Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Three Branches of Our Federal Government: Trump, Bannon & Pence

New sign in the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C.  

Generally, the electorate gives an incoming president the benefit of positive expectations and forgiveness for “beginner’s” missteps. “He just moved too quickly, but it will settle down; give him some time.” “He’s just trying to do what he campaigned he would do, nothing more.” “He is just draining the swamp, and those embedded bureaucrats are committed to stopping him.” “We elected him because we wanted a strongman to ‘just do it.’” Court orders can be “inconvenient truths” to presidents with firm determination.
Donald Trump’s superhero, our seventh president Andrew Jackson (his portrait now hangs in the Oval Office), had no problem turning against even a Supreme Court decision he found distasteful. He purportedly told Chief Justice John Marshall, “You made the law; you enforce it.” A powerless Marshall could only watch. Abraham Lincoln ignored Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s order finding unconstitutional Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus rights in 1861, early in the Civil War. Defying the highest court in the land, however, is as rare as hen’s teeth. So what would the electorate expect from a president who almost never admits missteps, loves to double down, facing federal trial court (a lower court) orders enjoining significant portions of his executive order travel ban? Go back to the drawing board? Of course not.
Indeed, the Trump administration made clear that it would defy federal court orders that attempted to limit or repeal significant portions of his January 27th travel ban. “Hours after a federal judge issued a stay on President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily restricting entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a senior White House adviser issued robust responses, emphasizing that the order remains in force.
“In a statement issued in the early hours of Sunday [1/29], the Department said: ‘President Trump's Executive Orders remain in place — prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety.’
“It added that the department will ‘continue to enforce all of President Trump's Executive Orders in a manner that ensures the safety and security of the American people.’” AOL.com, January 30th. That here have been zero terrorism incidents fomented in the United States from the nationals from any of the named countries seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
And it was not just the federal courts that took issue with an executive order that, based on its authors’ rather unsubtle litany of statements targeting Islam itself, was rather clearly aimed at travelingMuslims seeking to enter the United States… even those who already overcame “extreme vetting” or otherwise had green cards or valid visas… including a couple of American citizens detained along the way. A First Amendment violation on its face. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, admonished those in the Department of Justice that they should not take steps to enforce the executive order because of its questionable constitutionality. The President’s immediate reaction? “Trump has fired the acting attorney general who ordered Justice Dept. not to defend president’s restrictions on immigration
“The White House in a statement said Sally Yates has ‘betrayed’ the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce the executive order and has named Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as acting attorney general. Boente has said he will agree to enforce the order.” Washington Post, January 30th. “Betrayed”? Strong words. Boente instructed his new agency to follow the disputed executive order to the letter.
Trump told the media that he had pre-cleared that executive order with the relevant Congressional committees having jurisdiction over the subject matter, which several prominent (Republican) committee chairpeople promptly denied. The Web lit up with challenges suggesting that perhaps that “poorly drafted and ambiguously presented” executive order was left ambiguous rather intentionally. Was this Trump’s chief strategist’s clear attempt to find a clear issue, expecting a federal court order challenging the validity of an implementing executive order, purposely to defy a federal court? Testing the limits? It sure appeared to be precisely what was intended. Was this a mini-coup that could lead to more?
Strategist Steve Bannon – who was just appointed head of all national intelligence agencies (at the expense of members of the military, an unprecedented act) – was clearly the principal architect of the litany of executive orders pouring out of the White House.  Bannon left his leadership role at Breitbart News, formed in 2007 to push alt-right causes, to move to his most important White House appointment. His unabashed goal was to concentrate power in the presidency and use executive orders to accelerate change that would take entirely too long if pushed through our legislative system or be subject to constant challenge by federal courts.
In short, Bannon was rather openly committed to undermining our constitutional system of checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our federal government. Bannon has Trump’s blessing to implement policies more directly, notwithstanding constitutional barriers to the contrary. Notably the definitions of the roles of the branches of government, the “due process” provisions of the 5th and 14th Amendments and the inconvenience of the free assembly, free speech and freedom of state-enforced religious requirements granted to us all under the 1st Amendment.
