Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Friday, November 17, 2017

November 16, 2017
Donald Trump is bizarrely unqualified to be President, but that has not led to his rejection, by Congress or by those who voted for him. Support by Congressional Republicans can be discounted to a considerable degree, as they rally around more out of a desire to use him than from any illusion of his merit. Some of his fans among the public seem to be true believers, an extreme example being the woman who, in the presence of the great man, held up a sign reading "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for President Trump." Some fall between adulation and opportunism, such as the white nationalists who see him as an ally. Whatever the motivation, the support is surprising given his obvious and overwhelming unfitness for office.
Trump’s job rating among the general public never has been high, ranging between 33% and 43% since July 1, according to numerous polls, and between 33% and 40% on the Gallup tracking poll. Several polls over the same period produced "favorability" ratings ranging from 28% to 46%.[52]  According to Gallup, his job approval rating for November 6-12 is 38%; the ratings for the nine previous Presidents for November of their first years range from 49% to 87% Leaving aside the highest number, for G. W. Bush, aided by 9-11, the range is 49% (Clinton) to 79% (Kennedy).[53]   Therefore, Trump is performing below par, but his numbers still strike me as high, given his record and character.
The explanation, if it can be so described, is that, over our selected time frame, self-identified Republicans have given Trump job approval ratings between 78% and 87%.[54]  Making due allowance for party loyalty, cultural divisions, the influence of the far right, the cheerleading of Fox News and the low level of attention paid by many citizens, those numbers are mind-boggling.
One additional, and ironic, element is that Trump is so bad that we become used to his deficiencies, and new ones fail to register. He is such a clown that no one expects calm, rational, consistent behavior.


54.
Ibid.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 16, 2017
In the last post, I referred to Kansas as an example of the failure of Republican economic theory. That state (What’s the Matter with . . .?) also is a center for vote suppression, another feature of Republican governance at the state level.
Kris Kobach, the Republican Secretary of State of Kansas, is a leader of the vote-suppression movement. As Ari Berman, who has written extensively on voting rights, puts it, "No state has been as aggressive as Kansas in restricting ballot access, and no elected official has been as dogged as Kobach."[47]  He now is vice chairman of a Trump commission supposedly created to discover and fight fraudulent voting. It more likely is designed to soothe Trump’s bruised ego by "finding" those illegal votes that cost him the popular election, and also aimed, as many state measures are, at suppressing Democratic votes. That likelihood was summarized by the Brennan Center for Justice. Kobach’s "naming as vice-chair is very meaningful: For the better part of the last decade, he has been a key architect behind many of the nation’s anti-voter and anti-immigration policies."[48]
He is joined in the vote-manipulation crusade by Scott Walker and the Republican legislature of Wisconsin. A study demonstrated that many registered voters in Wisconsin did not vote last year because of the limited types of ID accepted at polling places.[49] Other studies demonstrate that those prevented or discouraged are disproportionally minorities and the poor, who might vote Democratic. 
Gerrymandering is another way to control voting, and Republican legislatures have gone some distance toward perpetuating a Republican House through partisan redistricting. In the 2016 election, the Republicans won 55.4% of seats in the House, but received only 49.1% of the total votes; Democrats received 48%, but won 44.6% of seats. Not all of that is due to gerrymandering, but some is; an Associated Press study found that "Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country."[50] 
Gerrymandering exists at the state level as well. A case before the Supreme Court involves Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting, by Republicans, of its lower legislative House. As a result of the new map, in 2012 Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats (60%) despite winning only 48.6% of the state-wide vote; in 2014, they won 63 seats (63%) with only 52% of the vote.
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Here’s another, entirely unrelated but revealing, example of the depths to which the Republican Party has fallen: under the House version of the tax "reform" bill, interest on student loans no longer would be deductible. College tuition has exploded, most students and families cannot pay it out of pocket, education is even more necessary than before, and the House, in order to cut taxes for the favored few, will make that education more difficult to obtain. 

