Category Archives: Civic Concerns

Pertains to politics and governance, rights of citizens.

Gun Sense Presentation

Thursday, at the invitation of the Pennswood Village Social Justice Committee, I made a 45 minute presentation on gun violence and how we should address it.  I plan to post an essay based on the presentation that incorporates links to my source materials and to you tube video clips that pertain.

For those who saw the presentation and want to explore the source materials, here is a bibliography:

Gun Sense Bibliography

And here are the answers to the self-test …

Self test questionnaire

Question 6 is a trick to emphasize the importance of the secondary market in guns.  Because of the huge loophole that allows undocumented private transfers, virtually any gun is available without the participation of a licensed gun dealer, and without any permanent record of the transaction. Thus, none of the guns listed can “only” be purchased through a licensed gun dealer. The military weapons, the machine guns, and such may be transferred among and between Federally Licensed entities, but not sold to the public.

On question 8, gun advocates dispute the 32% and shrinking answer, preferring the 42%  number.  There has been a spike in handgun sales in the wake of recent news events.  But I think that it is still correct to say that the number of homes with guns is about the same or shrinking. The increase in sales is most likely gun enthusiasts buying items that were on their want list anticipating that the laws will be changed.

8/5/16 The essay is posted.  (click here).

Slight of Hand

It’s all about controlling the conversation. In high-pressure sales, and in intense face-to-face negotiation a deal maker wants to control and direct where the conversation goes.

T sketchTrump has the instinct and he’s honed it over years of business. His racist remarks about the judge hearing the Trump University case caused the media to turn away from the case itself, which points to Trump’s predatory lack of character and integrity, and possibly fraudulent actions. The headlines and sound bites focus on the inappropriateness of an off-cuff remark. Trump’s base likes that he is not politically correct. But they probably won’t like that he exploited people much like them. The diversion was damage control.

When Hillary Clinton attacked Trump in her recent foreign policy speech criticizing Trump’s public statements and concluding that Trump was not fit to be President, Trump did not respond to the substance; instead he dismissed it as “pathetic.”  When Elizabeth Warren took him to task he referred to her as “Pocahontas.” The media reverberated with the drama, again not engaging the substance of the criticism of Trump.

This weekend [June 12] the New York Times published a feature article detailing how Trump succeeded in making millions while his casino businesses were floundering. The eventual bankruptcies cost investors and creditors billions of dollars. One source estimates that Trump presided over the loss of $4.7 billion dollars of other people’s money. Somehow he was able to pay himself while shifting the risk and losses to others — a world class slight of hand.

Earlier in the week USA Today broke a story about hundreds of small businesses and employees of Trump enterprises that were not paid what they were owed. Trump has been involved in 3,500 litigations and often intimidates those who seek to collect what’s owed by alleging poor or late work. The little guy knows that the big guy can afford to have lawyers rag him around for years running up fees and so they settle. The Wall Street Journal termed this “hardball” business practices. The rest of us call it bullying and being a deadbeat. Trump boasts “I always win, that’s what I do.” It might be more correct to say that he makes losers of those who trust him.

All of these practices model different ways of gaming the system. It’s not creating honest and lasting value. And it’s certainly not about mutually beneficial business undertakings. It is all about using leverage and getting over on the other guy — a con game, the art of the grifter. Notions of stewardship and integrity are utterly absent. It’s the same sort of mentality that produced the 2008 economic collapse. And now we have a master practitioner who would be our President.

God save America.


Health Care Costs: The US Could Pay Less and Get More

I did a bit of Google research to get the facts.  It’s not hard, anybody can do it. For perspective I looked at what we pay for defense, how much we spend private pay healthcare, and how much gets burned up by admin costs. Here’s what I found:

US Military Budget= about $700 Billion (includes certain extra appropriations for combat expenses)

US Private Sector Healthcare Administration (@ 19% of $2.1 Trillion)= $400 Billion (that’s the paperwork and CEO pay, not the nurse/Doctor part)
To get the scale of this number, note that the healthcare industry’s admin costs exceed the total bill for military payroll, or military procurement, or the total budget of any one of the four branches of the armed services.  That’s a lot of freaking paper shuffling!
For the big picture let’s use the entire US economy as context:
  • The US Military is 3.5% of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • The US Healthcare Industry is 17.1% or about 5X the above defense spending.
  • All Federal, all State and all Local taxes add up to 24.8% of GDP.
Even with all of its top-heavy “government” inefficiency, we have the best military in the world .  Our healthcare rank is mediocre, around 37th, despite an army of expensive private sector executive administrative “talent.”
If you add the 17.1% for health to today’s 24.8% for all other taxes,  you get 41.9%, or about what the countries with top ranking “free” government healthcare pay in taxes as a percent of GDP.
Friends, there is no free lunch; if our taxes don’t pay for your healthcare, you the consumer pay for it directly … plus a 19% vigorish for the corporate suits!
NY Times Editorial

Don’t trust me, Google it and do the math yourself.  Next read this editorial from the NY Times: Health Care Myths (click)

The “Silent” Minority

Disaffected, Angry and Fearful

Since Donald J. Trump became a serious contender for the GOP nomination there have been many writers and a few academic studies that have sought to profile those who follow and support him.  We know a whole lot about what they don’t have in common: they aren’t all Republican, nor churched, nor old, nor male, nor poor. They are likely to be white or latino, working class, and socially conservative. They tend to be from authoritarian families. Their assessments are binary: winner/loser, truth/lie, good/bad, friend/foe.  (I’ve listed reference links for these demographics at the end of this essay.)