Federal legislative power is granted solely to Congress under Section 8 of Article I of our Constitution. Article III, Section 2 created and confers federal judicial power exclusively to the courts. The executive branch has powers of appointment and defined veto power, subject, of course, to confirmation and veto-override power allocated to the designated branches of Congress. But presidents have resorted to quasi-legislative executive orders to push through action plans during times of gridlock or accentuated emergencies. But there is no clear emergency, and Trump has not even tested the legislative process under his aegis. The Trump administration appears to believe that it has a mandate to impose its campaign platform directly without resort to the legislative process or subject to judicial scrutiny.
And then there is this nasty thing writing nasty stuff every time the Trump team stepped/steps over bright constitutional lines: the press. As Bannon had had success with his label wars (“Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” etc.) during the presidential race, it was time to apply a pejorative label to the Fourth Estate. Press Secretary Sean Spicer made it clear that he would hold the press “accountable,” while Bannon told the press it need to learn how to keep its “mouth shut” while labeling them the “opposition party” (words echoed by Trump himself). While White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who has to work with the press daily, moderated a bit and suggested that the “press has a healthy role in a democracy,” he also noted that the mainstream press is "not the only game in town anymore."AOL.com, January 31st (as will be shown below).
But Bannon is indeed clever, orchestrating the demise of each and every element that could possibly push against the new king. Piece by piece. He orchestrated the removal of most of the top bureaucrats in the Department of State. Federal employees are shaking in their boots as Bannon smiles knowingly. The conservative Wall Street Journal (January 30th) looked at one small change at a press conference, for example, that suggests a very big change for the relationship between this administration and those dedicated to writing about it:
Already we saw one small example, when press secretary Sean Spicer used his first press conference to pass on the Associated Press—by tradition the first to get a question—in favor of the New York Post. His second question went to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Mr. Spicer also introduced Skype ‘seats’ for journalists not in the room. All this is clever, because it expands the exercise of the First Amendment while diminishing the idea of a privileged Fourth Estate.” Trump then sent a less-than-subtle message to the major television networks by eschewing them as the venue for his Supreme Court nominee announcement (ultra-conservative 10th Circuit federal appellate judge, Neil Gorsuch), going online (Facebook) instead.
Mike Pence is basking in his evangelical glow, pretty much assuring that religious constituency that overturning Roe vs Wade is almost a done deal. Fiat or an ultra-right wing supreme court justice pushed into power as a Republican Senate reverses its 60-vote cloture rule to a simple majority vote requirement? It’s called the “nuclear option” in the Senate. Let’s wait and see. 22 states are waiting to reinstate their anti-abortion statutes very quickly. “Climate change” is already gone from official government websites. So is the Spanish language version of the White House site. Pence is happy.
If this pattern of marginalizing those opposed to Trumpist policies, Trump’s constitutional defiance, and embracing rule by fiat continues, the United States, already polarized into oblivion, will slip one further giant notch downwards – from its recently reduced status (according to the Intelligence Unit of The Economist) as a “flawed” democracy – to simply a flawed and dictatorial government.
 I’m Peter Dekom, and I sincerely hope that history does not cast the period of “the American democracy” as beginning on July 4, 1776 and ending on January 30, 2017.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Alternative Facts

If you haven’t noticed, America’s place in the world is becoming rather dramatically different. Here is a long and seemingly never-ending paragraph with a partial list.
