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

27 October 2016

Halfway There

[For discussion of yesterday’s October surprise, click here. For a recent post on Hillary’s hidden virtues and voting early for her, click here.]

If you despise Donald, help this go viral.

1. Backwards tax policy: “trickle down”
2. Selling jobs abroad
3. Overpriced health insurance

According to the polls, Hillary is likely to win. Her margin of victory will likely be larger than Obama’s in 2012, but smaller than Obama’s in 2008 or Bill’s in 1996. It may be a decisive and unquestionable victory, but not a landslide.

So don’t throw a party yet. Two big things tell us that progressives are only halfway there. First, there’s a lot of uncertainty. If you look at the daily listing of poll results on Real Clear Politics’ website, the results look like a scatterplot. If you take them as such and use a standard measure of probable error in a scatterplot—the so-called “root-mean-square” test—you get an error margin of about 4.4 percentage points.

So the margin of error suggests that Hillary will win by a victory margin between 1.6% and 10.4%, for a mean of 6%.

The second reason for withholding your celebration is much more important. Even if Hillary wins, we may still have legislative and judicial gridlock. Republicans have already said they will continue to block her appointments to the Supreme Court, just as they have blocked President Obama’s. They just won’t do their constitutional jobs unless things come out their way. They’ll take their judicial marbles and go home.

More important, the three abysmal policies that have brought our nation low and are destroying our middle class will remain as strong as ever. They are not hard to see, or to understand, if you can just penetrate the gigantic smokescreen of lies and propaganda that the GOP has thrown up for over a generation. Here they are:

1. Backwards tax policy: “trickle down.” To see why the middle class is in decline, you need know only four numbers: the top individual and corporate tax rates under Eisenhower, and the same numbers today.

Top Tax Rate Comparison

Top Individual RateTop Corporate Rate
Under Eisenhower (1952)92%52%
Today39.6%35% [page 17]

The entire philosophy of “trickle down” is in these numbers. You let the rich and corporations keep more of their money and make the middle class give up more of theirs, and the middle class will become poorer and poorer.

This is not rocket science or Nobel-prize winning economics; it’s cause and effect. Trickle down has failed to create jobs and stimulate the economy, over and over again, just like Communism. The historical evidence is irrefutable. But still the GOP promotes it. Why anyone would believe that giving already-rich people more money promotes economic growth and equality boggles the mind.

If you want to get rid of trickle down and go back to the tax policy that produced the longest and strongest spurt of growth in our nation’s history, you are going to have to turn the Senate and the House blue.

2. Selling jobs abroad. Our nation has sold some 60,000 factories abroad over the last generation. The GOP wants you to believe it was all about “free trade,” and that, if we try to stop the job drain, the postwar economic order will collapse.

That is nonsense. Maybe free trade made selling our factories abroad possible. But free trade didn’t require that result. The greed of our economic ruling class did. Selling factories abroad was how our 0.1% got obscenely rich and left the rest of us behind. It’s the precise cause of our obscene economic inequality.

Selling factories abroad was not an inevitable result of free trade, far less of capitalism. It was a conscious and deliberate policy choice. It was and is a result of tax policy and our policy of refusing to regulate international capital flows for the common good.

Economists note that these conscious policies have massively benefitted countries like China, Mexico, Vietnam and Bangladesh and have raised billions of foreigners out of extreme poverty. And so they have. But at the same time, they have bled the middle class not just here in America, but also in Britain, Continental Europe and (to a lesser extent) in Japan. The results: the middle class is poorer, more insecure and angrier in all these places, and right-wing anti-immigrant and racist political parties are on the rise. Do you really think a narcissistic megalomaniac like Donald Trump would have had a chance at our presidency, or that Brits would be Brexiting, if our global middle class were happy?

The basic fact is that letting our 0.1% get rich by selling our factories abroad was a conscious and deliberate policy choice, which has had terrible unintended consequences. We can reverse that choice just as consciously and deliberately as we made it. We can do so without abandoning free trade in goods and services, without protectionism, and without upsetting the postwar economic order. I have proposed one method, but there are several others, including tighter control of domestic-origin intellectual property. Yet we can’t begin to implement any of these methods with a red Senate and House.

3. Overpriced health insurance. Are your health-insurance premiums too high? Wonder why? The answer is simple, but little known.

Insurance is a unique business. It works by having a big risk pool, i.e., a large number of insured people. The larger the risk pool, the lower the premiums. Unlike other businesses, insurance doesn’t respond well to competition, which breaks up the risk pool and decreases the size of the fragments, and thereby raises premiums.

Contrary to GOP propaganda, the rest of the developed world doesn’t have single-payer health insurance because it loves “socialism.” It has single-payer for a simple, mathematical reason: the more people you insure, the lower the premiums. (Balkanized private insurance also has much higher administrative costs because of multiple incompatible procedures, rules, claims, forms, computer systems, and accounting for profit. But that’s another story.)

So if you want lower insurance premiums, you have to get the whole population of the United States into a single insurance program, something like Medicare for All. That’s what Hillary wants to do, at least for people over 55, who are the ones most in need of good health insurance.

But Hillary can’t do it alone. Neither could Obama. In 2007, before he even became president-elect, he recognized that single-payer is the best system. But he viewed it as politically impossible and so went for private “Obamacare.”

Obamacare has shown that you can add over 12 million news insureds without causing capitalism and free enterprise to collapse. If you want to let Hillary take the next step, you have to give her a blue Senate and House.

Conclusion. Even if Hillary wins decisively—an outcome that is far from assured now—your job as a voter is not yet done. You have to vote blue—for Democrats—all the way down the ballot, down to city council and board of education. And you have to do a little online research to find which of those running for so-called “nonpartisan” offices, including judgeships, is or was a Democrat.

Why? Because if you don’t, Republicans will fill those offices, gerrymander legislative districts, suppress your vote with “voter ID laws” based on nonexistent “voter fraud,” and take away your political power so slowly and subtly that you won’t even notice.

Don’t believe that? Well, read this analysis. It shows that, if legislative districts had not been gerrymandered by the GOP, the House probably would be blue right now.

So no, my fellow progessive voters. It’s not enough just to keep Donald out of the White House. That’s the easy part. We have to turn the Senate and the House blue.

Otherwise, we will have Barack Obama all over again, this time in female form. We’ll have a good, progressive president stymied by a minority-rules political system, and nothing will get done.

So take some time before you vote. Download and print out a sample ballot. Research who on it is progressive and vote for all of them, even if unopposed. Don’t vote for anyone else. And remember to vote early; it will be easier on you and will give people who can only vote on election day a shorter wait and a better chance to make a difference.

If enough of us do that, we can turn this country around in less than three months. If not, we will all have plenty of opportunity to complain and lament, as national gridlock continues.

Footnote As of Wednesday, October 26, the results of the fourteen national, general-election presidential polls on Real Clear Politics’ poll page were as follows (with pluses for Hillary leading and a minus for Donald): 3, 5, 4, 6, 9, 10, 14, -1, 1, 2, 9, 8, 1, 13. According to the root-mean-square formula, the margin of random error (in deviation from the mean of 6) for this sequence of numbers is about 4.42. Given the large number of possible sources of systematic error in this election, that is probably a fair estimate of the actual margin of error for the poll results shown. [Erratum: An earlier version of this post erroneously calculated the margin of error as 7.5%, for failing to calculate with respect to the mean. I regret the error.]

The October Surprise

Well, we now have our October surprise. It may not be the only one, so the definite article “the” may be inapt. But surely it’s big enough to qualify as one.

The “surprise” actually comes in disguise. By now, no one should be surprised that Hillary, as Secretary of State, was careless with her e-mail. That’s old news. Nor should anyone be surprised that Hillary’s confidant Huma Abedin and her bizarre husband Anthony Weiner (well named!) have become permanent albatrosses around Hillary’s neck, which she should have jettisoned long ago for the good of her candidacy, her party, and the nation.

The real surprise is what James B. Comey did as FBI director.

You may remember Comey for his derring deed of 2004, while Dubya was president and Comey himself was Acting Attorney General. Comey was standing in for Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was having emergency gall-bladder surgery. Sycophant White-House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card planned to confront Ashcroft in his hospital room, while he was still sedated, and get him to expand a program of secret spying on Americans that the Justice Department had concluded was illegal.

With sirens blaring, Comey rushed to the hospital to thwart the palace coup. He arrived before Gonzales and Card and confirmed his previous agreement with Ashcroft, who upheld the law and would not bend. When Gonzales and Card went to the president, Comey, Ashcroft and then-FBI-Director Mueller all offered their resignations, and the president backed down. The rule of law prevailed.

Based on this history, the Democratic Obama Administration appointed Comey, a Republican, head of the FBI. The Administration believed that Comey was a straight-shooter, a “by-the-book” lawyer, who would uphold the law regardless of party or politics.

