A Sad Step Backward

  Today the United States Senate, a deliberative body consisting of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, approved the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme court. Kavanaugh was approved despite the fact that only 39% of Americans in a Gallup poll supported his confirmation. He was approved despite strong evidence that his temperament and political biases make him unsuitable for such an important lifetime appointment. He was approved despite several credible accusations of sexual assault against him. 

The bare majority of senate votes (50/48) which put him over the top obscures the injustice of this process and the undemocratic nature of our government today. 

Americans frequently claim to value democracy. They overwhelmingly support the idea that our government should reflect the beliefs and values of it’s citizens. We are far from that ideal today.

Brett Kavanaugh, when he is sworn in, will become the fourth justice on the U.S. Supreme Court to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote. These four justices, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and now, Brett Kavanaugh, are all extremely conservative and do not, by any means, represent the beliefs of an American electorate who gave Al Gore 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000 nor the electorate who gave Hillary Clinton 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016. Indeed, Gorsuch’s seat was effectively stolen from a president who did win a majority of the popular vote (9.6 million vote margin in 2008 and 5 million vote margin in 2012). This unseemly and undemocratic action by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a disgrace. He prevented consideration of President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for an entire year. 

It is high time that we Americans examined our “democracy” to see if it is, in fact, democratic. Kavanaugh was appointed by a minority president and confirmed by a “minority Senate.” What do I mean by that? Consider the following:

The current U.S. Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (or independents who caucus with the Democrats). That must mean that Republicans won more votes in the election, right? Sadly, no. In the 2016 Senate elections across the country, Republicans won 40.4 million votes. Democrats won 51.5 million! So, if the U.S. Senate reflected, at all, the will of the American people, there would be 56 Democrats in the Senate and Obama’s Supreme Court Justice, Merrick Garland would be completing his second year on the court. If democracy mattered, President Hillary Clinton’s first nominee would be winning confirmation today by a comfortable margin.

The Senate itself, which confirmed Kavanaugh today, is ridiculously undemocratic. Let me explain. The state of Wyoming has 574,000 residents and 2 U.S. Senators. The state of California has 37,253,956 and, you guessed it, 2 U.S. Senators. That means that each California Senator represents 18.6 million people while each Wyoming Senator represents 287 thousand people. Is a Wyoming resident 64 times more important than a California resident? Is this fair? Is it right that a state with a population smaller than Milwaukee, Wisconsin can provide the votes necessary to put a firebrand conservative on the court against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans? 

Unsatisfied with their unfair advantage in Senate seats and, thus electoral votes, the Republicans have pursued every avenue available to them at the state level to disenfranchise minority voters and thus skew the results further. Their voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting are all thinly veiled attempts to repress Democratic turnout in elections by targeting traditional Democratic constituencies.

All these things have consequences. They make our society less fair. They delegitimize our democracy and the critical institutions of our government. They empower demagogues like Donald Trump. Our archaic electoral college system has now elevated a man to power who has little respect for our democracy or its institutions. He is, as concisely as I can put it, a bad man. He is a profane narcissist. He does not respect women. He does not believe in freedom of the press. He is a bully who empowers bullies. He beats up on the weak instead of protecting them. He enriches himself and his family at the expense of our nation.

He is a tax-cheating, draft-dodging, faux patriot who uses patriotism as a cudgel to beat down his political opponents yet is, somehow, idolized by flag-waving morons who couldn’t name one of their U.S. Senators, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.

He is a three-time philandering, porn star shtupping, prostitute paying, pussy grabbing ridiculer of sex-crime victims. He has somehow hoodwinked the fundamentalist, evangelical Christians in this country. These are the Christians who devoutly study the Bible yet recognize no contradiction between the cruel, violent, hateful, arbitrary God of Leviticus and the loving, kind, protector of the poor and downtrodden upon whose name their religion is built. These so-called “Christians” wouldn’t invite this immoral man over to their house for dinner yet voted for him to be the leader of the free world. They chose him to be America’s example of propriety because they hoped he would punish unwed teenage mothers and homosexuals. 

And… he is a spoiled and coddled New York billionaire who rode in a limousine to school, poops in gold toilets, and built his largely inherited “empire” on strategic bankruptcies which screwed his creditors, contractors, and low-wage employees. Still he somehow manages to get the vote of poor, downtrodden West Virginia coal miners who, if they showed up at Trump Tower, would be quickly and unceremoniously escorted off the property. 

This is where we stand today in our democracy, in our America. And now the “minority” Republicans, who lack any kind of shame or decorum or sense of fairness have elevated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court for the rest of his life – and he is 53. 

Does it matter, any of this, to the average American? It does! It really does! It matters in real and concrete ways to real people. 

I am reminded today of the Supreme court case Obergefell vs. Hodges. You may not know the case by name. It is better known as the Same-Sex Marriage ruling. It is the ruling which finally offered dignity and respect and the promise of America to gay and lesbian Americans. It was a wonderful and essential bend in what Martin Luther King Jr. called “The arc of the moral universe.”

And Obergfell was decided 5-4 with the conservatives on the wrong side of history and the deciding vote cast by Anthony Kennedy whose humane and logical ruling changed life in this country for a persecuted minority. Today, the “minority” Republicans in the Senate replaced the moderate and sensible Kennedy with another firebrand conservative appointed by a minority president. Obergefell would never have happened today. Homosexuals would still be denied their fundamental civil rights if that case came before the court tomorrow morning. 

It matters! 

In honor of this sad, infamous day I will here re-run the blogpost I made on the day Obergefell was decided, June 26, 2015. The title of this piece was A Step Forward. I hope it will give you pause when you go into the voting booth in a few weeks. I hope it makes you think about our democracy and our America and what Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys have done to it.

 

 

A STEP FORWARD

     Four years ago, when it became legal in Illinois, I had the honor of participating in the ceremony of civil union between my great friend and his long-time partner. My wife, our kids, and a small group of their friends and family assembled at the courthouse on a nice day in July.  It was a lovely day, and it was a lovely and dignified event. As they offered their vows, their little boy stood with them. They exchanged rings and said the words that we all know by heart and we signed papers signifying our witness to the event. 

     And then we went home and they went home and began the commonplace work and extraordinary joy of married life together. They have built a wonderful life in the intervening years, making a home, raising two bright and outgoing boys, advancing their careers, struggling through some serious medical issues, and doing all of those things which my wife and I have done and which all married couples who stay together must do. 

     And I remember thinking as we drove home from the courthouse that day that I could not understand how anyone could object to the thing we had all just been a part of.  I, who want to think the best of people and their motivations, decided that anyone who objected to this ceremony simply did not understand it. Any kind and thoughtful and, yes, Christian, person could not oppose this wonderful thing except through ignorance. 

     We all fear the unknown. We all are apprehensive about things which seem foreign to us. But I am here to tell you, as someone who has seen and participated in this joyful event, that gay marriage is not scary. It is not weird or foreign or disrespectful. It is the most normal thing in the world to want to build a life with the person you love. 

     This is a fundamentally good thing. It is good for families and it is good for children and it is good for our society. It is fair and right to afford the same opportunity for joy (or misery, as a divorced friend reminds me) to gay couples that the rest of us take for granted. And it is, I think, another step in the long march of civilization. It demonstrates that we continue to create a kind and humane society in the United States where dignity is respected and diversity is honored. 

     To all who are afraid of gay marriage I tell you that the earth will not fall out of its orbit because of this. The economy will not crash and our republic will not be brought to its knees. What will happen is that there will be more happiness in the world and more dignity and more understanding.  And, wonderfully, there will be one more group of our friends and neighbors who can happily move from the category “them” into the category “us.” To me, that is what the United States is supposed to be. 

by: Dustin Joy

Distilled Arguments

Distilled Arguments

The world is a complicated place. Determining the facts, figuring out the truth, making the fine distinctions necessary to alight on the right course of action, these are difficult things. They call for free inquiry, diligent research, the application of logic, and a thorough challenge in the free market of ideas. At least that’s what I think.

Our President and his administration see things differently. Their world is a small, simple place where the opinion of every redneck in a pickup truck is equal to that of a PhD in physics. In their minds all political arguments can be formulated from a bible verse (mostly Leviticus), a twangy country song, or a Fox News ticker.

Not only have the President and his cronies done away with free inquiry and the thorough vetting of facts, he has even made a mockery of the need to explain and justify his positions. Our complicated world and all that is in it must now be distilled down to a nasty 140 character screed from the Chief Executive of our nation.

Question: Compared to other Presidents, how did Barak Obama carry out his duties during his first term? Was he an effective leader? Was he a good steward of our resources and talents as a nation? Did he advance our nation’s purposes on the world stage? Was he a steady and sane force for good? How did the economy perform under his leadership? What do the data and statistics say?

These are all great and necessary questions for determining the direction our democracy should take in the future. Here is what Mr. Trump reduced these questions to:

“Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood!”

The irony is so rich it makes Scrooge McDuck look like Mother Theresa.

Apparently those of us who value education and science and the pleasure of intellectual inquiry have lost. We who find beauty in a cleverly and subtly woven argument cannot compete with the President’s literal mind and lightning-fast thumb. SAD!!!!!!

I surrender. I concede that the American public will not sit still for complicated explanations. Our eyes glaze over at anything short of fireworks if it lasts longer than a YouTube video. But the problem is, I still like philosophical questions. I still believe in science and investigation and free inquiry. What is a boy to do?

Here is what I’m gonna try. Without much confidence I am going to take a swing at dumbing down some complicated political and scientific ideas I have spent years trying to understand. I have not been able to get them down to 140 characters but most of these will be shorter than a YouTube video of guys kicking each other in the balls. I call these DISTILLED ARGUMENTS. I’m thinking of making this an occasional series. I’ll start with a pair of contentious ones. Here goes:


EVOLUTION:

This is an easy one, I think, the no-brainer which generated our enormous brains. Here is the argument for evolution in seven lines.