A viral email dating to 2012, right after President Obama was re-elected, contains angry sentiments that we’ve heard echoed by Trump and the people who support him. Various versions exist reflecting embellishments added as it was forwarded from person to person. Though it has been falsely attributed to a US Marine Corps Vet, or to Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, the actual source is unknown.

The American Dream Ended …  ( version)

“The American Dream ended last night in Ohio.

The second term of Barack Obama will be the final nail in the coffin for the legacy of the white Christian males who discovered, explored, pioneered, settled and developed the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.

A coalition of Blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays, government workers, union members, environmental extremists, the media, Hollywood, uninformed young people, the forever needy, the chronically unemployed, illegal aliens, and other fellow travelers has ended Norman Rockwell’s America.

The US Constitution has been replaced with Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’ and Chicago shyster David Axelrod, along with international socialist George Soros, will be pulling the strings on their black puppet to bring us into the New World Order.

The Republicans ran two candidates who couldn’t even win their own home states, while circus clown Chris Christie helped Obama over the top with a glowing ‘post-Sandy’ tribute that elevated the phony ‘Commander-in Chief’ to Mother Teresa status.

People like me are now completely politically irrelevant; I will never again comment on or concern myself with the aforementioned Republican coalition, which has surrendered our culture, our heritage and our traditions without a shot being fired.

You will never again outvote the people who gave Obama four more years. It will take individual acts of defiance and massive displays of civil disobedience to get back the rights we have allowed them to take away. It will take zealots, not moderates; zealots who will never ‘reach across the aisle’ to RINOs, to right this ship and restore our beloved Country to it’s former status.

Those who come after us will have to risk ‘their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor’ to bring back the Republic that this generation has timidly frittered away due to white guilt and political correctness.

My wife and I will now put our anti-ACLU Nativity Scene on display, and start wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas”. And enjoy the rest of our lives in our 50’s-throwback Village of (Redacted) Lakes, here in (Redacted) Harbor.

Atlas has Shrugged, and John Galt has left the building.”

Knowing that I collect and study them, a conservative friend receives many such viral messages and forwards the most provocative ones. In March of 2016, three-plus years after it was originally posted, it was still in circulation   In this instance my friend noted that it expressed the feelings of many people he knows.  The broad scope of the response to Trump suggests that he is right about that. Many of Trump’s applause lines evoke the emotions expressed in this piece.

Viral emails get forwarded exactly because they express a feeling that the sender likes and wants to share widely. Although the original writer remains anonymous, the forwarder is known to his correspondents. When this happens countless times over a several year period it demonstrates that lots of people endorsed the sentiments. It doesn’t seem to matter that the content isn’t logical, and doesn’t pass the sniff test for factual basis.

My knee-jerk reaction when I first read American Dream Ended was to characterize the writer as a defeated white supremacist bigot. It’s easy to make that casual assessment, but not likely to contribute anything to solving the social problem. Since beliefs are primarily influenced by social environment and not by facts, it’s foolish to ignore and marginalize those who hold what we deem to be such ignoble sentiments.

On reflection, I realize that I have friends who don’t speak of such feelings in polite company, but actually harbor them in secret and feel frustrated, angry and ashamed. It’s understandable that they might look back wistfully and see the less enlightened 50’s as a time when they could be themselves. As it is they must watch their words.

Trump’s public appearances attract like-minded people. Trump doesn’t shame them for politically incorrect sentiments or behavior, and in words and actions he evokes the emotions encourages followers to let loose. Polite society is shocked and scornful but Trumpists, having found their tribe, simply don’t care. Indeed, the more criticism Trump draws, the more loyal and fired-up they become.

Like The Rest of Us, Only More So?

To some degree most of us share deep dissatisfaction with the present political climate and the legislative stagnation and gridlock that seems to grow ever worse. Few of us have escaped the economic consequences of the 2007 Great Recession. Though we disagree on the causes and remedies, all of us recognize the social problems of poverty and diminishing economic mobility. Trumpists are much like the rest of us except that in venting the pent-up rage, they blame all the wrong people, and look for a ruthless strong leader to fix it, make it great again.