Until yesterday. Through a letter to congressmen, which they or their staff apparently made public, Comey disclosed new “evidence” about possible breaches of confidence involving Hillary’s e-mails to Abedin. The “evidence” was a computer shared by Abedin and Weiner, which apparently contained e-mails sent by Hillary when she was Secretary of State.

No one had yet examined the computer or its contents. No one knew whether it contained any classified information or even any sensitive information of State. No one knew whether or not every e-mail on it had already been examined by the FBI in determining that, although Hillary had been “extremely careless,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a criminal complaint against her.

Disclosing the possible existence of possibly relevant evidence at that early stage of examination was a breathtaking violation of the most basic professional discipline. No investigator would, in the normal course of professional work, ever disclose to the public the source or nature of evidence at that early stage. Nor would any prosecutor. Unless his office provides him some kind of immunity, it is likely that Comey could be disbarred as an attorney for that single act.

But he, the same guy who had offered to resign and had gotten two others to do so, all in order to uphold the rule of law, did the deed. In one moment, he forfeited his reputation as a straight shooter, “by-the-book” lawyer and partisan of the rule of law for partisan politics. (It was not only foreseeable, but inevitable, that such a letter sent to members of Congress in the middle of the most contentious presidential election in recent memory would be made public.)

The sad thing is not that Hillary may have made yet one more bad judgment about e-mails. We won’t know until well after the election whether the computer at issue contains any new, let alone relevant, evidence. The sad thing is that a rare Republican known for absolute punctiliousness in upholding the rule of law threw his reputation away in a single transparent attempt to sway the election.

When you think about what Comey has done, and how solid his reputation had been beforehand, you come to an unavoidable conclusion: partisan politics in the United States has become the non-lethal equivalent of “total war.” It is unlikely that any administration, of either party, will ever again appoint anyone from the other party for a position as sensitive as Attorney General or Director of the FBI or CIA. Even if not a possible subject of attorney discipline, what Comey did has raised hyperpartisanship to celestial levels.

In all likelihood, his unprofessional disclosure will not stop Hillary from becoming president. There are many voters who, like me, have believed from the beginning that Hillary’s carelessness with e-mails was a serious lapse of judgment. But we also believe that, bad as it was, it cannot justify electing a totally unqualified, narcissistic, megalomaniac, crypto-fascist as president. These voters will not likely change their minds.

What will change is that some Republicans, motivated by further “evidence” of Hillary’s malfeasance, will vote for down-ballot candidates whereas otherwise they might not even go to the polls. At the same time, some erstwhile Bernie supporters, having their assumed moral superiority further thrown into question by such “evidence,” may refrain from voting at all. As a result, Hillary’s chances of taking the Senate and the House with her will be reduced.

No one who looks straight at Comey’s professional malfeasance can have any doubt that this was its motivation. It certainly wasn’t good for Comey’s career as an investigator or an attorney. Nor was it good for the investigation he supervises or the Constitution he had sworn to serve.

The concept of “total war” arose during a real war—World War I—from the fevered brain of an obscure German Zeppelin captain. It nearly extinguished our species during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. For a species like ours, whose major evolutionary advantages are empathy and cooperation, and whose cleverness at destruction far exceeds its cleverness at politics, “total war” is an extinction warrant.

As another German observed, “war is just politics by other means.” So “total war” is just as deadly in politics as it is in hot war.

In its no-holds-barred quest to rule as a minority party, the GOP was waged total war for far too long. It has gerrymandered state and federal legislative districts unrelentingly and has resisted every legislative and judicial attempt to make them fairer. It has tried transparently to disenfranchise the poor, the elderly and minorities by claiming to “cure” non-existent voter fraud. Through the most powerful and effective propaganda machine in human history (Fox) it has promoted big lies like “trickle down” and denied global warming. It has applied filibusters at 142 times the historical rate, and it has achieved minority rule in the House through its so-called “Hastert Rule.” And its individual senators have used so-called “Senate holds” as unchecked individual vetoes of legislation and Executive appointments, resulting in individual power never contemplated by our Constitution.

The GOP’s latest example of “total war” is its promise never to advance Supreme Court nominations made by Hillary, if elected president, after having implicitly promised last summer to leave such nominations to the next president. Donald’s refusal to accept the results of the election unless he wins was just a baby step beyond.

Against the backdrop of these relentless and endless assaults on democracy, the professional defalcation of a once-respected law enforcer should come as no surprise. But it was a surprise to those who thought that Hillary had the White House sewed up, and perhaps the Senate and House, too.

So Donald may be right: the election is “rigged.” But it’s not rigged against his party, or by tampering with or fraudulently reporting the vote. It’s rigged by the tactics of “total war” in politics that the GOP has pursued for a generation: gerrymandering, vote suppression, big lies and propaganda, filibusters, minority rule in the House, abuse of Senate holds, constitutional defalcation and (now) refusing even to accept an undesired outcome.

The result has been a total conversion of the Party of Lincoln into a party of extremists, which has utterly abandoned the tolerance, prudence and common sense of its founding. Now it has nominated the most bizarre, unqualified and dangerous candidate in our nation’s history.

Unless the stress of Donald’s candidacy causes the GOP to splinter, progressive forces may never have another chance as promising as this election to win the “total war” the GOP is waging. But in order to win it, our voters—including independents, Republicans uncomfortable with Donald, and millennials—must recognize the “total war” against them and against simple democracy, despite Hillary’s flaws.

Will they do that? Will they understand the moment and its urgencies? Or will they turn aside, let the best become the enemy of the good, and ignore the challenge laid before them? On the answers to those questions depend not just the results of this election, but the future of American democracy and whether, a few years down the road, we Yanks will have a democracy at all.

Endnote: In making information about the newly-discovered computer public, not only did Comey violate ethnical norms that apply to every person trained as a lawyer. He also violated policies, customs and specific rules of the Justice Department, which have been renewed every four years, including this year.

Finally, Comey also violated the hierarchy of the Justice Department itself: Department officials, not the FBI head, make public announcements of the results of investigations, and then only when they have been fully completed. For corroboration of and detail about these points, read this op-ed by two former deputy attorneys general, one of whom was my law-school classmate at Harvard, 1975-1978.

The point of all this is not to pile on Comey for apparently unprofessional grandstanding and possibly partisan action, but to emphasize a painful fact of life. Professionalism in any profession goes out the window when partisanship takes over, just as it does in science, for example, in global warming. The only reliable way to restore professionalism and the discipline and rationalism that accompany it is to remove the people responsible for abandoning it from positions of power and influence.


23 October 2016

Hillary’s Hidden Virtues

[While on subject of Hillary, you should read this piece for a much needed lift of humor in this dismal campaign season.]

Learning, growth and caution
Team playing
Conclusion: voting early for Hillary


There is a paradox about Hillary Clinton. While on the stump, she has trouble revealing the empathy for ordinary people that she seems to feel. Whereas Michelle exposes her beautiful soul with apparent ease, Hillary hides herself in anecdotes, statistics and five-point plans. And, yes, Hillary does play her cards too close to her chest—the main reason for e-mail-gate.

Yet how rare is opacity among pols? Does Mitch McConnell have no private and public faces? Just ask him what he thinks about Donald and watch him squirm.

No matter how common it may be, Hillary’s opacity has tarnished her luster as a candidate. But she also has some qualities that will make her a good president, and that only now are becoming plain. Let’s take a look at three of them.

1. Professionalism.

After listening to a boy-man hurl out junior-high-school insults and cockamamie schemes for over a year, it’s hard to think of politics as a profession. But it is.

The profession has two parts. The first is “politics” itself—getting the people in power, and ultimately the voters, to coalesce around a plan of action. The second is policy: the plan.

Both parts must work. The politics must work to give the leaders leeway and power to accomplish things according to a plan. Then the plan must work to effect desired progress or change without unintended consequences.

As Hillary herself has recognized, she doesn’t excel at the first part, politics. She’s not as good as her husband, and she’s not as good as the President. The second part is where she shines.

Remember all those multi-point plans on Hillary’s website? Remember how her naming them without describing them fell flat in debate? Those plans are not much good in politics, but they are the essence of policy.

Whether a doctor, lawyer or computer programmer, every professional knows that a good plan requires something in writing. In today’s complex world, no one can keep all the angles, interests and possible consequences in his head, let alone convey them to others off the cuff.

Anyway, a good plan gets modified and improved in discussion, debate and implementation. In many cases, it continues to be modified during implementation. As a result of all the discussion and change, it can come out quite different from where it began. All this requires something in writing for advisers to discuss.

A good plan must also have detail. “Building a wall” sounds fine on the campaign trail. But we already have sections of wall on our Mexican border hundreds of miles long. What’s different about Donald’s wall? How long will his be? How high? How do we keep the drug dealers from building mile-long tunnels under it, complete with electric lighting and narrow-gauge railroad tracks? How do we keep people from climbing, flying or catapulting over it? How much will it cost, and how effective will it be?

