Saturday, November 12, 2016

Can Donald Trump Deliver on His Promises to Rural America?

I was planning on waiting until after the election to do a posting on how America just dodged a bullet by finally sending Donald Trump home so we wouldn’t have to hear his toxic rhetoric anymore. It didn’t work out that way.
As the reader can guess, the results left me stunned and in the state of total despair.
But I tried to cope as best I could. I thought that he at least got the majority of the popular vote which as far as I’m concerned, conveys the will of the people whether I liked it or not. Then I found out that he indeed lost the national popular vote. That didn’t work.
OK, so we just elected an intellectual lightweight. But we’ve done that before. What can possibly happen that is catastrophic? Oh yeah, George W. Bush, who was elected in 2000 (also with a minority of the popular vote) transformed an inherited budget surplus into a massive deficit by needlessly and tragically starting a war with Iraq. That didn’t make me feel better either.
But reaching deep down, maybe – just maybe something good came out of this. Could this all have possibly been a blessing in disguise? Maybe. Just hear me out!
It’s been painfully obvious that America is not only deeply but bitterly divided. Looking at all of those maps on TV during the election returns, it showed states mostly covered with red colored counties with a few blue dots, those representing the urban areas.
It is safe to say that much of this bitter divide is between urban America and rural America. And although rural America commands the overwhelming amount of land area, the overall urban and rural populations are very close to being equal. And by no coincidence, the presidential election results have been cliffhangers in recent years.
So how do we compare the urban and rural American mentalities? That would take a book. And this is not that book. But with the reader’s indulgence, I would like to offer some general observations with the caveat that anything general can have its exceptions.
Urban dwellers live in close proximity to one another. This constant interaction with one another leads to an attitude that we are in this together. Having government to provide a safety net for those in need is the only right thing to do. Urban centers are typically melting pots where different races and ethnicities freely mingle.
On the other hand, rural people tend to live apart from each other or at the least, away from dense population centers. This tends to cultivate self-reliance and independence from what they feel is any form of government intrusion into their lives. For those in need, government is not the answer; charity is. And unlike urban America, rural America is a homogeneous white culture. Admittedly, it is difficult to have empathy for another race where few white people have ever engaged with non-whites.
This rivalry between the two competing worldviews is nothing new. But rural America has been going through some especially tough times lately. Job losses particularly in coal and manufacturing have been accelerating. This naturally has led to more widespread poverty.  These people are mad as hell, but whom to blame for their misery? Maybe it’s foreign immigrants. Or the black people. Or China with the government and their trade agreements that they feel caused much of this. When Hillary Clinton advocated moving away from fossil fuels like coal to renewables, environmentalists applauded but the coal miners were furious at her for wanting to take away their jobs. In short, government became the enemy. In their eyes, President Obama is the face of big government and Hillary Clinton represented continuation of the status quo. It took a demagogue like Donald Trump to harness all of this frustration and hate into a most improbable election victory.
And make no mistake, rural white America contributed greatly to Trump’s victory. While Trump strongly outperformed Mitt Romney in 2012 among rural voters, Clinton underperformed President Obama in 2012 with blacks, Latinos, and even women. With many of the crucial swing states being decided by razor-thin margins, this alone was likely enough to deliver the victory to Trump.
If Hillary had been elected, this bitter divide would have continued to the detriment of our nation. Perhaps the only way to settle this was to give rural America what they wanted. But as they say, be careful what you wish for!
Donald Trump has made what liberals like myself feel are a lot of outrageous promises to get elected that he will never be able to keep. It’s easy to boo and do catcalls at the performer when you are one of the spectators. But soon, he will be on center stage with the world watching him. And now he will be expected to perform.
Where do we start?
He has promised to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific”. Will the people with preexisting conditions continue to be insured? The idea of forcing people to buy health insurance may seem wrong to these people. But if only sick people buy health insurance, how does he expect the insurance market to avoid a collapse? Now he can show us.