For all practical purposes, as Israel flaunts approving massive new West Bank Jewish settlements with Trump consent and Trump begins to rub salt into Palestinian wounds by beginning plans to move the US embassy to the contested religious city (to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike) of Jerusalem, the two-state goal of every American administration since the early 1990s – GOP and Democratic – is dead. Our long term commitment to battling factually indisputable climate change is dead. Our tolerance of undocumented aliens, willing to do jobs Americans will just not do, is dead… although there are going to be some very nasty confrontations between the leadership of heavy Latino-based-population-states and the feds. Roe vs Wade may topple. Healthcare is completely up in the air, with a high probability that a lot of folks with coverage today will not have any real coverage options soon. Financial and environmental investigations and regulations are like to vaporize or find lackadaisical enforcement. Internet data usage is very likely to skyrocket as net neutrality is crushed in its tracks. Federal support for the arts and scientific research will erode like the rain-soaked hills of Los Angeles. Minimum wage and worker protection expansion priorities are gone. Social inequalities, including the application of criminal justice laws and racial inequality, are no longer important to the feds. Taxes for the rich are likely to plunge. The United States is giving up its preeminence in global trade to China, a nation that Trump seems to delight in taunting. The Trump administration is challenging foreign policy pledges made by Republicans and Democrats alike, building a physical wall on our second longest border, questioning NATO and the United Nations, and is cozying up to a manipulative dictator who has traditionally opposed the US at every turn. Our intelligence community has been instructed to reconsider “black sites” and “enhanced interrogation techniques” as viable tools against terrorism. Efforts to restrain the proliferation of guns are over. We are building our military and deemphasizing most every other federal agency.
Whew, I am out of breath. But believe it or not, these changes are really not the focus of today’s blog. Whether you believe in these policies or not. They serve simply as a backdrop for how our non-governmental institutions, and the “people,” are setting to deal with these changes. We can summarize these reactions in two categories: confrontation and denial. We’re seeing confrontation in the Women’s March and the stated refusal to cooperate in immigration enforcement, especially from California – individual cities and the state itself. But the more interesting phenomenon, at least until the resistance reaches the level of violence we all fear, is the notion of denial.
We seem to have a new mega-trend – simply making up “facts” (“fake news” or the George Orwell-coined “alternative facts”) or denying what would otherwise be irrefutable under the most simplistic and unbiased review of reality. Scientists have been downgraded to close-to-irrelevant. Reports of reality that does not jibe with a Trumpist view are purged.
The EPA and FDA have been muzzled and told to stop wasting money on investigations and research. The president has ordered the feds to prove that the voter fraud he claims without evidence is true, one way or the other. Even as the National Park Service tweeted scientific facts about climate change, they were shut down by their new bosses. “The Trump administration has ordered a freeze on federal grant spending at several government agencies, followed by memos telling employees not to send out news releases or to create social media posts, blog entries or official website content, and to consult with senior officials before speaking to the news media.” New York Times, January 26th.  But the private sector appears to be playing along as well.
For example: All of the instability and uncertainty engendered by the above and so many other obvious changes being implemented by the Trump administration should, under a logical understanding of finance and economics, be plunging Wall Street into panicked collapse. Instead, the stock market is reaching new heights, as institutional investors seem to be reassuring each other that “everything is OK, and we have a businessman at the helm” instead of looking at what’s really going on. The last time I saw this “massive mutual reassurance” trend was Wall Street’s double-down on subprime mortgage bundles just before the 2007/8 crash. The more this denial continues to build, the more I worry that the fall will be that much faster and more precipitous when it happens. Tick, tick, tick…
You have to ask yourself if uttering clear falsehoods are lies if the speaker really believes what he/she is saying. Even if the speaker is trying to convince himself/herself that the falsehood is actually true, that those opposing the falsehood are merely conspirators against the speaking party, and that if you repeat something enough, regardless of the facts, it must be true… The notion of “post-truth” – where the underlying feelings, and not the “facts,” are all that matters – has redefined governmental relations with the media.
The Trump administration seems hell-bent on punishing the media, where traditional journalists have committed themselves to investigating stories in search of the truth. The sin is simply challenging or disagreeing with anything that Trump or his administration says. Trump mouthpieces, Sean Spicer and Kelly Conaway, have the rapt attention and belief of the Trump faithful while remaining a running joke with traditional media and Democrats.
