bypassing the filibuster and needing only a majority to confirm, they would be much wiser, it seems to me, to wait until, or if, it is time to replace a liberal Justice, not a conservative one.

I think liberals are laboring under a fantasy that hearings into Russian - Trump campaign improprieties will nullify the election.  But isn't that about the same fantasy that conservatives harbored for a long time that it would be proved that Obama was really born in Kenya, and his election would be nullified?  

The Reps were in the cold for eight years, they are in power now, and will be for at least two more years, and maybe up to eight.  Liberals need to do something other than copy the extremism of the Reps during the Obama years.  

I have hope that new leadership can emerge from the Left out of the ashes of the 2016 election to shine a new light.  And, as a matter of fact, as Trump and the Reps continue to destroy themselves now that they are stuck with power and responsibility, I have hope that new leadership can arise from their ashes as well into an inspiring vision of the Right - which is not Libertarian, or Tea Party, or Corporate Plutocracy...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Targeted cruelty

The Trump budget emphasizes the military and cuts the safety net for America and the world.  This is no surprise, and there is much that is distressing about the Trump budget, but I just wanted to point out one characteristic that pretty well summarizes today’s Republican Party, to me.


Apparently, Trump and the Reps want to cut funding for Health and Human Services Community Development Block Grants by 16% which includes the Administration for Community Living which funds “Meals on Wheels” that feeds impoverished elderly.  I wonder how many of my conservative friends thought they voted for cutting funds to feeding the elderly?

And this thing about “America First”?  20,000,000 people are facing famine in four countries: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria – the largest humanitariancrisis in the history of the United Nations.

“We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” warned Stephen O’Brien, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief. “Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”

 So, the Trump administration has decided that this is the time to cut humanitarian aid overseas.  “Humanitarian” - “Trump”?  Those two words don’t go together.  Used to be that the United States was the major force of benevolence and hope for a despairing world.  Now, it’s just “America First” – or, tough luck people, you’re on your own – or, America is no better than any other country, we’re only interested in ourselves.

It seems to me that this cutting of humanitarian support in the world is not only contrary to American principles and ideals, but against our interests as well, because America is safer and more prosperous in a stable world rather than one ravaged by poverty and famine. So it seems to me that the whole concept of “American First” is short sighted and harmful to America’s role in the world and to America’s future. But, budget cutters don’t seem to notice, let alone care.

Not to forget, by the way, that the Trumpcare replacement for Obamacare will remove 24 million people from healthcare insurance.  So they can just get sick and, you know … die. But, hey, their poor so who cares?

But, oh yes, they do want to build a completely useless wall between the U.S. and Mexico.  Must have billions for that…don’t want to make the Trumpsters angry…

I remain disgusted by this administration, and it’s not just Trump.  The Republican Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives has their fingerprints all over this budget. 

It is discouraging to watch the goodness of America be abandoned and replaced by cruelty.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Do Republicans really want to start killing people?

The Congressional Budget Office (CB0) has come out with its report on the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  No surprise – 24,000,000 people will lose health care.  

24,000,000 - people – humans - men and women and children. 

I know Republicans are accused of not caring much about people, but do they really want to start killing them? I guess it reduces taxes on the wealthy?  So that makes it OK?

I sincerely doubt that the Republican House will vote for this bill, and if it does I think it has almost no chance to pass the Senate.  But, still, is this what my conservative friends voted for when they voted for a Republican President, Republican Senate, and Republican House?

This administration is such a mess.   

Friday, March 3, 2017

Trump eliminates gun background checks on the mentally ill

Trump signed has decided that background checks on those deemed to be mentally disabled needs to be stopped.  I don't find this comforting, and I don't think this has anything to do with personal freedom.  I think it has to do with the gun lobby wanting to sell guns, and controlling the Republican Party.

"While the press corps was distracted and the cable channels aired footage of Trump surrounded by a bipartisan group of smiling women, behind closed doors and with no fanfare the president quietly signed a measure that killed a regulation enacted by the Obama administration to tighten gun background checks.

The rule required the Social Security Administration to send over the names of people who receive government checks for being mentally disabled and others who have been deemed unable to handle their own financial affairs to the FBI office that runs the national background check database. This is a universe of about 75,000 people."

I'm with Wyatt Earp - no guns in Dodge ... or at least there should be a background check.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Authoritarian White House bars selected news organizations

Trump today at the CPAC conference once again attacked the media, calling it fake news.  His spokesman followed up by banning the New York Times, CNN, Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, and Politico from a question and answer session with the press secretary.

Admitted were right wing media - Washington Times, One America News Network, and of course Breitbart, Steve Bannon's news organization.

As I wrote earlier, Authoritarianism 101 is to control the news.  Here is an action demonstrating that. The way democracy is killed is to take away the ability of the people to be informed.  This is absolutely disgusting.

