Monday, January 8, 2018

Response to Regarding Claims of Genius

(See: Just Above Sunset: Regarding Claims of Genius)

Genius doesn’t really mean what people think it means.

They think it refers to someone who is not only, “like, really smart”, but has a very high IQ score, maybe graduated from some good college, and maybe is a billionaire — although you’d think someone that smart should know that’s not even what “genius” really means.

Check the dictionary:
gen·ius ˈjēnyəs/
noun 
 1. exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. "she was a teacher of genius"
synonyms: brilliance, intelligence,  intellect,  ability,  cleverness,  brains, erudition, wisdom, fine mind
 2. a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect. "one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century"
synonyms: brilliant person, gifted person,  mastermind,  Einstein,  intellectual,  great intellect,  brain,  mind
Nothing about IQ scores in any of that. Nothing in there about what college you went to, or starting a company, or progressing from a millionaire to a billionaire. 

But first of all, you don’t have to be a genius to know that Donald Trump has not been gifted, from birth or otherwise, with “exceptional intellect or creativity”. Maybe it just boils down to being naturally talented at something or other.

So maybe Donald Trump is a genius, of sorts, if genius means having a talent for taking his dead dad’s large inheritance of millions of dollars, and growing it into something even larger.

That’s not too unlike what was done by Howard Hughes, another famous germaphobic nut-case playboy from an earlier era, who also didn’t drink or smoke, and who spent his twilight years growing his fingernails long, tended by a small staff of mormons as he feasted on TV Dinners in a darkened penthouse above Acapulco, not touching anything except through Kleenex, and dying a lonely shriveled old coot, with no more pretty Hollywood starlets around him, much less family, to bid him adieu.

If your definition of genius is having some outstanding talent, then maybe you can call Trump a genius, although his talent has mostly been in suckering other not-too-smart people into thinking that, because he’s a billionaire businessman, he must also be, like, really smart.

Even though he’s not.

Charles Blow handles that nicely in the New York Times today:
From everything I have ever read about the man, he is not particularly smart. This is sometimes hard for people to understand. They equate financial gain with intellectual gifts, but the two are hardly synonymous. 
Being gifted at exploitation is not the same as intellectualism. It is a skill, but one separate from scholarship. Being able to see and exploit a need, void or insecurity in people can be an interesting, and even lucrative, endowment, but it is not enlightenment. 
He is also not a reader. That is not to say that he can’t read, but rather that, given his druthers, he won’t.
In fact, he’s probably never had to be smart. Think about it: there’s no reason to believe he’s ever applied for a job, or gotten a promotion that wasn’t because he was the boss's son.

And forget his businesses. Someone once did a study of how rich Trump would be had he never started any business, nor taken any business into bankruptcy, but had he instead sunk his inheritances in stock market index funds, the most risk-averse of funds, and it was discovered he’d have ended up much richer if he’d just invested it all on Wall Street.

In defense of his “mental stability”, Trump, for some reason, cites having gone to a good college. Yes, Trump went to Wharton, but it should be noted that Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, went to Harvard, an arguably even better school.

On the other hand, other than being — as Steve Bannon says of Ivanka — “dumb as a brick”, is Trump even mentally fit to be president?

I don’t know. Who really can say? Like being a “genius”, being a certifiable fruitcake doesn’t mean exactly what folks thinks it means. Even while he was safely ensconced in prison, nobody’s ever been able to nail down a reliable diagnosis of Kaczynski himself
Kaczynski's lawyers, headed by Montana Federal public defenders Michael Donahoe and Judy Clarke, attempted to enter an insanity defense to avoid the death penalty, but he rejected this plea. On January 8, 1998, he requested to dismiss his lawyers and hire Tony Serra as his counsel; Serra had agreed not to use an insanity defense and instead base a defense on Kaczynski's anti-technology views. This request was unsuccessful and Kaczynski subsequently tried to commit suicide by hanging on January 9. 
Several, though not all, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who examined Kaczynski diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz said Kaczynski was not psychotic but had a schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder. 
In his 2010 book Technological Slavery, Kaczynski said that two prison psychologists that visited him frequently for four years told him they saw no indication that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and the diagnosis was "ridiculous" and a "political diagnosis".
So what chance do we have of any group of competent psychologists agreeing on what’s going on inside Trump’s noggin, given the fact that not even the Unabomber's shrinks can agree on his diagnosis?

For that matter, it’s not entirely out of the question to think that Ted Kaczynski, if reexamined, could be deemed mentally qualified to be president!