  1. Offspring tend to have a combination of the physical characteristics of their parents. (Well, Duh!)

2. In every generation fewer offspring survive than are born. (Duh, again)

3. The ones who survive are the ones who reproduce. (Duh, Duh, and Duh)

4. In limited environments (all known environments) some individuals will be more successful than others. Those are the ones who survive and reproduce.

5. The next generation will be made up of the offspring of these survivors.

6. Repeat this process for thousands or millions of generations and you have a population made up of individuals well adapted to their environment.

7. That is evolution in a nutshell and it is not complicated or unlikely. It is simple and it is inevitable.

 

 


Next, a political argument. Everyone I have ever met in Canada thinks this is a no-brainer (and I’ve met quite a few.) If you disagree I would love to hear your thoughtful, well-reasoned argument.

 

WHY WE SHOULD HAVE A SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE SYSTEM:

1. People should not die because they are poor. People should not be bankrupted because they get sick. If you cannot accept these two assertions as axiomatic I will acknowledge the intellectual consistency of your argument but I can never find common ground with you. I cannot teach you to care about other people and show empathy.

2. If you accept the above premises you have accepted, unambiguously, the proposition that providing the best health care possible to all Americans is somebody’s obligation.

3. It’s our obligation. There’s nobody here but us chickens. We Americans need health care. We are the ones who must provide it. That means taxes, or premiums, or whatever you want to call them.

4. The cost of doctors and nurses and hospitals may be “too much” but they contribute to the goal of using the resources available to provide healthcare to all Americans.

5. Insurance Companies, conversely, who must make a profit for shareholders, do nothing but take resources away from the system.

6. While for-profit insurance drains the system of resources the concept of “insurance,” spreading the risk over the entire American population, makes perfect sense.

7. An insurance pool of the entire population paid for by the entire population is, in fact, the most efficient possible model for providing healthcare to all citizens.

8. People who are healthy now but do not buy insurance are parasites on the system. There is nothing noble about them because every single person requires healthcare at some point in his life.

9. Finally, I have to address the boogie-man of rationing. Rationing will and currently does exist in every healthcare delivery model on the planet. In our current system for-profit insurance companies do the rationing and have, of course, the incentive to ration coverage aggressively. A government payer system would have to ration care, also, but without the incentive to make a profit could base such decisions on science and logic and compassion. And, if people were unhappy with the way the government was carrying out this responsibility, we could vote them out of office. Try voting the President of United Healthcare out of his office.

Nuff said.

 

I will have more distilled arguments in the future. If you think I’m off base or mistaken I’d love to hear from you. Give me a comment.

 

by: Dustin Joy

Don’t Piss On My Leg And Tell Me It’s Raining

“Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” It is a lovely and efficient idiom. To me it expresses, in ten words, what every intelligent and thoughtful American should want to say to Donald Trump.

It must be obvious at this point that this man Trump has no regard for truth. He lies as easily and naturally as he takes breath. That is not unique in the field of politics. What is remarkable, and possibly unique, is the audacity with which he will lie about things that can be proven, with no very hard effort, to be false. In another essay I spoke of his pathological insistence that he won the biggest electoral vote count since Ronald Reagan. As I noted then, a fifth grader with a smart phone could have pronounced Trump a liar within 3/5ths of a second. Why lie about something when you know you will be caught? The only reason to do so is because, in today’s bizarre America, it seems to work. It works with a remarkable coalition of our fellow citizens: the extremely gullible, racist xenophobes, and the unprincipled opportunists of the Republican party.

The gullible and the xenophobes require no further explanation. In a sense they are, at least, consistent. The really troubling folks are the Republicans who are smart enough to understand what a charlatan Donald Trump is but refuse to denounce him. They are whatever the opposite of patriotic is. They tolerate him and prop him up with tacit approval because they want things. What do they want? They want what Republicans always want and they are willing to put their country at risk to get it.

Here Come the Tax Cuts

Nobody likes paying taxes. Nobody gets a little anticipatory thrill about the approach of April 15. But, if we are honest and rational, we know that paying our taxes is a patriotic act. It is not the kind of patriotism exhibited by serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan, surely. But it is much more of a sacrifice to our country than is sticking a “Support our Troops” bumper sticker on the back of your pickup. Why? Because it is, quite literally, supporting our troops.

Since 1974 it has been an article of faith in the Republican Party that cutting taxes on the rich not only stimulates economic growth but also generates more revenue for the government. Famously, the economist Art Laffer drew a graph on a napkin in a Washington, D.C. restaurant which established this idea and made disciples out of the Ford administration officials in attendance, notably Dick Cheney. The Laffer curve, as it became known, caught on quickly in Republican circles primarily because it was simple. Economist Hal Varian observed, “It has been said that the popularity of the Laffer curve is due to the fact that you can explain it to a congressman in six minutes and he can talk about it for six months.”

The graph purports to show tax revenues to the government as a function of tax rates. Shaped like a woman’s breast the curve shows revenue increasing as tax rates increase and then declining again as rates enter what Laffer called “The prohibitive range.” The idea is simple; the more you tax, the more money you take in. But at some point taxation will become onerous and one of two things will occur to decrease revenue – either people will stop working and corporations will shut down or taxpayers will find increasingly clever ways to cheat on their taxes. Therefore, Laffer determined, cutting tax rates below the prohibitive range will generate more revenue. Cheney was convinced. Reagan made a religion out of the Laffer curve. It suited Republican ambitions since they had always wanted lower taxes for the rich anyway. They actually put the infamous napkin in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

The Laffer Curve – The Napkin which caused much of the U.S. National Debt

In principle Laffer was right. There probably is some tax rate at which a point of diminishing returns is reached. What the Laffer curve probably isn’t, is a nice, symmetrical C-Cup. It’s possible that it really resembles a wave crest on the ocean, or, as some economists have speculated, a certain part of the male anatomy.

While Laffer’s disciples saw his curve as a revelation the truth is that as a guide to establishing optimum tax rates it is useless. If you look at Laffer’s napkin you will see a common coordinate graph with an x axis and a y axis. What you don’t see are units. The only numbers that appear on the graph, in fact, are the tax rates 0% and 100%. While the graph on the napkin appears to peak at around 50% taxation the sketch was not based on empirical data. The difficulty in applying the Laffer curve to real world economics is simply this: 1. Nobody knows where the prohibitive range begins and 2. Nobody knows where we are on the curve.

The truth is that Republicans don’t really care about deficits or the national debt anyway, unless Democrats are in power. When they take the reigns they want two things, increased military spending and tax cuts, preferably “huge” tax cuts. All their tea-party deficit rhetoric dissolves into thin air when they get into power.

Since Republicans don’t really care about maximizing tax revenues to keep the deficit down the Laffer curve is to them a cynical rhetorical tool. They want lower taxes on the rich. Therefore, when they enlist the Laffer curve to serve their political cause they simply assume, no matter the current rate, that we are in the prohibitive range and tax cuts are needed.

Thus in 1979, when Reagan used the Laffer curve as a club to bludgeon those “tax and spend” Democrats, the top marginal rate in the United States was 70%. That seems high, but it was nothing like the top rate during the booming economy of the Eisenhower years – 91%.

During the middle of Bill Clinton’s time in office, in 1996, the top marginal rate was 39.6%, a little more than half the rates of the 1970’s when Laffer drew his curve. Still, George W. Bush, and a certain Vice-President of his whom we have met before in our narrative, convinced the country that, once again, miraculously, those “Tax and spend Liberals” had us back in the “prohibitive” range. They cut the top marginal rate to 35% and would have liked more. For the second time in modern history the Republicans proved, though they didn’t mean to, that cutting tax rates doesn’t increase revenues. The deficit skyrocketed under Reagan when he cut taxes, and did it again under Bush when he cut taxes while simultaneously spending trillions on a war in Iraq.

Now Trump and Mnuchin and McConnell and Ryan want to try it again. Although each, over the last 8 years, has given earnest and ominous speeches about the danger of deficits and the cruel burden they lay on “our children,” the crack cocaine of tax cuts simply overwhelms their fiscal “conservatism.” Just because Laffer’s brilliant scheme didn’t work at 70% taxation, or at 39% taxation, or at 35% taxation, … or ever, doesn’t mean it won’t work this time. It’s such a pretty chart and so easy to explain.

The Wikipedia article on income inequality in the United States offers a pretty good overview of the absurdity and cynicism of Republican ideas.

The top 1% of households received approximately 20% of the pre-tax income in 2013, versus approximately 10% from 1950 to 1980.

The bottom 50% earned 20% of the nation’s pre-tax income in 1979; this fell steadily to 14% by 2007 and 13% by 2014. Income for the middle 40% group, a proxy for the middle class, fell from 45% in 1979 to 41% in both 2007 and 2014.

To put this change into perspective, if the US had the same income distribution it had in 1979, each family in the bottom 80% of the income distribution would have $11,000 more per year in income on average, or $916 per month.

According to Republicans the super rich, like our current President, whose incomes have surged while the lower and middle classes have stagnated, deserve a break, yet again.

So how do you sell tax cuts for the rich to a society in which the top 1% of Americans control 40 percent of the nations wealth? How do you justify to them a world in which the richest 85 people on the planet (30 of whom are American Billionaires) have more wealth than the poorest 3.8 Billion people. How do you convince a working class voter that the CEO of his company who earns 347 times his salary is suffering from overtaxation? You piss on his leg and tell him it’s raining!

You lie and you obfuscate and you misrepresent. And if there is data that contradicts your assertions, you erase them from the official record. According to a Sept. 28, 2017 Wall Street Journal article:

“The Treasury Department has taken down [from it’s website] a 2012 economic analysis that contradicts Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s argument that workers would benefit the most from a corporate income tax cut. The 2012 paper from the Office of Tax Analysis found that workers pay 18% of the corporate tax while owners of capital pay 82%. That is a breakdown in line with many economists’ views.”

