Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Response to The Joy of Egomaniacal Ignorance

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Joy of Egomaniacal Ignorance)

I always forget this guy’s name and just think of him as “that Starbucks guy”, which points to his problem: Other than having been successful in business, what of relevance has Howard Schultz got going for himself?

And that assumes having been successful at business really counts for much, which I think it doesn’t. And that’s exactly what was wrong with Trump: (1) Not only does having the so-called skills to be a successful businessman not transfer well to politics, (2) Donald Trump, who we’d probably never have heard of had his family not been filthy rich, wasn’t really even all that good at business anyway.

(But yes, to give Schultz his due, although not that it matters — unlike Trump, at least Howard Schultz really was a successful businessman.)

But Starbucks guy also checks the box that, for some reason, too many liberals think they need to, which is...

“I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative!”:
Fiscal conservatism is a political-economic philosophy regarding fiscal policy and fiscal responsibility advocating low taxes, reduced government spending and minimal government debt. Free tradederegulation of the economy, lower taxes, and privatization are the defining qualities of fiscal conservatism.
So if being “fiscally conservative”, in principle, means being in favor of exercising "fiscal responsibility, advocating low taxes, reduced government spending and minimal government debt", doesn’t that actually, in practice, mean reducing the amount of money for any safety net for poor people? And if so, then how can one really be “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal” at the same time?

Personally, I think we need to first philosophically (and I suppose also “morally” or “ethically”) decide what we want our government to do, and let the tax and spending levels follow from that. For example, if we decide we want to give free college to all students with B averages or above, we need to be willing to pay for it, and then to raise the revenue to pay for it, and that’s how we figure out how much taxes we want to raise.

Like Daddy Starbucks, I used to call myself a political centrist, but also like him, I think I based that on seeing polls that showed most Americans agree with my political views. Of course, that conveniently ignored the fact that my views aren't actually “centrist”, they’re “liberal”, which is why I now consider myself a “liberal Democrat” — which, by definition, would be in the mainstream. But being “mainstream” is not the same as being in the “center” of the stream, it just means being where most of the water is.

But to get back to Starbucks man, instead of presenting himself as the guy behind Starbucks who has, for some reason, decided he’s running for president, maybe he should go talk to the Democrats in his state and ask them to help him learn the trade of politics from the bottom up, and maybe he’ll run for some public office some day — like mayor of some big city, or maybe governor.

In fact, maybe he shouldn’t even mention Starbucks, which is really not that relevant — although I suppose what might help him get his foot in the door is if he mentions that he has lots and lots of money, since that might be considered relevant indeed.

Rick

Friday, January 11, 2019

Response to Lit by Gas

(See: Just Above Sunset: Lit by Gas)

I presume that what Trump means is, Mexico will be paying for the wall through his fancy new NAFTO 2.0 that will go into effect in 2020, and that Congress has yet to approve, to be disbursed out of U.S. tax revenues that will come from an anticipated reduction of our trade deficit with Mexico?

But that would only be true if tax revenues rise because of that happening, assuming it will, which apparently economists are not so sure will. But if it does, it could be argued that he got Mexico and Canada to pay for it! Oh, well, we may never know if that ever happens, which probably suits Trump just fine.

But a more important issue that we all should be talking about right now, during this shutdown while Americans are paying attention, is that all Americans need to agree that these government shutdowns need to just stop.

They not only needlessly hurt our government employees, they also deprive access to crucial government services that citizens depend on, they hurt the economy, they end up costing us rather than saving us money (which too many Americans erroneously believe), and probably the most significant of all, the fact that some politicians think it’s okay to blackmail the country into passing bills that the country can’t seem to pass the normal way — because Americans are not in favor of them — is a symptom of the failure of America and its constitution.

And while, in fact, any one of these arguments ought to be enough reason to stop the practice, it’s especially true of the first one, which wreaks serious and sometimes irreparable havoc on the lives of people we hire to do our work. We treat this issue casually, but in truth, it’s a serious case of wrongdoing on our part, and it needs to stop.

Although there’s probably no way to outright outlaw government shutdowns — google the "Antideficiency Act" of 1884, which says it’s against the law to spend government money that hasn’t yet been allocated, and which is what supplies the legal groundwork for all these shutdowns — we might at least try to make it unacceptable in the collective brain of Americans to do so.

