Saturday, December 3, 2016

Disembowelers

I'm a fair weather cyclist and not a very good one at that. My routes are chosen for the following key attributes: little traffic and mostly flat. But they still have hills -- mind you, not hills better riders would even acknowledge -- that loom over my riding experience and that I struggle to climb, usually in the lowest possible gear. In fact, I'm barely moving at all in that gear, working extra hard just to keep the bike from falling over.

As sweat oozes from my pores pedaling up my little hills, I am often conscious of activity over my
head. The vultures begin to circle above, just waiting for me to drop dead in the road so they can swoop in and extract my intestines and whatever else vultures find delicious.

Those vultures have been on my mind as I watch the circus at 725 Fifth Avenue. The parade of supplicants seeking jobs from the most incompetent president-elect in our history would be entertaining on an issue of the Apprentice, but is deadly serious when the world is at stake. For the most part, I see vultures circling our key institutions, just waiting for the chance to begin disemboweling them on January 21st.

Here's an update on the government infrastructure slaughter we're about to witness.

Betsy DeVos, Education Disemboweler: The billionaire who doesn't believe in public schools and presided over Michigan's dismantling of public schools and the transfer of public education funds to for-profit schools. Since then, Michigan's test scores have plummeted and children suffer.

We can picture her circling our public schools, waiting for the chance to swoop in and hand them (and our tax dollars) to education corporations as she did in Michigan. DeVos' family owns Amway -- the quintessential pyramid scheme -- and Blackwater -- the mercenary for-profit military enriched by our failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.


Tom Price, Health Care Disemboweler: The Georgia Congressman who wants the Affordable Care Act repealed and opposes both Medicaid and Medicare. Price is a member of AAPS, a right-wing fringe medical organization that spreads fears about vaccines and urges physicians to refuse to see patients on Medicaid or Medicare. As Price swoops in on our healthcare system, expect a gutting of the programs that serve a majority of Americans.

Mike Flynn, Intelligence Agency Disemboweler: Everything we know about Mike Flynn suggests the man is unstable. He has released top secret information several times and is on record simply fabricating "Flynn Facts" from thin air. Just some of his recent tweets and public statements:

"Sharia law is spreading in the US" 
“Cnn implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ … Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore."
“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”

Sarah Chayes worked with Flynn for two years when he ran military intelligence in Afghanistan. "His thinking process is not sufficiently analytical to test some streams against others and make sense of it, or draw consistent conclusions. If you listen to him, in 10 minutes you’ll hear him contradict himself two or three times,” she said. Flynn has also been paid by Putin's media arm for appearances in Moscow.

Our intelligence agencies are charged not just with collecting information, but prudently interpreting and packaging it for the president. With Flynn as their spokesperson, facts and discretion go out the door and crazy conspiracy theories are what reaches the ear of the man who we already know is intellectually and behaviorally unfit for the responsibility entrusted to him.

Jeff Sessions, Equal Justice Disemboweler: The man Republicans found unsuitable for a federal judgeship because of his racism. The man who believes such gems as:
“I thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot.”
Organizations like the NAACP “force civil rights down the throats of people.”
“You know the NAACP hates white people; they are out to get them. That is why they bring these lawsuits, and they are a commie group and a pinko organization as well.” 
Sessions seems particularly poised to dismantle "equal justice for all under the law", the pillar of our Constitutional system. Will he squelch investigations of Trump and white supremacists while conjuring crimes assignable to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and others fighting for equal justice?

Steven Mnuchin, Bank Regulation Disemboweler: The hedge fund, Goldman Sachs guy in the Treasury Department will decimate what few bank regulations we have in place to prevent another Wall Street-created planetary disaster like 2008. He is anti-regulation and, though the only one of the above who appears to have a brain and intact mental health, known for being self-serving and ambitious, not ideological.

Trump and Pence aren't finished with their choices. We know they've put generals in charge of Defense and Security and may also put one in charge of State, gutting our long-standing principle of civilian control. We know they're considering a man convicted of giving confidential military information to his girlfriend. The circus goes on.