So, when the billionaire who has been pissing on your leg for the last two years says it looks like rain, don’t believe him. And don’t believe his minions either. Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic advisor said, recently, “The wealthy are not getting a tax cut under our plan.” That is pure piss and you don’t have to be an economist to understand that.

The Trump tax cuts, “the biggest in history,” according to Trump, have 6 main components. 1. Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%. 2. Cutting top marginal rates. 3. Eliminating the estate tax. 4. Repeal of the alternative minimum tax. 5. A new tax loophole for “pass-through” income. 6. An exemption for corporate foreign profits.

You can debate the merits of any one of these proposals if you want, but the idea that they together do not represent a massive tax cut for the wealthy is simply and clearly a lie.

Trump’s other foundational lie about his tax cut plan is that it will not, like Reagan’s tax cuts and Bush’s tax cuts, blow the deficit sky high. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “We think this tax plan will cut down the deficits by a trillion dollars.” This is the Laffer curve again and it is pure piss. Even if you are the type of conservative who kneels down five times a day to pray to the napkin you must realize that there is no way Laffer’s “prohibitive range” starts at 35%. Cutting taxes now will not increase federal revenues and will, most assuredly, explode the deficit.

Finally, in a recent speech Trump said this about his tax cut scheme, “I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me. Believe me.” also, “I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit, In fact, very, very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.”

A Sep. 28, 2017 New York Times article, based on Trump’s estimated net worth and 2005 tax return (the only one available), determined that he would, indeed benefit, and in a massive way. The analysis calculated that Trump would personally save $31 million from the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, $16 million from cuts in business taxes, and $.5 million from the reduction of the highest rate. His delightful children would gain even more, saving an estimated $1.1 billion when the estate tax is repealed.

Any man who says “believe me” as much as Trump does is not to be believed. This tax cut is designed by billionaires to benefit billionaires and it will, once again, massively expand the deficit. It is a transfer of wealth to the wealthy at a time when income inequality is already at levels not seen since the late 1920’s, and that didn’t end up so good.

As I have said before, Republicans control all of Washington now and they are the only ones who can stop this comic book villain. You may like what Trump can do for your narrow self-interest now but, as he has demonstrated time and time again to his friends and foes alike, he will piss on your leg if he gets the chance. Believe me, Believe me.

By: Dustin Joy

 

Getting Frosty in Hell: I back a Trump Decision…sort of

You might want to sit down for this. I’ll just come right out and say it. I have decided to endorse a decision Donald Trump made. I can hardly believe it myself. I can assure you it is not because I agree with Trump’s odious world view or wish to associate myself with some of the hateful xenophobes who voted for him. Indeed, when I consider Trump I am most nearly in agreement with the assessment of the author Philip Roth who has said:

“Trump is ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art. He is incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance. He is destitute of all decency. He wields a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

I object to many things Donald Trump has said and done. I need not belabor my disgust with regard to his treatment of women, his demonization of immigrants, or his enabling of racists. His transparent effort to destroy critical government agencies which promote education, protect our environment, and insure worker safety are just plain despicable.

But what really sticks in my craw is this; Trump appeals to people’s ignorance. He denigrates experience. He undermines science. He has suggested, over and over again, in subjects as varied and complex as climate, medicine, foreign policy, and trade, that his judgement trumps the experts.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’ll let Trump speak for himself:

 

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.”

“I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”

“Nobody knows politicians better than Donald Trump.”

“Nobody knows more about debt. I’m like the king.”

“Nobody knows banking better than I do”

“I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary.”

“I think nobody knows the system better than I do.”

“I know more about contributions than anybody.”

“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

“I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me.”

“There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.”

“I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I’m the one who can truly fix them,”

“If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future! I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.”

 

The last absurdity is the cherry on top, of course, but altogether these quotes accurately represent a dangerous man. I have always been uneasy around people who are absolutely sure of themselves and their own judgement. They are dangerous whether they be religious zealots who are certain that God hates the same people they do (what a coincidence) or the “free market” apostles who want to outlaw the fire department because it is “Socialism!”

Well, I believe in experts. I believe in eggheads and poindexters and squares. I believe in people who read books and do research and carry out experiments. I place my trust in people who dedicate their lives to the acquisition of knowledge and mastery of skills.

When I need a surgeon to cut open my brain and remove the tumor I want a serious intellect on the job, not some good old boy who spends his evenings parked in front of a television with a brewsky in his hand. When my plane leaves the ground and soars seven miles into the air I want an expert at the controls. I want a pilot who understands Bernoulli’s Principle, not the guy who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express last night. And when my government has to make a decision about the efficacy of vaccinating kids for polio I want a PhD scientist on the case who has dedicated her life to studying infectious disease and not some Hollywood actress or reality TV star.

I believe global warming is real. Why do I believe this? Is it because I have carried out extensive experiments incorporating ice core analysis, satellite observations, expeditions to the south pole, and excruciatingly detailed number crunching? No. I have not done these things. But, you know what, there are people who have. They are called scientists. They work at top universities and government agencies. They have decided it. The evidence is in. All major scientific bodies in the United States whose work pertains to climate science have concluded that global warming exists and that human activities are a cause. These include NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Science, the American meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

These are experts. These are scientists and policy wonks who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads. If you really believe that Donald Trump knows more than they do about our climate you need to crinkle some tinfoil onto your antenna, buddy, because you are getting some serious static. (Sorry, for those of you born after 1990 an antenna is a small array of aluminum rods wired to a television or radio in order to … okay, for those of you born after 1995 a radio is a …..oh, to hell with it.)

The organizations who deny this evidence, for the most part, are business entities who stand to lose money if action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That is called a conflict of interest and, under President Trump, these folks are the foxes who guard the henhouse. The new Secretary of Energy is Texas governor Rick Perry, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt from Oklahoma is, you guessed it, an oil industry backer from an oil-rich state. Trump’s Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson who was CEO of ExxonMobil for ten years. It is easy to discern a pattern here.

As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” It would be one thing if Trump’s conflict of interest burdened cabinet came out and gave speeches saying global warming was a hoax. Everyone can express such uninformed opinions in a free society. What is absolutely unacceptable is what they have done, instead. They have put an end to climate research by gutting research budgets. This is not seeking truth. This is a child sticking his fingers in his ears to avoid hearing the truth. That’s tolerable for an individual. That is horrible for a democracy.

So, given all that, what Trump decision am I willing to ratify and support? Here it is. Drum role please:

I think the U.S. Senate should confirm the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. I think the Democrats in the Senate should vote to approve him despite the Republicans disingenuous refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote.

I have three reasons for this. First, I think the Democrats should live up to their Constitutional responsibilities in a way that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans would not. It is a bummer to lose in politics. It stinks to have your bitter political rival win a round and get to steer things the way he wants. It would be satisfying to plant our feet on the ground, cross our arms, and, without regard to principle, simply oppose every action Trump takes, just like the Republicans have done for the last eight years.

Mitch McConnell said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” You will notice he did not say “to serve the American people or to uphold the Constitution.” As the absolute type specimen of the self-serving, opportunistic politician McConnell abandoned even Republican ideas whenever they were adopted by the President. The Obamacare insurance mandate famously condemned now by Republicans as some kind of Communist plot was, actually, (whisper) a Republican idea. As I said in my last Trump essay Republicans used to be the party of shouldering your responsibility and eating your vegetables; not so much anymore.

The second reason I can and do support the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is the same one which prevents me from supporting Pruitt, Perry, DeVos, and, indeed Trump himself. Gorsuch is an expert. He is an egghead. He is a thoughtful, intelligent, and serious man who I just don’t agree with very much. He is not a political hack now, even if he might have flirted with that category in his youth.

I have read extensively about Judge Gorsuch, have studied some of his rulings, and watched much of his confirmation hearing. As a Liberal I am, of course, concerned about Gorsuch’s family history. His mother, Ronald Reagan’s EPA Director, was indeed an ideologue and a political hack devoted to destroying the agency she was tasked to lead. I could never have supported her confirmation.

I am also troubled by Gorsuch’s record in George W. Bush’s Justice Department. His role in justifying the use of torture and encouraging Bush’s questionable “signing statements” gives me pause. Gorsuch has replied that he was just doing his job. That, of course, is the well rehearsed line of the scoundrel, but it is also, to some degree, defensible. To succeed in Washington, at least to the level where you might be on someone’s short list to be a Supreme Court Justice, you must have established some political relationships and have found some backers. It appears that Gorsuch did this by working a mid-level job on Bush’s team.

Also, I say naively, people can change. People can mature. People can rise to the challenge of new professional responsibilities. I believe judge Gorsuch may have done so. For ten years he has been a Federal Judge and, by all accounts, he has been a fair one. Is he a conservative? I’m pretty sure he is. Does he advocate strict constructionism? Probably. Do I wish we could have Merrick Garland, instead? Sure I do. But, that brings me to the last of my three reasons.

We have very little choice. Due to the (Let’s be generous here and call it poor judgement) of a few thousand people in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania we have President Trump. Due to the poor judgement of a few thousand people in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania we have a Republican U.S. Senate. Replacing Scalia with Gorsuch, in my opinion is a small move in the right direction (possibly a very small one). There is not a great deal we can do to stop it since the Republicans hold all the cards.

A bigger catastrophe, from a Liberal point of view, would be the retirement of Justice Ginsburg under these circumstances. Political capital and the good will of the American people are real things, like it or not. If we fight Gorsuch to the bloody end and lose anyway we may not have anything left to fight Trump should worse come to worst.

So, based on my analysis, can we oppose Pruitt and Perry and DeVos and still support Gorsuch’s confirmation? I think we can. They are ideologues who claim to know more than the experts. We may not agree with Gorsuch about everything, but he is a serious expert on the law who takes the law seriously. That may be all we can hope for and all we need. Many of the “Conservative” Justices appointed to the court by Republicans, if they are serious men and women who respect the law, have a funny way of finding the middle ground when liberated by their lifetime appointments. I am thinking of Justice Blackmun, Justice Souter, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Kennedy. I have no way to be sure, but I think Gorsuch might have that potential.

