Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.

Why Certainty Is Killing Us

big picture stuff, Obama Administration

There’s a great article/short video at the New York Times‘s site that I urge everyone to check out. Here’s the video by itself:

From the article:

Dr. Kruglanski is best known for his theory of “cognitive closure,” a term he coined in 1989 to describe how we make decisions. “Closure” is the moment that you make a decision or form a judgment. You literally close your mind to new information.

If you have high “need for closure,” you tend to make decisions quickly and see the world in black and white. If you have a low need for closure, you tolerate ambiguity, but often have difficulty making decisions. All of us fall naturally somewhere on this spectrum.

But during times of fear and anxiety — like, for example, right now — everybody’s need for closure increases. We tend to make judgments more quickly, regardless of the facts. We’re also drawn to leaders who are decisive and paint solutions in simple terms. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Kruglanski and his team of researchers found that as the color-coded terrorism threat system increased, support for President George W. Bush went up accordingly. The more uncertain our world seems, the more we compensate by seeking out certainty.

In my talk in Brooklyn a few days ago, I argued that moral absolutism, which appears to offer clear, simple answers to moral questions, doesn’t really work. And then I touched on the problem of ambiguity in making moral decisions.

I realize people often are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They want clear rules and sharply defined boundaries. They want all phenomena to be properly sorted into their socially acceptable conceptual boxes. That’s why some people prize moral absolutism. That’s a mostly workable strategy for getting through life, but it’s not real. It’s an artificial order superimposed on the messiness of reality. And sometimes failing to accept reality causes more trouble than it solves.

One of the great humanistic philosophers of the 20th century, Erich Fromm, wrote that people often escape into authoritarian mass movements because they fear freedom. A lot of that fear of freedom is a fear of ambiguity, a lack of clear, bright lines that make your choices for you.

I think we see a lot of that fear in America today. And notice that some of the same people who talk about how they want to protect their freedom seem hell bent on destroying everybody’s freedom to do that. It’s like they’re protecting their freedom to be not free. But those clear, bright lines are not likely to come back, so this is a situation we’re going to have to deal with for a while.

It seems to me that vast numbers of people across the political spectrum have seized upon simplistic, black-white visions of the world instead of dealing with the messiness and ambiguity of reality. Political leaders, for example, are seen as absolutely good or absolutely evil. Your hero’s opponent is hell bent on getting us into war and bringing on a New World Order under corporate control, and probably eats puppies for breakfast, while your favored political leader is pure and holy and above criticism, and electing him/her will take away all the frightening things and make the world behave as you wish it would. Fill in the names of any politicians into that last sentence; you can find plenty of people who think that way.

In this fevered environment the most absurd conspiracy theories are accepted as holy truth, and those who don’t accept them as gospel are derided as “sheeple” and dupes of the system. It doesn’t help that people are making money with clickbait sites running fake news stories that appear to confirm the worst of the nonsense.

But certainty is very comforting psychologically. In the words of the great Eric Hoffer,

To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without wonder and hesitation. … The true doctrine is the master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together. [The True Believer, p. 82]

Getting back to Erich Fromm — one of his seminal works is the book Escape From Freedom (1941), in which he argued that many people simply cannot function within the ambiguities of a truly free society. Such people tend to “escape” in three ways. One, they seek to become part of an authoritarian system, handing their moral and political agency over to an authoritarian leader; two, they become destructive and just want to destroy everything they don’t like; three, they become hyper-conformist, adapting to the opinions and moral values of whatever group he associates with.

We’re seeing all of that now. The terrible irony is that many of the people trying to escape freedom are screaming that they are fighting for their freedom.  But it’s not freedom they seek, but its opposite.

American politicians have been stoking the fires of fear as far back as I can remember.  It used to be fear of Communism. Then it was fear of racial desegregation. Then it was anti-war hippies, women’s libbers, liberals and gay people. It’s always something. But now a large part of the American electorate are fear junkies. They’re like horror movie fans; they want to be frightened, and they want a big, strong hero to come along and save them from the monsters. And as many keep pointing out, this is exactly how totalitarian regimes take hold.

I like the way the video closes:

How do we know the difference between extremism and fighting for a just cause? There’s no easy answer to the question. That’s what makes certainty so dangerous. When you dismiss other points of view, when you ignore information that is critically relevant to making a good judgment. That’s why we should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. The alternative is the abyss.

We should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. Amen. Righteousness is intoxicating; it makes us feel powerful, especially against that thing we’re afraid of. But it does nothing to help us think clearly or make sensible judgments. It makes us blind to the abyss.

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Michelle Malkin vs. Reality

Obama Administration

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about Michelle Malkin, since I rarely run into her on the Web any more. We travel in different circles, apparently. But today I bumped into a column she wrote about Obamacare that shows she’s still the same toxic waste dump of stupid she ever was.

Here’s the story: Because she’s self-employed — a “self-employed small-business owner” in her words — she buys insurance on the Colorado state insurance exchange. But she is not happy.

Our most recent plan features a $6,000 deductible with a $1,000 monthly premium. It’s nosebleed expensive, but provides us access to specialists not curtailed by bureaucratic gatekeepers. This has been important for us because several members of my family have required specialized care for chronic illnesses.