How?

We Americans need to insist that both parties make sure whatever our government buys or rents is fully paid for in advance. This means that well before these deadlines arrive, neither side puts any “poison pills” (that is, nothing that the other party would refuse to vote for) into the spending bills. In other words, keep the controversy out of these last-minute appropriation bills, safely put off to the side to be discussed at a later date.

Nobody should “proudly” own a shutdown, and everybody should shame anybody else who forces into any bill a poison-pill rider that they know will be rejected by the other side.

Another way of looking at it:

Do not lard appropriation bills with those riders that wouldn’t pass Congress without the extortionate cloud of a government shutdown hanging over it.

Why?

Because shutdowns were not part of the design of the founders. The people who invented this country back in to 18th century came up with a way to govern it that relied on the good will of all to vote for or against bills in ways that reflected the collective will of the governed, without having to resort to such gimmicks as threatening to shut everything down if the minority doesn’t get its way, as a way of overruling the will of the people.

Yeah, you say, but that’s never going to happen.

Okay, I’m not predicting that it will happen, only arguing that it should. I’m pretty sure the founders were not so stupid as to think the system of governance they designed would be automatically protected by an all-powerful God, but instead knew it was a design that, by necessity, would only survive if future generations (that’s us!) understood how fragile it is, and would have the common sense to make sure it did not fall apart.

In short, all these government closings that we have blithely been accepting as business-as-usual politics, are really just a sign that we have forgotten how to govern ourselves according to the original plan. Starting right now, we all need to just stop allowing these shutdowns to happen.

Pass it on.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Response to Passing Losses On

(See: Just Above Sunset: Passing Losses On)

I confess, Obamacare has always been confusing to me but I suspect it’s even more confusing to Republicans, who don’t seem to understand that when ACA was being devised, the planners came up with pieces that all fit together in such a way that, if you take away any one of the parts, the plan falls apart.

For example, those planners knew they could always insist that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions, but they also knew they couldn’t do that unless they allowed those companies to make enough money to pay for it. And that’s why they came up with a mandate that said everybody had to have insurance or else pay a penalty (originally a “fine”, but eventually, a “tax”) to cover it.

So the Republicans, who are apparently not as good with money as everyone seems to think they are, ZERO OUT the penalty for the mandate, yet still insist on keeping the pre-existing conditions that the mandates pay for!

And then some conservative judge comes along with his long-awaited ruling on a lawsuit filed by a number of state attorneys general. Here’s the background from the Wall Street Journal’s own reaction to his ruling:
Recall that Chief Justice John Roberts joined four Justices to say ObamaCare’s mandate was illegal as a command to individuals to buy insurance under the Commerce Clause. “The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it,” he wrote.

Yet the Chief famously salvaged ObamaCare by unilaterally rewriting the mandate to be a “tax” that was within Congress’s power. Never mind that Democrats had expressly said the penalty was not a tax. Majority Leader Roberts declared it to be so.

Enter Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argues in Texas v. U.S. that since Congress has repealed the mandate, the tax is no longer a tax, and ObamaCare is thus illegal. Judge O’Connor agreed with that logic, and he went further in ruling that since Congress said the mandate is crucial to the structure of ObamaCare, then all of ObamaCare must fall along with the mandate.
Okay, but think about this and tell me where I’m wrong:

Since Roberts’ “tax” solution was in response only to whether we can “fine” somebody for not buying insurance, and since the Republicans zeroed out that fine/tax to nothing, then where’s the problem to which the word “tax” is the solution? Because of the fact that there’s no longer teeth in the mandate, there’s no longer any compulsion here, which is what brought up the question of constitutionality.

Or am I missing something?

On the other hand, the actual problem we’re left with seems to be that, without the “stick" with which to hit people who refuse to buy insurance, making sure most every American is in the pool, where will insurance companies find the money to pay for all this stuff?

So no, you blockheads, ending the mandate didn’t make the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, it just made the Affordable Care Act un-fucking-affordable!

Or did it? Maybe not.