 

by: Dustin Joy

Mister, We Could Use a (Republican) Like Herbert Hoover Again

Ours is a practical people, to whom ideals furnish the theory of political action….On the other side, they are equally disgusted with seeking for power by destructive criticism, demagoguery, specious promises and sham.

Some may ask where all this may lead beyond mere material progress…. It leads to the opportunity for greater and greater service, not alone from man in our own land, but from our country to the whole world. It leads to an America, healthy in body, healthy in spirit, unfettered, youthful, eager — with a vision searching beyond the farthest horizons, with an open mind, sympathetic and generous.

It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.

This is not a showman’s job. I will not step out of character.

– Herbert Hoover

 

 

 


Mister, We Could Use a (Republican) Like Herbert Hoover Again

There was a time, dear children, when the Republican Party of the United States was the stodgy old party of responsibility and prudence and eating your vegetables. People like Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft and George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford and, yes, even Richard Nixon for all his faults, cared about a thing called good governance. They took public service seriously. They believed in things like balanced budgets and sensible spending and good citizenship and doing the right thing. These anachronisms are what used to be called “principles” and Republicans used to have them.

Republicans have even been known to stand on principle to their own detriment. American history is replete with such examples. I am thinking of Ford’s pardon of Nixon which he had to know would cost him the 1976 election but which he honorably believed to be the right thing. Taft was a man so dedicated to our constitution and the rule of law that he dared to criticize the Nuremberg trials and Japanese internment. This bravery won him the praise of Senator John F. Kennedy and a chapter in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage but probably cost him the Republican nomination for President in 1944, 1948, and 1952. Finally, there is Barry Goldwater. Whatever you thought about Goldwater’s ideas, cuckoo-bananas or genius, no one ever accused Barry Goldwater of selling out his principles for political expediency. He proudly rode them all the way to the ground like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

Republicans have sometimes been willing to pull dirty tricks and tell lies to win (I know, right?). Telling lies is a time-tested way to achieve political goals and Republicans, of course, wrote their chapter in that book. Richard Nixon came by the moniker Tricky Dick honestly. What most Republicans didn’t do was to betray their own followers and their own own political philosophy in the pursuit of power. That innovation, or at least the mastery of it, belonged to that patron saint of conservatives, Mr. Ronald Reagan. Reagan, the “great communicator” preached the gospel of smaller government and fiscal responsibility to Goldwater’s beleaguered descendants. He promised the religious right, with a wink and a nod, to end abortion. He bludgeoned Jimmy Carter and the Democrats for “spending like drunken sailors.” And then he got elected. And he increased the size of government, did diddly-squat about abortion, and spent money like a drunken sailor.

What Reagan realized, but Carter had not, was that the American people don’t like bad news. They don’t like to be lectured. They don’t like discipline. They don’t like to eat their vegetables. So Reagan dropped all that “principle” stuff and distilled a new philosophy which went down smooth; let’s have our cake and eat it, too.

The Gipper figured it out. People like a strong military. They like to strut around with their chests puffed out humming the Star-Spangled Banner in the back of their throats. Reagan gave it to them. People don’t like paying taxes. Reagan smiled that goofy grin of his and said, “I don’t like paying taxes either. Let’s cut them.” The people thought Carter was too preachy and made everything sound “sooooooo complicated.” Reagan served up simple, sappy, aphorisms by the bushel. Reagan told the American people how good they were, and how noble, and how smart. He told them how good old common sense was better than all that book learnin’ and that, well gosh, the American people were just God’s own special people.

Americans ate it up. When that fuddy-duddy, spoil-sport Mondale told them they would have to pay higher taxes to finance Reagan’s blossoming deficits they put their fingers in their ears, stuck out their tongues and “raspberried” him back to Minnesota.

We Americans don’t like broccoli and, by-God, no pointy-headed intellectual is gonna make us eat it.

The lesson of Carter’s flameout and Mondale’s trouncing was not lost on Reagan’s progeny. There would be no more “malaise” speeches. There would be no more appeal to our intellect nor our self-discipline, nor our better angels. Even the Democrats learned the lesson. When George H.W. Bush’s remnant belief in good governance led him to compromise with the Democrats and raise taxes, a move which allowed, for the first time in decades, an actual surplus in the U.S. budget, the smarmy huckster from Arkansas slew him with his own noble gesture. Clinton gave the American people his best “Reagan” smile, told them he could “feel their pain” and that all their problems had been “laid on them,” and sunk the knife into George’s back. It was the last time anyone, of either party, dared to “reach across the aisle.”

Now, winning is all that matters. Working together, doing the right thing for the country, exercising restraint, practicing good governance, being philosophically consistent, putting country ahead of party; these are all relics from a bygone era.

Winning is everything and compromise is impossible (you can’t compromise with the Devil after all.) Ultimately anything can be sacrificed to the cause: honesty, fairness, faith in your fellow man, your own principles. Even flat-out hypocrisy, the kind that can be proven by video recordings, and, in the past would have sunk a politician, hardly moves the needle now. It’s the Lord’s work, after all. Mitch McConnell will stand in front of a television camera and excoriate Democrats for saying precisely, even word for word, what McConnell himself has been recorded saying a year ago. There are Democrats who would do the same thing to him. Here we are.

If both sides jettison their beliefs and philosophy for the expedient of winning what difference does it make? Why am I picking on Republicans? Why, in fact, do I beseech the Republicans to sober up and recover their proud tradition of principle above party. I do it now because we need them now more than ever. We need the Republicans to live up to the example of Taft and Eisenhower and Ford and Goldwater. They are the only ones who can help us now. They are the only ones who can slow down this unstable raging narcissist who has become our President.

We have now dispatched the Wicked Witch of the West and her wicked, wicked email server to oblivion. Will you, at long last, strengthen your backbones and stop this phony Republican before he dismantles all that is good and noble about our country? Republicans, I tell you again, this man does not believe what you do. He not only disregards your ideals and principles he positively mocks them.

He mocks, also, the serious and thoughtful men who used to represent you. Aren’t you embarrassed to watch your formerly proud leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney grovel before this gameshow host? Aren’t you appalled to hear a five-time draft deferred man with miraculously self-healing bone spurs brutally criticize actual Viet-Nam war heroes John McCain and John Kerry?

I now address you “God-fearing” Christians. I have read a great deal of the New Testament and I don’t think Jesus was advocating what your Republican President is now doing. Don’t take my word for it. Read the Sermon on the Mount, read all of Matthew, and judge for yourselves.

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

I trust this verse will not be misattributed to President Donald Trump. How about this:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Do Syrian refugees count?

Even if the darkness of the Old Testament is your cup of tea do you really think that this twice divorced serial adulterer who sexually harasses women is a model for your family? I think there are some passages of Leviticus which would insure this man some smiting, or worse. If he were not the President would you invite him into your house? Would you leave your daughter alone in a room with him? But you voted for him to represent America to the world? If you’ll pardon my French, What the hell is wrong with you?

What about our collective, agreed-upon American principles? Are we no longer to be a “nation of immigrants” as President Kennedy called us? Do we no longer tear-up at the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Is that a Golden Door or a gray, cement wall with concertina wire strung along the top?

Finally, Republicans, which of these do you believe in your heart?

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
-Thomas Jefferson

Or this:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
-Donald Trump

Obviously many of you are embarrassed. Most of my Republican friends will not even mention Trump unless someone else brings it up and then they mumble and stumble and dredge up an old line about Benghazi. But there was something about President Obama’s swagger or, ….I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt….something…. that set your teeth on edge. You listened to Hillary’s shrill, preachy voice and were reminded of those Brussels sprouts that Saint Reagan told you you would not have to eat anymore. And, doggone it, you wanted to win. It feels so good to win. We know you wanted Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush instead. But that ain’t what happened.

What you have representing your treasured GOP brand now is a self-absorbed spoiled little rich kid with no one ever to tell him no. You must tell him NO! This man-child is President of the United States and he is more concerned about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s television ratings than his National Security briefing.

He is still, from a podium in the White House, trying to “spin us” on just how many electoral votes he won the election by. He is creepily, bizarrely, self-deluding about this subject which nobody asked him about. He repeats it over and over, from meetings with the Israeli Prime-Minister to ceremonies about Black History Month. In a press conference this week Trump again boasted “We got 306….I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”

Now, it is one thing to lie about an ambiguous data point buried a thousand pages deep in a government report or a piece of information only you know the answer to. But, my God man, any eight year old can ask Siri who won the electoral college vote in the last 7 Presidential elections and know the answer with 100% accuracy in about 3/5ths of a second. In about two minutes (I’ll admit to being slower than an eight year old) I discovered that Trump won 304 electoral votes, not 306. (The idea that any man who won a Presidential election doesn’t know how many electoral votes he got is truly bizarre in itself.) In five of the seven elections preceding Trump’s the winner won more than 304 votes. For the record (George H.W. Bush – 426, Clinton (1992) – 370, Clinton (1996) – 379, George W. Bush (2000) – 271, George W. Bush (2004) – 286, Obama (2008) – 365, and Obama (2012) – 332.)

And Trump’s answer, when confronted with the demonstrable falseness of his claim; “Actually, I’ve seen that information around.” Apparently he didn’t see it around the internet, or in the encyclopedia, or the Congressional Record, or hear about it from one of the hundreds of Senators and Representatives present at the counting of the electoral votes by Vice-President Joe Biden which was, by the way, broadcast on CSPAN and still available for viewing on You Tube.

This is a pathology, one might say, borderline mental illness. This kind of egomania coupled with insecurity would be undesirable in any profession. Possessed by the man who controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal they are downright dangerous.

