Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Sunday, June 17, 2018

  June 16, 2018

The Time cover of Donald Trump seeing himself as king reminded me, as do his actions and blather, of another demented monarch:

— I will do such things —
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
King Lear, Act II, Scene 4.
Shakespeare could have been thinking of King Donald. He will do wonderful things, but what, and how? His signature line is "let’s see what happens." 
He promised to Make America Great Again, but has no idea how to accomplish that, or even of what greatness would mean. Nearly all of his policies or attitudes have lowered our standing in the world and made us more vulnerable. He alternates between praising and insulting both allies and foes.
Even when his promises are — verbally — specific, they are illusory. Trump wants to save or add to American jobs. How will he do that? One plan is to impose a tariff on imported automobiles and parts. Even The Wall Street Journal couldn’t swallow that one, estimating a net loss of 157,000 jobs. Policies or rationales change almost from day to day. Proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum won’t be applied to Canada or Mexico; yes, they will. Tariffs imposed on Canada are based on national security; no, they are in retaliation to Canada’s tariff on dairy products.
A wall on the Mexican border will be paid for by Mexico; no, Congress is at fault for not funding it. His policy on China — punish it, seek its aid in Korea, impose tariffs, help save jobs for ZTE — is anyone’s guess on any given day.
He wanted to bring North Korea under control and destroy its nuclear capacity, or maybe just talk. He threatened fire and fury, then had a medal struck showing him and Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. He called the meeting off, insulting Kim, but then decided that it’s on, and hoped that they will like each other. Operating without knowledge, experience or preparation, he declared that summit negotiations are just a matter of attitude.
After babbling about Canada’s burning the White House, Trump arrived late to the G-7 meeting, left early and attacked the host country and Prime Minister Trudeau by his ususal route, Twitter.
He then flew to Singapore to meet Kim. The meeting was a made-for-television affair at which he embarrassed himself and his country by fawning over Little Rocket Man and saluting a North Korean general.. He wants to dominate the world, but he gave status and legitimacy to a cruel dictator who boasts that his missiles can reach the U.S.
Trump got nothing in the joint statement but a vague promise of "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," given before without result. He gave up joint war games with South Korea, without having alerted that nation or our Defense Department. He had denounced the agreement with Iran, which had teeth, and now is touting one with North Korea which does not. Trump, the master of the deal, was played.
He tossed off a few of his usual inanities, the topper being his suggestion that we view North Korea from a real estate perspective: "They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ "
Trump’s disdain for alliances, his trade wars — and threats of the shooting variety — and his fascination with dictators such as Kim illustrate his desire, like Lear’s, to be the terror of the earth. His megalomania and autocratic ambition, along with his daffiness, were revealed in an episode yesterday. Noticing that "Fox and Friends" was taping on the White House lawn, he tweeted: "Wow, the highest rated (by far) morning show, @foxandfriends, is on the Front Lawn of the White House. Maybe I’ll have to take an unannounced trip down to see them?" After all, who beats them in adulation of our leader? During an impromptu interview, he said, referring to Kim: "He is the strong head. . . . He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."
Trump’s tweet brought other reporters to the grounds. Wandering among them, he was in full fantasy mode, praising himself for imaginary successes ("I did a great job this week"), and blaming Democrats for everything wrong, for example his administration’s policy separating immigrants from their children.
Donald Trump is, to put it bluntly, as dumb as a post, even as to matters of self-interest. He is under investigation for colluding with Russia, so he proposed readmitting Russia to the G-7. He claimed that he fired James Comey based on a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, but admitted on national television that it was about "the Russia thing" and, in a meeting with Russian officials, said "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. . . I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off."
At that meeting he gave away a secret provided by Israeli intelligence; he later said publicly that he didn’t identify Israel as the source, which of course made everything right. He is under investigation for obstructing justice, but has criticized his Attorney General for recusing (rather than shutting the investigation down), threatened to take over the Justice Department, floated the possibility of pardons for those who might turn on him, and even asserted the power to pardon himself. He’s innocent, but manages to look very guilty.
His only visible talent is for self-promotion, but even that is simply the working out of his pathetic need for adulation. His frequent references to opponents as weak, or to critical news media as failing, reveal his fear that he is weak.
A republican form of government was supposed to be an improvement over hereditary monarchy because it would avoid the advent of an incompetent leader. It doesn’t always work.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 4, 2018