Norman Rockwell’s America, wasn’t as idyllic as some people remember it. With few exceptions his paintings remind us of what we aspire to, America at its best, not the unsentimental reality of the street.  Most of the “rights” Trumpists feel they have lost, weren’t ever rights, and Trump can’t deliver on his implied promise to Make America Great Again for his followers because that perfected America never existed – at least not for the 99 percent.

Anger at Being Left Out

It’s not patriotic or socially acceptable to be angry at America. Yet for many shirt-sleeve workers the American system hasn’t been working for a long time, and they have lived with smoldering rage they couldn’t express openly. Conservative writer David Brooks described them as: “ … a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.” And there’s another kind of alienation that’s more social in nature, the mainstream of society disrespects and shames them for their “ignorance.”

To muster our empathy, let’s imagine walking in their shoes. How frightening it must be to jobless with no prospects. How shameful it feels to fail in supporting your family even though you desperately want to work.  How humiliating to have no marketable skills. How depressing to have permanently lost your retirement nest-egg or your home in a market downturn that others have mostly recovered from.

If you’re self-employed, how frustrating to experience your independent small business burdened by fees and taxes when it’s hard to even meet payroll. How enraging to be fettered and delayed by unhurried civil servants secure in their recession-proof jobs.

Although the discontent has been rising for decades, established leadership is reactive rather than creative.  For the prosperous, the good life is secure and it’s instinctive to stifle change that could be disruptive.

The establishment is inherently risk-averse and defensive.  Neither posture supports visionary thinking. They fail to see the threats and opportunities coming until it is far too late to adapt. We see the pattern play out daily in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. When you are happy with the way things are, it’s hard to embrace change or to recognize any need for it. Enter Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Case in Point: The GOP Establishment

The GOP successfully built their base from a coalition of evangelicals and several flavors of populists. But in most policy matters the establishment “business suits” were acting contrary to the interests of the “shirt-sleeves” that made up 70% of that base. Now, thanks to Trump, it’s coming unglued and the shirt-sleeve Republicans (and Democrats) are awakening to how the suits have been ignoring them. Bernie Sanders addresses the ignored needs, while Trump blatantly exploits the fears and emotions that the GOP panders to with more nuance.

One of the consistent failings of the GOP has been the failure to see big challenges coming. That is the essential nature of establishment conservatism. “Don’t fix what works,” might well be the slogan of the GOP establishment. GOP ideals (Free markets, small government, low taxes, deregulation, and a disbelief in central social planning) all come from the instinct that nobody is smart enough and pure enough of character to engineer a better future. Centrally controlled economies fail. There are no historical successes. Conservatives prefer to allow events to run their course unfettered except by the invisible hand of Darwinian efficiency. The industrious will prosper, the lazy and incompetent will suffer the deserved consequences, and society will be the stronger in the end. It’s a hands-off no safety net philosophy that is fiercely individualistic and reactive. Big forward-looking ideas, at least for organizing American society, are not sought or valued.

Laissez-faire economic philosophy looks impartial and reasonable for those whose fortunes have prospered – the top of the food chain. But unfortunately not everyone, and certainly not a solid majority of the people, feel that they have prospered economically or otherwise. Fearing the popular appeal of the big idea politics of the left the GOP has reacted by opportunistically crafting positions that attract groups of single-issue voters: evangelicals, gun enthusiasts, right-to-lifers, and militarists. This last includes people whose livelihoods depend on maintaining and equipping our large military. Loyalty to the GOP is rooted in an emotional appeal to an instinctive fear or personal belief. It’s reactive, not visionary.

This aggregation of individual issues is not a natural union of like minds it’s a circling of wagons for collective strength. The GOP establishment doesn’t have the votes to prevail on its own.  “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” seems to be the unifying glue.  For years the leaders piloted the GOP on a course that protected the interests of the fortunate and successful, shielding wealth. They used rigid party discipline and policy to uphold the collage of single interest postures that bound the other two-thirds of the base together.

To divert the attention of the base from their lack of participation in the growth of personal wealth, they systematically spread disinformation such as “trickle-down” supply side economics and the notion that lower taxes on the wealthy result in more jobs. Despite unprecedented reserves of cash in blue-chip industry, the consumer demand that actually drives commerce and jobs has been slow to recover.  Reduced taxes on the wealthy enacted during the Bush years failed to bring offsetting economic growth and while the rich got richer, the nation got deeper in debt.

