Sunday, May 24, 2020


I don't really know what to do. The world used to be an amazing, wildly diverse place where there were so many wonderful and fascinating things to do and see, to think and talk about. There used to be fun, laughter, poetry and word-play, international events and economic debates, baseball and basketball, naked celebrity meltdowns and the occasional shockingly violent criminal act. We talked about music, about food, about movies and events and places, things we saw and things we only heard about. There were concerts, film festivals, burning man and Mardi Gras, parties and horse races and restaurants and bars.

Today, locked in place to avoid a deadly virus, and there is only him that should not be named. Our corrupt, lying, stunningly stupid criminal-in-chief, Trump. The orange one. He has come into our lives in the dead of night and stolen the universe, the sunshine and the very oxygen. It is him, only him, on the news, on the twitter machine, on the blogs. We read and watch and listen with a certain numbed disgust at what he does today, while tomorrow all our friends will be revisiting those same outrages even as he commits new ones. His political 'strategy', to the extent one can be discerned, has been described as 'flooding the zone with shit' - and whether it's an actual strategy or not, that's what he's doing.

He has all the characteristics of a classic authoritarian strongman dictator, but with a weird set of mental and emotional failings, a grotesque narcissistic streak and absolutely no filter of the kind that should be automatic for someone in such an elevated position in society. And we remain shocked and stunned that so much of our population, so many of our fellow citizens continue, even now, to cheer him on and to be driven to greater acts of societal irresponsibility by his unhinged rants and endless, outright lies. They bring military weapons to protests, they refuse to care for themselves and their community in time of plague, they constantly act against any and all self-interest because there is now such a deep ideological gap between the two tribes of America that at this point represent nothing so much as an avowed hatred for each other.

Which brings me back

I realized that he's broken me. I can't get away from him, I can't get him out of my mind, I can't avoid his hourly offenses - relishing the ones I believe will 'cost' him and chafing over the ones where he seems to gain...something. I used to love to spend time reading and thinking about international relations, but he's broken them too. Whether it's Israel, China, the Persian Gulf, Europe and NATO, Africa, Russia - there is always Trump's horrible orange visage hanging over every conversation, breaking the bonds that had value while creating new bonds that only threaten the future in so many ways. I used to love to study economics, but under the Trump regime economics makes no sense. There was a vast economic expansion and virtually full employment, and yet workers wages stayed flat even as corporate profits surged and surged again. Nothing works correctly, and the only thing one needs to succeed in this bizarre dystopian global economy is access to capital. I used to love to follow science, but - and while I can't pin it on Trump directly - physics is broken, with no experimental research ongoing and new discoveries out of reach.

I want to get away from it - HIM - take a break, immerse myself in something rewarding and worthwhile, but I can't. When I try, he drags me back - whether on a blog or on the twitter machine, the new outrages and the outraged responses along with the bizarre unhinged defenses seep in and before I know it there's another two hours down the Trump rabbit hole. I often wonder how we will adjust when he's gone? Not in the near term, when he loses the election in November and still has almost three months in power to throw tantrums, discredit the election and break institutions. Not after that, when he's out of power and nihilistically urging his most deranged supporters to take up arms against the government. But later, when we can get on with the business of recovering from his presidency, the pandemic and the associated economic collapse.

What will fill the void? What will our brain, used to massive daily doses of Trump, demand in replacement? How will we adjust to post-Trump 'normal', something we knew just a few years ago and yet is impossible to imagine today? Will the media struggle to return to a time when there are five or ten ongoing stories every day, not one single overarching catastrophe to be breathlessly covered, debated and covered again?

I just know I hate that man with a kind of hatred I've never really known before. I hate him for what he's done to my country, to my friends, and - yes - to me. I hate that he has become so central to my existence, a five year ongoing train wreck that I've lost the ability to look away from...

Sunday, August 4, 2019


There isn't always going to be a bright new day. There is no guarantee that at some point things will get better. At some point, some systems just suffer cascading failures and simply collapse.

Look around. Our society is deteriorating into racial, class and sectarian violence. We are awash in guns, and those guns are increasingly being used to commit grotesque mass murders. Our system - a breakthrough in democratic self-governance in the late 18th Century - is now an obsolete, crippled debacle, exploited by every illiberal, authoritarian and greedy impulse that humans carry. It's too late to mitigate Climate Change, but at least it is our children that will pay that bill when we are gone. Nuclear weapons are proliferating, and yet we are walking away from treaties that protected us from them for decades.