Donald’s wish for a wall is just that, a wish. A teenage boy might think such a “solution” clever. But the hundreds of miles of wall we have already extend way out into the Pacific, between San Diego and Tijuana. And still the immigrants come. If a wall is to leave the realm of politics and move on to policy, the plan for it had better have some detail.

Donald never gave us detail. And when he tried to on other matters, he gave us ideas that have failed catastrophically and even provoked wars, like 35% tariffs on goods from China and Mexico. In contrast, Hillary has a whole drawerful of detailed plans for everything. Her plans are written, thought through, and ready for further discussion, modification and implementation. That’s professionalism.

Another aspect of professionalism is not getting distracted. Hillary has made mistakes, to be sure. Iraq and e-mail-gate were big ones. She’s tried to apologize for both, but the apologies didn’t impress anyone.

Politics may be a blame game. At least our Yankee politics appears to have degenerated to that point. But policy never is, for blame never moves the ball forward. It only makes people defensive and angry and thwarts consensus. (For a good example of this, just look at the Middle Eastern blame game that, back in April, killed any attempt by OPEC to raise oil prices at Doha.)

Maybe that’s one reason why Hillary’s apologies come off flat. She’s not interested in apologies so much as making things right. She wants to undo the mistakes and is busy thinking about how.

You could see this aspect of Hillary’s professionalism in the final debate. There she was, cool as a cucumber, fending off insults, charges, and verbal assaults. She wasn’t hot under the collar; Donald was. Often she responded with just a word or two—as much as his insults deserved—while he sputtered on.

That, too, is an aspect of professionalism. Negotiating requires “separating the people from the problem” and focusing on substance, not personalities. Hillary has that ability, which was on fine display in the debates. Nobody wants a discussion of policy options to degrade into personal name-calling.

Finally, let’s look a bit at language. We’ve had a president (Dubya) who could speak English only haltingly, in serial bumper stickers. His “Bushisms,” like “Is our children learning?” made him a laughingstock before the world.

Hillary can, and routinely does, speak in complete sentences and paragraphs entirely off the cuff. Won’t it be nice to have a Yankee chief executive who can sound like Tony Blair? If nothing else, it will help restore our national pride and reduce our collective shame in watching the daily news. Precise, crisp, fluent language is part of professionalism, too.

2. Learning, growth and caution.

Let’s face it. Hillary is not as fast a learner as Barack Obama. But who is? He’s one of the quickest studies ever to sit in the White House. Hillary can and does learn on the job, even during a grueling campaign.

Perhaps the best evidence of Hillary’s learning is her pivoting on policy related to Syria and Russia. It’s an open secret that she, as Secretary of State, advocated a more robust and aggressive foreign policy than the President was willing to approve. That proclivity toward strength appears to follow from her initial support of Dubya’s invasion of Iraq, which she now admits was a mistake.

Hillary’s flat apologies on the campaign trail make some people think she wasn’t sincere and hasn’t learned. But that’s just not so. As Secretary of State, a big part of her job was to try to clean up the messes throughout the Middle East that Dubya’s impulsive and imprudent invasion of Iraq had caused. And she has spent an inordinate amount of time, in hearings and preparing for them, explaining the similar messes that followed Qaddafi’s overthrow in Libya.

In debate, Donald threw these messes at her feet. That was probably the most effective and substantive part of his otherwise generally abysmal debate performance.

Hillary compounded the problem by failing to point out that the root cause was Dubya’s spastic and Oedipal military misadventure in Iraq. She hadn’t caused that, nor did she have any power to do so. (In March 2003, when Dubya invaded Iraq, Hillary was four years away from even being a candidate for president.) All she did was support it as a matter of politics, imprudently.

Hillary still has a strong instinct not to be pushed around. She doesn’t like bullies, whether Donald or Vladimir. But she appears to have learned caution from her experience at State. So when asked how she would face Putin’s adventures in Ukraine and Syria, she fell back on diplomacy. She did not, as she might have done earlier, rattle sabers.

There are two possible courses of action against Russia’s and Iran’s backing Assad in devastating and emptying his own country by deliberately attacking civilians. One, which I have laid out, is taking Colin Powell’s advice that “You break it, you own it.” Russia and Iran bear joint guilt (with us) for a chain of events that broke Syria and created IS. Let them clean up at least the part of the mess they have made.

The second approach is to arm selected rebels with Stingers that can shoot down Assad’s aircraft, and perhaps some of Russia’s, too. (In theory, engineers can design modern Stingers to prevent them from shooting down out-of-theater civilian aircraft, and so avoid their diversion to terrorism.) But Hillary has learned the hard way that jingoism can be massively counterproductive. Her near-loss to Bernie taught her that, after fighting two over-decade-long needless wars, we Yanks are in no mood for jingoism. So she kept her peace on this second approach, as a matter of politics and perhaps policy, too.

One of the biggest risks in international affairs today is that leaders around the world have little or no personal experience of war. Dubya and Cheney didn’t. Putin and Xi don’t. Abe doesn’t. Our President also doesn’t, but at least he has the imagination to conceive the horror.

Lacking this personal experience, today’s leaders just might slide into something that could spin out of control. While Hillary has never seen combat personally, she is one of the few world leaders who, in wide travel and clean-up work, has seen what war can do. She has seen how disastrous can be the unintended consequences of something that appeared to start out small. She has also, in campaign after campaign, borne the blame for a war that she didn’t start but only supported from the sidelines.

This heavy experience seems to have given Hillary much of the same caution and prudence that our President comes by naturally. If so, those qualities will serve her well as president.

3. Team Playing.

Even if Hillary was not always so, she is now a consummate team player. She supports teamwork in least three ways.

First, her entire foreign policy relies on teams. She framed her contrast with Donald’s foreign policy by promising to respect and work with allies and alliances around the world, whether or not they pay full freight for their defense. Among the alliances and allies she mentioned were NATO, the EU, Israel, Japan and South Korea.

Second, Hillary learned the value of teamwork from Barack Obama, who appointed her Secretary of State after winning one of the most hard-fought primary campaigns in Democratic Party History. Without that experience, Hillary’s run for president would be immeasurably weaker. So she has continued the tradition of teamwork by attracting Bernie to her campaign with significant changes in policy and the most progressive platform in Democratic Party history.

Finally, Hillary’s recent actions have shown extraordinary teamwork even in the last days of a scorched-earth campaign. She has diverted $100 million of her own campaign war chest to support Democratic “down ballot” candidates and take the Senate and the House.

This last point is a matter of considerable pride and promise for Dems. The humorist Will Rogers once quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” Most of the time, his quip rang true: the GOP, not the Dems, was the party of unity, teamwork and lockstep discipline.

No more. Today the GOP is splintered and in disarray. In contrast, the Dems—Hillary, Barack, Bill, Bernie, Elizabeth, and others—are all working together toward one goal. They are striving for a Democratic presidency, held by the first-ever female, with enough support in Congress to insure a progressive Supreme Court and a progressive agenda for at least two years.

Hillary’s team playing has yet one other benefit. If we Yanks or she strays toward a jingoistic foreign policy, our allies will restrain us. When Dubya invaded Iraq, our European allies tried to restrain him, but to no avail. Dubya was a unilateralist and the “decider,” and he said so. As a team player, Hillary will consult with allies and think twice, maybe three times, before getting involved in foreign military adventures against their advice.

In today’s multipolar world, that approach is not just appropriate. It’s absolutely necessary to repair our big deficits, to wind down our two existing unnecessary wars, and to put our own house in order.

Conclusion: voting early for Hillary.

According to my state’s online voting records, I’ve voted early twice before. But I’ve never seen anything like the crowds at the early polls yesterday. The gravel parking lot at the Santa Fe Fairgrounds was full, and there were lines to get a ballot. I had to wait only five minutes, but previously I had walked right up to the registration desks.

Two tentative conclusions arise from this tiny, nonscientific nugget of experience. First, turnout in this election is going to break all records. Second, a whole lot of people have already seen and heard enough.

Most of the folks at my early polling place had the look of decision and determination of people who’ve made up their minds. According to PBS last night, at least five million people nationwide—maybe 5% of the expected total—have already voted. They aren’t waiting for any October surprise.

Today, a day later, I found something else surprising: my own feelings. I don’t feel just the relief of being able to ignore, henceforth, the puerile insults and megalomanic musings of an overgrown boy-man who has absolutely no business in politics or public service. I don’t just feel the satisfaction of having picked the lesser of two evils and having avoided (if others vote like me) an historic catastrophe of national leadership. Instead of the massive buyer’s remorse I expect Donald’s voters to feel, I actually feel good about voting for Hillary the day after.

She is, at best, only a mediocre campaigner. But as the campaign winds down toward a probable Hillary presidency, her real skills and talents will serve her and us well.

Hillary is a policy animal, not a political one. She got into politics to make changes and do good. That’s what she most wants, and that’s what she’s best at.

