Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Donald Trump Losing His Mind?


This article presents an interesting premise. I am going to put aside my anti-trump sentiment for the moment, and consider whether or not this is a sign of actual cognitive deterioration, or simply what happens when a guy reaches 70.

To begin with, let's consider this quote from the article:
The experts noted clear changes from Trump’s unscripted answers 30 years ago to those in 2017 ... They noted, however, that the same sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue." What this tells me is that there is a definite, measurable decline in linguistic function. This hypothesis is bolstered by numerous examples of off-the-cuff remarks from trump in the 80s versus today. When looking through these, it is clear that, at the very least, he appeared to have a better grasp of language back then as opposed to the present day.
So the question is this: does this linguistic decline represent a corresponding decline in mental acuity outside of the normal range for a 70 year old man? I submit that, yes, it does.

In support of this, consider the following:


  1. There are many people in Washington trump's age or older who are still sharp and eloquent. Colin Powell (80), for instance, or Mitch McConnell (75), or Patrick Leahy (77), or Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, or Chuck Grassley (all 83) ... or, leaving DC, people like David Bowie (who died of cancer at age 66 but mentally was still fully functional), or David Letterman (70), or Clint Eastwood (86). Granted, genetics plays a big role here, so the fact that trump is mentally outgunned by someone ten to sixteen years older than he does not immediately indicate a catastrophic loss of function ... it merely means that people like Powell and Eastwood got a better genetic hand dealt to them.
  2. There are some circumstantial indicators that perhaps trump is in the early stages of Alzheimer's or dementia. The fact that he is unable to sustain a single train of thought without a script, or that he is generally short-tempered with those around him ... while not at all definitive, these are indications that there may be something going on. Some of these indicators are the same things we saw in Ronald Reagan during the last year or so of his second term. His condition was not formally diagnosed until six years after leaving office, but rumors persisted then -- and now -- that his mental function had begun a sharp decline while he was still in office.
  3. Let's face it, he's not in great health. He is overweight and clearly does not take good care of himself. Obesity, and the chemical havoc it wreaks on the human body, has been shown in numerous studies to accelerate mental decline to varying degrees.


So what does this all mean? Is he fit to serve as president?

Again, putting aside politics for the moment, it's a tough call. On the one hand, he still is very much aware of what is going on around him, and despite all expectations he is showing a modicum of talent n the area of foreign relations (far below what other presidents have shown, and below what is expected of him, but he is not the foreign policy train wreck everyone thought he would be ... yet). On the other hand, he appears to be incapable of concentrating on one thing for more than a minute or two at a time ... a talent that is absolutely essential to someone holding the highest office in the land.

My take on things? Again, doing my best to remain objective, I would have to say: wait and see. There is not enough there to formally declare him mentally unfit, but there are enough signs to be of concern and to merit further monitoring.

And from a purely human standpoint, if this is happening to him, I feel bad for the guy. Having witnessed a friend's mother go through this I have seen firsthand the absolute horror of what happens, especially in the later stages ... despite what people said to try to be comforting, she was fully aware of what was happening to her until shortly before the very end, and the thought of knowing that you are losing your mind ... it's a terrifying prospect.

My two cents.

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The Russia Story Just Became A Bigger Deal

Florida GOP consultant Aaron Nevins
Well, folks. Things are heating up in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, beyond hacked Clinton emails and DNC memos, the hacker known as "Guccifer 2.0" also sent analyses of Democratic voter turnout in Florida to a GOP political operative named Aaron Nevis.

Nevis apparently told Guccifer to "Feel free to send any Florida based information." This information was then posted to Nevis's blog at HelloFLA.com, which he runs under the pseudonym "Mark Miewurd." This was in the form of both direct links and links to Guccifer 2.0's web site here.

Naturally, Guccifer is denying any links to the Russian government. Also naturally, Nevis's blog does not contain anything that shows that he pursued Guccifer to obtain these data -- at least, not initially. However, according to the Wall Street Journal article, Nevis did set up a DropBox account to receive large files, and ended up with 2.5 G of data from the DCCC ... which was then published on HelloFLA.com.