He promises large tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich along with in his words, making the military great again. And while not touching Social Security or Medicare, he has promised a balanced budget. Previous tax cutters like George W. Bush have given us exploding deficits. Can Trump do better? Let’s find out.
Will the Republican Congress authorize the money to build that wall on the Mexican border? If this somehow happens, will he really be able to get the Mexicans to reimburse us for the cost? This is not to mention the cost and manpower to round up and deport the millions of undocumented immigrants as promised.
He has promised to bring back the jobs that have left America. Coal and steel jobs will return. And to those companies who plan to move jobs outside of America, he promises to impose steep tariffs. How would he explain the likely resulting trade war that could decimate world economies? He has promised repeatedly that through the threat of tariffs, he will prevent Carrier from moving its Indiana manufacturing plant to Mexico.
He claims he can negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep world affairs in order. What will he do if Putin gives him the finger and causes more mayhem elsewhere?
If he can fulfill his promises without harming people, that would prove that the change his voters demanded was the right medicine for what ails America. But if he can’t, maybe it will expose the fallacy of all of these ideas which may result in his supporters turning on him. And while the next presidential election is 4 years away, the Congressional midterm elections are only 2 years away which may result in significant Republican losses if they fail to deliver. And those Carrier workers in Indiana expect action from him to save their jobs from moving to Mexico. Or else.
And only a few days past the election, some fascinating developments are already taking place as the Trump Administration is taking shape. He is already hedging on some of his major pledges including the repeal of Obamacare and the building of the wall with Mexico. He had strongly condemned lobbyists during his campaign. Now they're on his transition team.
As one of Trump’s many skeptics, I can assert that much of what he is advocating for has already been tried and found wanting. But memories are short. Unfortunately, for all too many, the only way to show what works is to conclusively prove what doesn’t work.
And maybe, just maybe if more of us can agree on what works, we can work together to promote the common good instead of prolonging this toxic divide between rural and urban America. At least it’s something to hope for!
I would like to conclude with this NY Times reader comment by Matthew Carnecelli:
...what they fail to understand is that Trump's victory is merely the rope that they will use to hang themselves, and that his presidency will be the final nail in the coffin of their toxic ideology.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The False Equivalency Between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

As the reader can guess, I am a confirmed political junkie. In addition to following newspaper and TV discussions on the issues, I love talking politics with anybody who directly or indirectly brings up an interesting political issue. Then with this being an election year, I gently steer the conversation towards whom they support for president. And yes, I run into plenty of people who support people I don’t support. But that often makes the conversation more interesting. I want to know, why do they feel the way they do?
If somebody supports Hillary, that’s OK. And if somebody supports Trump, that’s OK too – to each their own I say. But all too often, I hear they are both just as bad as each other and that they aren’t going to vote for either one of them.
Although this makes me a bit crazy, I do understand that both of these candidates have low favorability ratings. But to imply that they are equivalent choices is to my mind, pure lunacy.
Allow me to make the case.
Hillary is one of the most experienced candidates ever to run for president. Trump is the least experienced major party candidate we have ever had never having served either in government or the military. No equivalence here.
While both have their opposite party detractors, in Trump, it is impossible to recall any candidate being openly condemned by so many Republican politicians along with conservative commentators. If there are so many Republicans who can’t stand Trump, doesn’t that say something?
When it comes to bigotry and racism, George Wallace may be comparable to Trump. But among major party nominees, nobody can compare to Trump. And has any other major party nominee been so enthusiastically endorsed by hate groups like the KKK? In fairness, we cannot say that all Trump supporters are racists. But l think it’s safe to say that all racists are Trump supporters! Indeed, most observers feel that Trump's so-called ‘birther’ attack on President Obama, charging that he was born in Africa was racially motivated – a charge that he has never recanted.
Also troubling is Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his campaign's CEO, formerly of Breitbart News a far right (now better known as alt-right) website that is known for its racist and anti-Semitic posts. Indeed, one of Breitbart's staff was barred from Twitter for a vicious attack campaign on Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, presumably for being black and female.
And just for good measure, Trump's latest appointment, David Bossie has made a career out of Clinton hating.