Never yet in her long career, except perhaps as Senator from New York, has she had a clear shot at doing so. Never in the last seven years has the GOP’s scorched-earth opposition given President Obama a clear shot at governing. But now, due to the dogged teamwork of Obama, Bernie, Hillary and their crews—and due to the GOP’s disarray and Donald’s self-evident unfitness—we have a chance for a three-branch sweep by progressive forces. If that happens, and if a woman who has thirsted to make policy all her life sits in the White House, we will soon see progress the like of which few alive today have ever seen. What awaits us could rival the New Deal.


20 October 2016

Decision Time, Except for Trumpets

[For a riff on voting this year, click here. For recent posts on Hillary playing the gender card and our president as our cultural leader, click here and here.]

It’s over! The campaign is done. Twenty days remain before the last voters cast their ballots, and only twelve for an October surprise. As PBS commentator Amy Walter said, the campaign already feels like a hundred years long.

Yet there is no rest for the weary. Hillary seems poised to win, but Donald has refused to accept her winning, at least in advance. He wants to keep us in suspense.

So even a decisive victory for Hillary may give us no relief. Will a revolution of sorts follow? Will it be soft or hard? Will there be yet more GOP pols refusing to do what our Constitution says they should do? Or will there be blood in the streets?

Ever the narcissist and showman, Donald thinks it’s all about him. He doesn’t ken that it’s about democracy, the rule of law. It’s about the customs of American civilization that, so far, have kept tanks off the streets of our capital when power changes hands. It’s about whether this 240-year-old experiment in democracy will die a violent death, fade away into oligarchy, or somehow survive by the skin of its teeth.

It’s easy to dismiss Donald’s rabid followers as “Trumpets.” Like him, they have more brass than sense. They are loud and hard to ignore. And now, from the lead Trumpet, they have caught the tune that all is rigged.

In theory, they are capable of anything, so we plebes take little comfort from the debates. There’s the truth that those who swallow lies and fantastic promises are followers, not leaders. There’s the jibe that, as the President and pundit Mark Shields pointed out, a “strongman whiner” is an oxymoron. Yet Hitler and Milošević had grievances, too, and they did a lot of damage in their times.

The Trumpets have been pliable as putty, at least in Donald’s hands. So how he responds to his loss matters. It matters a lot.

The great showman probably knows this. No doubt he wants to make his last hurrah a moment to remember.

The final debate was full of ironies. A man from the “fair and balanced” network that is in truth human history’s most effective propaganda organ managed to evoke the most substantive policy discussion of all three debates. The candidate who won’t credit experience gained visibly from his own: he was far more polished than ever before. If he had started out this way, who knows how much further he might have gone?

But as it happened, Donald gained nothing outside his sycophant “base.” The reason? Hillary, too, produced the best debate performance of this campaign, if not her entire career. She was poised and unflappable. She showed appropriate flashes of apparently real anger and indignation. She took Michelle’s advice to go high when they go low. And she was chock full of facts and figures, as always. But this time every one was on point and hit home. It’s hard to imagine how she could have done a better job against the opponent whom she faced.

As for Donald, his true self reeked through his new polish. Far from apologizing for his unauthorized groping and kissing, which his own recorded voice had corroborated, he denied everything. All the charges against him were lies, he said. His Trumpets may believe that, for they believe anything he says. But how many women will? Probably about as many as the Russophobes who believe his denials and explanations against the views of our seventeen intelligence agencies that his clowning has aided Putin.

In the end, Donald’s biggest whopper was what must do him in. All the past thirty years, he held, were a disaster, a series of terrible deals and stupid moves by incompetent people, including Bill, Hillary and the President. Although he didn’t admit it, those years and people included Dubya. As Hillary also pointed out, he had had the same attitude toward Ronald Reagan. Only Donald can do it right, and without experience, yet, so follow him . . .

You don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize this as megalomania and narcissism, mixed with a little paranoia. Donald’s constant failure to adduce facts to back up his claims helped. So did Hillary’s pointing out the “pattern” in his claims.

But in the end, either you drink the Cool Aid or you don’t. Those who drink deeply number, at most, between thirty to forty percent of voters. So in theory they can’t govern us. If our democracy holds, maybe they won’t. But they can still hurt us, tie us up, and slow us down.

It would be nice to think that Donald is some political space alien who will soon return to his native planet and leave us all in peace. But that would ignore the last forty years of American politics. It’s not just the bald vote suppression under the flimsy excuse of non-existent “voter fraud.” It’s not just the gerrymandering with districts that resemble amoebae which move their pseudopods wherever minorities move. It’s not just the rampant filibusters, now routinely used at rates 142 times the historical.

It’s also the Hastert Rule, which lets a minority rule in the House. It’s the exploitation of Senate “holds” as virtual single-senator vetoes. It’s the refusal even to hold hearings on a legitimate President’s legitimate (and moderate!) Supreme-Court nominee. It’s Mitch McConnell’s declaration, following the slimebag Limbaugh, of total political war a day after Obama’s first inauguration, obviating the long custom of a new president’s “honeymoon.”

It’s the apotheosis of non-issues like abortion, marriage equality and transgender bathrooms, which, although important to the people involved, having no bearing on life-or-death matters like global warming, education, the economy and national security. It’s Citizens United, which turns our pols into sycophants and lackeys of the rich. It’s making propaganda into a form of art and entertainment and calling it “fair and balanced.” It trading science for profitable lies, whether in minimizing the health risks of tobacco, denying global warming, lying about renewable energy, or promoting long wars that go nowhere, make no sense, and have horrendous unintended consequences like the annihilation of Syria and the rise of ISIS.

As all these things attest, the rich and powerful people behind the GOP are goal-oriented and relentless. They will do anything they can conceive to rule us for their benefit. They are like the Sunni Iraqis who, just as our “Mission Accomplished” was disintegrating into civil war, explained to a reporter, “You see, we want to rule Iraq.” The powers behind the GOP expect nothing less of our country, and they are well on their way.

Donald Trump is hardly an exception to these trends. He’s a result and consequence of the rules that the rich and powerful have made and twisted to govern this nation, in ways that would give our Founders nightmares. He’s a step along the road to oligarchy and empire that ancient Rome knew well.

Can we avoid the same fate? The prognosis is not good. Bernie tried to warns us, but Hillary was too powerful, and it was her turn. She’s not for a much-needed “political revolution.” That’s not how she thinks, and it’s way beyond her comfort zone. She’s for making things better, incrementally, for the middle class and for women and children.

For the moment, we seem to have dodged the Trumpets’ bullets. But only if one of Hillary’s children grows up big, strong and wise do we really have a chance. In the meantime, we can hope that her competence and women’s revulsion will produce a three-branch sweep, which will stem the tide of the rich, powerful and relentless for the nonce. If not, we may be left hoping that the Trumpets’ revolution will be political and weak, and not like Caesar’s.

Which Side Are You On?

    “They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there;
    You'll either be a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.”
    — Pete Seeger
There are times in human history when you have to choose sides. You may not want to. You may want more nuance, more subtlety. You may want, unlike Solomon, to split the baby. You may want to preserve an imagined moral superiority. But you have to choose.

This is one of those times. If you vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, you will throw your vote away, because neither is going to come anywhere near winning. If you don’t vote for Hillary, you will, in effect, aid Donald.

But choosing sides goes far beyond the presidency. You have to choose sides down ballot, too.

One party—the Dems—stands for a strong middle class, equal opportunity for all, strong unions to protect working people from exploitation, the same single-payer health insurance that every other developed nation has, reducing global warming, and creating jobs the same way we did after the Great Depression and during World War II, by targeted government investment. The other party—the GOP—stands for the opposite of all these things, because its rich backers think the opposite will make them richer in the short term. They don’t give a damn about the long term, the state of society, the middle class, or you.

And one party—the GOP—will twist, turn and bend every rule of our democracy to get what they want: short-term profit. And they will tell you, with a straight face, that it’s all good for you: trickle-down, vote suppression, and bashing Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTs and any other minority that’s unpopular at the moment. They will tell you with the same straight face that they will say vote suppression will stop “voter fraud,” which is virtually nonexistent.

In the post above, I’ve made a partial catalogue of ways these pols try to deceive you and stretch to rules to get what they want. If you want to stop the bending, stretching and distorting, you have to vote for every Dem on your ballot, all the way down to the minor judgeships, city council and board of education. Because if you don’t, those minor officials will bend the rules even more, teach your kids propaganda, and (a few decades later) end up being the next generation of Mitch McConnells, Mike Pences or even Donald Trumps.

What do you do about so-called “nonpartisan offices”? You do a little research. You get on the Web, put the candidates’ names into Google, and look for statements and news reports that reveal their party affiliation or views, or advice from pols or organizations you respect.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. I’ve only lived and voted in New Mexico since 2010. So my knowledge of down ballot candidates is spotty. What should I do about nonpartisan “judicial retention” elections for state Supreme Court justices?

The New Mexico Supreme Court is just as important in New Mexico as the US Supreme Court is nationally. Insofar as state law is concerned, it makes key decisions on the state Constitution and on all those issues of “culture” and equal rights that can make or break a democracy, let alone a minority.