 In a column in The Wall Street Journal on May 31,  John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, presented an example, as if we needed another,  of the ability to see only that part of reality congenial to one’s political views.  Although the column was captioned , "Entitlements Will Eat America’s Economy," Governor Kasich began by attacking the federal spending bill enacted this year.  The bill "did more than continue to fund the federal government; it also set America on a course to add at least $1 trillion a year to the national debt by 2020."  
That is, indeed, a problem and, for him, a dire situation.  If the national debt rises, or even remains where it is now, he warns, it will "strangle economic growth, push interest rates higher and put fiscal well-being and national security at risk."
One could question many of the spending bill’s provisions, such as the usual massive military funding, or perhaps the Governor is unhappy with a more liberal provision.  We don’t know, because he said no more about it, except to assert that Congress must "get serious about meaningful spending restraint and entitlement reforms."  With that segue, spending restraint, whatever that may encompass, leaves the picture, and the real culprits are identified: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"Why is entitlement reform so important?  Because government spending and increased borrowing — driven by entitlements — continue to gobble up America's gross domestic product, putting economic growth at risk . Without growth, the debt can't be paid down."  Leaving aside whether "entitlements" are the major contributor to debt,  real GDP (adjusted for inflation) has grown every year since 1992 except for 2008 and 2009, devastated by risky banking practices, controls over which are about to become looser.
 Kasich managed to avoid any mention of the tax cuts enacted by the same Congress, which will have a direct impact on deficits and debt.  The balance sheet could be improved by reversing those cuts and, better still, increasing certain taxes; as to the funding of Social Security, begin with eliminating the annual-earnings cap.
However, tax increases will not happen soon; Republicans know only how to cut them.

Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28, 2018

     A recent Supreme Court decision, in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, dealt with employment agreements which contain arbitration clauses.  The statement of facts in the majority opinion is sketchy, so the description which follows is based in part on the dissenting opinion and in part on the opinions of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, two of the three Courts of Appeal from which appeal was taken.

     The underlying issue is, as described in the dissent, that the "employees in these cases complain that their employers have underpaid them in violation of the wage and hours prescriptions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq., and analogous state laws."

     The employees wished to arbitrate as a class, for practical, financial reasons.  Again quoting the dissent: "Individually, their claims are small, scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone. . . .  But by joining together with others similarly circumstanced, employees can gain effective redress for wage underpayment commonly experienced."  However, the arbitration contracts not only required arbitration, as opposed to trial in a court, but required that each employee present his case in a separate arbitration, rather than joining similar claims in a single proceeding.

     The employees contended that the requirement to present each claim separately was unenforceable. The issue was summarized by the Ninth Circuit: "whether an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act by requiring employees to sign an agreement precluding them from bringing, in any forum, a concerted legal claim regarding wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment."

     The Court held, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, that the employees are bound by the contracts, a result which they held to be mandated by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) of 1925.     Here is the operative section of that statute:

§ 2.  A written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising . . ., or an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract . . ., shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.

The statute also provides, in §1, that "[N]othing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce."  It might seem that §1 would exclude employment contracts of workers in companies engaged in commerce.  However, the Supreme Court, in an earlier decision, held that, although an employment agreement may be, under § 2, a "contract evidencing a transaction in commerce," an employee such as these is not part of "any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce." Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams 532 U.S. 105 (2001).  The rule applies; the exception does not, even though the language arguably is the same.  (The weakness in that conclusion was pointed out in the dissents in Circuit City, another 5-4 decision).

     The employees’ remaining basis for avoiding the individual-claim requirement was  its inconsistency with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  The majority acknowledged that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had held "that the NLRA effectively nullifies the Arbitration Act in cases like ours," but set those rulings aside by noting that "the Executive [read: Trump Administration] has disavowed" that interpretation. 