The president has refused to acknowledge CNN at a press conference, thrown other journalists out of access and is threatening to move the press entirely out of their long-standing premises within the White House. At his recent CIA meeting, speaking before an audience to whom media relations were hardly the hot topic, the president stated: “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
Without a shred of proof, Trump maintains he actually won the popular vote because there were three to five million votes from non-citizens, an assertion that even those from his own party – from House Speaker Paul Ryan to Lindsey Graham – completely disagree with. And despite photographic proof to the contrary, Trump insisted that his inauguration had the greatest attendance in history. Even when presented with obvious photographic evidence of crowds at various inauguration ceremonies that clearly show fewer people at Trump’s event, Trump supporters continue to believe Trump’s statements.
According to the January 25th Washington Post, seven out ten Trump supporters pretty much agree with Trump’s “alternative facts,” even when there is a rather drama lack of proof (or, worse, clear proof to the contrary). These self-same Trumpists simply only follow “reportage” that agrees with their view, and when the president trashes a particular media site, that news source is even further ignored. James Hamblin, writing for the January 24th The Atlantic, asks us exactly what do we mean by the term, “the media”:
“The sentiment capitalizes and expands upon an unprecedented divide: As of September of 2016, according to a Gallup poll, more Americans distrust ‘the media’ than ever before. Especially among Republicans: Only 14 percent have even a ‘fair amount of trust in the media.’
“Yet while ‘the media’ is a term that most Americans use, many fewer can easily define it (at least according to my months of conversational field surveys). Personally I’ve stopped using it… Among Trump’s staff, the term has been used almost invariably in condemnation. ‘The media’ has been applied to anyone who reports even the most objectively provable facts—from approval ratings to the size of the inaugural crowd—if those facts reflect poorly on Donald Trump. (Though people with large platforms who have not challenged Trump, like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, seem exempt.)
“The term ‘the media’ was first used as a singular, collective noun around 100 years ago, meaning ‘an intervening agency, means, or instrument.’ The instrument (or medium) of the time was the printing press. People in the business of operating printing presses were a distinct group. Now mediums abound—many like Twitter and Facebook are still known as social media, even though the platforms have faded toward something closer to personal printing presses. At the same time, traditional media institutions are publishing on these platforms—and others like Medium and YouTube—alongside non-journalists. Everyone plays a role as an intermediary to some degree, an intervening agent in each news story, choosing what to share and how to frame it. As the term was originally conceived, many people would now qualify as part of ‘the media.’
“So most likely when Trump refers to ‘the media’ as the most dishonest people on the planet, he refers only to professional journalists. This is a contradiction in terms, because modern journalism is a profession predicated on conveying truth. Journalists’ currency is credibility. To quibble with a particular journalist’s motives is to quibble with their identity: Are they journalists? Or entertainers, ideologues, or advocates?
“The goal in journalism is to be the best at identifying and conveying said truth. The entire concept of the profession is antithetical to lying. So it’s difficult to imagine objecting to the idea of journalism, in principle: to have people whose job is to act as dispassionate arbiters who discern truth. People who are fair, who are trustworthy, who do not slander, who are not beholden to any particular interest but seek transparency, to highlight injustice, and to hold people in power accountable.”
It seems that fake news is vastly more relevant than truth, and that magnificent “fifth estate” that is supposed to keep government honest is now a bigger enemy than Russia.  Will Trump wear down or muzzle the mainstream press? What are the long-term ramifications for the survival of our country if that succeeds? Can fake news ever be contained? We cannot assume that his efforts will not be successful. Trump seems not to care when those that did not vote for him challenge his statements or try and show his rather low level of popularity. He simply continues to double down.
For empiricists in the United States, these are going to be harsh times. And when the government acts based on falsehoods and fake news as if they were true, when policy directives are not anchored in truth and reality, what kind of long-term and perhaps irreparable damage will be inflicted on the United States? Can we actually survive this shift in values and practices? Whatever happens, it isn’t going to be pretty. Don’t like it? Deluge your elected representatives with personalized mail and electronic communications… not prewritten forms.
I’m Peter Dekom, and this is the way it is, Trump is highly unlikely to change and we might just have to get used to this new “alternative reality.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What About Us?

“[High tech manufacturing] will ultimately mean fewer jobs… The people will have to keep learning throughout their careers. It won’t be like the old days, when you do the same thing for 40 years.”
