Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

21 October 2017

Some Questions for Trump Voters

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Update on Cyber Propaganda Warfare (11/2/17)
Last night PBS’ hard-hitting investigative news program Frontline aired the second and last of its two-part series on the Russian hacking-and-propaganda war that probably put Donald Trump in the White House. The title of the series is “Putin’s Revenge.”

The series shows in great detail: (1) why Putin wanted to elect Trump and relegate Hillary to the dustbin of history; (2) how Putin set out to influence our 2016 presidential election by (a) hacking secret e-mails among Democratic operatives, (b) releasing them publicly at precisely targeted times (including one hour after the first release of Trump’s damaging “Access Hollywood” tape, better known as the “grab their pussy” tape), and (c) fomenting discord among Democrats in particular and Americans generally by having trolls create and disseminate fake but plausible news using bots and numerous public channels, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The series also shows why President Obama, for morally and politically sound but strategically unwise reasons, failed to approve warning the American public until it was far too late.

For anyone who cares about democracy and preserving it in America, “Putin’s Revenge” should be deeply disturbing. But what it shows is just a shadow of the darkness that will descend on us in the next decade or so. What we have seen in cyberwar so far is like the propeller fighters and dirigibles of World War I. The massive fleets of bombers, V-2 rockets, and nuclear weapons of World War II are yet to come.

Neither “Putin’s Revenge” nor (to my knowledge) the popular press has yet hinted at the extent to which, or the speed with which, future cyber propaganda warfare will outstrip what we have seen so far. In three ways, the cyber-propaganda war of 2016 could morph into total propaganda warfare even before our 2018 midterm elections.

First, nothing prevents our own contending political parties from using, for their own partisan purposes, the same techniques that Putin used last year. The GOP’s desire to acquire such techniques may have been one reason for its rapid acceptance of a man with zero political experience as its candidate, along with certain of his advisers and operatives, including Steve Bannon. (Bannon can continue to play the same role effectively outside the White House.) Second, our pols are as ignorant of the technology and techniques, and as oblivious to the threats they pose, as were our leaders just before Pearl Harbor in 1941.

But the third way in which cyber propaganda warfare may soon surprise us is the most chilling. Up to now, it has used the Internet much like traditional broadcast media, in a one-to-many mode. What is about to rain down like nuclear fallout upon our clueless pols and mostly clueless defense establishment is propaganda spread by the Internet's greatest advances over broadcasting technology: many-to-one and many-to-many communication. A warning post I wrote about this threat seven months ago outlines the dangers and our political system’s utter unpreparedness to meet them.

1. The tax scam
2. The health-insurance scam
3. Undocumented immigrants
4. Abusing minorities
5. The big promise unkept
6. The really big question

Some Trump voters read this blog. I don’t know whether they’re a select few or a multitude. But I do know that some of my friends voted for Trump and have commented on my posts. Some also threw away their votes on Gary Johnson rather than vote for Hillary.

If you are among either part of that “some,” this post is for you. I don’t blame you for voting as you did. Trump promised a lot, and I had to hold my nose hard to vote for Hillary. We all had tough choices last November.

But nine months into Trump’s presidency, it’s time to start asking some tough questions. Here are some key ones, in six categories:

1. The tax scam. What do you think when rich guys, who make more money in a week (or in a day!) than you make in a year, say “We’re going to cut our taxes a lot, and maybe you’ll get some relief. We’re doing it for you.”? Do you believe them?

Do you really think you’ll benefit from cutting the tax rates the super-rich pay? If so, how?

And do you know that they’re talking about cutting the “individual” rates that the rich pay personally, as well as the “corporate” rates that their businesses pay? Exactly how would putting more money in their individual pockets help you? Are they going to let you ride on their personal jets? (For an expert assessment of the claim that decreases in corporate tax rates help ordinary workers, click here.)

Important Update (10/27/17)
Here’s what the economically trained New York Times’ opinion-page editor, David Leonhardt, had to say today about the GOP’s proposed tax scam:
“House Republicans approved a budget plan yesterday that’s the first step toward passing a big tax cut. More than half of the tax cut’s benefits would flow to the top 1 percent of earners — those earning at least $733,000 a year. On average, each of those households would receive an infusion of $130,000 each year.”
What’s in this for you?