And why not? Are you sure the Unabomber would truly be any weirder a Chief Executive than the one we have now?


Friday, January 5, 2018

Response to Assuming No Future

(See: Just Above Sunset: Assuming No Future)

All this daily “Trump Watch” stuff conjures an image of Americans watching from the sidelines as pieces of their country, small and large, go floating off in space, and remarking, “Oh, look!! There goes the State Department!!” and “Oh, look! Wasn't that the Bill of Rights?”

I think we may, at this point in American history, be making the mistake of assuming that, no matter how much damage is done during these Trump years, we will always be able, later, to retrieve all the broken pieces of America and reassemble them the way they’re supposed to be, without us now having to make any drastic moves to stop all of that from happening in the first place.

After all, what can be done? The framers of the Constitution didn’t anticipate any of this, apparently assuming that future Americans would be suitably equipped with ample intelligence, honor and goodwill to figure out what to do. (Silly framers!)

Maybe Congress needs to come up with some sort of “presidential competency test”, hopefully with a “reading comprehension” section, but maybe also a “mental competency” component, and definitely sections on familiarity with history, not just American but also of the world. 

Of course, such a test might never become law, since Trump could just veto it, but I think there’s just enough chance that Congress would override his veto.

And in fact, maybe taking this test can be a prerequisite to running for office in the first place. You don’t need to “pass” the test to run, but you would have to take it, and have the results published for all to see.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Response to After The Victory

(See: Just Above Sunset: After The Victory)

You’d think it might have occurred to Democrats in the last month or so that repealing the individual mandate was tantamount to a "repeal-without-replace" of Obamacare.

And you’d think that they then might have sounded the alarm — not just to other Democrats, but also to moderate Republicans who might then notice the danger zone their party was walking into, and even Maine Senator Susan Collins, who could have helped spread the alarm further, since the danger of Americans losing health coverage seemed to be what had motivated her no-vote on Trumpcare.

I suspect the Democrats decided not to talk this up in the lead-up to the tax vote for much the same reason that Trump didn’t. Maybe Trump didn’t want to remind the Democrats to get up in arms, while maybe the Democrats didn’t want to remind conservative Republicans, in case they hadn’t noticed, that their chance to repeal Obamacare was just another good reason to vote for the tax bill.

I hate to admit this, but Trump is right. The Democrats blew it.

Yes, next year, we can use the fact that the Republicans repealed-without-replacing as talking points against them, but I see no guarantee that will get us much traction. I think the Democrats lost their chance to do some good, and got snookered by the kind of small-time pompous shithead mob godfather who demands his capos heap praise upon him in public.

I really don’t like criticizing my own party for not getting out in front of an issue, but that’s exactly what they didn’t do this time. We do need to work on that. Oh, well, spilt milk.

But meanwhile, there are two things I want to mention about what to expect from this tax bill, and then I’ll shut up for the rest of the day.

First:

You could see this whole thing as a bait-and-switch, with the “bait” happening with just enough time before the 2018 elections to possibly effect them, and the “switch" happening so long afterward that everyone will be on to something else by then. It will be left to be handled by future generations of Republicans, who will probably explain it all away by blaming it on Democrats.

And they’ll probably get away with it, too, since remembering the truth doesn’t count for much in a world ruled by bullies, so I don’t advise assuming Republicans have filled out their own death certificate with passage of this tax bill.

Second:

When you think about whatever good effects Republicans are trying to get us all to expect from this bill, you have...

(1) “The tax cuts will improve the economy", and
(2) “The improvement of the economy will be enough for the tax cuts to, essentially, 'pay for themselves'”.

On the first, yes, we should expect some improvement in the GDP, since experience and models seem to show there usually is, but maybe not as much as conservatives think, because of this from CNN.com a few days ago:
CEOs may like the idea of a big tax cut for businesses, but that doesn't mean they'll use the savings to create American jobs.

Just 14% of CEOs surveyed by Yale University said their companies plan to make large, immediate capital investments in the United States if the tax overhaul passes. Capital investments, like building plants and upgrading equipment, can lead to hiring. 

Only a slim majority of the CEOs, 55%, said the Republican tax package should be signed into law. The Yale CEO Summit surveyed 110 prominent business leaders of Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies last week.

The findings, along with other surveys, suggest that the tax plan may not have the dramatic impact on jobs that President Trump and Republicans in Congress have promised.
In other words, there is already evidence of this. The so-called “smart money” is already pretty sure of what’s going to happen:
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who leads the Yale CEO Summit, said in an interview that it's "astounding" how few companies plan to reinvest their tax savings.