 Automotive Analyst, Brett Smith

That a massive bailout of the automotive industry under the Obama administration probably saved hundreds of thousands of jobs is the stuff of history and legend. But by the 2016 election it was a forgotten ancient history. What Michigan workers in the heart of the Rust Belt remembered is how much they used to earn, not that their jobs were saved. For them, the announced “recovery” that Democrats touted was nothing more than telling them: (a) you are lucky to have a job, (b) you need to live with downsized expectations, (c) you constantly need to accept and adapt to change, and (d) welcome to the global economy.
Dems Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, along with Republican George W. Bush, championed NAFTA and other international trade agreements. They called it progress in a modern world. Trade agreements always have winners and losers. Somebody just forgot to take care of the losers. Add automation and you have a real game changer. For those who own the machines… and those who don’t. Too many displaced workers will not accept Brett Smith’s assessment above. They don’t like constantly having to retrain; it’s not the system they grew up with. They want what they think they were promised: a reliable job for life.
This is a long blog, but if you don’t understand how modern economics have changed American values and expectations, you just are not going to understand what is tearing this country apart. This is not about Donald Trump… but what got Donald Trump elected.
Rolling Stone contributor, Mark Binelli, writes (January 25th) about what the world looks like from inside one Trump’s swing counties (Macomb County, Michigan), where Binelli grew up: “At least on the surface, it would seem as if the Obama administration's auto-industry bailout would have merited nothing but gratitude from Michigan voters. In downtown Detroit, vacancy rates have plummeted in the once-haunted skyscrapers, and street life is vibrant again: A new streetcar line will open this year, the city's first major public transportation investment since the mid-1980s, and the Detroit Pistons will return to Detroit from the suburbs beginning next season.
“And yet the working class has continued to struggle in both the city and places like Macomb County. As I watched the bailout take shape – while living in Detroit and reporting a book about the city – it was clear to me that the salvation of the Big Three carmakers had been structured in a manner dismayingly similar to the Wall Street bailouts, in that massive corporations received the overwhelming share of the government largesse while workers (those who'd managed to hang on to their jobs) had to accept cuts in benefits and pay. Steven Rattner, the former hedge-fund manager who headed Obama's auto-bailout team, just published an op-ed in The New York Times in which he acknowledged the grim reality that still exists for many workers: Manufacturing jobs ‘recovered weakly after the recession,’ he wrote, and fell by 60,000 in 2016; in Michigan, the number of factory jobs has dropped from 900,000 to 600,000 since 2000, a stunning figure, while real wages for those workers have gone from $28 an hour in 2003 to $20 today.”
But the Democrats are touting fighting the glass ceiling for women, making sure people can vote without barriers or encumbrances, assuring ethnic/cultural/racial minorities of equal treatment under the law, taxing the rich for their fair share to fight income inequality, working towards environmental and financial safety, supporting making education more affordable, providing universal healthcare, getting assault weapons off the street, adding infrastructure jobs, etc., etc. – all admirable goals – but no clear path to restore Rust Belt earning power or the once-assumed notion of generation-by-generation upward mobility. For most of Trump’s Democrat-to-Trump converts, that last ignored category was really all that really mattered. That Democratic administrations created international trade agreements that absolutely impacted Rust Belt earning power stung fiercely. The Dems just skipped over who got hurt the most.
“Now, in the wake of Trump's surprise victory, the white working-class voters of Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan – all states Trump unexpectedly swept – have suddenly assumed a position of primacy. Left-leaning Beltway pundits have been debating whether such Trump voters should most properly be pitied (as victims of a rigged economy) or deplored (for casting a vote for a man who had run on an explicitly white-nationalist platform). On a tactical level, might a finely tooled message of economic populism, as delivered by, say, a Bernie Sanders (who defeated Clinton in the Michigan primary) or an Elizabeth Warren, resonate with such a demographic? Is any cooperation with a figure as dangerous and unprecedented as our new president tantamount to collaboration? For progressives seeking a way out of the wilderness, the answers to these questions – and to an understanding of places like Macomb County – will be key to countering Trumpism.” Binelli.