Will it get better? That's hard to see. We can vote out Trump, but the Republicans will just shift back into obstruction mode and nothing will be done. Meanwhile, the worst authoritarian misogynist dominionist bigots have been appointed to key judicial seats across the nation, serving to prevent even the most limited rollback of the Trumpist project under Democratic leadership.

Are you hopeful? I've spent the last 32 months thinking that if we could just weather the storm we could all make it out the other side and start to repair the damage. But after this week, well, I can't find a way to see it that way. In my personal life, in our nation, in the world the situation is in deep decline. The fear I feel is real and immediate, and where I used to find hope in my soul I now see nothing but darkness.

There's no path out of this forest, and the creatures are all ravenous....

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Green New Deal is a Hoax

I have some very bad news for you. For all the talk about a 'Green New Deal', the entire discussion up to this point has been utterly pointless, and worse, even worthless. Why? The conversation has been about some vague, generalized aspirational goals. Net zero emissions. Millions of green jobs. Electrification of the transport infrastructure. Conversion to renewable energy generation. Etc.

These are great. Nothing wrong with them at all. But they are goals, not policies. They don't matter if you don't have a plan to accomplish them. Imagine you're a football coach. When asked about your game plan, you can't say 'we plan to win the game by having more points than they do at the end of the game'. That's not a plan, that's a goal. You need to figure out HOW to get more points, and therein lies the challenge.

The first problem is that climate change is a global problem. The US and Europe have actually significantly reduced their CO2 emissions over the last 20 years. The developing world? Not so much. Their emissions have increased, and increased, and increased again. This is reasonable as they build out an electrical grid and drive more automobiles. So it is absolutely true that the US could accomplish all the goals in the GND and still suffer the consequences of climate change.

The second problem is more political than practical - how much individual sacrifice are you going to demand? People love the GND in  the abstract, but if you ask them to pay six or eight dollars a gallon for gas they're going to throw you out of office. And any policies that actually accomplish anything like the goals set out in the Green New Deal are going to be huge, with massive budgets and bureaucracies, and that means raising a whole bunch of new revenue. Taxing the rich is popular, but once you've gone to that well you're going to have to tax everyone else when you need more revenue.

Also, while Climate Change is a real crisis, it's only one of many. In the US, we need to address health care, education and infrastructure today, and all that competes for funding sources with the GND. These are all emergencies, and they are going to have to be prioritized and managed. And it may not be politically feasible to pass and fund them all.

But, at this point, we HAVE to do something. We'll know we're making progress on that front when somebody steps up to lay out a set of concrete proposals and estimated budgets. And considering the firestorm Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sustained just by laying out a set of aspirational goals, that somebody is going to take a political beating. The fact that nobody is willing to do so is a grim reminder of just how heavy a political lift these policies are going to be.

At the end of the day, reducing GHG emissions requires very large changes in behavior, and the way you drive changes in behavior is by changing the incentives. When energy costs more, we'll use less - but despite the obvious reality underlying those kinds of policy changes, most people will balk when you force them to make those kinds of sacrifices. We're going to have to elevate this to a genuine, considered conversation that includes the 'bad news' before we can even find out how much we can get passed, and so far we're still at the starting line.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Information Please

As campaign season 2018 heats up, we can see the outlines of the party messaging forming. On the Democratic side, tying candidates to Trump, family separation policy and the tax cut that blew up the budget in order to increase corporate profits should be big. Plus, now, with the Mannafort and Cohen convictions, corruption will resonate with many. On the Republican side it's a little hard to know what they can run on. They'll still have immigration and government regulation, along with their old standbys racial animus and tribal fear and hatred, but it's hard to see how well that will play after two full years of Trump. It gets them into the 30% range, but it's not going to push them over the top like it did in 2018, when people could still think hopeful thoughts about a Trump White House with unfettered congressional power.

But in the real world - and assuming the economy doesn't collapse in the next 80 days, much of the discussion will center on health care. And after the implementation of the ACA and the angry tantrum on the right that resulted as they were forced to make it clear that they just didn't think poor people should be able to go to the doctor. This 'survival of the richest' Darwinian social experiment has played out, and people have now seen what even limited government intervention in the health care marketplace can do. The American electorate, to a large degree, is ready to have a conversation about shifting the health care system to a more modern, effective, subsidized system like all other industrialized economies have implemented.