He called the idea of a jobs boom from the tax plan "a lot of smoke and mirrors," especially because the unemployment rate is just 4.1% and companies already have plenty of cash to make investments. 

Sonnenfeld declined to name the CEOs who participated in the poll. He said it included "Trump supporters" and former members of the president's now-defunct advisory councils of business leaders.
Yes, Wall Street wants this bill, but maybe it’s not so much for the reasons that Trump says they do:
Wall Street expects companies will use a big chunk of the tax savings to reward shareholders with fatter dividends and stock buybacks, which makes stocks more attractive. That's one reason stocks have surged all year, putting the Dow in sight of 25,000. 
"Markets just love it," Michael Block, chief market strategist at Rhino Trading Partners, wrote in a note on Tuesday. He said it's "malarkey" to think that cutting corporate taxes will boost spending and wages. 
"As we've seen in history, this doesn't raise wages," he wrote. "What it does lead to is richer shareholders.”  
In 2004, when Congress offered tax breaks for companies to bring foreign profits back home, businesses used much of their cash on share buybacks.  
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities later concluded that the 2004 tax holiday "did not produce the promised economic benefits" because companies mostly bought back stock instead of investing to grow their businesses.
But onto number (2):

As we all know, maybe including most Republicans, while tax cuts may or may not boost growth, they never pay for themselves.

Still, the question is, do Republicans really care about whether tax revenues increase? In fact, have conservatives ever really cared about how much money government gets to do what it’s supposed to do?

Not noticeably.

If they did, they wouldn’t be constantly (and almost recklessly) looking for ways to cut taxes, even if doing so means cutting popular deductions. In fact, as far as Republicans are concerned, the less money government has, the better, since government seems to be always spending most of its money on doing things that only the Democrats want done anyway, such as "buying" the votes of "special interests" (such as poor people) with "giveaways".

Democrats, conservatives might argue — and they do! — are not really interested in helping the poor and the minorities who’s votes they court, they’re only interested in the power that comes from doing it. (Of course, Democrats don’t come across as “power hungry”, or not nearly much as the Republicans do, but that just goes to show how duplicitous those greedy bastards are.)

But, you may be asking, if Republicans don’t really care about government having revenue, shouldn’t they be worried about how to pay off the $1.5 trillion dollars they’re adding to the debt?

Okay, but hold the phone! We must not make the common mistake of conflating “budget deficit” with “national debt”, since “deficit" only becomes “debt” when and if you spend it!

In other words, expect some time in the future for Republicans to notice that we, for some reason nobody can explain, have this huge deficit that needs reducing! And what’s the best way to reduce a deficit — without, of course, raising taxes, which we’ve all decided should never be done?

You guessed it! We’ll need to cut spending!

And assuming you’re well off enough to have your own nest-egg and own health insurance — like any good American does, and should — then you probably won’t mind if we reduce the benefits of Social Security and Medicare (and not to forget, Medicaid, which only losers use anyway!), which is the largest chunk of change that the U.S. Government “wastes" every year.

We have to get used to the fact that, while for a very long time — probably dating back to the late 19th century as the United States became a global power — liberal assumptions about what this country represented prevailed in the country and throughout the world. America did believe in what Emma Lazarus wrote, that immigrants should be welcomed here because they helped make America great, just as former slaves deserved the same rights as the rest of us, and women deserved the right to vote. We saw to it that everyone had the same opportunity to strive and survive, no matter how poor, and we reached a landmark when we finally passed a national health program, to make sure that nobody, nor their children, suffered for not being able to see a doctor or go to a hospital.

That was then. All that liberal claptrap is now collapsing. Historians may someday look back and take note that Barrack Obama presided over the peak of America’s potential — it’s “spring of hope", in the words of Dickens, followed abruptly by its "winter of despair”.

You see where all this seems to be leading us?

If our answer to that was, “Yeah, somewhere out there in the Third World!”, then I think we may finally be coming to our senses.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Response to Not Quite Better Than Nothing

(See Just above Sunset/Not Quite Better Than Nothing)

I agree with Nancy LeTourneau and disagree with Kevin Drum, at least this once.

I think the Republicans are approaching everything they do these days like those football players when they try to explain themselves in those post-game press conferences — they have no idea what the big picture is, since they play just one game at a time. That way, even if they’re headed for the Super Bowl this year, next year they might end up totally out of the running based on things they’re doing now. But meanwhile, ignorance is bliss.