Every few years, justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court must stand for re-election. The question presented to voters is whether they should be “retained” in the highest judicial office in the state.

No “Dem” or “Rep” appears by their names on the ballot because judges are supposed to be “nonpartisan.” Yet we all know that’s a myth fast becoming a lie. In everything from abortion, through marriage equality, to gerrymandering, there’s now a partisan position.

So you can put your head in the sand and pretend that judges just “call balls ands strikes,” as US Chief Justice Roberts said in his confirmation hearings. Or you can accept the reality of our times, that on virtually every societal and cultural issue, there’s a partisan position that you can hear debated pro and con, on everything from PBS to talk radio.

You can pretend that judges are what they ought to be, or you can accept sad reality and choose sides.

I decided to choose sides. I took fifteen minutes to do my duty as a citizen and looked up the records of the four candidates for judicial retention, insofar as I could find them on the Web.

Three of the four were apparently Democrats with records of fighting for human rights, economic justice and equality. But one, Jonathan B. Sutin, was different. An ex-Marine with a good education and business background, he seemed well-qualified at first. But then I found a record of the kind of dispute that can make or break our democracy.

New Mexico Democrats had accused New Mexico Republicans of gerrymandering legislative districts. A well-respected judge from a lower court had been assigned to resolve the dispute. On appeal, a majority of the New Mexico Supreme Court didn’t think the judge’s report went far enough to cure the gerrymandering, so they sent it back to him for reworking. Justice Sutin dissented.

What caught my attention was not so much the result that Justice Sutin wanted. It was his attitude. As reported, he wrote in dissent that the “quest for the perfectly neutral reapportionment map devoid of partisan effect or bias is illusory. . . . Democrats keep their statewide majority under the plan. . . . [T]he matter is not in need of remand.”

In other words, striving for fair elections is vain, and what matters is the result. If Dems win, they have no right to complain, even if the deck may be stacked against them for future elections.

How many times have we heard that tune from the GOP? The imperfectability of Man and politics is ever an excuse when it favors them. But taxes? They always must go lower, ineluctably, no matter how great the deficits or the need for economic stimulus.

When I vote early on Saturday, I will be voting not to retain Justice Sutin. Of course politics is never perfect. It’s a system of constant struggle, full of disputes and checks and balances. But a man who declines a chance to make the system more perfect has, in my view, no place on the highest court of any state.

I may be spitting into the wind. To my knowledge, there is no current campaign, partisan or otherwise, not to retain Justice Sutin. But if every voter did what I will do, we would have judges devoted to improving the system constantly, whatever the cost, risk and chancees of failure, rather than accepting as “inevitable” flaws that just happen to favor one party over another.

If that’s the standard, then I know which side I’m on.


18 October 2016

The Queen and Don

[For reasons why Hillary should play the gender card on the most basic gut level now, click here.]

There are many ways in which average Americans will have massive buyers’ remorse if they are foolish enough to elect Donald their president. The challenge for Hillary’s strategists, operatives, and ad-makers, and for Hillary-leaning PACs, is to make sure they feel that remorse keenly before they buy.

One big source of remorse we Yanks don’t talk about much. To see it, we must think about the Brits.

The Brits have two people to do the job of our President. They have a Queen, and they have a Prime Minister. The Queen is the symbol of British culture and pride. She personifies what it means to be British—the stiff upper lip, the steadfastness in hard times, the doggedness in adversity and tragedy, the cleverness in problem-solving, and the magnanimity in victory.

Above all, she symbolizes calm reason on the choppy seas of human emotion. Against tragedies like the 7/7 terrorist attacks that were the Brits’ 9/11, she consoles the people, shares and guides their feelings, and puts them in a frame of mind to do what must be done. She’s the coach, the minister, the national psychologist, and (in a low-key British way) the cheerleader.

We all know what the PM does. He (or she) leads and guides the hurly-burly of politics. Today, she runs the country, as much as anyone can in the world’s oldest and most functional democracy. And when he fails, as David Cameron did in trying to avert Brexit, he steps down, so that other, fresher, readier minds can carry on.

Over the centuries since Magna Carta, the center of British power has shifted from the Monarch to the Parliament and the Prime Minister. Now the Monarch’s political powers are entirely vestigial. A recent popular play, “King Charles III,” speculates what might happen if a King tried to reject a bill passed by Parliament, rather than rubber-stamp it as all modern Monarchs are expected to do. The result, even in drama, was no affirmation of Monarchial power.

But despite their well-known lack of “real” power—and the enormous expense of maintaining their royal luxury—British Monarchs serve an invaluable role. They preserve, interpret, and sometimes extend British culture, for the benefit of both the Brits and the rest of the world. They help maintain a culture and government that are among the most admired and respected worldwide.

Can you imagine Donald doing that for us?

In virtually every respect, whether psychological or moral—Donald is the polar opposite of Queen Elizabeth II. Where she is calm and steady, he is angry, irascible and moody. At times he is volcanic, just like a certain Adolf. Where she helps her people face hard facts, he exaggerates, lies, and makes fantastic, unattainable promises. Where she understates and downplays, everything he says or does is “big,” “great” or “huge.” Where she restrains herself in meticulous morality, he is a libertine, a hater bent on vengeance, a fomenter of violence and occasional sexual assaulter.

It was bad enough when Dubya was president. We Yanks had to bow our heads and accept a leader who could barely speak English and couldn’t express a coherent thought longer than a bumper sticker. We had to writhe in silent jealousy while watching Tony Blair and the British Parliament articulate, and then we had to lament when Tony Blair, despite his rhetorical flair, ended up as Dubya’s poodle.

As bad as Dubya’s misrule was, Donald’s would be infinitely worse. He has no soul. If he’s not a psychopath or (as his biographer Tony Schwartz has said) a sociopath, he has narcissistic personality disorder. He talks incessantly about himself. He compliments himself. He praises himself and his ideas, giving no details whatsoever. When opposed, he swears. He hurls imprecations. He bashes women for not being suitably obsequious, or for being fat. He changes and twists his views and his policies whenever it suits his dimly perceived purposes. He foments hate, fear and rage. He suggests assassinating and jailing his political opponents.

And he dispenses praise and encouragement with with an eye-dropper. In a variation of the old fire and brimstone, he doesn’t say that African-Americans are going to Hell, but that many already live there. He assumes that some Mexicans are good people; he insults a Gold Star mother for her silence; and he allows that Hillary the “criminal” never quits.

Yes, we Yanks traditionally don’t care much for royalty. Yes, our Constitution outlaws it. Yes, the common American thinks he’s just as good as anyone else in the world (although he can’t quite articulate why). Yes, shame and embarrassment are vanishing from our homeland.

But somewhere, deep down within us Yanks, doesn’t there still live a desire to do and be good? Don’t we all want to be respected and admired, not just feared? Don’t we want a nation and leaders that the world will look up to?

Maybe not. Maybe we are irredeemable. But I doubt that. Not yet.

In American families, women are the traditional purveyors of moral culture. Mothers and older sisters are the ones who, most often, teach youngsters manners and right from wrong. Which of them would think of training kids to be less like the Queen and more like Donald?

If a spark of shame and goodness still exists within the American psyche, one thing is absolutely certain. A win by Donald will have us hiding our faces in the shadows for four long years. Those of us who go abroad will cease trying to defend our nation, its policies and its leadership and simply hang our heads in silence.

If Hillary’s fans can help us see all this in advance, we might avoid that sad fate. We might reject the ruffian by the biggest landslide in American history.

To neglect women’s roles in helping us see and teach the difference would be an egregious mistake in political strategy. Downplaying Hillary’s gender, which is as obvious as her experience, is no good reason to make that mistake. We Yanks will never have a queen; but all of us, of whatever gender, can appreciate the vast gulf between Britain’s Queen and the Donald’s seething, leaden mind and spirit, which would surely drag us all under.


13 October 2016

Gut Level

[For a bit on Michelle Obama’s blockbuster speech in New Hampshire Thursday, click here. For a recent popular post on how to stop losing good jobs, click here.]

Why did Hillary lose the second debate, at least with Donald’s followers and independent waverers? Because she is all reason and he is all emotion. She tried to fight hate, fear and rage with competence and experience. She tried to cool boiling viscera with five-point plans.

That just won’t work. Not now, not ever.

You can’t fight emotion with reason, at least not among those caught in emotion’s web. You have to jump feet first into the pit. You have to get your hands and mind dirty. You have to make people see how much worse their hate, fear and rage will become if Donald gets anywhere near the White House.

Let’s face it. As that magnificent Carly Simon video makes clear, Donald is not just an unusual politician, let alone an unusually skilled one. He’s a psychopath. Or a sociopath. Take your pick.

He’s Nero. He’s Caligula. He’s Huey Long. He’s George Wallace. He’s Joe (not Gene!) McCarthy. He’s Hitler and Mussolini rolled into one.