According to Andrew Sprung at HealthInsurance.Org, who wrote "The GOP is still coming after your ACA coverage (whether you have a pre-existing condition or not)" back in September before the ruling of this past weekend:
The [State Attorneys General’s] suit ignores the fact that the current Republican Congress deliberately zeroed out the penalty while not repealing the ACA, reflecting learned experience that ACA subsidies are enough to keep the ACA private plan marketplace functioning, albeit in impaired fashion, no matter what measures (other than repeal) Republicans take to sabotage it.
In other words, maybe those subsidies called for by Obamacare will be enough to continue paying for coverage of pre-existing conditions?

I do hope so, but I must admit I’m not greatly encouraged by any argument that rests of the “learned experience” of a gaggle of random Republican Congressmen.

* * * * *

But while I got you, let me change the subject to the upcoming “Trump Shutdown” of the government to pay for his stupid wall.

Will there be a shutdown? I don’t know, but I do predict that he will fail to get his wall, and yet will still claim he succeeded.

So you have Stephen Miller saying that the administration would do “whatever is necessary to build the border wall,” and I’m thinking, "Anything at all that’s necessary?"

How about maybe rallying all those few Americans in favor of your wall, to roll up their sleeves, "put on overalls, bring hammers and saws and spare bricks and lumber and barbed-wire and whatnot, and meet us at the border, ready to put your sweat equity where your mouth is!"

"(Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to bring money!)”


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Response to Idiot’s Delight

(See: Just Above Sunset: Idiot's Delight)

Here’s Colby Itkowitz, in the Washington Post:

Over 10 minutes of a surreal public sparring match in the Oval Office, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried mightily to rise above the bluster and ego that erupted between the men in the room.
But Pelosi (D-Calif.) instead had to listen as President Trump mansplained to her the legislative process and her role in the debate, while Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer talked over her to trade barbs mano a mano with Trump.
I think playing up this “mansplaining” view — that the men talked over the woman — may have missed the point:

Both Chuck and Nancy conspired to play Trump, tricking him into owning any government shutdown. After all, she knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to move the debate into private session to discuss any upcoming “Trump Shutdown”, goading Trump into talking about it, during which Chuck then forced the overly-cocky Donald to “proudly” take ownership.

And while her “manhood” comment afterward is certainly memorable for whatever belittling effect it might have on Trump when he reads it, I also hope that her mentioning that she felt like she had been in “a tinkle contest with a skunk” gets some future mention, maybe in some debate, just to let a little air out of his balloon.

I’m convinced one reason for Trump’s undeserved reputation for success in battle is that, because he always pretty much controls the setting, and because he usually only engages with news reporters who he knows, for professional reasons, can’t fight back, he's never really seen getting into any face-to-face confrontations with anyone who disagrees with him, and who are more than willing to talk back to him in front of cameras. It was, as CNN's bemused resident Brit Richard Quest noted afterward, the closest thing he'd seen to Wednesday Question Time in Britain's Parliament, during which the Prime Minister is compelled to debate her opposition.

In any event, I’m sure Trump will think twice before he decides to trap these two with a bait-and-switch photo-op. And Pelosi is no dummy! She’s got my vote.

In fact — and this occurred to me just now — Nancy Pelosi is, as of this moment, my top choice of Democrats to face Donald Trump in 2020!


Thursday, November 22, 2018

(See: Just Above Sunset: Imagining The Worst)

Trump is, almost literally, a real world representation of those three monkeys that see no evil, etc. What he is doing is exactly the behavior that the metaphor was invented to mock.

Donald Trump:
"The world is a very dangerous place!”
And thanks to his efforts, it seems to be getting more so every day!

Conservatives tend to be afraid of the world, claiming it’s more dangerous than it really is, and tend to lack the courage to deal with it the way it is. Previous presidents, not nearly as conservative, and therefore less fearful than Trump, would have a better idea of how to deal with this situation. If the world is dangerous, it’s because too many world leaders lack the guts and brains to deal with it.

What is it about Trump that made the Saudis think they could slip this one by America?

For one thing, they probably sense, like MBS has told people, that they got us "in their pocket”. It’s no wonder, since our Artist of the Deal tends to tip his hand in dealing with them. They can easily smell fear when Trump tells everyone, 'Hey, who knows if they did it? The important thing is they’ve promised to buy a gazillion dollars worth of weapons from us!’