So, where are my conservative friends?  Where is the Republican Congress?  Do they just cheer this move toward authoritarian rule?  Don't they find this appalling?  Isn't a free press one of the guarantees of the first amendment?  Where are the "Constitutional Conservatives"?

At a minimum, this is Trump signalling his base who not to get information from. 
I believe that the banned news organizations are quite experienced in covering authoritarian regimes around the world, and I expect that they are energized by this in a way that they haven't been energized for decades. 

Bannon and Trump have declared war on the news, I believe Mr Nixon did that a while back and it didn't work out too well for him.  

Trump serves at the pleasure of the Republican Congress, who do have the power of impeachment.  The question is how far will they let themselves be pushed? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trump - alternative reality TV president

Authoritarianism 101 is for the authoritarian leader to control the news.  The Soviets had Pravda, North Korea has total control over the news, and Donald Trump is doing everything he can to discredit actual news, mainstream news from professional journalists, actual facts.

This, of course follows the example of Limbaugh, Fox News, and other right wing media, who are really doing nothing more than a marketing ploy to get to you stop watching other media and tune into them - it is a ratings increasing strategy.  Unfortunately, too many people actually seem to believe that real news is biased, or "fake', and the only way to find out what is really going on is to listen to them - successful marketing strategy, but disastrous effect on America.

So, when a right wing populist president also says that the news is "fake" and you should get all of your news from the right wing echo chamber, that becomes the fundamental strategy of authoritarianism - to control the news.  

What Fox and Limbaugh haven't realized yet is that Trump will have no more respect for them than he does for CNN.  His goal will to have everyone believe only his news.  He already has a news source set up to take over the news - Breitbart.   Indeed, it can be argued that the childish and ignorant Trump is dancing on the strings being pulled by Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart, and Breitbart has already announced plans for ambitious expansion into Europe and other areas of news coverage.  Breitbart is the self proclaimed mouth of the Alt Right, which is a welcome home to white supremacists, and certainly a deadly foe of liberalism.  

Breitbart may think they are in the catbird seat, but I believe they too should be wary of the authoritarian in the making, Mr. Trump.  As I said, Authoritarianism 101 is to control the news, and Mr. Trump lives only in a world of alternative facts - facts that feed his Grandiose Ego.

What alternative facts does Mr Trump want us all to believe?

The latest example comes from his disturbingly rambling news conference a couple of days ago when he made this ridiculously untrue boast:

“There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”

So, is that true or just the ramblings of a man whose ego so isolates him from reality that he just believes things that feed his ego fantasies?  

Here are some comparisons to other recent presidents, as discussed in Fareed Zakaria's latest article.

" this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had signed into law an almost-trillion-dollar stimulus bill to revive the economy, extended health insurance to 4 million children and made it easier to challenge discriminatory labor practices. 

How many bills have presidents passed in the first 100 days?

  • Bill Clinton had passed 24 bills
  • John Kennedy, 26 
  • Harry Truman, 55
  • FDR, 76
Trump?  Probably will be less than 10?

Actually, the best thing about Trump so far is how ineffective he is.  He is good at what he is good at - getting TV ratings, dominating headlines, focusing nationwide and worldwide attention on himself - feeding his insatiable ego.

But he is not good at actually doing things.

The worst thing about Trump, of course, is the same thing - his insatiable and childish ego.  How will he react when there is actually something to do? when there is a crisis to make decisions about and actions to be taken?  That is truly a frightening thought.  He is still a 10 year old boy, as far as emotional and intellectual development goes, and he may very well respond as a 10 year old boy.

Speaking of 10 year old boys in charge of nuclear weapons - Kim Jong-Un of North Korea?  One shudders to think what can happen if these two decide to face off over some international crisis.

I am somewhat encouraged that we seem to have adults as Secretary of Defense - Mattis - and Secretary of State - Tillerson.  I strongly desire that they can guide him toward reality rather than fantasy, and toward maturity rather than childishness.

So, the reality TV show star has become the Alternative Reality TV president.  Which reality will we live in - the real world, or the "alternative facts" world of Mr Trump?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Are you an Authoritarian? Latent authoritarian? Are you sure?

Presidential adviser, young Stephen Miller, went on the Sunday shows and proclaimed that the President’s powers cannot be questioned when it comes to securing the borders.  He is ridiculously wrong.  The way he said it was authoritarian in the extreme – threatening, dogmatic, inflexible, triumphant.  And then Trump tweeted congratulations to Miller for his performance. 

So, OK, Trump is demonstrating his intent to rule as an authoritarian.  It’s pretty clear.

I have been trying to understand Trump and his voters.  And it is clear that Trump’s authoritarian promises and behavior are exactly what got him into office.  There is an excellent article entitled “The Rise of American Authoritarianism” by Amanda Taub on that explains the rise of authoritarianism in America and around the world.  It is a response to fear – fear of attack by the Islamofascist element of Islam, but also fear of social change and diminution of father figure type of authority, hierarchy, and structure.