There is no denying that Hillary is a flawed candidate. Her judgment in the way she handled the State Department E-mails is certainly open to criticism. And despite the good works of the Clinton Foundation, the prospect of clients calling on both the Foundation and the State Department is always going to look questionable. And while Bill Clinton has promised to separate from the Foundation if his wife wins, perhaps he should have done this at the beginning of her campaign. But for Trump to encourage his rally supporters to yell “Lock her up!” again has no equivalence to any other presidential campaign at least in modern times.
His allegations of “pay to play” now look pathetic next to his contributions to various prosecutors, most notably Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi apparently in exchange for her agreeing not to prosecute Trump over allegations of fraud by the now defunct Trump University. Once again, does Hillary or has any other presidential candidate ever had an equivalent scandal of a Trump organization being accused of bilking people out of their life savings?
And finally for now, neither Hillary Clinton nor any other major party candidate going back to the 70s (except for Gerald Ford) has ever refused to release his income tax returns like Trump has thus far.
So who deserves the blame for spreading this false equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Many, including me believe that all too often, the media feels it has a duty to represent both sides of an issue equally even when one side is absurd or has already proven to be wrong. In addition, it appears that Hillary is held to a different standard by the media than Trump which is what happened in the recent Commander-In-Chief Forum where both candidates made separate appearances to answer questions.
But perhaps there is some hope for the media to get its act together. Just recently, the Dallas Morning News, a staunchly conservative newspaper not only condemned Trump as being unfit for office as many other Republicans have done but then also took the bold step of endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. When a Republican candidate forces a newspaper to endorse its first Democratic candidate in 76 years, this perhaps shows best of all that Trump has no equivalence to any other candidate, let alone Hillary. And certainly not in a good way!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Can Donald Trump Really Win This November?

So the conventions are now over and we are finally starting the general election with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump having both officially secured their respective party’s nominations. Now is an interesting time to take a look at this race to try and evaluate where things stand.
Looking at the conventions, most all observers feel that the Democratic Convention's smoothly orchestrated lineup of high impact speakers from Bernie Sanders to Michelle Obama to President Obama, Bill Clinton and finally climaxing with Hillary herself made a much better presentation to the electorate than the Republican Convention which was without many of their stars who opted to stay home rather than be forced to do an endorsement speech for The Donald. In fact, the major anticipated endorsement speech from Ted Cruz surprisingly turned out to be an embarrassing non-endorsement speech. And Clinton has indeed benefited from a post-convention bounce in her poll numbers to open a lead over Trump.
Most political observers are still amazed that Trump has gotten this far in the presidential race considering that his arsenal seems to consist of little more than attracting attention by saying and doing outrageous things. Substance on issues just isn’t his thing.
Although this behavior has led even many Republican politicians and conservative pundits to abandon him, the more outrageous his behavior, the more his followers seem to be inspired. And the media just can’t take its eyes off of him, providing seemingly non stop free coverage of his campaign, wondering what he is going to say or do next.
But being outrageous to attract attention is inherently self-limiting. What used to be shocking loses its punch as we become numb to it all. The only option is to up the ante by being even more outrageous and risk alienating more voters. Indeed, one of his most recent incidents had him publicly inviting the Russians to dig up some of Hillary’s still missing E-mails (although he belatedly claimed this was meant to be sarcasm, this argument doesn't hold water).
Most recently, he belittled the Muslim parents who told their heartbreaking story during the Democratic Convention of their sacrifice in losing their son fighting for America. This exchange between Trump and the parents has been universally condemned and may be inflicting major damage on the campaign. Has he finally gone too far this time? If not this time, will it maybe be next time?
And then there is that ticking time bomb in his tax returns he has so far refused to release despite repeated requests. Does he have something to hide?
While Trump's lack of substance on issues didn’t hurt much in debating his fellow Republicans, Hillary Clinton is a very skilled and experienced debater who not only has a strong command of the issues but may be able to get under The Donald's skin and throw him off his game. The debates start in late September. This will definitely be must see TV!