     The NLRA was passed ten years after the FAA, and declared a new and more liberal labor policy.  As the Seventh and Ninth Circuits had held in the cases under review, those policies, protecting joint action, should be held to have modified the FAA.

     The majority brushed the NLRA aside: it "secures to employees rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum. . . .This Court has never read a right to class actions into the NLRA."  Again: the NLRA deals with "efforts by employees related to organizing and collective bargaining in the workplace, not the treatment of class or collective actions in court or arbitration proceedings."  The notion that collective action in arbitration might be protected by a statute protecting collective action in other aspects of labor relations seemed too subtle a notion for the majority to grasp.

     Although the Court recited that it has a duty "to interpret Congress's statutes as a harmonious whole," it drew a bright line between them: "[T]he Arbitration Act and the NLRA have long enjoyed separate spheres of influence and neither permits this Court to declare the parties' agreements unlawful."

     That would be regressive and repressive enough in any case, but two of  the "agreements" in question barely qualify as contracts; as noted by the dissent — oddly only in a footnote —  "Petitioner Epic Systems Corporation e-mailed its employees an arbitration agreement requiring resolution of wage and hours claims by individual arbitration. The agreement provided that if the employees ‘continue[d] to work at Epic,’ they would ‘be deemed to have accepted th[e] Agreement.’ . . . Ernst & Young similarly e-mailed its employees an arbitration agreement, which stated that the employees' continued employment would indicate their assent to the agreement's terms."  Take it or leave.  The majority opinion referred to only one of the three contracts, but selected as its example one of those created by e-mail; no issue there, apparently. 

     The majority cited AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion 563 U. S. 333 (2011), as authority for denying class arbitration.  However, it’s not clear what the rationale was in that case.  Its majority opinion stated that "[r]equiring the availability of classwide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration and thus creates a scheme inconsistent with the FAA."  However, in the preceding paragraph it had offered a different theory: "Although §2’s saving clause preserves generally applicable contract defenses, nothing in it suggests an intent to preserve state-law rules that stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives."  The latter would not include the NLRA, a federal statute.  More to the point, Concepcion was not an employment-contract case.

     The dissent in Epic, by Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, pointed out that the labor legislation relied on by the employees, although directed specifically to such matter as unionization and strikes, reflects a broad concern for the rights of employees.  The NLRA protects "the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." (emphasis added by the dissent)

     Two other problems with separate arbitrations were noted by the dissent: "Fear of retaliation may also deter potential claimants from seeking redress alone."  There is strength in concerted action.  Also, "individual arbitration of employee complaints can give rise to anomalous results. Arbitration agreements often include provisions requiring that outcomes be kept confidential or barring arbitrators from giving prior proceedings precedential effect. . . . As a result, arbitrators may render conflicting awards in cases involving similarly situated employees — even employees working for the same employer."  The Epic Systems contract is an example: "The arbitrator’s authority shall be limited to deciding the case submitted by the parties to the arbitration. Therefore, no decision by any arbitrator shall serve as precedent in other arbitrations . . . ."

     The dissenting opinion countered various of the arguments put forth in the majority opinion, but its basic position is that the arbitration contracts are unenforceable: "Beyond genuine dispute, an employer ‘interfere[s] with’ and "restrain[s]’ employees in the exercise of their §7 rights by mandating that they prospectively renounce those rights in individual employment agreements. . . .. Properly assessed, then, the ‘waivers’ rank as unfair labor practices outlawed by the NLRA, and therefore unenforceable in court."

     The majority’s detailed argument was little more than window dressing.  Its refusal to admit any progress in labor relations was announced, and the case was decided, by a passage in the first two paragraphs of the Gorsuch opinion: "Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?"  That is straight out of nineteenth century labor law: the employee has a "right" to submit to a one-sided arrangement with his employer, who holds all the cards.

     The statement continued with this : "Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?

As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear."  Actually, his view of the law is limited and mistaken but, unless one is mired in the past, the policy issue should be clear: the ability of an employee to join with others to enforce rights should not be canceled by an adhesion contract.