So far, I've survived every hill to the disappointment of the local vultures. To do that, I make sure to eat a good breakfast and take my blood pressure medicine. But on really cold days, it's iffy. I'd like to think that our government will survive these vultures too, but I worry that it's been weakened by decades of Republican unraveling, whether from Congress or the White House. I do hope though that each of these departments has talented professionals with exemplary courage. That may help us crest this hill and catch our collective breath for the next one.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Crazy Idea

Here's a graphic that encapsulates everything wrong with our current system of representation:


If you live in a large state like California, your vote for president counts less than if you live in a small one. Similarly, your senator represents 20,000,000 of you versus 175,000 in tiny Wyoming. There are calls to amend the Constitution to remove the electoral college. This is not a new proposal -- it's been tried many times in our history. And given that it advantages the party whose votes would be needed to overturn it, I'm not holding my breath.

Here's a different idea.

What if our large states decided to split into multiple states, dividing as best as possible their population centers to increase representation? Just splitting northern California (including the San Francisco Bay Area) from southern California (including Los Angeles and suburbs) would double representation. Maybe there are other ways to increase it even more without just creating more tiny rural powerhouses (like the State of Jefferson proposal so familiar here in southern Oregon and northernmost California).

There's a limitation since cities like New York City won't want to be divided into multiple states, but I wonder what might be possible? In states with population centers in more than one city, it makes sense to me. Besides, who in LA or SF actually feels kinship with the other big Calfornia city?

Come on, legislators. Start playing with lines. It'll be good practice for redistricting after the 2020 census anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Be Ready When it Happens

There is so much to monitor, fret over and fight back against right now. It can be overwhelming. Like you, I'm watching the reality show parade through Trump Tower and his cabinet selections whose only apparent qualification is their collective incompetence. 

But there's something else that must stay in the forefront of our minds and that we must be ready for. Because it will happen and it could be the catalyst for much worse to come. Consider the following:

Turkey: A successful secular democracy with a thriving, diverse economy. 93 years of democratic government.

2016: A coup attempt. President Erdogan used the coup as an excuse to suspend human rights, arrest thousands of teachers and political rivals and is purging all opposition.

  
France: Another successful democracy with a progressive tradition. A pillar of NATO and the EU. The birthplace of European democracy.

2015: A terrorist attack in Paris. President Hollande imposes a state of emergency, suspending civil rights and allowing police to do warrantless searches, to break up meetings and assemblies and to impose a curfew.

India: A multi-lingual diverse democracy whose economic growth has been exponential. 67 years of democratic government.

2014: Riots in Uttar Pradesh between Hindus and Muslims prior to the election of Prime Minister Modi, a far right Hindu nationalist. Modi immediately suspended human rights and arrested opposition leaders including professors and journalists.




United States: The world's oldest constitutional democracy, a prosperous nation admired around the world. 233 years of democratic government.

2001: A terrorist attack destroys the World Trade Center at the heart of Wall Street. Bush declares a state of emergency, increasing the surveillance powers of the government, suspending military limits, and authorizing torture and imprisonments without due process.



Germany: After World War I, Germany established the democratic Weimar Republic. Germany had the world's most educated populace. 14 years of democratic government.

1933: After the Reichstag (Congress) building burnt, Hitler seized power and declared a state of emergency. You know the rest of the story.


Ancient Rome: The early republic saw a gradual erosion of central authority and increasing power of the common people against the patricians. 441 years of an increasingly democratic republic.

63 BC: An agrarian revolt in the provinces is suppressed. Julius Caesar becomes leader for life and wrests power from the Senate.

These are all democratic nations that fell to tyrants' power grabs. Throughout history, moments of crisis (real or manufactured) have been the excuses for tyrants to overturn hard-fought citizens rights.

I can't tell you whether it will be a terrorist attack, civil unrest, a protest, a natural disaster, or a call for war in some far off land. But something will happen, something that requires a thoughtful, mature response. Our new president will fail that test and has already revealed his disdain for due process, the constitution and the rule of law.

We need to be ready. We need to ready our fellow citizens. Rights are predictably surrendered in times of fear.

Monday, November 28, 2016

About the Recount

Let me begin by saying I'm glad for the recount and would like nothing better than for it to overturn the horror of November 8th.

But it's worth considering the motivations. Jill Stein initiated the recount as a familiar Green Party action. Remember that the Green Party also demanded a recount in 2004 in Ohio, resulting in a modest deviation of 300 votes from the initial tally.
So why do it? It's not to claim Hillary Clinton as the winner, in spite of the motivations of donors holding out hope for a reversal. It's to cast doubt on our election system, to prove that voting machines were hacked or that Americans should not trust their democratic participation. This fits with Trump's unsubstantiated claims of hacking before the election and his current (equally unsubstantiated) claim that millions of undocumented people voted.