But finally, and most importantly, his path to obtaining enough electoral votes to secure victory is an increasingly narrow one.
Even as Mr. Trump has ticked up in national polls in recent weeks, senior Republicans say his path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed for election has remained narrow — and may have grown even more precarious. It now looks exceedingly difficult for him to assemble even the barest Electoral College majority without beating Hillary Clinton in a trifecta of the biggest swing states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
This once again demonstrates that because of changing demographics, especially an increasing Latino population, Republicans may be all but shut out of winning any national elections. And this trend will worsen for them in future national elections as more red states become purple on their way to blue.
Can Trump capture the trifecta of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida previously won by Obama? It’s not impossible but pretty unlikely.
Ohio is Trump's best chance to flip a state to his column but Hillary still holds a small edge there. And he will get no help from Republican Governor John Kasich who has refused to endorse him.
Pennsylvania has been designated a swing state in the last several presidential elections only to settle in with a persistent Democratic advantage as Election Day approaches. A good turnout in the Philadelphia area may well seal the deal there for Hillary.
As for Florida, the Latinos know that a Trump loss there will be a back breaker so you can be sure they will be turn out in force come Election Day.
So does Trump have a chance to win this November? Assuming his campaign doesn’t flame out before then, the Electoral College math is not in his favor. This is not to say that he has no chance. It just means that to have any real hope of winning, he will have to flip several states that voted for Obama into his column. Trump seems to believe this can be done but party strategists have their serious doubts.
Even if Trump has a relatively small chance of winning, the fact that he has any chance at all is of great concern to many who feel that Trump is perhaps the most unqualified and even dangerous presidential nominee of a major party in our history. But no matter how favorable Hillary’s chances may eventually look by Election Day, complacency is not an option! Trump has shown incredible resilience in keeping his campaign alive during controversies that would have done in just about any other candidate. We underestimate him at our peril!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Will the UK Really Leave the EU?

The British Exit from the European Union (EU), widely known as Brexit is perhaps the most compelling story to come out of Europe since the falling of the Berlin Wall. It is like a soap opera with its unpredictable twists and turns. It is a story about an impending divorce where one partner announces to the other that they have 'just grown apart'. One where the rejected partner angrily says in effect 'Go ahead and leave – but I’ll make you pay!!
The idea and purposes behind the EU are certainly solid ones. There is strength in numbers. A small country in Europe wouldn’t have much power to negotiate favorable trade deals with the rest of the world, especially the giant players. But with the combined EU being the world’s largest economy, its influence on the world’s stage is undeniable.
And avoiding the unwieldiness of each country having its own currency, customs and immigration regulations is certainly desirable. Traveling, working, and living throughout Europe is seamless between its member nations.
But alas, there are some downsides to such an arrangement. Instead of individual countries having a free hand to run their economies as they see fit, there are requirements to administer their economies within certain agreed to guidelines. And with the common currency in the form of the euro, countries lose access to the printing press to expand their money supply during recessions to try and reduce unemployment. The extreme difficulties Greece recently had to go through was a result of this. While normal fiscal management would suggest an expansion in the money supply to help pull them out of a badly depressed economy, orders from headquarters (the EU) were for austerity measures in the form of cutting government spending to try and balance the budget – which only made matters worse and may eventually lead Greece to abandon the EU and the euro.
So why does the EU favor these austerity measures when they seem clearly at odds with countries struggling through recessions? Although EU decisions are made by a consensus of their members, Germany exerts a lot of influence on its economic policies being one the dominant countries on the continent. And Germany has much more of a fear of inflation than anything else having lived through the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic between World Wars I and II with its vivid images of money in wheelbarrows.
For whatever its motivations, the one size fits all economic policies are to many EU observers a very serious and perhaps an even fatal flaw. This has led to even strong supporters of the Remain movement to have mixed feelings about the EU.
But the UK was able to sidestep the currency issues by being able to join the EU but keep the pound instead of the euro. To supporters of the Remain side, such an agreement made leaving the EU even harder to justify.