If he wins, he will do to women and minorities (and to our national credo) what Catharine the Great did to horses. He will take our traditions of Tolerance and Reason, which make us Americans, and he will screw them. He will do so thoroughly and repeatedly, because that’s who he is. And like Nero and Caligula, he will enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s beginning to look as if Hillary will win no matter what. But with a human abomination this repulsive, we can’t afford a weak or partial victory. We can’t abide two or three percent.

We have to crush this monster so decisively and so completely, that no one will think of running or supporting his ilk for another century. Donald must lose so badly that no major party, although out of ideas and out of favor, will ever again dream of making such a pact with the Devil.

How do we do that? Well, we already have an inkling how.

Donald’s “grab their pussy” video was Manna from Heaven. It was eleven years old, and it’s not exactly relevant to any pressing national issue.

Substantively, it should have been superfluous. Anyone who has followed Donald’s noxious ravings on the stump should have known what he is capable of. He got up at 3:00 am to Tweet-blast a former Miss Universe for allegedly being fat. That alone ought to have have told us that Donald can only see women, let alone respect them, insofar as they give him visual or sexual pleasure or advance his business interests. As conservative pundit David Brooks told us months ago, he has the mentality of a “diseased adolescent.”

So Donald’s “pussy” video was nothing new. But it did what Hillary’s campaign so far has utterly failed to do. It began to gel the common notion that Donald is a human mutant—absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances. It began to promote his universal social ostracism. It began, for the first time ever, to turn women’s majority power of numbers into Nate Silver’s lovely all-blue electoral map.

For those who like theory, there’s good theory to back all this up. Remember the abortion issue? In a prior post, I explained why it’s the gift that keeps on giving to so-called “conservatives,” including bullies who will seek any means to power.

There are two main reasons. First, if you can oversimplify and make your oversimplification stick, it’s an absurdly simple issue. Define abortion as “killing babies,” regardless of nuance, circumstances and subtleties. Then you have a wedge issue that anyone can understand.

Second, then you reach right down to evolutionary bedrock. Spiders and some lizards eat their young. We humans protect and nurture our young at all costs. (Among other reasons why, we have the longest time to maturity and nearly the longest gestation period of any species on this planet.)

As Hillary herself has observed, we raise kids in a village, as a community. So in purporting to protect babies from murder, you build your gut issue on the bedrock that supports human civilization.

Now, in this unusual situation, progressives can do that, too. Not all men are bigger and stronger than all women. But most fit that mold, and that’s how we humans think of our genders. Yet women are essential to our reproduction and child-rearing, not to mention our happiness. So we men have learned to protect them—our mothers, sisters, daughters—at all costs.

Part biological evolution and part social evolution, this rule is just as deeply embedded in our psyches as not eating our young, even when we are very hungry. What man won’t come to the aid of a woman in real distress?

So when Donald is the putative source of distress—let alone when he appears to endorse and prescribe it—men’s protective instincts and women’s primal fear and revulsion rise unbidden from our lower depths. They are just as strong as our revulsion at “killing babies.”

So, at this moment in this election, Donald has unwittingly given progressives a gut issue as strong and flexible as abortion. We should beat him over the head with it, relentlessly and continuously, until we send him back chastened to his pathetic reality shows on November 8.

Yes, Hillary is smarter than Donald—a lot smarter. Yes, she is cooler, more rational, more circumspect, more consistent, and more persistent. Yes, she has infinitely more knowledge and experience of politics and of the world. But none of these good characteristics will change many minds at this point in the election cycle.

Part of the reason is that there are no simple solutions to any of our pressing problems. How do we stop hemorrhaging good jobs? I've proposed one method, but it takes a long essay even to explain it. How do we fix Syria? How do we stop Putin’s and Iran’s adventurism without causing a war that might be worse, even if it’s not nuclear?

Let’s face it. No one really knows. No one outside of secret government circles and a few think tanks has even been thinking seriously about answers to these questions. Everyone has been focusing on how to win this election. And even if there were clear and simple solutions—which there are not—there’s nothing resembling a national consensus on any of them, and far too little time left to build one.

So there is only one ploy left for progressives to make this election the decisive rejection of Donald and his feckless facilitators that it should be. We have to show every sentient being, including many who now think they like Donald, that he is the vilest excuse for a human being ever to seek our highest office. We have to get them to gag at his sight. We have to make them cringe at the very thought of seeing him in their living room, as their leader, for the next four years.

If there were ever a campaign that cried out for negativity, this is it. Wide publicity and discussion of Donald’s “pussy” video is a good start. So is that powerful Carly Simon video.

But they’re only a start. We must pound Donald and his party with the like, as if with artillery attacking a fortress, until there’s nothing left of his campaign but rubble. For in truth Donald has no campaign: no solutions, no ideals, no reason, no consistency. His sole campaign is his diseased personality.

Then, when the dust clears after a decisive election, we will have a new nation. We will be able to look ourselves in the mirror again. And the GOP can begin building a new, real party with some decency and some ideas.

Endnote: To some of us, it seems as if Hillary, in addressing gender, is following Barack Obama’s lead on race. As a presidential candidate, Obama twice won clear popular majorities in a still consummately racist nation. His campaigns never mentioned race.

But Obama’s circumstances were and are different. Obama’s supposed affinity group, African-Americans, are a 12% minority. Hillary’s—women—are an absolute majority of people and voters. They are her secret weapon. Furthermore, whites have no evolutionary imperative to protect African-Americans, as men do women. Evolutionary tribalism works against African-Americans, while evolution works for women.

Or course Hillary and her surrogates must be careful and subtle and not alienate anyone, as always. But if they are learning from Obama’s silence on racism to keep mum on sexism and assaults on women, they are learning the wrong lesson. And they may be leaving the most decisive win in American history on the table.

Michelle’s Second Blockbuster

I cannot end this piece without genuflecting toward Michelle Obama. If the Carly Simon “Vain”” clip added a howitzer to artillery arrayed against Donald’s campaign, Michelle provided an entire squadron of B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

It was not enough that she had made by far the best speech of both parties’ conventions. On Thursday afternoon, in New Hampshire, she went one better. She made what may be the best speech of this entire campaign season.

Hers was a near-perfect combination of analysis, reason and emotion. I will not tarnish it by trying to cherry-pick quotes or aspects. If you care about the issues discussed in this post, you must set aside 29 minutes and watch it.

In it, Michelle followed her own rule from her earlier convention speech. While Donald went low, she went high. She went high for the whole speech, speaking of decency, empathy, and cooperation. She annihilated Donald at a gut level without ever using a nasty word about him, let alone the epithets and profanity he uses every day. She exhorted us to raise the level of our politics and our society for our progeny, if no one else.

Watch the speech. When you are finished, you will know why it is your sacred duty to stop Donald, save our nation, and elect Hillary at all costs. And you will know why regardless of whether you are female, male, a child or an adult.


07 October 2016

Keeping Good Jobs at Home I: Tax Concessions and Subsidies

[For analysis of the second presidential debate, click here. For analysis of the debate between vice-presidential candidates, click here.]

The Best Video on Donald Yet
Sometimes I post political humor for comic relief, after a long, serious essay. But I just ran across a video-commentary-cartoon that is worth a link in its own right. In 2:38, it encapsulates The Donald and strongly suggests the utter devastation of our nation, and perhaps the world, that will ensue if we are dumb enough to elect him.

This is the first time that Carly Simon has ever released her award-winning popular song, “You’re so Vain,” for political purposes. Thank you Carly. You’ve done good.

[MAIN ESSAY] Never have so many missed the point by so wide a mark. Working Yanks are upset by the steady drain of good jobs abroad. They appear ready to elect a demagogue and Hitler clone named Donald Trump. Working Brits rejected membership in the EU for similar reasons.

Yet both workers and elite hand-wringers just can’t seem to get the point. Reducing the job drain doesn’t require giving up free trade in goods or services. Nor does it mean abandoning the rules of trade that have kept the peace and promoted prosperity ever since our species’ most horrible war.

The essence of the problem is not free trade in goods or services, but massive drains of good jobs. These things are apples and oranges.

More to the point, displaced workers don’t really want to kill the goose that has laid the golden egg by bringing back tariffs and other forms of trade protectionism. Trump may have said he wants that, but he’s not the brightest bulb in the marquee, is he? What displaced workers want is to stop, or at least to slow, the export of whole factories, some 60,000 of which have left the US alone.

But the 0.1% and the right wing are a bit hard of hearing. They don’t want to hear that the system that has enriched them (and many poor people globally) beyond measure has had unfortunate unintended consequences. They don’t want to know that many innocent, middle-class people are hurting. They see the global system they have created as perfection itself, because it has been very good to them.

So what do they do? Like aristocrats in pre-revolutionary France, they pretend their current scheme of globalization is the best of all possible economic worlds. They pretend that middle-class complaints are assaults on free trade—which they are most definitely not. In false response, they exhume the bodies of Smoot and Hawley just to riddle them with bullets and rebury them. Here The Economist, which recently spent a whole issue doing just that, is the global cheerleader.