It also fits very nicely with one other person's objective: casting doubt in democratic countries on their democratic institutions. That person would like you to stop trusting in free and fair elections. He wants you also to distrust your government, to believe that both sides are corrupt, and that all of your politicians engage in secret conspiracies and work against you. He has worked quite cleverly to convince you and millions others of this point -- Americans, Brits, the French, Poles, Ukrainians and Germans.

He even hosted Jill Stein (who has given multiple interviews on Russia Today, the state-controlled English language arm of Putin's government). Like Trump himself, is Jill Stein one of Putin's "useful idiots"?
Consider her speech in Moscow during the campaign. She advocated for a more collaborative relationship with Putin, including supporting Syria's Assad. She criticized obscene military spending by both countries but went further, suggesting that Russia and the US form a united front against terrorism and other threats. That may be her position, but making the speech from Moscow, being praised by Putin, and sitting at his head table afterwards could be squirm-worthy.

What she did not do was speak out against Putin's hacking and interference in our election. Instead, she asked for criminal charges against Clinton based on the hacked emails, quoted in none other than Breitbart News.

The Clinton Campaign was slow to join the recount effort, citing no evidence of irregularities but a barrage of requests from supporters to get involved. This was a responsible position if an unpopular one. The horror of a Trump Administration merits all kinds of challenges, all of them far-fetched. I've joined in with letters to electors begging them to change their votes, with Stein's fund-raising for a recount, and with every other remotely possible challenge. I'll continue to do so.

But as David Frum (Republican editor of The Atlantic) put it recently, the best defense against a tyrant is public faith in and support of our institutions. That includes our election system, our press, our courts and the agencies that carry out the work. That doesn't mean going along with every decision, but our habit of distrusting the very institutions of our democracy is precisely what has given us a President Trump. There has been a thirty year campaign by the Republican party to discredit and attack government, beginning with Reagan's famous claim:
The most terrifying words in the English language are
'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' -- Ronald Reagan
Every time I hear someone say "they're all crooks", I worry. That is the attitude that makes us vulnerable to the appeals of tyrants. And clearly we are.

I refuse to be one of Putin's useful idiots, rejecting democratic institutions to make room for tyrants. If our election was stolen, it was by the disenfranchisement of millions of voters in a six-year GOP campaign of voter suppression. The recount won't address that. Only electing Democratic governors and legislatures at the state level will. 

While I'm willing to tip at any windmills to prevent what is ahead of us, it's the work we do for 2018 and 2020 that will matter most. And to hold out until then, we need strong institutions and Americans who uphold them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm a White Rural American. Nobody Left Me Behind.

I live in southwestern Oregon, eight miles from the nearest town and a five hour drive from the nearest sizable city. I have lived here for forty-two years. My county votes Republican regularly.

I choose to live here because I love living in the woods, I like to let my dogs roam free, and because I
don't feel crowded or have to deal with traffic. On a moonless night, I can see the Milky Way clearly. The bees have adopted a knothole in an oak and swallows inhabit an old rickety birdhouse my daughter made in elementary school. I can walk every day along a canopy-covered gravel road, past the log in the creek where the turtles line up, to get my mail. I can ride my bicycle on a twelve mile loop where the challenge is to count more deer than cars. I can hire a band to play on my lawn and invite my friends to come dance. I can float the river in an inflatable tahiti for no cost. I can chase the shy woodpeckers around my yard with my camera.

I accepted having to commute an hour and a half each way to take college classes and three hours each way for post-graduate work. I accepted lower pay and more challenging student situations as a teacher and principal than my colleagues in other areas. I never wanted to work with privileged rich kids in the suburbs.

But we are not being left behind. In fact, the federal government spends more in rural states that vote Republican than in traditionally blue states. Here are the ten states with the greatest dependency on federal spending:

1. Mississippi
2. New Mexico
3. Alabama
4. Louisiana
5. Tennessee
6. Montana
7. South Dakota
8. Kentucky
9. West Virginia
10. Missouri


Does that look like Democratic upper middle class privilege to you? Nine of those are solid "red states".

Rural areas developed around farming and extractive industries like logging, mining and fishing. These used to be labor-intensive industries. They aren't anymore -- not because the jobs have been outsourced (most extractive jobs have to be where the resources are), but because they've been replaced with machines. The local businesses that used to run these operations were bought out by huge conglomerates that don't reinvest in communities. Our last locally owned lumber mill just closed. Coal mining -- which is labor intensive -- has been replaced by fracking for natural gas, which employs machines and few people.