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47.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/magazine/the-man-behind-trumps-voter-fraud- obsession.html?_r=0


48.
https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/uncovering-kris-kobach%E2%80%99s-anti-voting- history

49.
http://billmoyers.com/story/voter-suppression-wisconsin-voter-id-law-2016/

50.
https://www.apnews.com/e3c5cc51faba4b7fb67d8a3f996bdaca

Sunday, November 12, 2017

November 12, 2017
The fact that so many people continue to vote for Republicans is a puzzle. Last Tuesday’s results were encouraging, but we’ve a long way to go to restore rational government.
To be sure, voting for the GOP once was a perfectly sensible thing to do, but that day has passed. At the national level, Republicans can’t govern; no party that doesn’t believe in government could. To the extent that they have a program, it is to cut taxes, cut regulations, shrink government and dump everything on the states, but beyond that, they appear to be irrational: denying climate change, ignoring environmental risks, pretending that more guns are the solution to shootings, opposing improvements to a health care system that delivers less at higher cost than other advanced countries, pretending that the market will solve all problems.
There is, however, one partial explanation for their behavior: follow the money. The Republican Congress is attempting to pass a tax-cut bill which will favor the rich and corporations, and increase the deficit. The former is true to GOP ideology, but the latter runs counter to its pose as a party of deficit hawks. The bill It is widely unpopular, and one would suppose that incumbents want to be reelected, so why push it? One Republican member of the House, in a burst of candor, gave the game away: "My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’ "[44] The administration agrees about the focus; Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor, declared: "The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan."[45]  He also observed that "we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that's good for the economy.[46]
The Republicans in Congress continue to support President Trump. Up to a point, that is natural; he is their Party leader and, according to the most recent Gallup poll, 83% of self-identified Republicans approve of the way President Trump does his job. However, he has, among other examples of irrational, dangerous behavior, preferred the opinion of Vladimir Putin to our intelligence agencies, and abandoned the Paris Accords; until recently, we had the dubious distinction of being joined in that position by Syria, but now we stand alone.
We are told that Republicans have done good things in the states, but the best test of their economic policy is in Kansas, where its application has been a disaster.

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44.
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/11/08/get-it-done-or-don’t-call-me-again- gop- admit-their-tax-plan-all-about-rich-donors

45.
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/cohn-big-ceos-most-excited-group-about- trump-tax-plan.html

46.
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/09/gary-cohn-trickle-down-is-good-for-the- economy. html

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 5, 2017
The New York Times has run two columns in the past few months which advocated centrism as a Democratic strategy.[43] Obviously the target of those critiques was any tendency of the Party to move leftward. However, those authors’ rejection of such a move apparently was not sufficiently non-liberal for one of The Times’ resident pundits. On October 27, Bret Stephens’ column was entitled "Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses." In reading it, I had the feeling of passing through a time warp.
He referred to a recent book which describes enforced famine, under Stalin, in Ukraine in 1932, and asked: "How many readers, I wonder, are familiar with this history" or, he added, with "the deportation of the Crimean Tatars" (1944), Peru’s "Shining Path" (active primarily in the 80s), or "the Brezhnev-era psychiatric wards that were used to torture and imprison political dissidents" (Brezhnev ruled the USSR from 1964 to 1982). Stephens added a comment by Raymond Aron in 1955. What is the point of this stroll through the past? It is that "so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia."
He offered examples by asking more questions: "Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press?" Is it? If so, he might note that Marxism and capital-c Communism are not identical. "Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?" These questions are worth asking, he tells us, "because so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia." Apparently he moves in different circles than I.
These unidentified people "will attempt to dissociate Communist theory from practice in an effort to acquit the former. . . . They will say that true communism has never been tried." Here is, perhaps, an indirect distinction between Marxism and Communism. "They will write about Stalinist playwright Lillian Hellman in tones of sympathy and understanding they never extend to film director Elia Kazan." The last is an odd claim, apart from wondering who has so sympathized: the main difference between the two is that Hellman refused to aid the HUAC witch hunt by naming names, while Kazan did so. Creating a blacklist apparently is an act of patriotism.
However, apparently it isn’t really Communism that worries Stephens, it’s anything progressive (or, maybe, they aren’t different to him): "Bernie Sanders captured the heart, if not yet the brain, of the Democratic Party last year by portraying ‘democratic socialism’ as nothing more than an extension of New Deal liberalism." Isn’t it? He doesn’t say. "But the Vermont senator also insists that ‘the business model of Wall Street is fraud.’ Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results." (He’s really making the same argument as Douglas Schoen did in his column in The Times on October 18: be nice to Wall Street). No one is trying to criminalize either, merely to curb their excesses and hold accountable those who game the system.
Two overriding oddities of Mr. Stephens’ warnings about Communism and Stalinism and progressives are that people associated with the Republican administration — not generally considered to be leftist — have cozied up to Russia, and that Russia interfered with the election in aid of Republicans. Granted that Russia no longer is officially Communist, that country, successor to the USSR, still is a major adversary. What would HUAC think of those connections?