Links to these data were also sent to Roger Stone who, at the time, was an "informal adviser" to then-candidate trump. Stone denies any involvement with Russia with regard to elections, and says that he has not been contacted by the FBI. He confirmed that he did receive a link to the HelloFLA blog article about the stolen data from Guccifer, but says that he never shared it with anyone.

In addition to posting this material on his blog, Nevis also passed some along to journalists in Florida. However, he did not use any these data in his consulting business running grassroots-style campaigns for landowners and corporations seeking to have an influence in local politics.
According to U. S. officials in the intelligence community, Guccifer 2.0 is linked to Russian military intelligence (of course, Guccifer denies a link).

The FBI and Congressional committees are currently looking into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Russia denies any meddling, as well as any links to Gucifer 2.0. These inquiries have also encompassed Stone's potential involvement, say sources familiar with the inquiries.

So those are the facts as reported by the Wall Street Journal, a publication which absolutely nobody in their right mind could accuse of being in the tank for liberals. Now for the speculative -- highly speculative -- bits of this article. Fair warning: what follows sounds insane, and there are going to be those who would ship me off to a rubber room as a result. Understand that this is an exercise in speculation only; there is absolutely zero solid evidence of any of the following hypotheses. Moving right along ...

In February 2016, mere nanoseconds after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senator Mitch McConnell stepped in front of the microphones to announce that the Senate would not -- repeat, NOT -- consider a replacement nominee from Obama, citing some "rule" he just made up about presidents not being allowed to nominate Supreme Court justices in the final year of their term. This was based on the so-called "Biden Rule," in which Joe Biden, in a 1992 speech, said it was advisable for a president in the midst of a re-election campaign not to nominate a Supreme Court justice until after the election -- win or lose -- to avoid politicizing the nomination.

This was different from the "rule" McConnell cited in the following ways: first, Biden was speaking hypothetically, as there were no open seats on the bench at the time. Second, he was talking about a sitting president in the last year of his first term who was running for re-election. Third, he very clearly stipulated that the nomination should proceed after the election regardless of the outcome.

Despite these conditions, and despite the fact that all polling at the time showed the GOP trailing the Democrats by a wide margin, McConnell stated that postponing nomination hearings until after the election was the best way to protect "the voice of the American people" ... even though the American public had already spoken by electing President Obama -- twice.

This leads to one of two conclusions regarding McConnell's behavior.

One the one hand, he may have been speaking out of hubris and gambling that a Republican was going to win despite the odds. This is completely out of character for McConnell. He has never been a gambler ... rather, he is a very shrewd, highly partisan politician who does not make any moves unless he already knows what the outcome is going to be.

On the other hand, perhaps he already knew what the outcome would be. Recent revelations that Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and other House Republicans were aware of Russian influence fairly early on but chose to remain silent would insinuate that McConnell knew about this stuff too. And if he knew that Russia was screwing around with the election, and that trump was going to win as a result, then this would satisfy his "need to know beforehand" condition.

My vote is for the latter. It seems to me that McConnell not only knew about Russian interference, but perhaps even had a hand in planning and executing it ... and he has been very skilled at keeping his hands clean of the matter.

I strongly believe that Russian interference in the election of 2016 goes much deeper than Guccifer 2.0 and a small-time operative in Florida. My hunch is that it extends to the highest levels of Congress. I sincerely believe that Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jason Chaffitz, and several other members of both the House and the Senate were complicit in delegitimizing the election and getting trump elected through illegal means, all in the name of retaining power. I also think this effort began almost immediately after the 2012 election, and that 2014 was sort of a proof of concept.

If you recall, polling was off for that election as well. According to every poll at the time, the Democrats were supposed to retain control of the Senate and reduce the lead of the Republicans in the House, and state races were more or less even. What actually happened was that the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, they increased their majority in the House, and they won 31 governorships and majorities in 68 state legislative chambers. While there was no evidence of Russian interference back then, in hindsight it is plausible that the 2014 election was a test run for 2016.