What these worthies don’t do—because they personally are doing just fine, thank you—is acknowledge that there is a flaw in their paradise: millions of people are hurting, insecure and facing a dim future for themselves and their families. Not even acknowledging the problem, the elite naturally refuse to search for causes and a cure.

In so doing, they resemble our Yankee insurance executives, who benefit mightily from the world’s most expensive and inefficient system of health-care financing. Those worthies pretend that the single-payer systems in effect in every other developed nation would be, in a Yankee form of Medicare for all, “socialized medicine” and a threat to capitalism. So they inveigh against “socialism,” which the United States has never had and never will, and they exhume the long-dead bodies of Marx and Engels to flog them mercilessly and rebury them.

Unfortunately for them and for our globalized world, their approach resembles the head-in-the-sand attitude of French aristocrats before the French Revolution, and of Trump and Inhofe today toward global warming. In addition to being dangerous, it’s un-American.

At our best, we Yanks have always tried to look at problems face on, to find what caused them, and to fix them. In this instance, doing so requires understanding precisely why so many factories have moved from the US and other developed countries to developing ones, and what we might do to slow the flow.

There are at least four reasons why whole factories go abroad. In rough order of importance, they are: (1) cheaper labor, (2) tax relief and subsidies, (3) transportation and logistics issues, and (4) variant requirements for working conditions, worker safety, and environmental protection.

To some extent, items (1) and (4) are self-limiting, at least in theory. As factories follow cheaper labor abroad, local standards of living rise, bringing wages with them. Better working conditions, worker safety, and environmental protection soon follow.

That happened in Japan, as it morphed from a once low-cost, low-quality producer to today’s third-largest economy. Now good jobs have moved offshore from Japan, just as they have from other developed economies. And now Tokyo and Osaka, where once vending machines sold doses of oxygen against ever-present acrid smog, are as clean as any other developed-nation cities.

The same thing seems to be happening in China. But the changes in China are happening more slowly than in Japan, because: (1) China is much bigger, (2) real economic growth has barely touched China’s undeveloped western hinterlands, and (3) China is much less democratic than Japan. Nevertheless, the changes are already under way; some multinational corporations that crave lower wages already are moving out of China to less-developed nations, and some even back home.

Waiting for living standards, wages and legal protection of workers and consumers to equalize requires patience. It took about a generation in Japan and may take two in China. But eventually it will happen. In contrast, transportation and logistical issues may persist, and in many cases they ought to. Cars, trucks and heavy equipment, for example, are better made near where they are used, if only because transportation costs are high and likely will rise as fossil fuels begin to run out.

So causes (1) and (4) of job losses likely will fade with time. Cause (3) is real and probably won’t change. But cause (2)—tax concessions and subsidies—is both a real and a potent cause of job losses that wise policy can and should alleviate.

Tax breaks and subsidies are real ways that nations steal jobs from each other. They are economically inefficient. In addition, they deprive national governments of much-needed revenue and resources. They appear unfair, especially to workers who lose jobs because of them.

Fortunately, such inefficient and counterproductive jobs thefts are something that we Yanks could eliminate globally, on our own, at the stroke of a pen.

To see how, consider the well-known case of Apple. It’s the world’s most valuable company, and indeed the most valuable corporation in human history. It’s an American company, founded in America by Americans and having its world headquarters, directors and top management in America. Most, if not all, of its product ideas and intellectual property come from America. So why, pray tell, is its European headquarters located in Ireland?

Two numbers provide an answer. The EU Commission recently accused Ireland of under-taxing Apple’s presence there by $14.5 billion (€ 13 billion) over a ten-year period. It ordered Ireland to recoup that amount from Apple. And records tell us that Apple has accumulated a cash hoard of over $200 billion from its foreign operations, which it refuses to bring home for fear of US taxation.

So it’s clear that taxes give Apple powerful incentives—having nothing to do with the economics of its businesses—to put and keep jobs and money in Ireland and other foreign countries instead of in the United States.

How do these tax incentives work? To understand them in detail, it helps to review the global taxation of Yanks by their government, the United States.

For individuals, the US rules of global taxation are relatively simple. An individual worker is considered a US resident for tax purposes if he spends less than 330 days abroad in any tax year. Then US taxes apply to all his worldwide income, with credits for taxes rightly paid to foreign countries. If he spends more time abroad, he is considered a foreign resident, and only foreign taxes apply to his income (up to specified limits) earned outside the US.

The rules for corporations are different. The reason is that each legal corporation—whether a parent, subsidiary, or brother-sister corporation—is considered a separate and distinct legal “person.” If Apple’s Irish works were an unincorporated division of California-incorporated Apple, and not a separate subsidiary, all their worldwide income would be subject to US tax. But because they are a separate subsidiary, incorporated in Ireland, they are treated as wholly foreign, and all their worldwide income is subject only to Irish tax, unless and until it comes back to the US. That’s the reason for those huge, idle foreign cash hoards.

This rule allowed Ireland to win Apple’s jobs by granting Apple one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe and the world. It’s also what keeps the $200-billion-plus that Apple has earned outside the United States in financial limbo, unavailable for building US infrastructure or creating US jobs.

Thus does so much trouble come from the notion that corporations are “people.” Not only does that odd idea give them “rights” of free speech, so that corporate managers can use piles of money gleaned from shareholders and customers to propagandize the public under Citizens United. It also allows foreign states to attract and hold subsidiaries of American companies (and their jobs) by offering them lower tax rates—sometimes ridiculously lower—as foreign “people.”

A simple solution to this problem would be to treat all affiliates of American corporations (parents, subsidiaries, and brother/sister corporations) as American, too. Then Apple’s Irish subsidiary would be considered part of Apple for tax purposes, despite its separate Irish incorporation. The greater Apple would be taxed by the United States on its worldwide income, including that of its Irish operations, with credit for Irish taxes rightly paid, just as in the case of US citizens residing and working abroad. (This point ignores the current numerical limitations on the foreign income of such citizens that is free from US tax.).

Then Ireland could tax Apple’s Irish works as low or as high as it liked. In the US, Apple would have to pay the difference between Ireland’s present low taxes and the US’ higher rates on all the subsidiary’s income. As a result, Apple’s total tax bill for its Irish subsidiary, including both Irish and US taxes, would be the same as if the subsidiary were located in the US. Therefore tax rates would provide no incentive to move jobs abroad or to prefer a subsidiary to a division; only real business advantages would.

Just as important for foreign nations, Ireland would have no reason to lower its tax rates and deprive itself of revenue just to attract Apple’s jobs. It could tax local operations as much as it liked (up to the US rate), secure in the knowledge that doing so would not increase Apple’s total taxes, because Apple would pay US taxes on its Irish operations only at the differential rate.

The same change in rules would eliminate the abomination of so-called tax “inversions,” by which a US corporation can avoid US taxes and pay only lower foreign taxes by having a foreign corporation acquire it and moving its headquarters abroad.

In order to make these rules work, US tax law would have to distinguish between American and foreign corporations with a bit more realism and subtlety than it does today. Today, lawyers can make any foreign operation of an American corporation “foreign” for tax purposes simply by incorporating it as a foreign subsidiary and locating it in a foreign country.

But doesn’t that ploy belie common sense? Apple and all its worldwide operations are as American as apple pie. Bayer’s are German. Mitsubishi’s and Toyota’s are Japanese. The legal form of their foreign operations does nothing to change these basic facts.

To adopt this bit of common-sense, our tax law would have to use a so-called “multifactor test” to determine the tax “nationality” of a US corporation’s operations in a foreign country. Among the factors to be considered would be management and control, the nationality of top management, officers and directors, stock ownership in the subsidiary, and the national origin of product ideas and intellectual property. These rules would be no more complex in operation that the rules for so-called “transfer pricing” that now apply when a foreign subsidiary deals with its American parent. (The prices actually charged for goods and services may not apply if one tax authority or another thinks that prices are “unrealistic” and have been misstated or manipulated to avoid taxes.)

The current efforts by the EU to force Ireland to tax Apple more heavily on past income have become a cause celebre among American corporate elite. But those efforts might have done and be doing other EU nations and workers everywhere a favor.

Ireland has tried to buy jobs from Apple by low-balling the taxes it charges Apple. So far, it has had considerable success. But the success has come at a big price. Not only has Ireland forfeited enormous potential revenue and increased its national debt to the danger point. It has also deprived other European nations, and perhaps the US itself, of jobs and tax revenue that otherwise they might have had.

Nothing in the hard-fought rules of “free trade” in goods and services requires that Ireland be allowed to steal jobs this way. Its doing so distorts the global economy. It also creates a race to the bottom in tax revenue for Ireland and its EU partners, at a time when all of them are mired in debt and need to maintain reasonable streams of tax income. At the same time, the Irish ploy gives Apple and other American multinationals reasons to exacerbate our Yankee job drain. We Yanks could eliminate all these bad effects at the stroke a pen, simply by changing our own tax laws.