With the far right in the UK grumbling for some time about leaving the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron thought he could finally settle this issue by putting the question to a vote in a national referendum. Big mistake. While this form of pure democracy may sound appealing, the economic ramifications of leaving the EU are far too complicated for the average citizen to make an informed decision. And what’s more, it presented an opportunity for a charismatic politician in the form of Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London, to demagogue the issue. Although a number of UK politicians supported the Leave movement, Johnson was its most prominent spokesperson. In the style of Donald Trump, he convinced enough mostly older people disgruntled with issues like immigration and globalization that he could lead the UK away from the EU and to the promised land, presumably as the next prime minister.
The polls said the vote would be close but predicted until the very end that the Remain side would likely win. Johnson probably thought so too!
Then the upset happened. The Leave side won. The financial markets around the world went into a tailspin, as did the value of the pound. When Johnson declared victory with all of the anxious UK watching, he seemed strangely subdued. Perhaps after this unexpected victory, it dawned on him that the actual disengagement from the EU would be a most formidable task. And with Prime Minister Cameron immediately announcing his upcoming resignation to leave this to his successor, Johnson was asked about his plan to actually execute the separation process. He had to admit that he hadn’t thought of one. He looked like the dog who had frantically chased a car and then upon unexpectedly catching it didn’t know what to do next.
Then some of the Leave politicians were forced to admit that some of the claims they made to persuade voters were either exaggerated or simply not true. And to top things off, Johnson then made a surprise announcement that he was no longer in the running to become the next prime minister. Many of the voters were livid. He broke it and wasn’t going to stay around to fix it. There was clearly a lot of buyer’s remorse.  And Johnson’s colorful and controversial political career may well have come to an end.
So what now? The Leave side says they won fair and square. But did they? And unlike an election this was a non-binding referendum. But is there any going back? It is fair to say that if many had to do it over again knowing what they know now, they may well have voted differently.
But going forward isn’t going to be a walk in the park either. There are a number of political obstacles that must be dealt with. Does Parliament have to provide the final approval to start the Leave process? What about Scotland and Northern Ireland? They voted solidly to Remain and may well leave the UK to stay in the EU.
And then there is the actual negotiation over the ‘divorce’. Essentially, all of the terms that are part of being in the EU are now subject to renegotiation. The actual procedure has a designated legal name – article 50. Once the intention is officially announced to the EU to leave, the clock starts on a 2 year deadline to get all of the terms negotiated. The fact that some of the Leave contingent wants to wait awhile before starting the clock may be a sign of some cold feet about going through with all of this. Please check out this informative link and video to learn more.
How this will all turn out is anybody’s guess. In the most optimistic scenario, the EU may decide it’s in their interest to make some concessions to the UK in exchange for a reconciliation. But if or when this finally gets to the negotiation stage, it may turn into a nasty tug of war. Divorces are often like that. But in addition, there may be an incentive by members of the EU to drive a hard bargain to make an example of the UK. After all, there are far right parties in a number of other European nations which if they come to power will be itching to also leave the EU with its own unforeseen worldwide consequences. This is truly a lighted powder keg that the world will be watching!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Democratic Party's Identity Crisis

Especially after this recent presidential primary season, it is safe to say that most observers would agree that the Republican Party has swung so far to the right that their icon, Ronald Reagan would not be conservative enough  to be nominated if he were alive today. But what about the Democratic Party? An argument can be made that it too has moved to the right over the last few decades. If so, what effect has this had on a number of its traditional liberal constituents?
Thomas Frank in his latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? argues that the party has abandoned the working man, long considered the backbone of the party, in favor of a more elite professional class.

Frank is best known for a previous book, What's the Matter with Kansas? where he skewers Republicans for conniving to get conservatives to vote against their own economic self-interest. This time, he’s back to accuse some of the Democrats of doing the same to its liberal supporters.