The federal government has stepped up for rural people. It's their own state and local governments that have not. In the county next to mine, the one where I worked for thirty years, there isn't 24-hour law enforcement because locals refuse to pay for it, not because Democrats in Washington don't care. In fact, federal taxpayers subsidized ridiculously low taxes in Josephine County for years.
13 States spend less than $9,000 per pupil on education. All 13 have Republican legislatures.
22 States refused to expand Medicaid and have the most uninsured families. All 22 of them have Republican legislatures.
Of the 10 States with the highest crime rates, 8 have Republican-dominated legislatures.
 Look at any metric and you'll find that Republican-dominated states are the worst places to live. This was a subject of an earlier piece I wrote: When Republicans Get their Way. I give many more examples of how blue states care for their people while red states do not.

The reality is that smaller rural states tend to be Republican and also have built-in advantages when it comes to dominating Washington, DC. Every state gets two senators, whether each senator represents 20,000,000 Californians or 300,000 Wyomingans. And with our electoral college system, small states receive a disproportionate number of electors as well, allowing them to decide presidential races while the bulk of the population -- who live in big states and on the coasts -- are underrepresented.

So let's stop bemoaning how the federal government left white rural Americans behind or how Democrats did. And let's move toward a representative system where rural states can deplete services at the state and local levels if they choose, but at the national level we all get an equal voice.

It's not so terrible for us white rural folks. I don't get city water but I have delicious well water. I don't get city sewer but I have a septic tank. I have to drive an hour to see good theater or listen to concerts but I can walk an hour without traffic. I have to drive a half hour to shop but I get fresh eggs from my own chickens. There are no big employers in my town. Heck, there's no town here. If I want a high-paying job, I know where to go.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Foolishness of Getting into Bed with the Trumps

Senator Charles Schumer is the new Senate Minority leader. Since the election, he has had several
conversations with the president-elect. Schumer says Democrats will work with him to advance issues both may have in common: rebuilding infrastructure, tax reform and trade policy.

Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump are not unknown to each other. As powerful New Yorkers, they have known each other for years. That could bode well for working together. Hopefully it doesn't blind Schumer to the pitfalls of the path he's chosen.

What we are seeing as cabinet posts and advisors are proposed -- racists like Stephen Bannon, Mike Flynn, and Jeff Sessions and corrupt figures like Rudy Giuliani and Trump's own family -- should give Democrats plenty of pause in thinking this is an administration where progressive ideas can be nurtured. I don't buy that Trump is a progressive or the anti-Republican as many have reported. I don't buy that he has any ideological guideposts at all. Trump is all about himself and personal gain. Always has been and there's no reason to expect a pivot on that.

The man who refused to pay contractors, used his foundation to bribe officials to squelch investigations, defrauded students who signed up for his "university", made promises to lenders that he never intended to honor, hired the Mafia to build Trump Tower, and lost billions in the casino industry without putting his own money at risk -- that guy isn't someone to crawl into bed with where billions of dollars are involved.

The Washington Post today published an excellent piece on this very topic: Welcome to the Trump Kleptocracy.

Consider his campaign. His statement in 2000 that “I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it” wasn't off the mark. An analysis by Politico in September showed that his businesses had already siphoned off over $8 million in campaign donations.

Now remember that he is also the first candidate to refuse to disclose his taxes and has refused to dissociate himself from his financial empire. By putting his children in charge of his businesses, while also holding them close as official or unofficial advisors, he can easily make policy that makes profit. Everything about his history says he will.

Think about infrastructure building. It's no surprise the potential king of graft would be in favor of billions of your tax dollars going into construction. Construction is his gig -- and his son-in-law's, Jared Kushner's. With his team of corrupt cabinet officials, it would not be hard to siphon off contracts or sell them to those willing to pay up. Democrats are foolish to support any kind of infrastructure investments under Mr. Corruption. We need infrastructure, we've been begging for it, we need the jobs. All that is true. But we're going to have to wait until procedures are in place that prevent the kind of graft that is wholly predictable under the new administration.

Did any Trump voters consider that a giant cement border wall might be a tremendous boon to the New York Mafia who built Trump Tower?

We're entering the days of kickback. Democrats, please just say NO.