2. The health-insurance scam. Like many voters for Trump, you may have cheered when he, as candidate, promised to get rid of “Obamacare.” But how exactly is that going to help you? Doesn’t it matter how we get rid of Obamacare and what, if anything, we replace it with?

Some thirteen to fifteen million people now have health insurance who didn’t have it before Obamacare. If you’re one of them, would going back to your previous uninsured state help you?

Some people are paying higher premiums under “Obamacare” than they paid before. If you’re one of them, shouldn’t you look at your policy before you complain?

One new thing Obamacare did was to outlaw policy exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Would you be better off if they were permitted again, so lawyers could go through your entire medical history looking for any evidence of a pre-existing condition in order to to deny your current claims?

What if you had/have a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes or an hereditary condition? What if you’d been treated for a serious condition like heart disease or a “slow-growing” cancer and it got worse? Wouldn’t allowing insurers to exclude or charge more for pre-existing conditions leave you out in the cold or paying more? And aren’t recurrences or worsening of pre-existing conditions the nasty things most likely to happen to your health?

Obamacare put a lot of government money into so-called “subsidies” to help people (like you) who aren’t rich afford decent health insurance that actually pays when you need it. The rich guys who back the tax cuts and Obamacare repeal want all those subsidies to go away so they can take the money in tax cuts. Exactly how would doing that help you? Do you really believe that taking all that government money away from health insurance and giving it to the rich will make your premiums go down?

Recently Trump disapproved (after initially approving!) a bipartisan compromise made by Senators Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D. Wash.) to restore some of those subsidies. Trump said the subsidies are give-aways to insurance companies. But in a system that depends entirely on private insurers (except for the poor and those over 65, who can get Medicare), won’t any successful attempt to increase coverage also increase insurers’ profits, if only by giving them more customers? Is Trump confused about how our health-insurance system now works?

3. Undocumented immigrants. There are an estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants in our country, many of them from Mexico. They are here illegally. These are facts.

But exactly how would deporting them or building a wall to keep more from entering help you? If you lost your good job to automation, downsizing, or globalization, would deporting them bring it back? would keeping more undocumented immigrants out?

Do or did you work in construction, a slaughterhouse, a restaurant, or a hotel, or maybe as a gardener or nanny, as many of the undocumented do? If not, how would deporting them or keeping more from entering improve your employment prospects?

If we deport all the folks doing that work and build a wall to keep more out, won’t their employers have to pay more to get native-born Americans to do it? And won’t that just make all those things more expensive, for you and everybody else? How would that help you?

4. Abusing minorities. What do you think of the black NFL players who “take a knee” during the national anthem? Do you know what they are protesting?

Are you aware that an unarmed, middle-aged black guy named Eric Garner ended up choked to death while being arrested on suspicion of selling cigarettes without a license? Have you heard about Sandra Bland, an unarmed black woman stopped for failing to signal a lane change, who somehow died in jail? Have you seen the video of Walter Scott, unarmed, being shot several times in the back while running away, and the shooting officer “planting” a taser on him?

What do you think about these events? Are they all “fake news,” or are they real? And if you think they’re real, isn’t “taking a knee,” quietly and respectfully, a pretty mild form of protest? Is it as scary as what the Black Panthers did in the 1960s? What would you think if you were black and any of these things happened to someone you love?

5. The big promise unkept. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s pretty hard to see how your own life would get better if the rich got lower taxes, if government stopped subsidies to help middle-class people like you buy health insurance, if we deported all the Mexicans here illegally and built a wall to keep more out, or if we stopped the NFL protests and continued allowing police to kill unarmed black people for little or no reason. These things might please you abstractly, but do they have any practical or logical relationship to your family’s welfare?

When you support these things by cheering at Trump’s rallies, aren’t you playing the part of the angry guy who’s had a bad day at work, comes home, shouts at his wife and kicks the dog? Cheering may make you feel better, but will it make your life get better?