     The majority opinion complained that, in the dissent’s view, "today's decision ushers us back to the Lochner era when this Court regularly overrode legislative policy judgments. So it does. "But like most apocalyptic warnings, this one proves a false alarm." It doesn’t. Lochner,[43] decided in 1905, struck down a statute which prohibited employers from requiring employees to work more than sixty hours in one week.  The Court then  justified its action by referring to "the general right of an individual to be free . . . in his power to contract in relation to his own labor."  Compare that to the majority’s reference here to the right of an employee to give away collective action.  Freedom’s just another word for everything to lose.


43. Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45

Saturday, May 5, 2018

May 4, 2018

     By various measures the country is in poor shape. The federal government is mired in corruption and moral failure.  We might reasonably look to religious leaders for answers and guidance; think of the civil rights crisis, in which pastors such as Martin Luther King led in spirit and in action.  Unfortunately, now the most visible religious figures are part of the problem.

     Support for Trump by conservative Christians is a continuing puzzle.  Why would they stand behind a man who embodies, in numerous ways, the opposite of their beliefs and standards?  The question swirls around the announcement in April that "evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June."[37] "We're very concerned" about the Clifford/Daniels affair, "said a leader of a faith-based ministry."  That might be expected; Trump’s behavior, alleged and known, should be offensive to them.  Although they are, as stated, "concerned," that is not, apparently, because of  moral or religious principles, at least not directly.  Their reason for the meeting seems to be anxiety that Democrats might prevail in the midterm election. 

     "The source said the combination of the Stormy Daniels sex-scandal allegations and Trump's continued reputation for divisive rhetoric could suppress evangelical turnout in the November midterm elections."  Granted, they do worry about some specific issues: " ‘It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear,’ like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights, the source noted." In other words, a Republican Congress and conservative judges are their goals. Trump’s reputation might interfere.

     Abortion is a subject worthy of discussion, and of compromise, although the evangelicals may be no more inclined to compromise than liberals. "Religious liberty" likely is a euphemism for freedom to discriminate or to impose views on others, as in the Hobby Lobby case (which also involved hyper-conservative abortion views).  The religious leaders are willing to empower a man who is so incompetent and erratic as to endanger the country, in order to pursue a narrow agenda.   The same could be said of other Trump supporters, but it seems especially odd among people who claim the moral high ground.

     Although the unidentified spokesman said that "Trump's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals," others, including Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America ("your voice for Biblical values") were less concerned.  As to the Daniels storm, "I just honestly don't hear hand-wringing over the issue. They're not surprised," she said, apparently referring to Trump’s Christian supporters; "they made that decision a long time ago. This president is not Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee; he doesn't pretend to be a Bible-banging evangelical." Support of Trump by any voice for Biblical values, especially the leader of a women’s group, is puzzling.

      "Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also said it's ‘highly dubious’ that the allegations will substantially erode support for the president or suppress midterm turnout."  Opportunism becomes a religious tenet.

     A month earlier, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said: “Evangelicals know they’re not compromising their beliefs in order to support this great president. And let’s be clear, evangelicals still believe in the commandment ‘thou shalt not have sex with a porn star.’ However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him."  That sounds like compromising their beliefs.  Evangelicals knew they “weren’t voting for an altar boy, he said;” they support Trump for his “policies and strong leadership.”[38]

     One meeting of evangelicals, but without Trump, took place last month.  "Evangelical" is a term more often applied than defined; usually it seems to equate to conservative Christian, or white conservative Christian, and carries an implication more of politics than of religion.  A report of the gathering this month used the word in a more traditional, literal sense. 

     The article, by Katelyn Beaty, formerly managing editor of Christianity Today, began with a description of the memorial service for Billy Graham, who was an evangelist, that is a spreader of the Christian message, with the intent of conversion.  However, "[m]any evangelical leaders, including some in attendance at Graham’s funeral, were fearful that this association with Trump now threatened the focus on personal salvation that Graham spent a lifetime preaching."[39]  Accordingly, a meeting was arranged at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.  The invitation stated that "support of ‘eighty-one per cent of self-identifying white evangelicals’ for Donald Trump is a call to self-reflection on the current condition of Evangelicalism.”  Indeed.