It’s a long article, worth the read, here are some highlights and thoughts stimulated by the article.

People who score high on in authoritarianism voted for Trump.  The strongest correlation for Trump voters was authoritarianism.  Indeed, much of the polarization in America is due to a rise in authoritarianism in the Republican Party.

They note that once the GOP positioned itself as the party of law and order and traditional values it became a magnet for the authoritarian voters. This happened with Nixon in his infamous "Southern Strategy" where he switched the South from Democrat to Republican.  

This can end up hurting the Republicans because the authoritarian wing is at odds with traditional Republicans – e.g. authoritarians could give two hoots about tax breaks for the rich.

Authoritarians express much deeper fears than the rest of us and want order and strong leaders when they feel threatened.  The Islamofascist element of Islam is such a threat.

But there is another threat, just as terrifying to the authoritarians – social change.  And guess what’s been going on for the last few decades?  Lots and lots of social change.  With the Boomers has come social change, and with the Boomers has come other Boomers frightened of and fiercely opposed to social change – empowered minorities? gays? women? diplomacy rather than war? Understanding rather than punishment?  Way too scary for the authoritarians

There are overt authoritarians and latent authoritarians.  Threats from outside forces, and from the social changes from the inside activate overt authoritarians, but they also trigger an authoritarian response from those with latent authoritarian tendencies.  The terrorist attacks combined with the rise of minority, gay, and women’s rights and power have created a perfect storm of threat to the old structures that the authoritarian mind so needs - the strict father hierarchical, orderly, rigid, punishing structure where they are on top and feel safe in a chaotic and changing world.

“As the NYU professor Jonathan Haidt has written, a button is pushed that says, "In case of moral threat, lock down the borders, kick out those who are different, and punish those who are morally deviant."”
So, how to tell if you’re an authoritarian?  Scientists took quite some time to find a way to test it, but they succeeded.

“Feldman developed what has since become widely accepted as the definitive measurement of authoritarianism: four simple questions that appear to ask about parenting but are in fact designed to reveal how highly the respondent values hierarchy, order, and conformity over other values.
1.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
2.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
3.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
4.       Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
Feldman's test proved to be very reliable. There was now a way to identify people who fit the authoritarian profile, by prizing order and conformity, for example, and desiring the imposition of those values.”
I have to admit that I was raised by an authoritarian father, and I think his greatest disappointment in me was that I never became like him, but I have to be aware that I am very likely to have latent authoritarian instincts, which I will be guarding against, because I think  they are essentially hurtful, fearful, and weak.

Authoritarianism isn’t active in most people, but it can be triggered by perceived threat.  As I said above, terrorism from outsiders and social change from insiders that the authoritarians see as different from themselves are the triggers that drive them into the arms of authoritarian rulers, like Donald Trump. (Not sure yet if Trump really is authoritarian or just playing one on TV, but he is as close to one as I ever want to see in America)

So the Republican Party became the party of law and order, the controller of minorities and women, the chooser of the military over diplomacy, the crusher of social change – and became the home of the authoritarians - both candidates and voters.

The Democratic Party became the party of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, criminals’ rights, social progress, equality – and drove the authoritarians screaming in fear and righteous threats into the arms of the Republicans.  Liberals see this fear response as bigotry – racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.  But underneath it all is fear of change, specifically fear of change being forced upon them by the Other, those unlike them, the strong white man model of how the world is supposed to be.  That world is fading away, and all the authoritarian bullying and cruelty that authoritarians can muster is not going to stop it.

What do authoritarians want in an authoritarian leader? government action to crush the threats – external attacks from the Other, and internal change from those mistakenly perceived to be the Other.

We end up with Trump today, but whom tomorrow? maybe a smarter crueler authoritarian?  Let’s keep that from happening, please.

The first thing that I wrote about Trump was that he was temporary but his voters were not.  That is still true.  Trump will eventually go away, maybe he’ll last a full term, maybe less, maybe he’ll manage two full terms.  But he will go away.  

It it is up to the rest of us to make sure the authoritarians do not run this country, not now, not in the future.  Maybe we can try to persuade them that their fears are overblown, paranoid, divorced from reality.  Sure, we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, but we are actually doing a good job of that, long before Trump arrived on scene.  Sure there is crime and corruptions, but in the real world rather than the Right Wing Alternative Facts World crime and corruption have been dropping steadily for some time, again long before Trump arrived.

Oppose the bullying.  Allay the fears.  Renew the True American Spirit, which has both individualism, freedom, and opportunity, and also has caring, compassion, equality, and social justice as well.  America needs two healthy parties – parties of both will and love.  

The authoritarians have stolen the party of individualism, freedom, and opportunity and turned it into the party of oppression, fear, and cruelty.  I trust my conservative friends will take the party back to its real values and reject this terrible flirtation with authoritarian rule.