To put on the tin foil hat for a moment, this hypothesis makes a bit of sense. Consider that the first thing the Republicans did after getting control of both chambers was to institute a policy of "Nobama" across the board, obstructing everything the President tried to do, no matter how trivial. During the 114th Congress, we saw a lot of nothing being done ... the Republicans refused to even discuss anything, much less vote on anything, unless it was clear that obstruction was political suicide. At the time people were baffled by this approach, but when viewed through the "Russia Conspiracy" lens it starts to become slightly more understandable.

Stipulating that this is true, then, the question becomes: why did it become such a clusterfuck in this election? If the Russians had meddled in the midterms, they had done so without leaving a trace. So why did it become public this time around?

There are currently two theories concerning this. The first is sheer arrogance -- they figured that, since 2014 had gone so smoothly, 2016 would be a cakewalk and they got sloppy. Perhaps Russia had used internal security personnel in 2014 and contracted out in 2016 to try to further detach themselves, or maybe they were spooked by the Republican Clown Car in the primaries and were worried that their orange puppet wouldn't secure the nomination. Regardless, assuming that Guccifer 2.0 was their contracted distributor, they chose poorly in that this person was less than discreet.

The second theory is that McConnell actually masterminded the leaks as a way of discrediting political opponents in the House. By casting Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and others, as co-conspirators, he could then politically castrate them and install people that he favored, which -- combined with a pliable stooge as president (he thought) -- would allow him to push through his agenda pretty much unimpeded ... and maybe set himself up for the White House (although, to be fair, he has given absolutely zero indication in any interest in this).

All of this sounds like a plot line in "House of Cards," I get that. As I said, speculation only. But it does make you think.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Arrogance Personified


There is a twelve second video clip that is taking the internet by storm today (you can see it here). In  this clip, taken at the NATO summit, we see a group of NATO leaders getting ready for a photo op. In comes trump, who grabs the Prime Minister of Montenegro and rudely shoves him out of the way so trump can be in the front of the photo.

Why do we let this guy, this bully, this buffoon, this uncultured clown represent us on the world stage?

Part of the problem is that there is still as segment of American society -- shrinking daily, but not fast enough -- who refuse to admit that their guy is doing anything wrong. Some comments I have seen on Facebook:
  • "kinda awesome"
  • "No. No. No. WATCH CLOSELY! He stepped on the back of the Montenegro leaders FOOT! The Monte. leader cleary says 'OH SHIT' When he says that, the women turns around, Trump makes that "Oops" face... It's media lying again!!!! Don't believe it, make the video bigger and watch real close!!!"
  • "Get the hell out of the way. The US pays for this shit show u cal NATO"
  • "it actually looked like he and the other man were being playful. why must people make something negative out of everything?"

Okay, so first things first. They were NOT "being playful." If they were, trump would have said something to the man. He did not. He unceremoniously shoved him out of the way, then turned his back to him. The body language very clearly says "beat it, peasant. I'm the fucking president of the United States, so you can kiss my shriveled ass."

Second, I have made no bones about the fact that I oppose trump with every cell in my body. I at least had a sliver of hope that he wouldn't be an international embarrassment. That hope died today.

Third, he needs to go. Now. He is rapidly turning the United States into the idiot cousin nobody wants at the family reunion, and everybody who voted this assclown into office is complicit in this.

Finally, on behalf of all the non-trump people in the United States of America, I would like to apologize to the rest of the world for putting a psychotic orangutan in the White House. Granted, I didn't vote for him, and neither did a plurality of Americans. The fact remains, this man-child, this overgrown orange toddler, this petulant, petty tire fire masquerading as a human being does not represent who we are as Americans, but instead embodies all that is base, and cynical, and incompetent, and cruel, and uncaring.

Please know that, as an American, I do not condone this man's behavior, and I will do everything in my power to have him peacefully and legally removed from office. Hopefully before he launches a nuclear first strike against CNN or something.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reaganomics Revisited

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/05/trump-budget-based-on-usd2-trillion-math-error.html

This is beginning to sound eerily familiar.