But here we find ourselves at a crossroads. What will it be? Medicare for All, a Medicare buy-in option, a full-blown public option to compete with private insurers? What will public funds be used for, and how much public money will be necessary? We got a taste of where this is leading during the Bernie Sanders campaign. He dangled a concept - single payer - in front of people without being upfront about what that meant to him, how it might be passed, what it would cost and how those funds would be raised. Many of us accepted his good faith at his word and asked questions. These questions were immediately shouted down as the desperate cries of neoliberal shills out to protect the status quo. Huh?

Look. There's hundreds of ways to implement some kind of publicly funded universal coverage system. If I ask you questions, it's not because I'm trying to prevent your preferred program from becoming law, but rather because I'm going to work my ass off to prevent a BAD program from becoming law. If I have questions, it means we're engaging with each other to try to solve this problem once and for all. And if you can't tell me how much your program would cost, we can't even begin to have a conversation about it, because THAT'S the issue we have to address. The gigantic, bloated American military is the largest in the world by far, the most expensive in history, and it costs about 4% of GDP. Here we're talking about somewhere between 10 and 20% of GDP. The Republican tax bill cost $2 trillion over ten years. Here we're talking about more than $2 trillion dollars in year one alone!

So yeah, if I ask you how your health care program would be funded, you can't just shrug and say 'tax the rich'. If you can't say how much money you need, you don't know if that's a viable solution or not. Is your program means tested? Why - or why not? How does your program control costs? Since you're using public money you can't just pay whatever the doctor or hospital puts on the invoice. Are you using Medicare reimbursement rates? What will you do if not enough health care delivery organizations agree to take patients at those rates? What about employer-funded health care? How do you transfer those private costs to the public sector, and can you require employers relieved of those costs to raise wages or benefits?

See, there's really only one point here. If you say you want universal or single payer health care in the US, you should never react negatively to people who ask questions. You NEED to be able to answer the questions, because you can't actually get what you want until you take a nebulous concept and flesh it out with some real information. You also should realize that if you support a badly designed or stupid program, many of us will point this out. Not necessarily because we don't want a better universal health care system in the US, but because we don't want one that will fail. It seems fairly clear that we're beyond the point of arguing about human rights vs. Socialism, and we can begin to have a serious conversation about caring for all American citizens. So we need to get used to talking in some detail as opposed to shouting bumper stickers at each other.

This is a GOOD thing.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Whither the White Working Class?

Man, there's a whole lot of stupid coming out of Democratic politics as the campaigns for the November mid-terms begin to heat up. Which is not to say that there's not even more stupid in the Republican campaign messaging - it's just that they decended into incoherent hooting and feces-flinging long ago, to the point where there's just nothing interesting to say about them. But on the Democratic side we have a full-blown, totally unnecessary argument about 'socialism' that isn't socialism - it's just basic FDR New Deal liberal economics. We have Democrats who should know better adopting the feel-good joys of old-fashioned authoritarianism, working to silence voices they don't like. But the one that really takes the cake for me is this argument about whether/how Democrats should attempt to win the votes of a demographic group we have chosen to call the 'White Working Class'.

If we were to be honest, the white working class shouldn't even be a thing. The working class has very serious issues - education, health care, addiction, flat wages and job losses. But none of these issues are problems for white members of the working class alone. They are serious problems for every American who works for an hourly wage. And yet, we know with certainty that the working class voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while the subset of that same demographic group with white skin voted overwhelmingly for Trump. So one has no choice to ask, if they all face the same problems - hunger, addiction, substandard housing, lack of health insurance and a dark future for their children - why did people of color vote for the party whose very existence is predicated on solving these specific types of problems while the white members in precisely the same set of circumstances turned out to elect a millionaire liar heading a party that has done everything in its power to destroy their lives and families for decades?

The answer is we KNOW the answer. Those white people, less educated working poor, may have the same needs as their African American and Latino peers. But for decades the Republicans have used their racial animus, their hatreds and their fears, their superstitions and their willful ignorance to convince them to vote against their best interests. And they have, turning out reliably in droves to support a party that goes to work every day hell bent on making them poorer, sicker and ever more miserable. Even today, when thousands of them die every month from opioid overdoses, when their wages are lower than they were twenty years ago, when their children can't go to college and have zero hope of a better life, the Republicans know they can count on them to do everything they can to perpetuate their own immiseration.