     The meeting seems to have gone nowhere.  Some participants left in protest of comments critical of Trump.  Although a formal statement was contemplated, none was issued.  The author clearly was disappointed in the result: "Without a statement, and with the bewildering skittishness about getting political, my time at Wheaton left me feeling deeply unsettled about the moral and political fortitude of my spiritual community in the era of Trump and beyond."

     Ms.Beaty wanted evangelicals to take a stand, to do good. "Much of evangelicalism still functions with a spiritual-secular divide, as if the physical concerns of this world can be neatly fixed with worship and prayer. But worship and prayer are not the only things that this Trumpian moment demands of us. Rather, the moment calls for risk."  This calls to mind the formulistic call for prayer after each mass shooting, a substitute for action. 

     She named some who had taken a stand, who had risked, including King; they "stood against corruption with courage and grace. They hadn’t been afraid to get political, to challenge unjust systems and policies. The Church was made stronger for it."  The society was improved as well.  However, there is little sign now of such an effort.

     The spiritual-secular divide, the flight from dealing with urgent real-world problems, is exacerbated by the rejection, by many conservative Christians, of scientific facts.  Some, such as evolution, are opposed to traditional belief, or are thought to be. Others are politically inconvenient.  Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, cited Genesis to prove that global warming is a hoax.

     In an excellent article in The Atlantic, Michael Gerson, a graduate of Wheaton, described one of the sources of modern fact-aversion.  In the early twentieth century, "the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction."  It represented a break with older evangelicalism.  "In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and over literal in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea.”[40]

     Now, as noted above, evangelicals have taken another step: establishing a hierarchy of virtues which relegates personal merit to a lower rank, and threatens to reduce religion to another, rather hypocritical, special interest.  In describing the fall of Alabama Governor Bentley, in a sex scandal, an article offered this summary:  "[I]t had become clear that for conservative Christians, the cultural and political issues that define modern conservative politics mattered at least as much as moral piety.  . . .’The idea that moral hypocrisy hurts you among evangelical voters is not true, if you’re sound on all of the fundamentals,’ said Wayne Flynt, an ordained Baptist minister and one of Alabama’s pre-eminent historians. . . .‘At this time, what is fundamental is hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same-sex marriage’.”[41]

     Many of the comments by evangelical leaders defy belief.  Here are several from Gerson’s article: Following news of Trump’s tryst with Stormy Daniels and the payment of hush money, Franklin Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.”  Somewhat more evasively, Tony Perkins urged forgiveness or, in his phrase, Trump should be given a "mulligan" for his fooling around.  "Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: ‘It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.’ According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have ‘found their dream president,’ which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams."

     Some have been driven from the fold.  Peter Weiner, a conservative writer, declared in a recent column that he no longer could call himself an evangelical.  During the Alabama special election, in which Roy Moore was the Republican candidate, Weiner wrote: "the support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. . . . I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness." [42] 

     Others have expressed similar views to him.  One said "the term evangelical “is now a tribal rather than a creedal description.”   Gerson summed the problem up in similar terms: "The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness."


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Saturday, April 21, 2018

April 20, 2018

Paul Ryan’s retirement has prompted many comments.  One of the more unusual is a column in USA Today by Andrew Cline.[33]  Mr. Cline is "president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in New Hampshire."  The caption to his column is "America is done with adults like Paul Ryan. Donald Trump and celebrities are the future."

"Preceding [Ryan] to the exit was the numbers-crunching, economics-guided GOP he had supposedly molded in his image only a few years ago." It isn’t clear what that means.  Was there no such GOP, or was it not in Ryan’s image?  I’d suggest the former. " Trump will be blamed, naturally."  For Ryan’s  exit or that of the number-crunching?  "But Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Paul Ryan is a serious man in an unserious time. American culture is undergoing a transformation. It is jettisoning adulthood."  He’s right that Trump is a symptom, although he also is a cause, of the condition of the Republican Party and, therefore, in part a cause of Ryan’s retirement.  More on that later.