True! They’ve already given us fourteen billion, and they promise the check for the rest is in the mail!

I’m old enough to remember when WE held arms sales over THEIR heads, instead of the other way around. But maybe that was back when we had leaders who were better at making deals, and who were also infused with good old American moral values that kept them from baldly looking the other way when an ally murdered someone. That’s why an American leader with the necessary skills could extend the soft power that made America a respected leader in the world.

Donald Trump lacks both the smarts and the courage to be very good at any of this, and he’s apparently not smart enough to see it, and even if he could see it, he’d lie and say it’s not happening. I’m getting to the point of thinking we need, under the threat of impeachment, to make a deal with him to get him out of there, like we did with Nixon and Agnew.

I’d been holding off on that because I was afraid of what might happen to us under “President Pence”, and thinking maybe after 2020 the problem would go away on its own, but things are getting too bad and the harm he’s done to our stature in the world may already be irreparable.

Maybe the time has come to seriously consider that a president taking it upon himself to do harm to his country is grounds for removal. Odd that our founders overlooked that eventuality.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Response to Trump Change

(See: Just Above Sunset: Trump Change)

If the truth be told, it’s was not all that difficult to figure out what to do.

When we — or at least those of us who understand that words do matter — acknowledge out loud that Dr. Christine Ford was a “credible witness”, we need to understand that this means she’s “believable” — which is just another way of saying, “Yes! Yes! We believe her!”

And no, not only was Brett Kavanau’s performance not believable, it was, in itself, disqualifying for the job, at least to most people who watched it, including many who are experts at law and the Constitution. To anyone with good judgement, it was unforgivable and irreversible: You can’t just undo it by admitting the next day that you said some things you probably shouldn’t have said, but you promise to be good from now on.

(Okay, behave yourself from now on, but how about doing it somewhere else than in the Supreme Court of the United States?)

And who knew that Trump would get the FBI to join his cabal! One problem with the investigation is that nobody was sure what the FBI was looking for — evidence that Dr. Ford was telling the truth? Evidence that Kavanaugh was lying? Both? The veracity of the woman he allegedly exposed himself to at Yale? We may never know, but it’s hard not to suspect the whole FBI thing was faked.

And this whole idea of finding anyone who remembers being at that party? Try this yourself: Do you remember ever being at a high school party in which something was going on upstairs that you were not aware of?

Of course not! If you weren’t aware of what was going on at some party, why would you remember the party? And if you do remember, it’s probably because you were the one doing what was going on, in which case you won’t want to admit it. The whole thing was silly.

And because we really don’t want to talk about sex anyway, there may be another reason to be in denial about the event at the party: Even if it did happen, what’s the big deal, you may ask? After all, it’s only sex! Sex happens all the time, people of both genders will admit, and much of it by girls who change their minds later about wanting to do it in the first place. But it's certainly not something that should ruin the life of a good man who we desperately need to get onto the Supreme Court.

And, in fact, in this case, it’s not even sex, it was only attempted sex! And what if it had actually been rape? What’s the big deal! Once again, I’m sure there are still plenty of people who believe, as my neighbor suggested the other day, that “Rape is just having sex with someone you don’t like!"

So the truth be told? But that’s just it: For obvious reasons, the truth is not going to be told, at least not by Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Republican Booster Club, and what each and every one of them won’t tell you is, they spent all that time and energy looking for a credible “Yes”, and were not going to settle for “No", which is why the Republicans arranged to keep the discussion in the realm of “He said, she said”, which “he” always seems to win by default.

Here’s where Susan Collins’s logic went off the tracks in her Senate speech
"Some argue that because this is a lifetime appointment to our highest court, the public interest requires that doubts be resolved against the nominee. 
Others see the public interest as embodied in our long-established tradition of affording to those accused of misconduct a presumption of innocence. In cases in which the facts are unclear, they would argue that the question should be resolved in favor of the nominee."
A more specific statement of the American version of this “presumption of innocence” is, in this country, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty  in a court of law!

And to integrate that into something that has been mentioned by those on both sides in the last two weeks, what has been going on in the Senate is not a court trial, it’s a job interview, and while there may be a presumption of innocence in a courtroom, there is none when you’re interviewing for a job.