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43.
I commented on them on August 27 and October 21.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 21, 2017

The New York Times editorial section seems determined to convince us of — let’s be fair; acquaint us with — the arguments in favor of centrism as the proper strategy for the Democratic Party. On August 27, I commented on one opinion piece to that effect, which had appeared on July 6. The October 18 issue of The Times presented another, entitled "Why Democrats Need Wall Street."
According to the author, Douglas Schoen, "a pollster and senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000," President Clinton "acknowledged the limits of government and protected the essential programs that make up the social safety net." However, Clinton did not so much acknowledge, as declare, those limits: "the era of big government is over."
Mr. Schoen praises Clinton for "moving the party away from a reflexive anti-Wall Street posture," but dismantling big government and cozying up to Wall Street resulted in the repeal of the Glass-Stiegel Act, allowing Wall Street to become larger, more dangerous, vulnerable, damaging to homeowners, and expensive to the taxpayer. This, however, is his fantasy of that episode: "the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 removed regulations placed on financial institutions by bureaucrats and expanded opportunities for Wall Street to engage in mergers and acquisitions, adding wealth to the retirement accounts and other investment portfolios of millions of middle-class Americans."
As to the safety net, Clinton fulfilled his 1992 election-campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it" by cutting back on benefits. All this Mr. Schoen describes as "the program of the party’s traditional center-left coalition." If so, we need less of that supposed coalition.
Schoen thinks that "Hillary Clinton’s lurch to the left probably cost her key Midwestern states that Barack Obama had won twice . . . ." No such lurch was detectable, and her loss of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and therefore of the election, had more to do with her campaign’s failure to address voters’ economic concerns: a failure to articulate a liberal position which would help people of ordinary means. It is significant that about 12% of those who voted for Senator Sanders — certainly a liberal — in the primaries, voted for Trump in the final. They wanted a candidate who would recognize their needs, not one identified with the elite, with money. Schoen acknowledges that "the American people are certainly hostile to and suspicious of Wall Street," but does not draw the obvious conclusion. Perhaps it is ironic that many voters saw Mrs. Clinton, not Trump, as allied with monied interests, but that appears to be the fact, and it refutes the author’s argument.
He wants laissez-faire on both ends of the equation: "the Democrats have simply had an ineffective, negative and coercive economic message. Advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and further banking regulation does not constitute a positive, proactive agenda."
"Democrats,: Mr. Schoen asserts, "should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons." Of his reasons one, sadly, one makes sense: "The first is an ugly fact of politics: money. Maintaining ties to Wall Street makes economic sense for Democrats and keeps their coffers full." There stands an excellent reason to overturn Citizens United.
Otherwise, his argument is simply that Democrats should become Republicans, and we have enough of those.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017

Several news reports described Trump’s comments on the Las Vegas mass shooting as "presidential." When it’s newsworthy that a President has managed to sound like one, the bar has been lowered quite a bit. His long prepared speech sounded as little like Donald Trump as an address in French, so it probably was an aide who came up with "presidential" comments.
The speech called for an end to evil, but said nothing about guns, without which the murders could not have happened, and which are responsible for a great deal of evil. Press Secretary Sanders was dismissive of the notion that there should be prompt attention to the gun issue: this isn’t the time for that, she said; it’s a day of mourning, a time to come together, not a time to discuss policy. When reminded that, immediately after the shooting in Orlando in June 2016, Trump called for a travel ban — a policy issue — Mrs. Sanders dismissed that too: "There is a difference between being a candidate and being the President." In Trump’s case, that isn’t even accurate. Though discussing policy isn’t appropriate, she managed, a little later, to do so: "The president has been clear. He’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment."
The unlikelihood of any rational response regarding guns is illustrated by a bill pending in Congress to make it easier to purchase a silencer .
Trump’s sincerity in the face of tragedy is more accurately displayed in his response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. He led off with an excuse for slow aid in his inimitably inane manner: "This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water." He blamed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, then it was "poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan."
Asking for help is a sign of weakness: "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort." Any criticism must be political: "We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates . . . people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected." No one seemed to know what the last comment referred to, if anything.
During his brief visit to the island surrounded by water, he implied that the impact there was not a "real catastrophe," and complained that the cost of relief would upset the budget. Such compassion.
Under this government, a natural disaster will be met with indifference, and a disaster of human origin will be greeted with efforts to make it worse.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