Mr. Cline blames loss of seriousness on "[t]he rise of youth culture in the mid 20th century." The result of the dominance of youth, he says, is that "the worst mistake a politician can make is to be uncool" As proof he argues that "[e]very losing presidential candidate since 1980 was the least ‘cool’ candidate in the race."  The list includes Jimmy Carter, losing to Ronald Reagan; Walter Mondale, losing to Reagan; Michael Dukakis, losing to George H.W. Bush;  Bush, losing to Bill Clinton; Bob Dole, losing to Clinton; Al Gore, losing to George W. Bush; John Kerry, losing to Bush; John McCain, losing to Barack Obama; Mitt Romney, losing to Obama; and Hillary Clinton, losing to Donald Trump.  That’s an unusual interpretation, and it founders on the victories in the popular vote by the uncool Gore and Hillary.  Also, would he have been happier with Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Hillary Clinton?  I doubt it, but his formula seems to lead to that conclusion.

The further implication of Mr. Cline’s complaint is that the adult Paul Ryan is uncool, although he puts it this way: Ryan has dignity, decency and gravitas.  Let’s grant the first and pass on the second for now.  Apparently the last means that he has ideas: "Ryan is the latest in a [long line] of political figures of both parties who were drawn to politics by ideas only to find themselves at the mercy of forces that are more powerful than spreadsheets and footnoted policy papers." Under this theory, Ryan, who attempted to offer detailed, constructive ideas, is out because the adolescent public elects adolescent people who won’t listen to him.

"Sober, calm and judicious are out. Loud, obnoxious and incessant are in. The social dynamics of the nursery are governing our political discourse."  That could describe the advent of Donald Trump, and Mr. Cline’s complaint that the media don’t pay enough attention to policy issues has merit, but those factors don’t fully explain Ryan’s retirement or validate his ideas.

The column uses the word "sober" four times, no doubt to emphasize Ryan’s distance from everyone else’s frivolity, as in "sober analysis of health care policy . . . was Ryan’s strength."  Here’s what Ryan’s health-care notions produced, his attempt to repeal Obamacare: "The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It rolls back the expansion of Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy. . . . It also significantly reduces federal assistance to lower-income Americans paying for health insurance, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.".[34]  Fortunately, the Senate didn’t go along. 

Ryan had an undeserved reputation as a deficit hawk, which disappeared with the tax cut, his true priority.  Here’s another relevant evaluation, from Paul Krugman: "[Ryan’s] ‘deficit reduction’ proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from ‘magic asterisks’: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs."  Ryan’s "decency," if we define that in terms of fair treatment of the non-wealthy, also evaporates:  "Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor?"[35]

A conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, doesn’t think much of Ryan’s intellectual leadership.  "He was miscast as a visionary when he was fundamentally a party man — a diligent and policy-oriented champion for whatever the institutional G.O.P. appeared to want, a pilot who ultimately let the party choose the vessel’s course." [36]

Ryan can blame his early retirement in part on the disaster that is Donald Trump, though Ryan was not noted for standing up to him; Republicans in Congress have been willing to tolerate Trump as long as they can use him.  Ryan’s retirement seems to have more to do with electoral chances, his and the party’s, than weariness in dealing with the less serious.  Republicans are in trouble this year because of Trump’s unfitness for office, but also because of their policies, which Ryan advanced. 


33. congress-adults-out-donald-trump-column/507904002/

34. ab70ca59da53/

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 14, 2018
     Will we ever do anything about the plague of guns?  Shootings happen daily, and mass shootings (defined as events at which four or more are shot) occur about every one and one-half days.[26]  That is cause enough for alarm, but shootings at schools are a sign like no other of the firearm disease.  