Globalization and immigration are increasingly seen as the new enemies of hard-working Americans everywhere. Unstoppable progress and modernity seemed to benefit the rich and highly-educated, while the working class were saddled with the burdens that were cast as “inevitable and irreversible.” The areas that bore the greatest burdens were not the new-cool Silicon Valley or the old-cool Wall Street but those who worked with their hands to extract resources and make stuff. The Rust Belt. So can the political erosion of the Democratic Party, erosion Donald Trump rose to seal his victor, be reversed? Binelli continues:
“Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, a longtime critic of globalization, told me, ‘Let me be clear: The major force that affected the decline of manufacturing employment is technology’ – by which he means advances in robotics that reduce the number of human employees on any given assembly line. ‘That's the long-term trend in the United States,’ Rodrik says. ‘But that doesn't mean trade was unimportant. It severely aggravated certain geographical and regional impacts’ in places like Michigan. In contrast to Europe, Rodrik continues, ‘just as the United States was opening up to trade for reasons largely of a market-fundamentalist ideology, there was no parallel expansion of the safety net – whether universalizing health insurance or creating better labor markets. All we got was paltry trade-adjustment assistance’– essentially, job-retraining programs – ‘which didn't help anyone.’
“Meanwhile, politicians from both parties shrugged their shoulders at the effects of globalization on the industrial Midwest. ‘Those jobs aren't coming back’ became a mantra, a hard truth to be delivered, something as unchangeable as death and the weather. Except the trade deals weren't acts of nature; they'd been written by global elites and they privileged certain classes of people over others. As Rodrik notes dryly, ‘We weren't negotiating trade agreements to import physicians or accountants or university professors from abroad.’
“For [Michigan Congressman, Representative Democrat David] Bonior, who supported Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign – donating money and personally going door-to-door in Michigan – the unwillingness to fight harder to save U.S. manufacturing jobs ‘was a political, thought-out decision by neoliberals, of which Bill Clinton was one. And we saw the results in November. And it was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking.’
“Enter Donald Trump, who either cunningly intuited or bumblingly stumbled onto the realization that the Democratic Party's quandary over how to reach disgruntled white working-class voters – addressing their economic concerns while rejecting their racist fears – didn't have to be a quandary at all, assuming you had no moral center. Why not just stoke both sets of grievances and see what stuck?...
“[Take typical Trump supporter, 44-year-old Chrysler worker Chris Vitale.] [Once Vitale] he started listening to Trump, he was quickly impressed. ‘The thing that was amazing to me about Trump was this guy doesn't have any connection to manufacturing,’ Vitale says, ‘but yet he seems to recognize how we get screwed in these trade deals. And the union comes and says, 'Well, he makes his ties in China!' Well, you know, it's probably because he couldn't even find a tie factory here, and by the way, that may have given him the knowledge about these trade deals. Probably asked for a tie factory here and they said, 'Are you kidding? Those are gone. You wanna know why they're gone?' Maybe he listened.’
“In the debates, Vitale watched other Republicans perk up when Trump talked about tariffs. ‘Marco Rubio's up there and he's like, 'Oh, well, a dress shirt will cost more!' ’ Vitale recalls. ‘I love that he picked the most out-of-touch example that he could! These Republicans all day long will sell you on these social issues: 'Oh, we've got to protect the rights of the unborn' and everything like that. 'But in the meantime, we don't give a shit if you live in a cardboard box and the best job you ever get is at Family Video.' ’…
“[Yale University academic Stan] Greenberg says Obama's triumphalist rhetoric about the economic recovery may have ultimately hurt Clinton more than helped her. ‘Understandably for Obama, saving global capitalism was a searing experience of his administration,’ Greenberg says. ‘But the fact that many of these working people didn't get anywhere close to where they'd been before the crisis meant they believed Democrats in general were not speaking to them.’ Greenberg's wife, Rosa DeLauro, is a U.S. representative from Connecticut, and over the years, he's watched Obama come to the working-class city of Bridgeport to wind up his base. ‘I remember him telling the crowd one year, 'We got the economy out of the ditch,' ’ Greenberg says. ‘And I could see people looking around at each other saying, 'Is he kidding? We're still in the ditch!' ’
“But there's still a strong case to be made to many of these voters from the populist left. [Warren] Gunnels, Sanders' adviser, offers a wonky, detailed list of policy prescriptions: Rewrite NAFTA; repeal and replace permanent trade relations with China; impose an ‘outsourcing tax’ on corporations; make it easier to join unions; enact a $1 trillion infrastructure-spending bill; and encourage worker-owned cooperatives. (Here, he might have something in common with Vitale, who admiringly mentioned the employee-ownership model enacted by Harley-Davidson.)