So, Republicans I implore you once again. Stiffen your upper lip. Steel yourself to defend your principles. Your country needs you now. Party politics can wait. You must stop this man or, at least, slow him down. This is your moment. Channel your own internal Herbert Hoover. Though it is sometimes hard to believe and I am loathe to admit it: There is precedent for Republicans to do the right thing.

by: Dustin Joy

Trump – A Retraction

I wish to print a retraction. It turns out I’m just not as good a person as I thought I was. I thought I had kindness and reasonableness and tolerance for all mankind in my heart. I wrote an essay about that, about being a good sport, about being a good loser, about giving Donald Trump a chance.

Cripes, I thought I was done with this infernal election. I wanted to be. I thought I had resolved it in my own mind, or at least reconciled myself to it. But … I’m sorry; I just can’t do it. I can’t, and I won’t give Donald J. Trump another chance. What changed between the election and now? Me, I guess. Certainly Donald Trump did not change.

He is the same erratic, thin-skinned narcissist we saw during the campaign. His absurd “meeting” with news anchors and media executives, summoning them to Trump Tower to dress them down and gloat over his victory, was the act of a petulant child, not a serious adult man. His bizarre first press conference revealed the same sort of self-absorbed immaturity. I fully expected to see him wearing a beanie with a propeller on top and with a slingshot hanging out of his back pocket. His bile-filled Twitter feed is also playground stuff. (Did not!, Did too, Did not!) What the hell is a President of the United States settling scores on Twitter for, anyway? Even Nixon wasn’t that pathological.

Finally, we all held out hope, from his demeanor and statements on election night, that some of his vulgar, racist, cruelty had been blown out of proportion, sort of a cartoon superimposed upon him by the media and his political enemies. To quote myself, “No One could be that bad.” But, while he modulated his rhetoric for about a day and professed to want to be “President for everyone” in real life he plodded along his deplorable path.

He dropped the notion of putting his political opponent in prison (for now) but reserved the right to do it later if he felt like it (because that’s how America’s system of justice works, I guess). As if to double down on his own bigoted tendencies he selected for his Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (and no, I didn’t make that name up to make him sound like an unreconstituted, confederate-flag-waving, southern racist). That is really his name and he really was denied a seat on the U.S. Court of appeals because of racist statements.

For secretary of education Trump has nominated a one-issue political zealot who was head of the Michigan Republican party for many years and who is, with her husband, the biggest Amway salesman in the world (And no, I’m not being metaphorical. Look it up.) She is a billionaire who never attended a public school, never put her own children in a public school, has no education degree nor experience working as a teacher or administrator, believes that teachers are overpaid, and has worked with great tenacity (and millions of dollars) to undermine the very agency she is now tasked to lead. Sadly that will become a theme as we examine Trump’s prospective cabinet; as will the billionaire thing.

This minority President’s pick for EPA chief has fought the EPA in court for most of his political life as Attorney General of Oklahoma and has advocated the agency be eliminated.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a former presidential candidate, said this about Trump during the campaign:

“[He] offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued. Let no one be mistaken, Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded.”

It was not reported what Perry used as a condiment for his meal of roast crow when he accepted Trump’s appointment to be Secretary of Energy, a Department which Perry, naturally, has vowed to dismantle. Oops!

Perhaps his least offensive appointment, to me, you might be surprised to hear, is Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Tillerson, with a net worth of $150 million and Exxon stock worth about $250 million is filthy rich, of course, but not as filthy as Trump’s bevy of billionaires who are here to “drain the swamp” and represent the “Wisconsin working man.” Tillerson has no education in foreign language or international affairs or diplomatic experience but he actually has negotiated a bit with foreign leaders to benefit his multi-national corporation. Our Wisconsin working man may be troubled to note, however, that Tillerson is not at all in alignment with Trump’s protectionist rhetoric. He has said “I believe we must choose the course of greater international engagement.” and “One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Tillerson has also admitted that humans have effected the climate through greenhouse gas emissions and has advocated a carbon tax. In a 2013 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Tillerson also defended the Common Core curriculum, a favorite bugaboo of the far right.

What the Republican establishment may find, to their continuing chagrin, is that Trump’s win was not theirs and that while most of his cabinet picks could feature in a Mike Pence wet dream Trump will do what he wants when he wants and they will not have the stomach nor the spine to oppose him. This is dangerous to everybody.

I might see my way past all of these things. I might tolerate childish behavior from our commander in chief and extremist political ideologies from his minions. I might even try to learn to sleep at night with the sabre-rattling rhetoric of a foreign policy novice who “knows more than the generals” about destroying ISIS but seems to focus most of his firepower and time on attacking impoverished Mexican immigrants and the cast of a Broadway musical. There is one thing I cannot forget and forgive with regard to this horrible man. The problem is that I have daughters and I love them.

After I publish my blog posts and essays I go back and read them over again. I review them, sometimes compulsively, to ferret out spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and faulty logic. I try to update the old ones with fresh data and revised perspective when it is called for. I did this for my Trump essay several times. I found a few mistakes with regard to spelling thanks to a faithful friend and loyal reader. I updated the number by which Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the popular vote (about 2.9 million, now). And I found a logical inconsistency which stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider the “ahhh, give him a chance” idea.

Here are the two lines from my essay which I can no longer reconcile. They contradict each other in my mind. One of them is obviously incorrect.

  1. “My daughter cried when she heard about Donald Trump’s victory in the election.”

2. “We want you to succeed. Even many of us Liberals will give you a chance, if you give us a chance.”

I am simply never going to “give a chance” to a man so hateful that he made my daughter cry. I am never going to forget his horrible words and actions toward women. I am never going to forgive him for empowering the loathsome men around the world who think treating women poorly is sport. He has enabled every neanderthal misogynist and date-rapist in the country by his unpardonable example. He has made my daughters’ lives harder.

I would love to turn off the TV and pretend that Donald Trump doesn’t exist. For myself, a middle-aged white guy, I might make out okay under his absurd regime. But I cannot indulge my desire to close my eyes to this travesty. I have a wife and two daughters and a son. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my kids grow up in a world where Donald Trump’s brand of misogyny is considered normal. I’ll be damned if he’s going to demonize immigrants and refugees in the name of my country without my objection. I’ll be damned if he’s going to turn back all the progress we’ve made on the environment and gay rights and inclusiveness. At least he’s not gonna get it for free.

In my blog post after the election, I counseled patience. I was dead wrong. This man does not deserve our patience. He does not deserve our respect. He has not earned “a chance.” He has won our scorn and our disrespect and our condemnation. That is what he will get.

by: Dustin Joy

President Trump – There, I said it!

Denial

My daughter cried when she heard about Donald Trump’s victory in the election. She said, “I can’t believe such a hateful man is going to be our President.” It is an understandable response. Were I not trying so hard to be a “big boy,” myself I would have cried too. This result is stunning. It is stunning not because it was heartbreakingly close, nor because it was so unexpected given the two years worth of polling, nor even because a few votes in a few small states can shift power in this country in such a dramatic and perhaps draconian way. It was painful and traumatic because it revealed to me something I perhaps didn’t want to know about my country and about, specifically, my neighbors and friends.

Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance – Not Necessarily in that order

I have a file on my computer that I have labeled “Letters not sent.” I highly recommend that everyone make one like it. The file does not consist solely of letters. It is also filled with essays and blog posts and emails which I wrote in the heat of the moment when my emotions were raw. I wrote them and I put them in the file. I let them sit in the file for no less than two days; that’s a rule. And then I took them out and read them. Most, the vast majority in fact, were put back into the file and stayed there. A small number were rewritten, edited, and sent or published. Some I open from time to time in moments of self-indulgence to wallow in their righteousness. And then I close the file again and leave them in there.

Such a blogpost, about Donald Trump’s victory, now resides in my “Letters” file. As of right now I feel like it is one of the best things I ever wrote. It is titled “This Election Means What I Say It Means.” It’s too bad you guys will never get to read it. Did I say it’s really great? Man it is good. It is thorough, clever, insightful, and devastating. And it is mean. It is vitriolic and divisive and bitter. It appeals to the worst instincts of my fellow Liberals and my own sense of moral indignation. It sat in the file for two days before failing my test.

Still a Bone to Pick

Wikipedia says that since 1990 there have been 70 civil wars in the world and 69 coups. Sometimes the violence in these unfortunate countries has lasted for years. Angola’s bitter, bloody conflict endured from 1975 to 2002. Children of my generation born there knew nothing but war and heartbreak all of their young lives. In a violent unstable world we are the exception. Informed by the example of George Washington we have routinely transferred power from one President to the next, sometimes from bitter rival to bitter rival. Our democracy has weathered wars and depressions and political turmoil for 233 years not because of luck or even a superior Constitution (although I think ours is pretty good). The reason our democracy has persevered where others haven’t is because of our forbearance and tolerance and devotion to our form of government – when we lose.

Of the many profane, cruel, narcissistic things Donald Trump said and did during the campaign one stands out as particularly harmful to our republic. Bigotry, of course, can be overcome by love (read your history of the freedom riders in Alabama in the 1960’s). Cruelty can be overcome by kindness (Read about the Truth and Reconciliation Committees set up after the fall of the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa). Narcissism can be overcome by parody and humor (and what a rich target Donald Trump is for parody and humor. He is the joke which writes itself.)

The thing Trump did which worries me the most is that he undermined, publicly and unabashedly, that fragile, but so far durable, notion that our system works. Whatever candidates might say or scream at each other, they should never imply, without powerful evidence, that our system of elections is rigged or invalid. They should never suggest that they or their followers shouldn’t or won’t accept the outcome in a peaceable and respectable way. They should not incite their adherents to violence. They should never suggest “2nd Amendment remedies.” We are not stupid. We all know the note of that dog whistle. And there are dogs out there who hear that frequency.