But what amazes me is how Trump’s base — which, let’s face it, is the new Republican base, whether Republicans are ready to admit it or not — goes along with all this! I don’t blame them for voting against their own self-interest. I do that, too, but in my case, the GOP tax bill, which probably will neither help nor hurt me, will (I think) probably hurt the U.S. economy, and at least hurt the middle class and the poor.

I’m pretty sure Trump’s base votes for him because they like his style, not because they believe he’ll get things done that they like. Sure, they’ve depended on Obamacare to stay alive, and sure, Trump is killing Obamacare, but they don’t seem to understand that he’s really doing that. They believe him when he says Obamacare’s failure is Obama’s fault, simply because they didn’t like Obama, and they do like Trump. Before they ever learn the truth — that Trump himself sabotaged Obamacare and blamed it on the Democrats, just as he said he would — it will be just someone else’s version of history that nobody really cares about.

And speaking of history, if you’re interested in where Republicans first came up with this “trickle-down” stuff, you should read this Isaac Martin article in the NY Times from a few days ago. You may have heard that Arthur Laffer invented the idea…
But the man who first put this strategy to work for rich people was Andrew Mellon, the millionaire who became secretary of the Treasury after World War I. Poor veterans of the war were clamoring for expensive public benefits. Rich men wanted their income taxes rolled back. 
Mellon squared the circle by inventing a supply-side argument: Cutting income tax rates would actually increase tax revenues. In particular, he said, cutting the top income tax rates would encourage rich people to pull their money out of tax shelters and invest in creating jobs… 
Instead of an economic model, he gave his readers a folksy anecdote about an overtaxed farmer. He also raised money for a grass-roots campaign to mobilize support for income tax cuts in parts of the country where almost no one was rich enough to benefit personally from those tax cuts. These activists did not have to win a majority of the public. They just had to win enough grass-roots support to intimidate members of Congress in a few key districts... 
Veterans of the campaign for the Mellon plan kept campaigning for income tax cuts through World War II. When runaway inflation put tax reform back on the agenda in the 1970s, conservative activists dusted off those old policy proposals. They copied the old tactics, too, including the recruitment of organizers to run grass-roots campaigns far outside Washington. These conservative activists picked up Mellon’s book and they copied Mellon’s argument: Tax cuts for the rich will pay for themselves with economic growth. 
Today’s Republican Party is the party that those activists made. Congressional Republicans who came up in the populist tax revolts of the 1970s abandoned the old party orthodoxy of balanced budgets and rebranded themselves as the tax-cutting party. They embraced the idea that deficits don’t matter as long as those deficits result from Republican tax cuts.
So did Mellon’s tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves? Here’s tax historian Joe Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts in WaPo:
Did the 1920s tax cuts bolster economic growth? Probably. Did that growth help defray the cost of the tax cuts? Probably. Did that growth cover the full cost of those tax cuts? No... 
Historically, tax cuts have tended to generate some economic growth that in turn helps cover part of the cost of the cut itself. But to my knowledge, no major tax cut has ever generated enough growth to pay for itself completely.
But what I’m really curious about is how much Republicans believe that a bill that cuts middle class taxes in the short run and helps rich people and corporations in the long run — especially one that seems to be tremendously unpopular with most Americans because of those things — will really help America in spite of its massive unpopularity. Yes, economists don’t like the bill, but economists are “experts", and in fact, it certainly doesn’t help that more of them are liberal than aren’t.

But I guess the idea is that, after we (Republicans) get past the vote and all this crap becomes law, the people will eventually learn that they (economists and citizens) were wrong and we (Republicans) were right, and that someday they’ll — what, maybe thank us? Maybe America will apologize to Trump and the Republican party for not believing in them?

I don’t really know what silliness is going on in their brains. Maybe somebody should ask them if they can explain what they're doing.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Response to Taking Things Too Far

(See: Just Above Sunset: Taking Things Too Far)

 We should all be thankful that America’s version of The Enlightenment didn’t mimic the French version, even their PRE "Reign-of-Terror” version, with committees of so-called “citizens” running the country instead of elected presidents and representatives — the “too MUCH democracy” that our founders wisely avoided — and not to forget the mob rule and terror that followed, and eventually, even an emperor, of all things!

But is it because we’re now living in our own bizarre "Reign-of-Trump", where mob-think seems to carry more weight than facts and reason and justice, that a whole bunch of senators can force a possibly-innocent senator to voluntarily put his head in the guillotine?