Back in 1985, the Democratic Leadership Council was formed as a reaction to the crushing defeats of strongly liberal presidential candidates George McGovern and Walter Mondale. In order to effectively compete in future elections, it was believed that the party needed to move more to the right, especially on economic issues. This meant a closer relationship with the corporate and financial sectors. But it also meant that the era of the New Deal and strong labor unions was fading away.
And as Frank notes on Page 57 of Listen, Liberal:
As the DLC saw it, whenever Democrats lost an election, it was because their leaders were too weak on crime, too soft on communism, and too sympathetic to minorities.
When its leader in Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, the ideas of the DLC could be put into action.
Clinton’s time in office has been praised for a number of successes. Among them was a booming economy and a balanced budget to pass on to his successor. But Frank had some sharp criticism for a lot of what happened on Clinton’s watch which he details in his book which the reader is invited to check out. But for now, here is a summation from a recent article by Frank in
Evaluating Clinton’s presidency as heroic is no longer a given, however. After the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000, the corporate scandals of the Enron period, and the collapse of the real estate racket, our view of the prosperous Nineties has changed quite a bit. Now we remember that it was Bill Clinton’s administration that deregulated derivatives, that deregulated telecom, and that put our country’s only strong banking laws in the grave. He’s the one who rammed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress and who taught the world that the way you respond to a recession is by paying off the federal deficit. Mass incarceration and the repeal of welfare, two of Clinton’s other major achievements, are the pillars of the disciplinary state that has made life so miserable for Americans in the lower reaches of society. He would have put a huge dent in Social Security, too, had the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal not stopped him. If we take inequality as our measure, the Clinton administration looks not heroic but odious.
Whew! While Clinton is generally seen as a centrist, he certainly comes off as governing from decidedly right of center.
As for another centrist, Barack Obama, Frank’s criticism is more oblique. While he rightly praises him for Obamacare, he criticizes him for being just too chummy with Wall Street. With his Wall Street advisors leading the way, the perpetrators of the Crash of 2008 were allowed a soft landing with bailouts and no prosecutions to inconvenience them. Unlike so many other areas that were under control of a Republican obstructionist Congress, Frank argues that this was largely under his control.
Hillary Clinton, the almost certain Democratic presidential nominee is much more difficult to fairly evaluate. She was an important part of her husband Bill Clinton’s administration. So can we also blame her for Bill’s policy failures? Not fair, say Hillary’s supporters; she is her own person and would govern in her own way. But then Hillary did announce that Bill would serve as her economic adviser if elected.
Then there is the nagging question of where Hillary truly is on the political spectrum. This Wikipedia article attempts to sort this out. At one time, she was a prominent member of the above mentioned center right DLC (which by the way, also supported the invasion of Iraq). But she has also identified as being a moderate along with being a progressive which has led those especially on the left to question her authenticity as a candidate.
But a little perspective is in order here. While the Clintons and President Obama have been found wanting by liberals on occasion, they are not to be confused in any way with the present day Republicans who occupy the far right of the political spectrum. For whatever gripes liberals have had with Presidents Clinton and Obama, they have appointed reliably liberal Supreme Court Justices during their time in office and we can obviously expect Hillary to do the same if she is elected. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan gave us Antonin Scalia. George H.W. Bush gave us Clarence Thomas. And George W. Bush gave us John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Nuff said?
So we close here by trying to answer the question of what is the true identity of the Democratic Party – both now and in the future. Frank concludes his book in a deeply pessimistic tone having little hope that the party that seemingly abandoned many of its core liberal constituents will ever change back.
But apparently after Frank finished his manuscript, Bernie Sanders (not mentioned in the book) came out of nowhere to single-handedly try and drag the Democratic Party (kicking and screaming) back to its glory days of the New Deal and true concern for the working man. And although he is going to fall short of getting the nomination, he has awakened a passion in a lot of those in the liberal wing of the party who thought they had been forgotten.
Most notably, the strongest support for Sanders has been from the youngest voters. They represent the party's future. As a (not young) passionate Bernie Sanders loving liberal, to borrow from Mark Twain, I’m here to tell you that the death of the liberal branch of the Democratic Party has been greatly exaggerated!