     The interest in change triggered by student protests is encouraging, and finally there has been some action.  Florida enacted a law which raises the age for gun purchase to 21 and bans bump stocks, but it also authorizes and funds arming some school personnel, pleasing the NRA.  In New Jersey, which has relatively strict gun control laws, the governor issued an executive order under which the state will release a report every three months listing the states that are the source of guns used in crimes in New Jersey.  More than 80% of them come from outside the state.  Stronger controls are under consideration in the legislature.   
    The Vermont legislature passed measures that include a ban on bump stocks, limits on the size of magazines, expansion of background checks on buyers and raising the purchase age.  Other states, and cities, have enacted or considered additional controls. [27]

     Citibank announced a policy, applicable to "clients who offer credit cards backed by Citigroup or borrow money, use banking services or raise capital through the company," prohibiting the sale of firearms to customers who have not passed a background check or who are younger than 21, and barring the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.[28]

     However, in response to the students’ pleas, there have been nasty, idiotic attacks and conspiracy theories from those opposed to any progressive change. Ted Nugent, NRA board member, offered this sentence-fragment appraisal of  the surviving, protesting Parkland students: "The lies from these poor, mushy-brained children who have been fed lies and parrot lies."  On the other hand, "The National Rifle Association are [sic] a bunch of American families who have a voice to stand up for our God-given, constitutionally given right to keep and bear arms."  It is good to know that God, as well as the Founders, decreed civil warfare.

     Nugent made an appearance on the Alex Jones show, and the two engaged in a contest to see who is the most weirdly out of control.[29]  Nugent offered this cogent evaluation of contemporary politics: "Don’t ask why [gun control and other awful, un-American proposals are made]. Just know that evil, dishonesty, and scam artists have always been around and that right now they’re liberal, they’re Democrat, they’re RINOs, they’re Hollywood, they’re fake news, they’re media, they’re academia, and they’re half of our government, at least. . . . There are rabid coyotes running around. . . . Keep your gun handy, and every time you see one, you shoot one."  That’s why we need guns: to shoot political enemies. 

     As Nugent implied, the supposed basis for packing heat is that gun possession is protected by the Second Amendment.  Since 2008, gun-possession advocates have pointed to Heller v. District of Columbia, in which Justice Scalia and friends purported to find a private, non-militia right to possess and carry a firearm.  However, Heller confirmed rather than established that claim. On February 20, I mentioned the Second Amendment Foundation, established in 1974, as an early manifestation of that theory.  Here’s another, from popular fiction, in 1975: "Nobody was ever going to keep firearms out of the hands of butterfingered idiots. Nobody was trying, thanks to the National Rifle Association and a misreading of the Constitution of the United States."[30]  

     One of the reasons often cited for protecting gun ownership — and the actual holding  in Heller — is self-defense in the home.  However, a gun in the home "is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder,"[31] so it’s a weak reed on which to lean in demanding unlimited ownership of guns.

     Because of the long-standing misinterpretation, now sanctioned by the Supreme Court, repeal of the Second Amendment is tempting as a cure for the disease.  Former Justice John Paul Stevens proposed just that in a recent column.[32]  He first set forth the core of his dissent in Heller: "Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that ‘a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’" He added: "Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century."  That’s an interesting variation on the original-intent theory: the interest which the Amendment was intended to serve no longer is recognized. 

     Even if still relevant, it is not being applied as intended: "For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well regulated militia’.”

     The Heller decision was wrong, as a matter of constitutional interpretation and as a matter of policy.  According to Stevens the solution is to be rid of the source.  "Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option."  While I agree that misinterpretation of the Amendment is a major prop for our gun culture, and that we would be better off  without it, I don’t think that repeal would be simple, or easy.  Also, while repeal would undercut the NRA, an attempt to repeal would empower it, by playing into the gun lobby’s claim that liberals, the government, the deep state, are about to confiscate everyone’s hunting rifle.  The better approach is to enact meaningful restrictions, including licensing, and rely on the numerous ambiguities in Heller to permit them.