“Rodrik, too, argues in favor of a ‘class-based’ pitch to voters, rooted in ‘traditional Democratic Party policy concerns’: progressive taxation, full employment, wage-support policies. ‘And none of that has to feel like you're leaving out minorities or women or transgender people,’ he says. ‘I don't think there's a deep culture of racist attitudes that makes it easier for right-wing populists to capitalize, especially when, deep down, the grievances are economic.’
“Perhaps. One would certainly have a shot with Trump voters like Vitale, who also professes deep admiration for progressive Democrats like former Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. Vitale says Rick Snyder, Michigan's current Republican governor, has been ‘a disaster for the state,’ and when I bring up Trump's Carrier coup, he says, ‘You know what else I love about it? I love that the Republicans hate it.’” There is a path. It is long. It is difficult. And it requires that liberal elites within the Democratic Party bite their tongues, fund a new Democratic Party resurgence, reprioritize the relevance of their platform and allow a new left-of-center leadership to answer that question HRC skipped over in the last election: “What about us??”
I’m Peter Dekom, and if Donald Trump does not create irreversible damage to the nation as a whole, Democrats at least have to live in the political reality of the here and now.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Border Barrier Bungle

You have start with an understanding that it does not matter that the Mexican Wall is not really expected to work. It is and always has been Donald Trump’s statement to his displaced white constituency that he heard their frustration at their believingMexican immigrants were taking away their jobs and exploding crime everywhere they settled. It did not matter that neither statement was true. To capture those votes, Trump had to agree with the belief.
When those words about building a physical wall first stumbled out of his mouth back in June of 2015, probably without any serious forethought, he was probably as amazed as anyone that his standing in the primary polls doubled overnight. That he had to back up his casual reference to become his official platform, he made sure that he had “tangible” plans in mind: the wall would cost $8 billion (since revised to $25 billion) and Mexico was going to pay for it, “believe me.” His growing constituency lapped it up. Donald knew it was time to double down. A hip shot found inadvertent traction.
It comes as no surprise that Donald Trump now wants to avoid the obvious scrutiny of a budget-conscious and skeptical Congress for such a massive undertaking. So in his executive order he enunciated his basis to start the process without new Congressional action by citing several existing constitutional and statutory bases for his act: “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 ‘et seq’.) (INA), the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-367) (Secure Fence Act), and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-208 Div. C) (IIRIRA)…” Trump suggested that construction on the wall could begin in only a matter of months. Was this preexisting legislation sufficient to circumvent a budget battle with Congress?
His actual move to begin building the wall was his presenting his constituency with proof that he was going to live up to his campaign promises, and they love it. Even if he cannot deliver on more abstract pledges, particularly in healthcare and job recovery, the wall is a clear and tangible thing he can always point to. To him, it is now a political necessity.
With a meeting with Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, on the schedule for January 31st, Trump tweeted that the Mexican President should cancel unless Mexico was prepared to pay for the wall. Peña Nieto promptly cancelled the trip, adding that Mexico would take all necessary steps to protect this citizens living in the United States. Ugly escalated into hideously ugly. Some were even talking about a break in diplomatic relations between the two nations. At stake was the relationship with a friendly border nation with no recorded hostility for almost a century. And two-way trade that benefits both nations. According to CNN [December 15th], “Mexico ranks as America's third biggest trading partner, worth $586 billion.”