State subsidies to attract business operations from abroad have a similar effect. By artificially influencing business-location decisions, they distort plans based on real economic effects, such as logistical and transportation costs, language barriers, and the need to train local workers and keep control of quality despite cultural differences. At the same time, subsidies deprive the offering state of revenue that could be used for other purposes.

The WTO already prohibits similar subsidies among competing private firms from different nations. For example, governments acting on behalf of Airbus and Boeing have brought cases in the WTO accusing each other of benefitting its respective aircraft competitor with governmental subsidies.

The case of Apple is more difficult in two respects. First, Apple is not about to complain of subsidies that it receives itself. Second, since Apple has few, if any, direct competitors in Europe, complaints from that sector are unlikely. Therefore, it might be beneficial, if not necessary, to expand anti-subsidy rules to allow adversely affected workers, their unions, or their governments to complain.

Tax concessions and governmental subsidies are not yet the primary reasons for moving jobs abroad. Wage differentials still are. But taxes and subsidies are important today, as the huge numbers in Apple’s case attest. The mere fact that tax laws keep over $200 billion of Apple’s money abroad, doing nothing, is a sign of a breakdown in international policy. Nations, including our own, seeking resources for infrastructure building and debt reduction could use that money in circulation in their economies. Right now, it benefits no one but Apple’s foreign banks.

As wage levels and worker protections equalize around the globe, tax concessions and governmental subsidies will become increasingly important means by which one nation tries to steal good jobs from another. The United States government and its foreign counterparts would do well to try to nip this counterproductive sort of job theft in the bud.

Besides encouraging job theft, tax-concession subsidies create a race to the bottom in international tax policy. They pit government against government in a race to reduce taxes to attract good jobs from multinational corporations. They thus demean and impoverish government in general, as distinguished from business, thereby hastening the onrushing day when we, the people, will have our daily lives governed primarily by business corporations, not nation-states.

The Apple case shows how the US, merely by changing its tax laws, could help save the very idea of government from obsolescence. It could level the playing field as between US and foreign jobs, give foreign governments an incentive to raise the taxes they need to subsist, and perhaps motivate the repatriation of a foreign cash hoard of US multinationals now estimated as aggregating $ 1.6 trillion.

At first glance, the EU Commission’s push to raise Irish taxes on Apple’s Irish subsidiary might seem a mere money grab. But it’s not. It’s a first serious attempt to remedy global imbalances in tax policy that have several anti-competitive consequences. First, low Irish taxes on Apple in Europe disadvantage Apple’s European competitors. Second, low Irish taxes disadvantage American workers, who, with the aid of cheap global transportation and communication, might do many of the Irish subsidiary’s jobs here at home in America. Third, by reducing Ireland’s revenue, low taxes disadvantage Ireland’s government in competition with other European governments and competing governments worldwide.

Finally, as part of a global race to the bottom in national tax revenue to attract good jobs, low Irish taxes disadvantage governments generally, in competition with multinational corporations, in efforts to remain economically effective and relevant. They hasten the day when we, as human beings, will look to multinational corporate boards of directors, rather than governments, constitutions, laws and courts, to protect our rights as workers, consumers and human beings. All these anti-competitive effects are reasons why the EU Commission’s Irish tax push properly arose out of its competition branch.

Endnote: This essay is the first in an occasional series on how to keep good jobs at home without impairing globalization or free trade. Future essays will consider start-up subsidies for new technology and new industries and time-limited prohibitions on exporting new intellectual property.

Footnote: Trump has said he wants to impose, or at least threaten, 35% tariffs on Chinese exports, bringing Smoot and Hawley back to life again. In contrast, Bernie just identified the problem of losing good jobs but offered no specific solution, let alone an obviously counterproductive one. Perhaps that’s why he lost to Hillary in the primaries, while Trump won his. We Yanks like plans, even if they self-evidently won’t work.

The Second Presidential Debate

In three ways, the second presidential debate was both depressing and disappointing. First, what was supposed to be a “town-hall” meeting focusing on undecided voters’ genuine concerns ended up a knock-down, drag-out slug fest focused mostly on trivia and gossip. Any idea that real people would control this debate went out the window in the first half-hour.

Second, those who hoped that Hillary would put Donald away came up disappointed. Donald took the fight to Hillary and stopped his free fall. He may have even consolidated his position with his odd constituency: uneducated white folk who are not well informed on relevant facts. Thus Donald “won” the debate, if anyone can be deemed to have “won” a mud wrestle in which hitting below the belt and being slimy enough to squirm out of holds were the chief means of winning.

Third, the debate was depressing because it proved beyond doubt how much we will miss Barack Obama. Neither candidate had anywhere near his cool judgment or political skill, let alone his scandal-free record. Once again, Donald showed himself too scatterbrained, inconsistent and unreliable, and too willing to make up facts out of whole cloth. Hillary showed herself too cautious, tentative and triangulating, and sometimes unable to see key trees for the forest.

Donald claimed the “presidential” mantle in addressing the first topic. That was his famous sexist video, recently gone viral, in which he bragged how his celebrity and wealth let him molest women at will. He made a full apology, in a voice and tone of sincerity, and dismissed the whole thing as “locker-room banter.” Hillary countered that multiple similar incidents prove Donald’s real character to the contrary. But she failed to point out that what may be standard locker-room banter for boys of 16 to 25 is pathological for a grown man of 59, let alone one with presidential aspirations.

Donald also won the second round, about e-mail-gate, albeit with a lie. He claimed—repeatedly—that Hillary had deliberately erased 33,000 e-mails after receiving a subpoena requiring them to be kept as evidence. In fact, she and her staff had ordered the emails’ destruction before the subpoena issued, but a negligent subordinate did not carry out the order until afterward. A PBS fact-checker had to point this out after the debate; Hillary had not mentioned it, apparently wanting to keep things simple. As a result, she left viewers with the notion that she didn’t care much about protecting classified information, with only her abstract assertion of caring to the contrary.

Hillary won the third round, on health care. Donald castigated Obamacare as terrible, without citing a single specific fact. Hillary pointed out the 20 million new insured and the four benefits, including coverage of preexisting conditions, that Obamacare assures all the other 170 million insured. Her reasoning no doubt appealed to educated voters who can reason, but Donald probably kept his base.

On foreign policy, Donald continued the GOP tradition of blaming everything bad that happens in the world on the Dems. Remember how Nixon once accused Dems of “losing China” to Communism, as if an omnipotent America could fix the fate of a country four times its size, halfway around the world, while dealing with the global wreckage of World War II? Donald did much the same thing with Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Things have not gone well there, and he blamed them all on Hillary and the President.

You would have had to be both educated and well-informed to refute those arguments. So Donald kept and may have strengthened his base on foreign policy. But foreign policy is a minor issue for most voters. What matters is jobs, the economy and policy here at home.

The only two fields in which Hillary stood out were tolerance and children. She made her case for wanting to be everybody’s president by comparing Donald’s gaffes and insults re Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, and the disabled with her own “caring” about children and women, citing her accomplishments in passing S-Chip and her efforts to promote gender equality at home and abroad.

Donald’s most damaging argument was that, despite her thirty years in and around government, Hillary hasn’t accomplished much. He repeated it several times during the debate, calling her “all talk and no action.” Indeed, besides S-Chip, getting help for 9-11 first responders, augmenting the consensus to get bin Laden, and getting UN authorization to topple Qaddafi, there aren’t to many big accomplishments to which she can point. Her insistence that 400 acts of Congress bear he name as sponsor or so-sponsor will convince no-one from Donald’s coterie or fellow travelers.

So the second presidential debate left us with the same sad conundrum of this whole election. Who would make a better president? a boy-man who thinks he knows it all, has terribly intolerant tendencies, shoots from the hip in all directions, and can’t keep his mind on anything but himself for more than five minutes? or an earnest and much smarter woman with deep flaws and a long history of urgent caring and trying but little real accomplishment, with a few serious errors in judgment (Iraq and e-mailgate)?

There is a reason why this election has little to do with policy. Both candidates are flawed, but in very different ways. There is no question that Hillary has the greater competence. In the end, the election may turn on which of the two the electorate can less stand to see in its living rooms for four years. If we Yanks have become a nation of hustlers as much as Donald thinks and our history suggests, we may all be in serious trouble.

Endnote: The debate’s depressing quality probably had little to do with the work of the two moderators: Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz. Both did a credible job of keeping the candidates to their allotted times, holding them to answering the questions asked, and pressing them with follow-ups. If they made any error, it was the plan of the whole debate. Had it started out as a “town hall meeting,” with real citizens asking real questions about substantive policy, not gossip, it might have turned out differently. But with the news media and the Internet scintillating with gossip, and our media bosses chasing it as a road to profits, that depressing outcome was probabaly pre-ordained.