The Upshot

Our devotion to our country and to our constitution and, ultimately to our leaders, is sacred and precious. It is the fabric which holds our system together. That tolerance and forbearance by the losers is what Angola lacked. Do we want to be Angola? For a candidate to tear at that precious fabric with unsubstantiated offhand comments and throwaway lines in the service of short-term political gain is, okay I’ll go ahead and say it, unpatriotic.

This election was quite obviously not rigged. There was never any credible evidence that it was rigged. There was no serious or statistically meaningful voter fraud. There never has been. Trump, the man who whined like a baby that it was rigged against him – WON! He won the “rigged” election. He should apologize and, just as publicly, say, “I was wrong and I am sorry. Our system is sound. Our elections are fair. They are administered by good people across this country from county clerks to neighborhood poll workers who volunteer to do this work out of devotion to our country.”

I still love Walter Mondale – It will be OK

I will admit that all of my vitriol has not dissipated. I am still angry about this election and, at times, fearful for our future. But I am making progress. I remember 1984. I remember the impassioned defense I made, in our eighth grade history class, of Walter Mondale’s candidacy. I delivered my speech with gusto, extolling the virtues of this plain-spoken, honest midwestern man who believed in the little guy and worked for peace and had the guts to say we were all going to have to pay higher taxes to address Ronald Reagan’s deficits. And then we lost. We lost big. The heartless, faux patriotic, war monger (my thoughts at the time) wiped the floor with us and in the next four years cynically used his popularity to make the noble title Liberal a bad word. It still hurts a little to hear jokes about Mondale. (Homer Simpson: “Where’s the beef! Ha! Ha! Ha!. No wonder he won Minnesota.”)

What I learned from 1984 was this; We will be okay. We survived eight years of Reagan. We survived eight years of George W. Bush. We will survive four years (please) of Donald J. Trump. And, for the Conservatives who have predicted the end of the world to me so many times in the last eight years; you are ok, too. You survived eight years of that Muslim, Socialist, anti-christ called Barak Hussein Obama. You survived eight years of the philandering, back-slapping huckster from Arkansas. You survived four years of the ennui-peddling peanut farmer. We will all survive. This country is too resilient to be brought down by one man, no matter who he is or what he tries to do.

What to do next

So, according to me, what are our respective obligations at this point in history?

To my Conservative friends: You have much to atone for. You, who frequently use the word “patriotism” as a cudgel to beat down Democrats and Liberals, have done a very unpatriotic thing. You, who knew better, cynically put your party above your country. All through the primaries I listened to the Republican echo chamber (Fox News et. al.) rail on and on about how bad Donald Trump was and what a catastrophe he would be for this country. And then ….you voted for him. You lied to the pollsters and voted for this man you loathed. It was almost funny and surreal to see Paul Ryan and Reince Preibus and Chris Christie and Ted Cruz kiss the Donald’s ring on or just before election night. The cacophony of Republican throat clearing since the election has been gratifying, too. I will give exoneration to a few of your number who held to their principles: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Colin Powell, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, and the Bush family (most of them.) To the rest, enjoy the spoils of your victory, folks. They have cost you a great deal in reputation.

To my Liberal friends: Well, old friends, this is tough. But here is what we need to do. We need to lay down our protest signs, give Mr. Trump his due respect as our President, and get back to work. There is still a lot we can do to help the poor, care for the environment, work toward economic fairness, improve education opportunities, and protect the rights of every citizen, whether black or white, gay or straight, male or female, immigrant or citizen by birth. We are weakened and out of power now, but, despite the headlines, the people are with us.

Not only did Hillary Clinton win more votes than Donald Trump (2.9 million more at last count) but in states all over the country ballot measures calling for an increase in the minimum wage passed by landslides. The Republicans shouldn’t be too proud of the victory they sold their souls for – it was Trump’s victory, not theirs.

Finally, my fellow Liberals, failure is cathartic. We do have much to learn from this defeat. Some of our fellow Democrats (including the lady at the top) failed to recognize the suffering of a generation who has not seen a meaningful increase in their wages in thirty years while the rich got richer and richer. Bernie Sanders tried to warn us about this. My pet theory is that he or Elizabeth Warren would have cleaned Trump’s clock. A wise man learns from his mistakes, though, and failure makes that kind of introspection possible. Let’s do a little psyche-spelunking as a party and figure this thing out.

Finally, To Mr. Trump: SURPRISE US! Show us that the caricature of you we saw during the campaign was not the real you. No one is that bad. Show us that you possess empathy and humility and pity. Demonstrate by your actions that you are not a demagogue. We want badly to believe what you said on election night; that you want to be President for everyone. American’s are a very forgiving and tolerant people. We want you to succeed. Even many of us Liberals will give you a chance, if you give us a chance.

All Together Now

There is a quote I like very much from a politician I did not much like during his time in office. His clever turn of phrase did not quite convince me of his actual tenderness but did express what many of us on the left believe and, I suspect what many on the right believe, too. It goes like this:

How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
Ronald Reagan – first Inaugural Address

It will all be okay. There is still a lot more that unites us than divides us.

P.S. Thank you to good old sane, thoughtful Minnesota, a state I dearly love. You were with us again this year, as always. Some things you can count on. Walter would be proud.

by: Dustin Joy

Washington vs. Trump – A Plea

Note: The following quotes by President George Washington and Mr. Donald Trump come from different verifiable sources. They derive from speeches, official correspondence, and personal letters in the case of President Washington and speeches, recorded television appearances, and Twitter feeds in the case of Mr. Trump.

While some of my readers may wish to verify these quotes and are encouraged to do so I assume that most of you, knowing what you know about these men, will find it unnecessary. I think you will find that each quote attributed here to President Washington is plausibly his and each quote attributed to Mr. Trump is, unfortunately, plausibly his. The point of this comparison is to draw a contrast between the kind of public man President Washington was and the kind of public man Donald Trump is. I think the contrast is dramatic and instructive.

A fair criticism here is that it is inherently unfair to represent a man’s life through the use of a small number of hand-picked quotes. Quotes, of course, are easily manipulated and can be cleverly edited to illicit the desired response in the reader. While I have tried not to “manipulate the data” with regard to these quotes it is certainly possible that, having a low opinion of Mr. Trump, I might have unfairly selected quotes which reveal him at his worst and President Washington at his best. I will leave to you, the reader, the task of judging my objectivity.
I will say, in defense, that I presume no reader will believe that President Washington ever uttered the phrase “The boob job is terrible. They look like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.” Nor will they, I think, believe that Mr. Trump ever said “To speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.”

 



 

Washington and Trump on Science

“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
George Washington

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

“You may get AIDS by kissing.”

“Remember, new environment friendly lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.”

“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!”
Donald Trump

__________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on profanity

“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”
George Washington

“No, I’m not into anal.”

“And you can tell them to go fuck themselves,”
Portsmouth New Hampshire Rally

“Listen, you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent!”

“With the proper woman you don’t need Viagra”

“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] writes as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
Donald Trump

____________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Bigotry

“For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
George Washington

“When these people [Asians] walk in the room, they don’t say, ‘Oh, hello! How’s the weather? It’s so beautiful outside. They say, ‘We want deal!’”

“You haven’t been called, go back to Univision.”
— dismissing Latino reporter Jorge Ramos at an Iowa rally in August 2015

“I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

“Happy Cinco de Mayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

“Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.”
Donald Trump

_________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Women

“All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
George Washington

“Women: You have to treat them like shit.”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her … wherever.”

“Nobody cares about the talent [in beauty pageants]. There’s only one talent you care about, and that’s the look talent. You don’t give a shit if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”

“She’s really cute, I have to tell you, she’s really bouncy, really cute, She’s about 5-foot-1. Do you like girls that are 5-foot-1? They come up to you know where.” — Trump on Eva Longoria

“The boob job is terrible. They look like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.” — on actress Carmen Electra

“A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

“It is a dangerous world out there — it’s scary, like Vietnam … It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” — on sleeping with women who could have STDs

“She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
Donald Trump

______________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Civility

“To speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.”
George Washington

“Just tried watching Modern Family — written by a moron, really boring. Writer has the mind of a very dumb and backward child.”

“One of the worst and most boring political pundits on television is Charles Krauthammer. A totally overrated clown who speaks without knowing facts”

“If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”

“Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad—it really is.” — To Larry King, on air, 1989

“[Angelina Jolie]’s been with so many guys she makes me look like a baby, OK … I just don’t even find her attractive.”
Donald Trump

___________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Immigrants

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.”
George Washington

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best …they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

“Well, someone’s doing the raping, Don! I mean, somebody’s doing it. Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?” — responding to questions about his comments regarding Latino immigrants and rape

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud”

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” 

“There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” (This has been thoroughly debunked)
Donald Trump

_________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Compassion

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”
George Washington

“I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist.”

“Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!'” –Donald Trump, mocking handicapped New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski.

“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

“My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were … if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons.”
Donald Trump

___________________________________________

 

Washington and Trump on Humility

“It is with pleasure I receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I am guilty of one; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of having committed it.”

“I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”
George Washington

“I will be so good at the military your head will spin”

“I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created”

“I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“I don’t think I’ve made mistakes. Every time somebody said I made a mistake, they do the polls and my numbers go up, so I guess I haven’t made any mistakes.”

“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure.”

“I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…”

“I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to ISIS.”

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me…”

“I have a total net worth [of] well-over $10 billion…. I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to”

“I’ve had a beautiful, I’ve had a flawless campaign. You’ll be writing books about this campaign.”

“I beat China all the time. All the time.”
Donald Trump

_______________________________________________

 

Washington and Trump on Political Cooperation

“Differences in political opinions are as unavoidable as, to a certain point, they may perhaps be necessary; but it is exceedingly to be regretted that subjects cannot be discussed with temper on the one hand, or decisions submitted to without having the motives, which led to them, improperly implicated on the other; and this regret borders on chagrin when we find that men of abilities, zealous patriots, having the same general objects in view, and the same upright intentions to prosecute them, will not exercise more charity in deciding on the opinions and actions of one another.”
George Washington, letter to Alexander Hamilton, Aug. 26, 1792

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (about Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina)

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America.”