So now, if you tell me that just turning out  the Democratic base isn't enough, that in order to win enough congressional seats in November to make a difference we have to change the minds of the 'White Working Class' I'll tell you you are deluded, and desperately wrong. All we can do is the same thing we've ever done - keep telling them their lives and their families would be much better off under a Democratic government, and if their own self interest isn't enough to make them change their minds, they are well and truly a lost cause. Indeed, they are the enemy of the American people in a very real sense, working to help the most authoritarian nativist bigots destroy the most important American constitutional values in the name of raw power and tribal hatred.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For

So, as has been discussed and documented endlessly, the arc of the Republican party over the last several decades has been to increasingly put winning politically over governing responsibly. Under Clinton, they tried hearings and even impeachment. Then, under the odious GW Bush, they discovered that, hey, governing is really hard and probably takes a level of expertise and careful attention to detail that they were unable to muster. Then, under Obama, they discovered that full on burn-it-down, sand in the gears obstruction didn't result in any political costs at all. And now, under Trump, they are fully prepared to sacrifice American sovereignty as long as they can hold onto power.

So now, as the truth about the 2016 Trump campaign slowly trickles out, the Republicans, both in government and in the electorate, are working themselves around to a simple conclusion about Russian interference. It amounts to "so what?" Once it becomes impossible to argue, even on the margins, that the Russian government didn't intentionally hack the Democrats and work with the Trump campaign to influence American voters in the run-up to the 2016 elections, the party and its voters will simply decide that foreign interference doesn't matter - that it's essentially no different from any other interested party. Voters can make up their own minds, and if no actual votes were changed, the election was free and fair.

But here's where that's going to get dicey. If the November mid-term elections go as expected, the Republicans are going to be massively butthurt. Led by their Tweeter-in-chief, they're going to be screaming about rigged elections and voter fraud and...wait for it...interference. As soon as they need evidence of electoral shenanigans to support their desperate cries that they simply COULDN'T have lost, suddenly that interference by the GRU and the Internet Research Agency is going to take on a whole new look.

Now, hypocrisy as a political gaffe long ago lost its cachet. You can look at Mitch McConnell shepherding through the Kavanaugh nomination and compare what he's saying to what he said when Merrick Garland was the nominee, and see that the most blatant hypocrisy doesn't merit any more than an occasional snarky tweet. But this is going to be political hypocrisy on an entirely new level. Suddenly all the denials about Russian interference and collusion with the campaign are going to switch to a full-throated condemnation of the Republican party and its candidates for winning as a result of Russian interference and campaign collusion.

And just like that, in the course of two years, American electoral credibility will be gone forever. By placing this stunted, angry man-child in the highest position in the land and letting him and his cult members dictate so much of the narrative, we will have reduced every electoral outcome to a matter of opinion to be argued about and never accepted. I always thought American small-d democratic institutions were strong enough to withstand even the GW Bush/Trump onslaught. That might have been optimistic, because I just never anticipated the attacks would follow such a bizarre path, and the institutions would be threatened in such an indirect manner.

Monday, August 13, 2018


It's endlessly amusing to watch how Trump responds to every accusation, charge or innuendo. He's like a pathological eleven-year-old, stealing cookies and breaking lamps and repeatedly denying it. Everybody's lying. All the women who accuse him of sexual misconduct are lying, even though we have all heard him on tape saying he regularly gropes and abuses women. He says people who call him a racist are lying, despite the fact that he regularly says racist things right out loud. He says the media is lying whenever it reports on his own behavior, even when we all witnessed that behavior. And now we have Omaraosa and her book. He says she's lying - and she says she has audio recordings.

In the end, it doesn't matter if she has recorded conversations. Because to Trump, it's not about reality - it's about what's in his own head. He told Lester Holt on live television that he fired Comey because of 'the Russia thing'. And still he claims there was no obstruction of justice. He dictated the message for his son Don Jr. claiming the meeting with the Russian agents at Trump Tower in June was about adoption, something we now know was not true, and that Trump knew it was false at the time. Still he claims there was 'no collusion'.

I know, we've been at this for a couple years now. But sometimes you have to take a couple steps back and look at who America elected to lead the free world. This stupid, intemperate, fragile little man is making a mockery out of political leadership and good governance all over the world. It's the tyranny of a toddler, throwing tantrums, stealing cookies and insisting that everyone else is lying about everything. We've been so lucky, with all the turmoil with Russia and China and Turkey and Syria that we haven't faced a serious international crisis. Because it's very hard to see a way this administration might navigate a true crisis without making it worse.