Back in 1980 -- you know, before the trumpster fire arrived to start blowing up the entire world -- Ronald Reagan made the same claim: that tax cuts would generate economic activity, with the end result that they would pay for themselves. His primary opponent, George H. W. Bush, famously called this approach "voodoo economics" (and in one of the greatest acts of political cowardice in my lifetime recanted this statement as soon as the vice-presidency was dangled in front of him).

Why do Republicans insist that cutting taxes will actually increase revenue?

A lot of this has to do with the basic economic philosophy behind supply-side economics, which Bush the Senior called "voodoo economics" and everyone else started calling "Reaganomics." Supply-side economics is a macroeconomic theory that holds that economic growth can be spurred by investing in capital and lowering barriers on the production of goods and services. In real-life terms, this means that strong supply-siders believe that lowering tax rates, as well as deregulation, will bring about economic growth due a resulting increase in supply.

In "The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics" (http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/SupplySideEconomics.html), James D. Gwartney, a professor of economics and director of the Gus A. Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education at Florida State University, writes:
"An increase in marginal tax rates adversely affects the output of an economy in two ways. First, the higher marginal rates reduce the payoff people derive from work and from other taxable productive activities. When people are prohibited from reaping much of what they sow, they will sow more sparingly. Thus, when marginal tax rates rise, some people—those with working spouses, for example—will opt out of the labor force. Others will decide to take more vacation time, retire earlier, or forgo overtime opportunities. Still others will decide to forgo promising but risky business opportunities. In some cases, high tax rates will even drive highly productive citizens to other countries where taxes are lower. These adjustments and others like them will shrink the effective supply of resources, and therefore will shrink output."
This completely ignores the fact that, for most people (aka "not part of the top 1%") "opting out of the labor force" isn't an option due to that pesky "earning a living and not going bankrupt" thing. Similarly, the average worker is not going to "sow more sparingly," because this person's economic needs haven't changed ... all that has changed is that he is now earning less, and has to work harder, longer hours, or a second job just to keep from losing ground.

Supply-side has another name that is probably very familiar to people: trickle-down economics. Co-opting President John F. Kennedy's phrase that "a rising tide lifts all boats," conservatives have used this concept as an argument in favor of supply side economics. The thinking here is that, by easing the burden at the top of the economic ladder, the resulting increase in economic activity will eventually work its way down the economic ladder until all benefit.

The problem with this? It doesn't work.

Even when I first heard about this during Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, when I was all of fifteen years old, I knew it was bunk. The problem stems from one glaring omission in supply-side theory, and that is the realization that people are greedy sumbitches. Cutting the marginal tax rate on production from 40% to 20%, say, doesn't actually increase production. It only increases profit. Profit which, in all likelihood, is stashed in offshore accounts or tax-sheltered investments, both of which are famous for not generating economic activity.

"But, but, but," conservatives will argue, "that increased profit is distributed throughout the company, and everybody benefits." Wrong again. Those increased profits are distributed to the CEO in the form of every higher compensation packages. After all, in 1965 the ratio between the average CEO's salary and that of the average worker stood at 20 to 1 ... not unreasonable. However, beginning in the mid 1970s (when supply side first showed up in the popular consciousness) and running through 2014, CEO pay increased at a rate of 997% (not counting stock options, bonuses, etc.) ... while the average worker saw a meager 10.9% increase during that same period.

And yes, those are inflation-adjusted amounts, which reflects purchasing power in the contemporary market, not absolute numbers -- which will puncture the conservative argument that "minimum wage has increased by more than six times since 1965." Yes, in terms of absolute numbers it has ... in 1965, minimum wage stood at $1.15, whereas it sits at $7.25 today. However, in 1965:
  • The Dow Jones closed the year at a high of 969.
  • The average new home cost $21,500.
  • A first-class stamp was five cents.
  • A gallon of gas was thirty one cents.
  • A dozen eggs was 53 cents.
  • A gallon of milk was 95 cents.
... the end result is that the average worker's salary went further in 1965 than it does today.