“[NAFTA] has allowed trade between the neighbors to mushroom. Every day, goods valued at $1.4 billion cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and millions of jobs are linked to trade on both sides. Mexico is the world’s second-largest customer for American-made products, and 80 percent of Mexican exports — automobiles, flat-screen TVs, avocados — are sold to the United States.” Washington Post, January 26th.
Maybe Trump could convince the Mexican drug cartels to foot the bill, since they will be the ones to reap the greatest benefit from an excuse to raise the price of their toxic narcotics that are so in demand north of the border. Instead, the Trump administration suggested that the solution woulds be a 20% tariff on imported Mexican goods. But aren’t U.S. consumers the ones who will bear the resulting higher prices? Not Mexicans. They would, however, face lower demand as costs soar for those imports. The January 26th announcement of that proposed tariff, from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, stunned Mexicans, many of whom had dismissed Trump’s vitriolic threats as meaningless campaign rhetoric.
It was not clear exactly how the Trump administration would impose the new tax on Mexican exports. But Spicer said it would be part of a broader plan to tax imports from countries, including Mexico, with which the United States has a trade deficit.” The Post. Will Congress enact this Trump-requested tariff and begin a trade war, which seems to be directed as much towards China as it is towards Mexico, a trade war that the United States probably cannot win? A trade war with disastrous negative effects on our own economy? Argh! If Congress doesn’t pass the tariff, at least The Donald would have someone to blame. He’s good at that. Meanwhile, Spicer subsequently suggested that the 20% tariff was just “one idea.” One hip-shot down… or not?
Guess I should get back to the actual building of that wall. You’d think, if the wall had a truly serious and effective purpose, the president would ask the Republican with the most direct knowledge of and relationship to that southern border – Texas GOP Congressman Will Hurd whose district includes more miles of U.S.-Mexico border than any other – what his opinion was of that wall. Well, Will was not heard.
“‘Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,’ … Hurd… said in a statement late Wednesday [1/25]… ‘Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need.’… Hurd, one of 38 Texans in Congress, represents territory stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, including 800 miles of border. His 23rd District is majority-Hispanic and politically competitive: Hurd won a second term over Democrat Pete Gallego by fewer than 4,000 votes in November.” Washington Post, January 25th. Quite a few additional Republican Congress-people have made similar observations, alluding to far-more-sophisticated and effective border monitoring systems. But then, Trump wouldn’t have that tangible proof that he was delivering on his promises.
Republican Hurd, who presumably knows the terrain of his own district well, “said it is ‘impossible’ to build a physical wall in the rough terrain of his district… ‘Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy,’ Hurd said, advocating for an ‘intelligence-led approach’ to border security… No member of Texas’s congressional delegation had offered full-throated support of a complete border wall as of Dec. 20, according to a survey by the Texas Tribune.” The Post. Virtually all of the farmers and ranchers who live on that border also agree that a physical wall would be an ineffective and colossal waste of federal taxpayer money.
But The Donald isn’t really building that wall to work or to protect those who live on that border or represent the relevant constituency of bordering congressional districts. He is doing it for those rust belt voters, thousands of miles away, who supported him and abandoned their Democratic Party roots. It’s a symbol that everyone with any specialized knowledge realizes is one of the least effective immigration control proposals ever made. But too many of those Trumpists believe it will work, will sleep better knowing there is a “wall down there,” that reality and truth simply do not matter. The entire Trump legacy, its announced global platform, is to live in a post-truth world of “alternative facts.” We tell you what the “facts” should be, and everyone needs to act accordingly… or else.
What Trump’s opponents still do not get is that his followers need to believe in his lies – because in their minds he is proposing the end-game they expect to see. He’s “smart” and now doing what they want done, what he convinced them would work. They believe. Democrats continue to dwell on issues and values that smack of liberal elitism and ignore the fading economic prospects of the disenfranchised masses they used to represent. Dem’s have got nothing on point, not even a bad lie. There are two countries within our own borders with very differing views on reality and what is coming. If we don’t find that middle ground soon… we are toast.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if there is one very likely casualty to all of this, it is indeed a growing disenchantment with American democracy that is rather rapidly eroding the entire nation.