 
October 1, 2017
Post-war Germany always has seemed to be admirable in its ability to acknowledge and reject its Hitler-era past. Apart from the odd neo-Nazi there has been little sign of turning back. That image and history prompted Dirk Kurbjuweit, a writer at Der Spiegel, to declare that, to quote Sinclair Lewis, it can’t happen here, that Germany will never be led by someone like Trump: "Seven decades after World War II, a leader like President Donald Trump would have almost no chance of political success in Berlin.[41]
We, sadly, are different. "Why," he asked," does the U.S. — the political, moral and military leader of the Western world since the end of World War II — now have a dangerous laughing stock, a man who has isolated his country, as its president? Why does Germany, a former pariah, now enjoy a more positive political standing than ever before?" One of his answers is that Germans have a better grip on reality, that, unlike Americans, they do not confuse it with fantasy.
"Ronald Reagan was an actor before he became a politician. Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler, which is to say a showbiz star, before he became the governor of Minnesota. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an actor before he became the governor of California . . . . Donald Trump was the lead character in a reality show before he became president. . . . The American wall [between dreams and politics] is low, if it exists at all -- the worlds of reality and dreams flow into one another."
Electing actors doesn’t necessarily support that thesis, but add the proliferation of movies and video games about superheroes and aliens, crammed with cartoonish violence, and it’s easy to see his point. 
Americans, he thinks, believe in salvation, originally in the religious sense, now the political; "Even today, some people still believe that the One will come and make everything great again." Germans don’t (now) indulge in apocalyptic visions; they "once believed they had found a savior, but then he tried to destroy the world, and now their belief in salvation has vanished." The myth of American exceptionalism feeds that need for a charismatic leader, and the decline of political parties opens the way for demagogues.
Kurbjuweit notes that "there is no truly powerful right-wing [news] medium in Germany," nothing like Fox, to support right-wing incompetents like Trump. He acknowledges that the internet can partially fill that role, and concludes that it "is here where the possibility arises, faint though it may still be, of a German Trump."
He offers a few other observations, some of which are a stretch, and concludes, too confidently, that " ’Germany first’ is not a slogan that could work well in Germany."
The recent parliamentary election has shown otherwise. Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the third-largest party in the Bundestag by winning 13% of the vote and 94 seats in the recent election, contains some of the same conflicting elements as the GOP: an elite core making common cause with nativist, nationalist forces which are resentful of immigrants and disillusioned with the establishment. "Its ranks, even its leadership, include people who openly court far-right positions, who want to take a positive view of the German military's actions in World War II, who play down the Holocaust and want to abolish the remembrance of it."[42]  Its lead candidate in the recent election announced that "we will take our country back," a Trumpian echo. A local AfD leader declared: "When Donald Trump says, ‘America first,’ we say, too, ‘Germany first’," in effect following Trump’s advice at the United Nations: "I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first." Another party leader donned a baseball cap reading "Make Germany Safe Again," presumably an anti-immigrant reference. We would like to think of our country as a leader, but not toward the far right.
What the AfD, the radical wing of the GOP and other right-wing parties have in common is a sense of cultural decline, but many of them define decline, and their nationalist response, in ethnic or religious terms. Nationalism also leads to rejecting globalism and alliances, such as the Paris Accords or the EU. We’re still distinctive, though, in the inanity, childishness and incompetence of our leader. Kurbjuweit may be right that Trump couldn’t happen in Germany, or possibly anywhere else, except perhaps North Korea.

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41.http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/why-germany-will-never-have-a-trump-a- 1161054.html

42.http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/opinion-a-new-germany-a- 1169634.html#ref= nl-international.
See also http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-right-wing-afd-celebrates-entry- into-parliament-a-1169631.html#ref=nl-international.