Rana Foroohar writing for Time (4/4/16 issue) describes how little of that protected wealth actually is engaged in producing anything real:

“Experts including Adair Turner, the former
head of financial regulation in the UK, estimate
that only about 15% of all capital flows within
America’s financial system end up making their
way into the real economy. The rest of that money
just rotates around the high-finance microcosm,
enriching the 1% as they buy and sell existing assets
to one another, bidding up their value, while
failing to invest in research, products, jobs or innovation.
C-suite executives, likewise, contribute
to the sort of “quarterly capitalism” by seeking
out Ding Doodle—style deals rather than making
long-term investments. That has begun to worryy
even some of finance’s most accomplished players.
(Warren Buffett, Larry Fink and Jamie Dimon recently
met in secret to discuss how to fix corporate

Anti-democracy Tactics

The GOP also opportunistically gamed the system to acquire more power. The tactics include: gerrymandering of congressional districts to ensure election of GOP legislators; conservative stacking of the Federal and Supreme Court benches; killing public funding for National Public Radio; building the Fox News Propaganda machine; promotion of discriminatory voter ID laws; weakening the labor unions; and eviscerating campaign finance laws. The wealthiest GOP supporters created PACs and Super PACs to fund political advertising and elect GOP candidates. Though politically effective, these measures did nothing to help the plight of increasing numbers of less successful wage-earning individuals in their base.  They became Romney’s infamous 47%.

Until Trump rallied what I’m calling the silent minority, the GOP held them spellbound with bright shiny objects like flag-pin patriotism and propaganda that said big government was the problem. The GOP raised fearful specters like socialism, health care death panels, and they vastly over-hyped the threat of weapons of mass destruction and lately the menace of terrorism and of ISIS.

The political establishment of both parties largely ignored long-time and emerging issues that have seriously hurt the silent minority. Among these are the disruption of American manufacturing by international trade agreements, the insolvency of many pension programs, the short and long-term effects of the Great Recession on the middle class, wage stagnation for four decades at least, and the chronic neglect of US infrastructure.

Looming in the future as threats are: global climate change, global scarcity of essential resources like clean water, air, and even food, loss of unskilled work to robotics and automation, and conflict arising from religious extremism. To add insult to injury, Social Security and Medicare may be unsustainable if not reinvented. Bernie Sanders preaches a vision of a better deal, and Donald Trump plays to the fear and anger. The establishment didn’t see them coming.

“Us” versus “Them” Mentality

Many of those who write or read about Trumpists are looking for affirmation that they are somehow morally flawed and different than the rest of us. We want to believe that Trump followers are an anomaly – not regular people. Media reporters have jumped on photos of a campaign worker with tattoos allegedly identifying her as a white supremacist.  But the data does not support such broad stereotyping of Trumpists. There is vastly more to be learned by searching for our similarities.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OHM addressed this in one of his recent meditations:

“Our lack of human compassion is rather starkly revealed in most of the candidates we consider worthy of public office in the United States. I am not sure if this is as much a judgment on the politicians’ delusions as it is on the spiritual and human maturity of the American electorate itself. That so many who call themselves evangelical (“Gospel”) cannot see through this charade, has become an embarrassment for American Christianity. Many now see our cultural Christianity really has very little to do with Jesus. Any candidate is praised and deemed worthy of high office because we think, “He speaks his mind” (when it is actually our prejudices that he is speaking aloud). Two thousand years of Jesus’ teaching on compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy (not to mention basic kindness and respect) are all but forgotten in a narcissistic rage. Western culture has become all about the self, and that is just way too small an agenda. The very self that Jesus said “must die” is now just about all that we think about!”

Our enemy is not “out there” somewhere, it is us. It is American Individualism run amok. We operate on the assumption that opportunity is so abundant that anyone anywhere in this country can make his or her way if they only try. When the facts contradict, we seek out or invent a distinction that defines “us” as different and better than “them.”

You can’t have a serious conversation about our times without hearing assessments like these.

A retired professional planner from Staten Island (direct quote):

RW: I’ve much to say re politics, but let’s leave it at this:  Cruz is more dangerous than Trump, who just wings it.  Republicans are no longer conservatives; they are right-wing reactionaries.  Real conservatives are respectable establishmentarians, wary of change unless tested and proved, respectful of precedent, hesitant to engage in foreign interventions, advocates of free enterprise, not monopolies and corporate welfare, and skeptical of government social engineering attempts. They are not interventionist, pro-Israel neo-cons, supply-side, trickle-down economists with no regard for consequences, nor advocates of government prohibitions on abortion or government restrictions on voting rights.  They are for individual rights, not against them.  Nor are they racists.  Todays Republicans are; they should not be called conservatives.  (And Democrats are wimps.)”

Truck driver retired from the USAF (paraphrase of a longer conversation):

MS: “I usually vote republican. At first I liked Trump, but lately with the stuff he’s been doing, not so much. I just don’t like Cruz and I don’t think he’d get much cooperation from congress. Hilary’s the best qualified, but I don’t trust her. And Bernie Sanders is a socialist.”  [MS says he doesn’t know who he’ll vote for.]

Jeff Sharlet writing in the New York Times Magazine (4/12/16)

After the Youngstown [Trump] rally, I drove to the only bar I could find still serving food and found myself sitting across from a group of three supporters. Mike was a union electrician, Shawn a dispatcher and Jackie a nurse. “Definitely a racist,” Shawn said of Trump. That did not appeal. But who would receive his vote? “Definitely Trump.” Mike was a probably; Jackie wouldn’t say, but she seemed to be sliding toward Trump. Only the bartender, Shane, was holding firm for the Democratic Party. He couldn’t believe his friends. “Trump’s not just a racist, he’s a [expletive] psychotic racist!”