“Bush didn’t have the IQ [to be president]”

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured (about Senator and War Hero John McCain).”

“Jeb Bush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.”

“Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!”

“Governor Perry failed on the border. He should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.”

“[Hillary Clinton] was the worst Secretary of State in the history of the United States. The world blew up around us. We lost everything, including all relationships.” “perhaps the most dishonest person to have ever run for the presidency”

[Governor Martin O’Malley] “a clown”

“What people don’t know about [Governor John] Kasich — he was a managing partner of the horrendous Lehman Brothers when it totally destroyed the economy!”

“George Pataki did a terrible job as governor of New York. If he ran again, he would have lost in a landslide.”

“Can anyone imagine [Lincoln] Chafee as president? No way.”

“I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States. I don’t think he could run for dog catcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. He’s one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.”

“I have a store that’s worth more money than he is. I understand losers. You can make a lot of money with losers” “He choked like a dog. He’s a choker.” “He walks like a penguin onto the stage. Like a penguin!” (comments on Mitt Romney)

“not doing the job.” “It’s your governor’s fault, we have to get your governor and get going. She’s got to do a better job, O.K.?” (comments on New Mexico Republican Governor Suzana Martinez.
Donald Trump

 

 



 

My Dear Conservative friends,

It has been an interesting political year on your side of the aisle. I will admit that there was a certain Schadenfreude on our side as we watched your serious conservative governors and senators being bludgeoned by the confederate-flag-waving toothless hillbilly wing of your party. We watched with amusement and amazement as the racist, sexist, anti-intellectual faction that you so cynically invited into your big tent over the last thirty years hijacked the whole party and steered it toward the cliff. We know that you didn’t want Trump any more than we did. We really thought you would find a way to stop him.

The truth is that while I frequently disagree with my philosophically conservative friends I have always respected their well-reasoned and considered opinions. I think there is room at the table for all serious, thoughtful, good faith arguments about the size of government, the scope of its activities, and the methods for determining best practice. That is what having a democratic republic is all about. I want conservatives at the table. I want them in Congress and, yes, occasionally in the White House.

There are Republicans I have admired and, indeed, Republicans for whom I have voted. I like and respect our Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and may well vote for him this year. I always respected and voted for Governor Jim Edgar when he served Illinois in the 1990’s.

Across the river in Iowa, Republican Congressman Jim Leach thoughtfully represented the people of Iowa’s second district for thirty years and won my respect as well. Further afield, I was a great admirer of Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. He was a conservative to be sure but also a reasonable and intelligent Senator who worked with Democrats to reach a sensible “way forward.”

Even at the Presidential level, the big job, there are conservatives for whom I have voted, or would have. I have great respect for President George H.W. Bush who I still believe to be a man of conscience, seriousness, and intelligence. As a student of history I also admire President Eisenhower, President Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, President Grant, and, of course President Lincoln, whom every serious Republican should honor and emulate.

The preceding paragraphs are a metaphorical olive branch extended to you, my conservative friends. They also represent my true feelings about partisan politics. I believe, as President George Washington did, that a blind adherence to party is at odds with and contrary to the principles of republican government. I cannot express it better than President Washington did himself in his farewell address in 1796. He said:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington was not a perfect man. In the same address he humbly acknowledged this himself.

“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”

Though not infallible, any serious student of history recognizes the sincerity and wisdom of President Washington. He was the man who might have made himself a dictator and derailed the whole noble experiment of America. Everything he did as President set a precedent and he understood that. He believed in America, he believed in the ideals of our Constitution, and he was a sober, thoughtful, serious defender of those ideals. He was a man of moderation and conciliation and sober reflection. He did his utmost to steer this nation through the dangerous shoals of its infancy. He tried to reconcile the regional differences represented by the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, he tried to maintain a sensible neutrality with regards to the perplexing and essentially endless wars between Great Britain, France, and Spain. He tried to understand and work with, in a respectful and measured way, the other branches of government and the various states.

After two terms, when he might have assumed the mantle of ruler for life, he instead stepped away and relinquished his authority so that the principle of peaceful transfer of power would become the precedent we value and admire today. We have much to thank George Washington for and to admire in his humble, principled manner. He must surely represent the model of what we look for in a President.

Reflecting on Washington’s legacy, and that of Lincoln, and Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower, and yes, even Ronald Reagan, I must ask you a question today, my conservative friends. Can you, in good conscience vote for Donald Trump? Can you set aside your principles and the principles of Washington and Lincoln and all these others who so nobly advanced the American ideal just for a politically expedient victory? Will you vote to turn the most powerful office in the world over to a reckless, profane, narcissist who represents none of your own beliefs and indeed mocks many of them. Donald Trump, in my judgement, embodies whatever the opposite of George Washington is. Will you vote for this charlatan just to put a win in the R column? No serious and thoughtful conservative can do it because by voting for Donald Trump you nullify what it means to be a conservative. Truly your vote for Donald Trump nullifies what it means to be an American.

We know that there are many principled conservatives who will stand up for right and good when they see it. This is one of those times, my friends. This is the time when you must stand for your principles even against the nominee of your own troubled party. Donald Trump is not right and he is not good and you know it. It is time to take one for Team America. It is the only way for your party to find it’s way back from the wilderness. It is the only way for you to maintain your own self-respect and the respect of others for your ideas. Please make the correct choice.

Dustin Joy

Raise my Taxes, Please

I have promised, in the past, not to make this a political blog. In this remarkable year in politics, though, I think I’m going to have some trouble keeping that promise. I will try to keep it to a minimum. Here is my first foray. Don’t even get me started on Trump.

 

Illinois is not a poor state. We rank 15th in per capita income in the United States. We exceed every surrounding state in per capita income, median household income, and median family income. Of neighboring states the only one who comes close to Illinois in any of these metrics is Wisconsin who finishes six places back at 21st. Behind Wisconsin is Iowa in 22nd place, Missouri at 33rd, Indiana way back at 38th place, and finally Kentucky near the back of the pack at 46th.

If we were a poor state I might feel differently about the man-made “financial crisis” which has established us as the laughingstock of the country. If we were Mississippi, where the per capita income is in the neighborhood of $20,000 I could explain and justify underfunded schools, decaying bridges, cuts to critical social services, unmowed state parks, and IOU’s issued to schools in lieu of money. If we were a third world country I could understand the governor and the legislature bickering like children about state university funding.

But the truth is, Illinois is not a poor state, sadly we are a cheap state with a very regressive tax scheme. Our per capita income of about $30,000 is 105% of the U.S. average. We really do have the wherewithal to pay our bills, fund our schools adequately, and maintain world class infrastructure. Like so much of our center-right country, though, we simply don’t want to pay for it. But guess what; quality costs money.

The Republican party has convinced people for 36 years that you can have your cake and eat it, too. They have encouraged the mythology that lower taxes for rich people (or job creators as they call them) leads to prosperity for all and, specifically in the case of Illinois, that taxes are too damn high. The common wisdom is that Illinois is a “high tax” state, especially when contrasted with the responsible “Republican Governor” states that surround us. The facts, as often happens, differ from the mythology.

Remember good old Scott Walker, the “tax-cutting, labor-busting, rock-ribbed conservative” from Wisconsin. His state’s income tax rate, according to a 2015 Forbes Magazine study is 66% higher than “high tax” Illinois. On a taxable income of $50,000 Wisconsin residents pay 5.68%. Illinois flat rate is 3.75%. Forbes is hardly hardly a bleeding-heart liberal publication.

In fact, the Forbes survey says that Illinois income taxes on $50,000 were lower than all of our neighboring states except Indiana with a flat rate of 3.3%. (One side note: All Indiana counties tax income as well to the tune of .245% bringing an Indiana resident’s total income tax to 3.545%, pretty close to ours.) On $50,000 Iowa, with it’s Republican Governor-for-life Terry Branstad, taxes it’s citizens at a rate of 5.70%. Missouri’s rate is 5.55% and Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky (our poorest neighbor) taxes 4.03%. (Another side note: Like Indiana several of these states have local and county income taxes which add to their total. Illinois does not. Local and county income taxes in Iowa average .073%, in Missouri .161%, and in Kentucky a whopping .759%.)

“Hold on,” I hear my Republican friends seething, “Illinois has the highest property taxes in the nation.” That is “kind of” true. According to some surveys comparing property taxes to home value we rank 6th, behind New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Other recent surveys put us at number 2 behind only New Jersey. That is, I must admit, relatively high. But property taxes are determined by local taxing bodies and fund important local services; schools, snow plowing, and sewers. Property taxes in Illinois are high, in many cases, in response to lost state funding at all levels. If our schools were funded more equitably from state income taxes property taxes could be lower and voters would probably demand that they would be. The fiscal mess in Springfield has forced local taxing bodies to bump-up rates merely to survive. Also, property tax rates vary wildly across the state with some of the wealthiest areas of the state paying the lowest rates and vice versa. In this way Illinois property taxes are even regressive.

Which brings us to the regressive nature of Illinois income tax. In Illinois the poorest taxpayers pay the same rate on their incomes as the richest billionaires, say our Governor, for example. In terms of total taxes it is worse. According to a 2014 Chicago Sun Times article “In Illinois, the state’s poorest residents—those in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale—pay almost three times as much of their earnings in taxes as the top one percent do.” This is not right. Paying 3.75% of your income in taxes is a great deal more onerous if you make minimum wage than if the bulk of your millions comes from capital gains and interest.

So, “liberal” Illinois is harder on it’s poor taxpayers than any of the so-called “conservative” states which surround us. To further exacerbate the problem, funding our schools with local property taxes has led to a huge disparity in educational outcomes between the rich and the poor in Illinois. (See my essay from May 27, 2015 called And the Loser is…) It is high time we shifted school funding in Illinois to an income tax based system and high time that we brought in a progressive income tax to fund it.