Yesterday, before his announcement, I was agnostic about whether Franken should resign, but afterward, I decided he should not have — not just on moral grounds but also political ones. (And wouldn’t it be nice if America got back to a time when the “moral” and the “political” shared the same grounds?)

In fact, even as Minnesota’s Democratic governor Mark Dayton expressed his "deepest regrets to the women, who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken” in his statement yesterday, he added this:
"Al Franken has been an outstanding Senator. He has been, as Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, ‘A Senator from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.’ He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota.”
Let’s face it, whoever replaces Franken is unlikely to do as much for the Democratic national cause as Franken has proven he is capable of doing, and his staying, in the long run, will have done a lot more good for our side than whatever questionable short-term political advantage, if any, the party gets from his leaving.

So now I’m wondering if, in the next few days, when the time comes for governor Dayton to announce Al Franken’s replacement, how nice it might be if he announces that his choice is Al Franken.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Response to The Trump Transformation

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Trump Transformation)

Breaking news! This just in! Trump changes his mind again on Moore:
In a stunning reversal this morning, President Trump says he has now listened a little closer to what Roy Moore’s accusers have been saying, and has withdrawn his support for Moore in the upcoming special election. 
“She totally denies it,” Mr. Trump said of Leigh Corfman, who has insisted she isn't lying about being molested as a 14-year-old girl by then 32-year-old Moore.  
“She says it absolutely did happen,” the president told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla. where he is spending his five-day Thanksgiving vacation. “You have to listen to her, also.” 
Asked by a reporter about whether he worried about Alabama electing “a liberal Democrat” to the senate, Mr. Trump responded by insisting that, “Hey, this isn’t about politics, it’s about morality, and about doing the right thing for a change!” 
“After all,” he continued, “what does this say about Alabama that they can’t find just one measly Republican senator to send to Washington that isn’t a child molester?” 
When asked how he feels about Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent, possibly winning the election, Mr. Trump replied, “What’s the big deal? He’s not such a bad guy! 
"A lot of people don’t know this, but as United States Attorney, Jones prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan bombers of a church that killed four innocent little African-American girls!” 
“And,” he added, “as far as I know, at least nobody’s accused Doug Jones of molesting little girls!” 
The president later announced he was ceasing his attacks on his former political opponent, Hillary Clinton, after hearing she has denied any wrongdoing in her use of emails as Secretary of State, her handling of Benghazi, and allegations that she gave uranium to Russia. 
“Somebody recently asked her about all those things,” the president said, “and she denied it! And by the way, she totally denied it! You have to listen to her, also.”
Talk about a Trump Transformation!

But no, none of that's true. It’s all fake news. (You knew that, right?)

Still, for just one moment, it felt strangely calming to forget what a jerk the guy is in real life, and to imagine him being one of the good guys.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Response to Now Burning in Hell

(See: Just Above Sunset: Now Burning in Hell)

One thing nobody seems to be suggesting as to why Trump might be keeping quiet about Judge Roy right now is the close resemblance between Moore's practice of chasing teenage girls as young as 14 through 16, and that story of Trump walking through the dressing room to see naked 15 year old beauty queen contestants back in 1997:
Four women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant said Donald Trump walked into the dressing room while contestants — some as young as 15 — were changing. 
"I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,’ " said Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA. 
Trump, she recalled, said something like, "Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before." 
Three other women, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting engulfed in a media firestorm, also remembered Trump entering the dressing room while girls were changing. Two of them said the girls rushed to cover their bodies, with one calling it "shocking" and "creepy." The third said she was clothed and introduced herself to Trump. … Of the 11 (contestants) who said they don’t remember Trump coming into the changing room, some said it was possible that it happened while they weren’t in the room or that they didn’t notice. But most were dubious or dismissed the possibility out of hand. 
Allison Bowman, former Miss Wisconsin Teen USA, cast doubt on whether it happened. "These were teenage girls," Bowman said. "If anything inappropriate had gone on, the gossip would have flown.” … Billado said she told Ivanka Trump (Trump’s daughter), about Donald Trump entering the room while the girls were changing their clothes. Billado remembers Ivanka answering, "Yeah, he does that.”
Polifact dodged grading that story on their Truth-O-Meter, but there seems to be enough to it, and in light of Trump's own telling Howard Stern about his habit of doing this at other beauty pageants, I tend to believe it.

Can't you imagine the public blowback from the judge if Trump keeps tweeting that he needs to drop out of the race because he's a dirty old man who lusts after 15 year olds? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Moore has already warned Trump of this possibility, on the down-low.