Now, in some cases (e. g. bread, eggs), this paycheck goes farther today than it did in 1965, in other cases (gas, for example) it does not. When everything is taken into account, though, the net result is a loss to the average worker.

All of which highlights the central failing of the trickle-down theory. Instead of benefits overflowing the cup at the top of the economic pyramid and filling those on the lower levels, all that happens is the people at the top get bigger cups. Very little, if any, then actually makes its way down the ladder to those on the lower rungs.

There is also significantly less discussion given to the effect this has on government revenue, and when it is discussed it relies on some economic chicanery. For example, Reagan held that cutting taxes would increase economic activity, which would increase the incoming revenue so that it matched the amount of the tax cuts. What was ignored here was that there was some double counting happening.

Let's look at a simple example of a government with no deficits. It spends, on average, $1 billion a year on all programs, with annual increases of about 3%. It receives $1 billion a year in tax revenue ... again, with an average 3% per year increase.

Now let's throw supply side economics into the mix. The top tax rates are cut, but the argument is that the increased economic activity will not only make up the difference so that we still get that $1 billion in revenue, but prevent deficits. The problem is that, while we may have generated $1 billion, we have spent $1.03 billion ... leaving us with a deficit of $30 million that has to come from somewhere.

Supply-siders address this problem by counting revenue twice: once by counting the actual revenue coming in, and again by claiming the increased activity equates to revenue.


In reality, things are far more complicated than this, which is why so many conservatives are talked into it ... it becomes so arcane, so quickly, that their eyes glaze over and they finally agree just to get whoever it is to shut the hell up, already. And who could blame them? Listening to someone explain supply-side economics in detail makes one yearn for the action-packed thrill ride of waiting at the DMV.

However, this does point to why deficits ballooned in the 1980s, and why Kansas (where trickle-down was fully enacted and allowed to run unimpeded for a number of years) is nearly bankrupt: schools were closed a month early due to budget cutbacks, and if ya gotta pee while you're driving across the state you better hope you can find a friendly bush, because all the rest stops have been closed due to budget cuts.

And now the Republicans are falling into this same trap. Cut taxes on the wealthy. Cut spending on the poor, because if there is any increase in economic activity it sure as hell won't cover the difference. And if the poor complain ... well, it's their fault for choosing to be poor in the first place.

This is why trump is only part of the problem. Yes, it's his name attached to "trumpanomics" (a term coined by Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney), but if you think a man doesn't have the attention span to understand the causal relationship between turning the light off and the room getting dark is going to understand any of this ...

The heart of the problem is the new conservatism. Cruel, judgemental conservatism. A representative implies that someone with breast cancer may have deserved it because they did not sufficiently take care of themselves. Aid to the poor is slashed or eliminated altogether, because being poor is a character flaw, not a set of economic circumstances. Taxes are cut for the wealthy because, if they were bad people, they wouldn't have all that money and they deserve to be rewarded for this, right?

Here's the problem we face. We're going to get stuck with budgets that really suck for 2018 and 2019. This is unavoidable with Republican majorities in both houses and a Republican squatting in the White House. What we, as progressives, have to do is:
  • Urge our representatives to push back against these extreme measures.
  • Ensure that most of these chuckleheads are tossed out in 2018 and replaced with people who are thoughtful and understand that extreme income inequality is actually bad for everyone.
It's going to be an ugly eighteen months. There will undoubtedly huge piles of stupid coming from trump and his gang of idiots. There will be much hand-wringing over the perils of allowing liberals to do anything -- make economic policy, act in foreign affairs, brush their own teeth -- and even more threats of economic disaster if we allow even a scrap of humanity to enter into our economic policy. We will just have to weather the storm and do our best to come out the other side ready to fight.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump, Putin, and Strange Bedfellows Abound



Dear president trump,

I am a liberal. I didn't vote for you, because I thought you getting elected would be a catastrophe of monumental proportions. I would like to say, here and now, without reservation, that you have proved me wrong.