To address the fiscal crisis Illinois income tax rates were boosted in 2011 from 3% to 5% (before sunsetting back to 3.75% in 2015). Republicans reacted as if the sky were falling. But the top marginal rate in Iowa (which kicks in at $100,000) is 8.98%. In Missouri it is 6.0%. Wisconsin’s top rate is 7.65%. So the rich in Illinois are doing pretty well despite their belly-aching. This regressive system we have in place has not served us well, either, from a revenue point of view. It has been estimated that if we simply adopted the taxation scheme of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin in its entirety we would collect almost $10 Billion more per year which would more than cover our deficit and allow us to have good roads, good schools, and fund the social safety net programs Governor Rauner has threatened to cut. And would it “kill our economy?” Ask Scott Walker.

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes to pay taxes. It is harmful to tax too heavily. But there is a balance between maintaining world class infrastructure and services and being a third world country. Illinois is on it’s way to being a place people don’t want to live; not because income taxes are too high but because we are perceived as a state in a downward-spiral with poor schools, bad roads, and an embarrassment of a state government. Is it worth paying a bit more to have solvency, quality schools, and a world-class infrastructure? Absolutely. We are not a poor state. We can afford it.

 

by: Dustin Joy

A Step Forward

I do not intend for this website to be a political blog. While I’m sure that I have already betrayed some of my leanings, I do not intend to make a habit of beating my readers over the head with my ideology. Still, today I cannot resist celebrating a piece of news which made me very happy- the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage. I do not mind talking about it here because I regard this remarkable step forward not as a political thing, but as a victory for kindness and tolerance and dignity and indeed civilization.

Four years ago, when it became legal in Illinois, I had the honor of participating in the ceremony of civil union between my great friend and his long-time partner. My wife, our kids, and a small group of their friends and family assembled at the courthouse on a nice day in July. It was a lovely day, and it was a lovely and dignified event. As they offered their vows, their little boy stood with them. They exchanged rings and said the words that we all know by heart and we signed papers signifying our witness to the event.

And then we went home and they went home and began the commonplace work and extraordinary joy of married life together. They have built a wonderful life in the intervening years, making a home, raising two bright and outgoing boys, advancing their careers, struggling through some serious medical issues, and doing all of those things which my wife and I have done and which all married couples who stay together must do.

And I remember thinking as we drove home from the courthouse that day that I could not understand how anyone could object to the thing we had all just been a part of. I, who want to think the best of people and their motivations, decided that anyone who objected to this ceremony simply did not understand it. Any kind and thoughtful and, yes, Christian person could not oppose this wonderful thing except through ignorance of it.

We all fear the unknown. We all are apprehensive about things which seem foreign to us. But I am here to tell you, as someone who has seen and participated in this joyful event, that gay marriage is not scary. It is not weird or foreign or disrespectful. It is the most normal thing in the world to want to build a life with the person you love.

This is a fundamentally good thing. It is good for families and it is good for children and it is good for our society. It is fair and right to afford the same opportunity for joy (or misery, as a divorced friend reminds me) to gay couples that the rest of us take for granted. And it is, I think, another step in the long march of civilization. It demonstrates that we continue to create a kind and humane society in the United States where dignity is respected and diversity is honored.

To all who are afraid of gay marriage I tell you that the earth will not fall out of its orbit because of this. The economy will not crash and our republic will not be brought to its knees. What will happen is that there will be more happiness in the world and more dignity and more understanding. And, wonderfully, there will be one more group of our friends and neighbors who can move from the category “them” into the category “us.” To me, that is what the United States is supposed to be.

Dustin Joy

And the Loser is …

In April, after serving two years as an appointed member of the Rockridge School Board, I ran for a full term spot and finished dead last among the competitors for the seat. I have a feeling the result was related to my outspoken advocacy for a Education Fund Referendum for the district. At my last meeting before leaving the board I had an opportunity to talk about my time as a board member and what I think I did wrong, or right. Here is what I said.

 

Ever since Nixon’s famous “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” speech it has been the prerogative of people who lose elections to make it worse by saying something about the results and what they mean. I’ll try not to do that.

Since this is likely my last board meeting I wonder if you would indulge me, for just a couple of minutes to tell you something about what being on this board has meant to me and what I learned.

I would like to start by saying what a pleasure it was to discover, when I got on this board, that these folks up here were not a bunch of malevolent ogres, but in fact a group of good people who stepped up to do a job nobody else wanted to do, for no pay, in their free time, and who are doing their best with really bad options. I have learned a lot from them and they have been universally generous and helpful to me as I tried to learn the mountain of information required to be a really good and useful board member as Thomas the Tank Engine would say.

I lost this recent election pretty badly and I‘m afraid that it wasn’t for lack of “getting my message across” as losing candidates usually say, but very likely because I did get it across. I said what I thought and a lot of voters did not agree. That, of course, is their prerogative. I have been told by a number of friends since the election that it was a mistake to advocate an Education Fund referendum. School tax referenda are the only opportunity most people get to “vote against taxes” and if you look at the data on school referenda it is clear that they frequently take advantage of that opportunity. But I could not duck this question. I felt I had to make my position clear. Because working for an Ed Fund referendum was where I got started in this process three years ago and I still believe it is a sadly necessary step given the state of Illinois today.

It is hard to explain, in a few words in the newspaper, the complexity of the problems handed down to districts like ours from Springfield. It has taken me a full two years of study to put the picture together in my head and it is still a blurry picture.

Illinois – A Tale of Two Districts

Education in Illinois today is a story of haves and have nots. Rich suburban districts like Northfield H.S.D. 225 are buying their students laptop computers. Their state of the art schools offer classes like architecture, ceramics, photography, astronomy, forensic science, meteorology, and seven (yes, seven) foreign languages. At Glenbrook High School you can participate in debate team, contribute your writing to the literary magazine, take courses in radio and TV broadcasting (yes, they have their own radio station, WGBK), and compete on the swim team. The Northfield District spends $21,577 per student on operations. Virtually all of their funding is from local property taxes and you will be further discouraged when I tell you that their total tax rates are lower than ours.

Contrast that with Beardstown C.U.S.D. 15, a poor semi-rural district along the Illinois River. Beardstown currently spends $8464 per student on operations and $5300 on instruction. 76% of their funding comes from the State. I don’t need to tell you; they do not have their own radio station.
Sometimes you hear people say that money can’t buy education results. When I look at the funding and performance of Illinois schools, however (which any of you can do on the Illinois State Board of Education website) one quickly sees that money not only makes a difference, it makes a big difference. Northfield pays their teachers $101,000. 80% of those teachers have a masters degree. Beardstown pays their teachers $43,000. Given these options where do you suppose the best teachers in Illinois go?

In every parameter analyzed by the ISBE Report Card Northfield trounces Beardstown: Graduation Rate – 96% vs. 84%, PSAE scores – 85% vs. 31%, Readiness for college classes – 83% vs. 13%.

Rockridge?

What about Rockridge? The Rockridge District has a 19% higher median household income than the State, 41% higher than Rock Island County as a whole. Yet our district has no frills. We are not handing out laptops. We do not have a pool. Our buildings are old, our textbooks tend to be old, and we have grade schools which lack a full time principal on site. Right now our performance metrics are not bad. Our graduation rate is 96%. Our PSAE ranking is 62%, well above Beardstown, but far behind Northfield. Our readiness for college numbers stand at 45%, almost exactly at the state average. So far so good.

The Illinois Constitution says “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” Illinois, quite obviously, has not met this obligation. The state aid foundation number, $6119 has not changed since FY 2010. Costs, of course, continue to rise. Furthermore Illinois has not even fully funded its foundation obligations for the last several years. In FY 2013 payments to districts stood at 89% of the amount owed in the formula. In simple English this means that those rich districts like Northfield fully fund (some would say extravagantly) their schools from local taxes while poor districts in Illinois have lost even that pittance from the state which kept them afloat.

Rockridge was one of the losers. From 2009 to 2014 Rockridge’s general state aid went from about $2.7 million to $1.2 million annually. That is $1.5 million dollars gone missing from our budget – every year. What can we do?
The fundamental nature of budgets does not change just because Illinois fails to meet its obligation. You must cut spending or increase revenue. The board has done a great deal of the former. I sat up on the stage in the auditorium at a recent meeting and listened as students, teachers, and members of our community (people I respect a great deal) spoke earnestly about the value of music education and the quality of our program here at Rockridge. And I believed every word they said. And I wanted to get up and walk down into the audience and join them. And then I voted to make the program cut. Because we had to.

Whether we continue down that road, toward Beardstown, if you will, depends on how you view Rockridge today and what kind of community you aspire to have in the future. You might believe Rockridge is an extravagant district plagued by waste and overspending. I just don’t see that. But we can keep cutting. We can cut extra-curriculars and athletics, we can cut more of those people, like teacher’s aides and secretaries, whose daily interactions with our children shape their educational experience, and of course, we can cut teachers. We can become Beardstown with all that that entails.

I think I can safely say that we are not going to be Northfield but I think it is within our capacity as a community to keep being Rockridge. That is why I worked to get Rockridge Forward passed. That is why I supported the 1% sales tax. And that is why I said what I said during the campaign. My approach was unsuccessful, obviously, but I still am not convinced it was wrong. Problems are never solved by sweeping them under the rug. The solution to these problems ultimately lies with the voters of Rockridge, and Rock Island County, and, of course, the State of Illinois.

I said in the paper that good schools are the best thing a community can spend money on. They are an investment in the future. They pay dividends even to those residents without kids in the school. Studies show that and I really believe it. You can look around at communities with bad schools. You don’t want to live there.

As I leave the board I am still optimistic that we can keep Rockridge Rockridge. It has been my great pleasure to work with this board and these fine administrators and our wonderful staff. This place is as good as it is because every day these folks are doing more than they should have to with less than they need to do it. We, as parents, are lucky to have them.

by Dustin Joy