“So are half the people who walk into this [expletive] bar!” Shawn shouted back. He did not want to be racist. He did not want Trump to be racist. What he wanted, he said, was a better job, the kind of job Youngstown used to be known for.

That was what Mike wanted too. We drank another round of fireballs. Mike’s probably-Trump began inching toward certainty. Another round. Then he suddenly roused himself, rising up from the bar. “I don’t care if you’re racist!” he shouted at a room by then nearly empty but for us. “If you’ll just bring back one [expletive] steel mill!”

Shawn nodded, seriously. We drank to the dream, the steel mill they knew was not coming. It felt good, at least, to believe.

Continue reading the main story

Interviews with Trump supporters reveal a common theme: they like Trump because he’s a brash outsider – and he’s really shaking up the insiders.

Lots of people cheer Trump exactly because he blurts out what’s on his mind, or seems to. He’s obviously not scripted and handled by a team of spin professionals.  He’s not part of the business-as-usual Washington establishment. He’s generated billions of dollars’ worth of earned [free] media by being unrestrained – not unlike the shock-jocks of radio. You could paper a wall with the magazine covers and political cartoons that feature him. He entertains and energizes followers by appealing to emotions instead of presenting rational ideas.

Trumps critics explain his appeal as a mainline zap to the “lizard brain” – that part of the brain that’s most primitive and wired for instinctive survival. It’s the domain of fear, hate and mob behavior. For people who feel anxious and threatened, irrational arguments, obviously unsupportable or untrue claims don’t matter. What does matter is the resonance with something instinctive deep and dark in the listener.  It’s a gut level thing – bold, assertive, impudent, aggressive, powerful and confident. “Make America Great Again” translates make me feel secure and good about myself again.

At this primitive level feelings reign; and facts, logic, and sensible thought fail. Condemn this as “ignorant” at your own peril, because we all, as humans, have areas where we function on emotion and ignore (or don’t seek) the facts. It is how we are wired. Much of becoming an adult is training ourselves to temper our lizard brain instincts.

By way of example, consider the enormous attention we focus on acts of terror. The rational mind knows that our individual personal odds of falling prey to a terror event are vastly lower than suffering a home or automobile accident. Yet as a nation we spend billions on anti-terror measures and still don’t feel entirely safe. We certainly don’t dread automobile travel, or the flu season that way. The most important personal life-choices we make (who we love, what we eat, what we do for fun) seldom involve much rational thought. We actually function on an emotional level most of the time – all of us. We regard those who appear to be entirely rational as cold and alien, like Spock of Star Trek.  Donald Trump knows this. But does Hillary?


Compassion not Confrontation

Most of the press and the GOP establishment wrings their hands over how to stop Trump, as if he alone and personally were the problem. In my view he’s just the latest opportunist exploiting the emotions of those we now term Trumpists. His “leadership” is more a cult of personality than a political movement. I call his followers the silent minority because they feel alienated, disrespected and repressed in a society that shames people like them. If you accept that “they” are like us only more so, then confronting them as outsiders can’t work – it only alienates them further and fuels their anger.

George Lakey, a Quaker activist, teacher, and writer asserts that practicing compassion and nonviolence is the only strategy that stands any chance of success.  In his March 18, 2016 Essay How Empathy, Not Protest, can Defeat Trump and Right-wing Extremism he says,

“Donald Trump’s March 13 rally in Boca Raton, Florida, was revealing. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank left the press corps and inserted himself into the core of the giant crowd. In that rally protesters had been screened out. Trump brought forth his usual inflammatory rhetoric, saying he might pay the legal fees of someone who sucker-punched a protester. Milbank reports, however, that the rally remained fairly tame. When Trump eventually asked, “Do we have a protester anywhere?” no one responded. Where was the drama? Milbank noted, “Trump and his advisers seem to delight in the confrontations, which fuel the crowd’s energy.

Lakey goes on to demonstrate that angry confrontation won’t be effective. Trump crowds feed off the energy of conflict. Lakey’s low-drama strategy is not intuitive but it makes great practical sense. I recommend visiting the website, reading the essay, and also reading the reader comments and Lakey’s very illuminating responses. For real-world tactics, Lakey suggests a Swarthmore source that documents 198 nonviolent actions and reports on their use and historical effectiveness. He promises to write more in future posts and suggest a strategy.

They Aren’t Going Away

The members of the Trumpist Silent Minority live among us and they aren’t really that different from us. Actually my late father harbored some of those bigoted sentiments while being outwardly politically correct. I recognize them in his stories about war experiences, and his patronizing attitude toward certain minorities, and his simplistic framing of complex social issues. Some of my fellow firefighters were like the writer of that viral American Dream email. They may be closet bigots, but they are also men who are bold and selfless when faced with danger.  In other words the anxieties and feelings that draw a person to the Trump personality are not as aberrant or weird as some media would suggest.