An example:

Suppose you’re a middle manager, looking to hire a specific person for your company, and you hear several rumors he was let go from his previous job after being under suspicion of molesting some of the children in the company-run daycare center.

So you call his previous employer and ask someone in the HR department about the rumors, and are told they’ve been advised by the legal department to not discuss this person at all, and you ask why, and you’re told “We just don’t want to get involved in any legal disputes.”

So you ask the applicant about the rumors, and this is his angry reply:

“First of all, I was in the top of my class in school! I was also captain of the football team and basketball team! Let me tell you, I worked my friggin’ ass off!”

Okay, you say, but what I’m asking is, what can you tell me about the rumors? And his answer is, “Okay, they have absolutely no evidence I did any of that! Zero! None!"

So what do you do? You have no evidence that the applicant did anything wrong, and so you ask yourself, shouldn’t I give this guy the benefit of the doubt?

Answer: Maybe, but not necessarily. If you think he’s most likely not guilty, you might decide to take a chance on him. On the other hand, if you get the feeling he’s probably guilty, feel free to cut him loose. So you do.

And that’s that? Not so fast.

Because then, after you tell the guy no, you get a call from your upper management, maybe your boss’s boss, who informs you the applicant is the son of a good friend, and so he tells you to call the guy back in and hire him. So then you tell the high-up mucky-muck about the daycare rumors, and that you can’t, in good conscience, hire some child molester.

Then he says, hmm, oh yeah, that would look pretty bad, but then he orders you to find a way to hire the guy anyway. In other words, make the problem go away, and then hire the guy.

So you do. After all, you tell yourself — and anybody else that asks — that, here in America, you’re presumed innocent until proven guilty, and since we have no actual evidence of any wrongdoing…

You then call the guy back and give him the good news!

“That’s great!”, the guy says.

But just before you both hang up, the guy says, “Oh, by the way, one more question?”

“Sure. What?”

“Does the company have onsite daycare?"

Now for the big question: Did you do the right thing?

Maybe, maybe not. But whichever, just remember to make sure you send your daughter elsewhere for daycare.

Will there be an upside to all that Kavanaugh crap we just went through?

Yes, I do believe that it only helps Democrats to realize that, no matter what they lead you believe time and time again, Republicans like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins will always be like Lucy with the football, and that when it comes to doing the right thing, we Democrats will need to find some way to do that ourselves.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Response to And They Laughed

(See: Just Above Sunset: And They Laughed)

As for that U.N. "laughing fit" at Trump, his surprise at hearing it reminds us that President Trump is — except when giving his State of the Union address — virtually never faced with a crowd that would even consider laughing at him, because he spends his life walking around inside a little climate-controlled bubble of his own making!

It’s mostly only inside the United Nations General Assembly hall, in which neither he nor his friends are allowed to determine who is allowed into the room, where we find anyone free to giggle or guffaw at the naked emperor to their heart’s content.

And this highlights a big problem we have with our political system, being that a president the likes of Donald Trump is able to manipulate it in such a way that he’s never subject to cross-examination from his opponents, and so is never held accountable to anyone but his somewhat, shall we say, "off-the-beaten-path" minority base. I think Congress needs something like the Wednesday noon “Prime Minister’s Questions" in the British House of Commons, where the president would be required to answer questions from real-world elected officials who disagree either with him or his knuckle-headed policies.

But an even more dangerous shortcoming of our system is that our president — even one who might, such as Donald Trump did, get elected by accident — is granted extraordinary unilateral powers to change the official opinions of the whole country, even if most citizens of the country disagree with him. If, for some reason, the United States decides it wants to change course and go it alone, leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself, it should only happen with the specific consent of the governed.

And if we citizens never get the power to make that happen, we at least need some constitutional way to stop him in his tracks, short of having to wait for elections every four years or initiating impeachment proceedings, especially if a minority opposition stands in our way, as is the case right now. I’m thinking of something along the lines of recalling him, and simultaneously putting someone else in there, sort of like how Californians back in 2003 were able to replace Governor Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In other words, forget about "Making America Great Again", what we need is to find a way to make America work again.