A catastrophe would be a sunny walk in the park in comparison to the unmitigated Category 5 shitstorm you have unleashed.

On the campaign trail you mocked people with disabilities, incited violence at your rallies, and lied through your teeth so often that the media couldn't even keep up. Even Mike Pence, who is "a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third," and who probably takes great pride in his religious convictions (which place a high value on honesty, by the way), used his soothing FM radio voice in the Vice-Presidential debate to flat out deny that you ever said that Mexicans were rapists ... even though there is a video record of you saying exactly that.

After the inauguration, you immediately setting about doing what you do best: boosting your brand, with the able assistance of your children, that syphilitic sycophant known as Steve Bannon, and truth-murderer KellyAnne Conway. And there's more:
  • You complained during the campaign that President Obama spent too much time playing golf. However, you spent more time playing golf in the first month of your term than President Obama did during the first year.
  • You complained that Obama took too many vacations. Your vacation spending in the first month equaled his for the first year, and you are on track to spend more in your first year on vacations that he did in his entire eight years on office.
  • Your wife refuses to live with you in Washington. Yes, the "official" line is that she doesn't want to take her son out of school in the middle of the year, and that is completely legitimate ... after all, almost every parent faces this same dilemma at least once. But I am willing to put hard money on the bet that, once school is over, she still doesn't go to DC. ANd not for nothing, in your numerous vacations to Mar-A-Lago, she was nowhere to be found, and not once did you attempt to go up to see her.
  • You appointed a National Security Director -- Mike Flynn -- that you had to fire a little over three weeks later because he was lying about conversations with foreign governments.
  • You fired the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation within minutes, seemingly, of his announcement that investigations would be proceeding against you and your administration into ties with Russia.
  • You tried -- twice -- to implement a travel ban targeted against Muslims, even though this clearly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Ever since the election, you have been crafting a series of lies, outrages, and ridiculous statements at such a clip that, again, nobody can keep up ... and they are being distracted by the real damage Congress is doing to this country. To that I say, well done, sir.

You are playing the role assigned to you by Vladimir Putin and the GOP members of Congress to a T. By constantly inundating the media with a barrage of outlandish claims, bizarre accusations, and word salad that could choke every hipster in Brooklyn, you are successfully diverting attention away from the actions of an increasingly right-wing, reactionary Congress. With midnight votes, arcane rule changes, and flat-out strong-arm tactics, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the rest of the Congressional Republicans are going about their business of ruining the lives of the vast majority of Americans -- including the ones who voted for your sorry ass.

You made a promise to "drain the swamp," yet you have been stocking it with some of the most unruly, nasty, unqualified alligators ever seen. You have nominated a Labor Secretary who is anti-labor, an EPA administrator who is anti-environment, and a Secretary of Education who is anti-public education. You have repeatedly threatened to repeal the Affordable Care Act, yet have offered no concrete proposals with which to replace it.

In fact, the only thing you said you were going to do was to build a wall along our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. And while this was ludicrous on its face, enough people bought into it to elect you.

Come 2018, be prepared for electoral homicide on a scale this country has never before witnessed. We are going to take down every Republican who supports you, every one who thinks Russia and Vladimir Putin running the show is a good idea, every representative who voted to pass that ridiculously cruel Affordable Health Care Act (and let's face it ... only one of the words in that title is true), every single one who signed on to your ridiculous message of xenophobia and hate.

Then in 2020, we're coming for you. We will not only beat you, we will humiliate you and make you completely irrelevant. Granted, your actions are making this very easy. After all, it is the rare politician indeed who can make the statement "I have just returned from a trip to the Middle East" ... while in Israel.

Enjoy it while you can, pal. We're going to put an end to you. Then, and only then, will we Make America Great Again.

Sincerely,

Everyone

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And The Oscar Goes To ...

Yeah, yesterday's column? Um ... no. Yesterday I posted that I had undergone a change of heart, a radical shift in my political lean...