We are all part of the American whole, and America is part of the community of humanity. We can’t build walls or hoard resources to defend ourselves from the social problems of sharing this little planet. Like it or not, we are all in it together for the duration.


Media Opinion and Analysis Considered for this Essay:

Donald Trump, American Preacher – Building a congregation for his prosperity

Who are these idiot Donald Trump supporters?

Measuring Trump Supporters for Intolerance

Not Even My Wife Knows …” Secret Trump Supporters

We Asked 8 Trump Supporters Why …

The Befuddling Connection between Trump and His Supporters

Some of My Best Friends are Trump Supporters

The Myth of the Trump Democrat

What do Trump Supporters Think About Climate Change?

Why Economic Anxiety is Driving Working Class Voters to “Trumpism”

Don’t Be Fooled – … ‘silent majority’ doesn’t exist.

The Republican Crackup

A Strange but Accurate Predictor of Whether Someone Supports Donald Trump – WaPo

Who are These Idiot Donald Trump Supporters?

The Huge Cultural Shift That’s Helping Trump Win Evangelicals

What Republicans did 15 years ago to help create Donald Trump today

Who are Donald Trump’s Supporters?

Who Supports Donald Trump?

No, Not Trump, Not Ever – The New York Times

How Trump Happened

The Trump-Berlusconi Syndrome

Why Trump? « George Lakoff

Chris Hedges: The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism

The Elements of Trumpism

Why They Voted for Trump




$500,000,000 per victim?

We can expect a lot of people to be more hawkish in the wake of terror attacks, most of them old men who never wore the uniform. I thought you’d enjoy this item:

“The US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts. However, cancer research spending is only $10,000 per victim. Evolutionary psychology may offer an explanation for this irrational threat amplification.”

The whole article can be found here:

Terrorism is a reality of life in a radicalized world. Even if we completely locked down society it can’t be prevented. Consider the French resistance in Nazi occupied France. With informers everywhere, a massive troop presence, and a disarmed populace, small resistance groups continued to function.

ISIS does not restrict itself to military targets and easily finds soft targets to exploit. When we respond with actions that expend large sums, commit our military, and suspend our own freedoms we accomplish more for the enemy than they could ever hope for by his own relatively weak powers.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still like my decade old idea of pay-as-you-go combat financed by a surcharge percentage added on everybody’s taxes, with mandatory national service for all citizens. It would make hawks weigh the costs politically and economically.

Suck it up, America. Accept that we live in a world of dangerous ideologies both abroad and here at home. And war is not the answer. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan should have been learning opportunities. Combat is expensive and doesn’t have much favorable impact on extremist ideas.


Great op-ed in the Washington Post (click)

“The Donald” Exercise in Web Propaganda

Viral email messages, a stealth tool in political motivation, abound during political campaigns. I collect them as samples of propaganda because they are so blatant that they make good examples when I want to talk about critical thinking. The same propaganda techniques are widely used in popular media, especially MSN and Fox News — they are just more nuanced.

So in this post I wanted to deconstruct a viral email that is circulating among conservatives. email pix I have redacted the email names but othewise what you see is what I pulled from my gmail inbox.

Click the image to view the actual PDF file. I have added notes which you can point to and read and I’ve highlighted certain words and phrases that triggered my skepticism.

My aim is to show readers how easy it is to spot inauthentic information, and deliberate dis-information if you train your eye.

The first thing you will notice about the item is the very large font and the use of red type. The sender uses all-caps in the subject and the phrase “a must read”.  So from the outset, there’s lots of hype; and that’s often a signal that it’s not credible.  The body text repeats both the words and the emphasis and tells us that the author is a very important, educated, and credible source … at least if you are a fan of conservative opinion. But the adjectives are too over blown and the sender’s evident need to promote the author triggers my skepticism.

Reading further, the use of common clichés leads me to suspect that this writing is not the work of a high profile PhD affiliated with a scholarly think-tank like Heritage Foundation.  The overuse of absolutes like “all”, and “never” begs credibility as well.

The further down the page you get, the more the language sounds like a rant. The writer uses certain phrases as if they were well accepted and shared by the reader. Among  like-minded people already wedded to his point of view, those phrases would have special meaning. For insiders the language is familiar and evokes a belief, for outsiders it sounds oddly dogmatic. The “us” versus “them” mindset pervades the piece. It smacks of conspiracy paranoia.

After reading it through I noted that there were no actual facts or verifiable examples to support the writer’s assertions or speculation. It could not have been authored by Bennett or anyone else of his education and experience.  Sure enough, a quick web search revealed that Snopes had discredited the item long ago. The PDF has live links to fact checking commentary. Bennett did not write it, and actually contradicted it in an interview. But most of you probably guessed that it was bogus without fact-checking or even finishing the article.