28. html


30. Lockridge, Or Was He Pushed?

31. For an awful example, see game


Monday, March 19, 2018

March 18, 2018

     It isn’t pleasant to contemplate, and it sounds pretentious to declare it, but American culture is in decline.  The fact that Donald Trump was elected President, and the resulting inanity and chaos in his White House, might be considered proof enough, but there are any number of indicia. 
    They include the capture of government by those who don’t believe in it, elected in part by those who hate and fear it, and the fact that politics is for sale, aided by the notion that money is speech.  They include disbelief in scientific findings and denial of facts, most notably regarding climate change, displaying at least a blasé attitude toward impending disaster, at worst revealing a society committing suicide.  They include a health care system which delivers less at greater cost than in advanced countries, and rampant homelessness in a wealthy society with a robust economy.  They include crumbling infrastructure; inequality, financial and otherwise; racial and religious conflict; a loss of common purpose; and art in its various forms in a state of decadence.   One of the most serious is  the failure to control possession of firearms. 

     The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has underlined that unpleasant fact, an obvious and tragically dramatic sign of societal failure.  The proposals to turn schools in to fortresses and to arm teachers are admissions that society has failed, that government is paralyzed and cannot keep people safe.  The federal government cannot do so because, reflecting the culture, it refuses to recognize the problem; in effect, it plugs its ears. 

     In 1993, a study funded with grants from the CDC produced this conclusion: "Rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance."[23]  That and other studies upset gun-rights advocates, and Congress responded in 1996 by adopting the "Dickey Amendment," which provides that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."[24] 
    Although that does not, in terms, prohibit research, the CDC has been intimidated, by the NRA and by Congress’ refusal to fund such research, into abandoning it.  The Trump budget continues the ban: "None of the funds made available in this title [Health and Human Services] may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control."

     Advocates for gun possession assert that one must be armed to repel foreign invaders, "globalist forces," rapacious Mexican immigrants or whomever one fantasizes about.  Some claim they must be armed to resist their own government, the pathetic ineffectiveness of which is somehow transformed into menace.  Pop-up ads from the NRA tell us: "Fight Now or Lose Your Freedom."  To elaborate, here’s Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association:[25]

     "Once they get our guns, the rest is easy. Then they could dismantle the rest of our freedoms piece by piece, all the while moving closer to the European-type of socialism they believe our country should embrace."  Some things never change: there’s always a menace to the American Way, if not communism then socialism. 

     "Fortunately, after eight years of a rabidly anti-gun administration, we beat back the tide in 2016—but just barely. We shunned socialist Bernie Sanders and far-left Hillary Clinton, and put Donald Trump in the White House."  They do deserve each other, companions on the downward slope. "As a result, the socialist movement in the U.S. has shifted into overdrive. And this new acceleration is what threatens to greatly, and irreparably, harm our nation." 

     What do those socialists resent about the revival of real Americanism under Trump?  "They hate that he is working diligently to stop the flow of illegals from all over the world who are coming across our southern border."  As that suggests, white nationalism feeds the gun culture.  "They hate Trump’s tax cuts putting more of Americans’ money into their own pockets. They hate that Trump’s policies have spurred the economy so successfully, resulting in record-low unemployment and a record-high stock market."  At this point the defense of guns has moved from paranoia into fantasy.

     Resistance to control of guns is driven as well by an industry which profits from selling them.  Another aid to keeping guns available is that guns taken from criminals often are recycled, sold to dealers; even that opportunity to slightly reduce the number of firearms is ignored. (The Washington State Patrol is required by law to auction off such guns or  trade them to a firearms dealer, who sells them to the public. This applies not only to handguns and hunting rifles, but also to assault weapons).

     We are witnessing a flight into the past.  Fortifying schools is a return to the middle ages,  manning the castle walls against invaders.  Arming teachers is a return to the wild west, or a fantasy of it, where every man packed a gun, only now the schoolmarm will as well.  Stand-your-ground laws, which authorize deadly force almost at a whim, further the retreat into the past.

     The notion that uncontrolled individual action is the only course returns us to the state of nature — anarchy — with its war of all against all.  It is depressing that, in the twenty-first century, we should be reduced to explaining that civilization, organized society and functioning government are positive developments.




25. affected-by-socialist-ideals/