It’s understandable to be angry when you’ve lost you’re job, you’re unemployed or chronically underemployed, your home was foreclosed on after the Crash of 2008, you’ve lost or “downsized” your retirement, or your factory and town have blown away with the globalist winds. But when you’re supporting things that won’t change any of that, are you acting in your own interest?

There is one thing that Trump has promised that might give you, and millions of workers like you, a real, personal benefit. It’s a big program to repair, rebuild and improve our national infrastructure. The benefit to you would be a good, self-respecting, well-paying, non-outsourceable job. You wouldn’t even have to move, like the oil-rig roustabouts now working in North Dakota, because infrastructure that needs attention is everywhere.

If you’re a skilled worker, you think you might help repair and rebuild roads, highways, bridges, sewers, water lines, electric generators or the electric grid? You think you might help install, maintain or improve air traffic control, solar arrays, windmills, Internet access lines, border surveillance, or anti-terrorism monitoring, or install and maintain the equipment they need?

These jobs can’t go to China, Mexico or Bangladesh because they all have to be done here. So isn’t Trump’s promise to rebuild our infrastructure the most important pledge he’s yet made to improve your life personally?

If so, what’s he done about it? Is giving the rich tax cuts, repealing Obamacare, deporting undocumented immigrants, building a wall on the Mexican border, or continuing to let police kill unarmed black people without accountability more important to your personal welfare and success than infrastructure?

Did you know that our nonpartisan, nonprofit American Society of Civil Engineers, in its current infrastructure report card, has given our nation’s infrastructure a grade of D+ and has said that, if we don’t fix it, we’ll take a $3.9 trillion hit to our GDP? Do you think an investment of about that size might create good jobs for you and many like you?

Did you know there are two ways to get that money: (1) having the government borrow it, or (2) asking private investors to invest it? If we use method (2), the private investors—the same guys seeking big tax cuts today—will end up owning the improved infrastructure, and you and your kids will be paying tolls to use it for the foreseeable future. Which method do you think Trump and his Republicans are for? Which method would be best for you and your kids?

6. The really big question. In the end, it all comes down to allies. In politics, as in war, no one wins without allies.

As you try to make your life good again, or even tolerable, who are your allies?

Are they the rich guys who want to lower their own taxes and cut government subsidies for health insurance (including Medicare) to do so? Are they the employers who hire undocumented immigrants and exploit them by giving them menial jobs at low wages and keeping them in fear of being deported? Are they the police who beat up and kill unarmed members of minorities who can’t defend themselves because they’re too low in our social hierarchy? Are they the pols who want to lower taxes on the rich and don’t mind skimping on infrastructure or making your health-insurance premiums higher to do so?

What do you think might happen if you accepted the people whom Trump wants you to hate as your allies? What would happen if you joined all the other working people in the country in a grand political alliance, regardless of race, religion or documented status?

Who do you think would win then? Aren’t there far more working people than bosses in this country, let alone than the 1% or the 0.1% who control our politics and dictate your misery? Does dividing workers into clans and believing in white supremacy make you stronger or weaker?

How about a government-funded program for our national infrastructure about the same size as the $3.9 trillion hit our economy will take if we don’t fix it? You think that program might get you a good, well-paying job? How does a health insurance pool of 310 million sound to you, with no penalty for pre-existing conditions, no expense for private profit and no expense for accounting for it? How about a nation in which no unarmed suspect gets killed in police custody (or running away), no matter who he or she is?

Wouldn’t that kind of America make us great again and give you a good job? If so, is that where Trump is headed?

If you answer these questions with the independence and practical common sense that made American workers famous, you’ll get them right. Then you’ll know who your real friends and allies are and what you have to do.

And if you care about loyalty, has Trump been loyal to you? If he had been, wouldn’t a big infrastructure program have been the first thing he worked on, as soon as he set foot in the White House? That’s pretty far from what he’s been actually doing up to now, isn’t it?

If you think about what he’s done these past nine months, and whether any of it has helped improve your own life, you’ll come to sensible conclusions about who he is and who his allies are. Godspeed.

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