Read about Skepticism Triggers here (click).


It’s about Vision and Fear

I’ve been pondering the motivations of voters who rally around each of the candidates, as have most of the wonks in Washington. talk aboutAn article in the NY Times examined the things candidates talk about in the debates and presents a  chart to illustrate the relative frequency each topic gets discussed.  Take a moment and click on this link so you can see the whole graphic: Which Issues Each Party Debates, or Ignores.

If you were asked to place the issues on the chart without seeing the article, I suspect you could replicate it by making the left side “visionary” issues and the right side “fearful” issues. I suppose I should not be surprised.  Those who ardently believe that government should be smaller and do less, find it hard to come up with positive ideas for action that will muster voter support. Fear is powerful substitute for vision.

The GOP has incited fear very effectively to manipulate elections. Newt Gingrich at the January 24, 2015 Conservative Freedom Summit set the stage for the present campaign with a veritable catalog of fear triggers the GOP could use.

For those who see the nation as a community that looks out for one-another aided by government, big ideas and grand visions abound. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist, is widely faulted for espousing issues and ideas that are unworkable and might wreck the economy if attempted. Hillary Clinton is accused of being too pragmatic, and practicing the tepid politics of the possible.

Trump’s authoritarian anti-establishment posturing plays to fears and resentments under a banner of “Make America Great Again,” an undefined goal that calls forth the sentiment that the establishment has disregarded and disrespected Americans with 1950’s values and sensibilities.  It’s not so much a vision as a retro-fantasy about how things were once better.

In a commentary in today’s NY Times Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that Hillary actually is visionary.

Mrs. Clinton has put forth an ambitious and broadly popular policy agenda: family and medical leave, continued financial reform, improvements in the Affordable Care Act, investments in infrastructure and scientific research, measures to tackle global warming and improve air and water quality, and so on.

But voters and pundits alike complain that she’s a cold-eyed realist who hasn’t articulated what George H. W. Bush once wistfully referred to as “the vision thing.” Instead, it’s Bernie Sanders who has been cast as the visionary in the Democratic contest, an idealist brimming with inspiring (if often unrealistic) proposals.

The bulk of the article makes the historical case for government’s role in out national prosperity and individual well-being. It’s more about how the current political discourse ignores the facts of our past. In effect it implies that Hillary actually has the key to making America great, but keeps it hidden.

Our nation badly needs a dialogue that reminds Americans why a capable government is essential and how much we are paying for its erosion. Mrs. Clinton understands this, but she may have neither the opportunity nor the inclination to say it.

I think the authors are on to something.



Lobbying Congress: Civics 101

We usually would not want to be thought of as Lobbyists. The profession is not associated with strong ethics or high moral standards. Professional lobbyists are “hired guns” who sell their ability to gain access to those in power to the highest bidder. They are paid advocates, like lawyers, who seek to win the day for a client. Too often the question of what is best for our nation does not override the pursuit of billable time.
When 900 volunteers, all private citizens, invest their own time and money solely because they passionately care about the environment, it’s an entirely different sort of lobbying. None of us are registered lobbyists. We joined Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) to protect our children and grandchildren from the disastrous effects of increasing the greenhouse gasses that blanket our atmosphere. It’s a problem that can only be addressed effectively by government. The purpose of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Citizens’ Climate Education is two-fold: to create the political will for a livable world and to empower individuals to exercise their power as citizens.
The CCL conference was designed to train us on to meet with our legislators and their aides in an appreciative, clear, and focused manner and then to equip us with the supporting research for the proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) legislation. Armed with facts and “laser talks,” our teams of 5-6 citizen-lobbyists communicated with almost every Congressional representative and Senator.
Our teams generally included constituents, but not always. Because CCL members have earned the reputation of being respectful, non-partisan, and well informed we did gain access in all but a few cases. More about our experience in the meetings we attended later, but first a brief explanation of CF&D.

Carbon Fee and Dividend

We’ve all heard or read about “Carbon Tax” proposals that would levy a tax on any industrial product that contributes carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. The concept is not to unfairly tip the scales against fossil fuels but to put all energy sources on a level playing field, each paying the full costs of the energy it produces. Fossil fuels are “free riders” at present because prices do not include the collateral social and environmental and resource depletion costs. A carbon tax harnesses market forces to encourage investment and innovation in renewable energy technology, while reducing the use of fossil fuels year-by-year over a 20-year period.
The Carbon Fee we advocate would have this effect, but instead of the fee revenue going to grow government, it would be distributed directly to every American household on an equal basis. This dividend approach has many advantages over a tax:

• It offsets the incrementally rising price of fuel and other products that contain carbon for those who most need it. About two-thirds of US households, those in the middle and lower income brackets, would break even or be money ahead, receiving monthly checks of $288 for a family of four with 2 adults by 2025 and $396/monthly by 2035.
• It is not a “new tax” and thus is not repugnant to conservative Republicans.
• It allows market forces to accomplish the needed reduction of emissions, eliminating the cost and intrinsic unfairness of regulatory and enforcement action. (A $10/ton fee would cause CO2 emission to decline 33% after 10 years and 52% after 20 years.)
• It can be efficiently administered without adding layers of bureaucracy.
• It creates a net gain in jobs (2.1 million jobs in 10 years and 2.8 million jobs after 20 years)
• It stimulates the economy, increasing GDP by $70-$80 Billion from 2020 on, with a cumulative increase due to CF&D of $1.375 Trillion
• It saves lives (13,000 lives per year after 10 years due to the drop in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses)
• It allows businesses and investors to adapt to and plan for the new energy environment, allowing for incremental, systematic change by starting with a low fee ($15/ton) and increasing $10/ton each year for 10 years.

These legislative advantages appeal to both progressive and conservative values. Both sides of the political divide could and should get behind this approach. But how do we know it can deliver?

Econometric Modeling

Regional Economic Modeling Inc. (REMI) is a company that has developed a model for projecting the economic impact of policies and events. They work for businesses, nonprofits and governments and don’t skew their findings to please their customers. CCL commissioned them to simulate the effects of implementing a $10 per ton at-the-source fee on carbon adding yearly increases of $10 a ton. The model tabulates the changes from the baseline (doing nothing) so that we see what effect the carbon fee has on Gross Domestic Product, jobs, income, etc.
In addition to the national predictions mentioned above, the model projects the effects on smaller geographic areas so that a Congressional representative can see what the impact on his or her constituents would be.

Devilish Details

Over the past four years the Carbon Fee and Dividend idea has been thoroughly discussed and debated to identify objections and address them. We were impressed at the research that has been done to answer both obvious criticisms and narrower local concerns. The work is summarized in a series of briefing papers. By internalizing the content of these laser talks, we CCL volunteers were able to address objections with confidence, and if a question arose that we couldn’t answer, we were equally confident that it can be answered in a follow-up communication.
Though not all of us were fully conversant with all of the laser talk materials, someone on the team could usually respond to questions. This allowed us to pitch our idea convincingly, and make our request (the “ask”) in a powerful and professional way.

Our Personal Experience

What’s it like to be a citizen-lobbyist? Individually most of us couldn’t have pulled it off, but in our teams, it was exhilarating, eye-opening, deeply satisfying—and surprisingly inspiring. CCL had recommended we asked fellow constituents who couldn’t come to Washington to make a phone call the day before we lobbied saying, “I support action on climate change, and I want to see Congress do something about it,” and, if they agreed, to also mention their support for the proposed Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation.
Each member of our team had an assigned role so that we stayed focused and used the time we were allotted effectively. The staffers (mostly talented, smart, politically savvy people in their 20’s-40’s) received us respectfully, asked good questions, took notes, and represented their understanding of their elected officials’ position which could range from “climate deniers” to “enthusiastic change agent.” If they couldn’t (yet) support CF&D, we came prepared to make a secondary ask that would allow them to consider a smaller step.
Our timing was the best. The Pope released his long-awaited Encyclical on Climate Change the week before we arrived in Washington. We also had a book of “faith-based” statements on Climate Change that represented the spectrum of reasons that different religions had for supporting action on climate change: “care for creation” to “seeking environmental justice” to “threat of global warming/climate change” from all branches of Christianity, Hindus, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, and ecumenical and inter-faith groups. There were also massive thunder, lightning and hail storms the day we arrived and the day we departed.
Now we’re home, tired but gratified by the experience, armed with plans to follow-up when our members of Congress return to their home districts on break, while we citizen-lobbyists return to our homes, our children, our jobs, our lives.
We know our work isn’t over until Carbon Fee & Dividend becomes the law of the land. But the experience of walking the halls of Congress and meeting with the people who make our laws gave us renewed faith in our capacity as citizens to influence government. It was, for us, the lab course for Civics 101.

“I’m from the IRS …”

The caller says she’s from the IRS and demands that you call back. It sounds menacing, but it’s just another telephone scam.  I recorded the one I received on May 1st, and you can listen here:

Here’s what you can do.

  1. Take notes of what’s said. You’ll need them to report the scam.

  2. Give no information about yourself.

  3. If you have caller ID, enter the phone number into the search window of your web browser.  There are several websites that provide reports on phone numbers that originate scams. I like Report The Call and 800Notes.

  4. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.  Here’s the website: FTC Complaint Assistant

If it’s a phony IRS call also report it here:

What if you think it’s a legitimate call but aren’t sure?

Take down the caller’s name an phone number and offer to call back later.  Go to the official website of the company or government agency and get the public phone number there so you are sure you are not calling an impostor.  Call and ask for person who called you or explain that your are trying to validate a call you received.

People working these scams will generally cut you off and hang up when they know you are suspicious. Legitimate callers don’t mind that you are being cautious.