Once again, however, I’ll soon be talking about our plan in the past tense. Choices for families like mine have evaporated in the era of Obamacare. In Colorado, UnitedHealthCare and Humana will cease selling individual plans next year. Rocky Mountain Health Plans is pulling out of the individual market in all but one county. Nearly 100,000 of my fellow Coloradans will be forced to find new insurance alternatives as open enrollment approaches on Nov. 1, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Here’s her punch line:

Every time we receive a cancellation letter, I recall President Obama’s big lie: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”

Now, that was an ill-advised thing for the President to have said; he probably meant to say that if you like the insurance you have the government won’t take it away from you. But that’s not what he said, so it’s been held against him, and the ACA, ever since.

But it’s not as if people didn’t have their health insurance ripped out from under them before the ACA was passed. It happens frequently enough to people who get their insurance through employment. It’s happened to me at least twice, when an employer decided to go with a different company for group insurance. I remember finding a co-worker weeping, because the new network didn’t include the trusted oncologist who had been helping her husband battle cancer. This was sometime in the late 1990s, long before the ACA.

I don’t know why Colorado or some other states are losing insurance companies, although see Sarah Kliff for one explanation. But this is nothing that a federal pubic option wouldn’t fix, I suspect.

And you’d think that health insurance costs had never gone up before the ACA was passed. The chart from Kaiser shows how employer-based health care has been going up all these years:

But now I want to go back to what Malkin wrote — she’s self-employed, and “several members of my family have required specialized care for chronic illnesses.” And it’s expensive, but it “provides us access to specialists not curtailed by bureaucratic gatekeepers.” I want to know what Malkin was doing for insurance before the ACA. Did she have any at all? If so, did it provide as much coverage? Does she realize that in most states before the ACA, if you had a chronic condition you could be denied coverage? Those pesky pre-existing conditions!

So, thanks to the ACA, she’s got insurance, in spite of the cancellations. Other policies are available in Colorado. She may not like her choices as well, but she’s got choices. Before the ACA, lots of people had no choices. And because so many states stubbornly refuse to expand Medicaid, lots of people who could have choices still don’t have them.

Are some of those family members with chronic conditions children? Remember the war Malkin waged against the S-chip program?

And if she hates Obamacare so much, why is she using it? Oh wait .. because there’s no other insurance available to her? Just a guess. Before the ACA, where you could buy private health plans at all, they tended to be ripoff plans with lousy coverage. In states that didn’t allow ripoff insurance to be sold, often there was little to no private insurance market. Complain to the insurance companies about that, toots.

And yes, health insurance is expensive because health care in the U.S. is expensive. That’s because it’s a mostly private, for-profit system, and there are few controls on price gouging. That was true before the ACA was passed, and it will still be true if the ACA is repealed.

And most of these problems would go away if we reduced or eliminated our dependency on a private, for-profit health care industry — which I’m sure Malkin opposes.

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Wingnut Dreams

Obama Administration

Let’s try to overlook the obvious social-psychological issues and basic stupidity of these people and discuss What This Means for the election itself:

“I am a Trump lady. I love Trump. He’s a real man,” said Carol Simone, 69. “He’s going to make us be good again.”

Watching the second presidential debate at Chickie’s and Pete’s in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Simone wore two “Trump-Pence” stickers, one on her black vest, another on her straw cowboy hat.

“We desperately need him,” she said. “We need him to build a wall to keep Isis out.” …

… The crowd got louder as the debate progressed. Whenever Clinton began talking there were boos and jeers and shouts, usually of “Benghazi” or “emails”, but sometimes just swear words.

Cruciata, the man who used to do sweaters, was among the most vocal.

At one point Trump said “everything” Clinton had done related to foreign policy had been “a disaster”.

“Everything! Everything!” Cruciata shouted. “Even marrying Bill!”

Trump carried on criticizing Clinton.

“You’re gonna cry tonight!” Cruciata shouted.

Clinton, responding to Trump on foreign policy, said she would not send American troops to Syria.

“You should go yourself!” Cruciata shouted. “And get killed!”

Smith gave him a high-five.

Finally, Trump and Clinton were let go by the debate moderators. Cruciata, through an impressive range of insults, looked spent. Simone, in her words “a little bit drunk”, made for the exit. Smith, after many fist pumps into the air, sounded hoarse.

“He opened a can of whoop-ass on her,” he said. He added that he didn’t believe in polls, but that Trump may have won some new voters by “sticking to the issues”.

I asked Smith what his favourite moment was.

“There were so many,” he said. He thought for a second.

“Oh! When he said she should go to jail.”

These are highlights from a story in the Guardian about a debate-viewing party in a bar in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. We’re basically looking at people who have been marinated in Faux News propaganda for many years, and for them I suspect this debate was a fantasy come true. Here was God Emperor Trump bullying the Demon Queen Hillary and uploading “the whole oppo file on Bill.” It must have been like seeing Captain America finally crushing Red Skull.

However, I think for most people Trump grossly overplayed his hand. His insistence on remaining behind her in the camera frame so he could loom over her and scowl was just creepy, and I can’t imagine it endeared him to anybody who wasn’t already in his camp.

Still, I was a bit surprised that post-debate polls overwhelmingly favored Clinton. I would have expected it to have been even. Clinton didn’t own him this time, but was on the defensive. He told lies so fast there was no time to challenge one before he was spewing out the next one.

However, I don’t think Clinton made any mistakes. I don’t expect this debate to cost her anything, which in effect means she won it. She’s ahead; he needed to broaden his support to stay competitive, and I can’t imagine he did.

His threat to put Hillary Clinton in jail if he is elected is the most talked-about single moment in the debate today. Right-wing media loved it. In their fevered imaginations they’ve even added a line he didn’t say, that she would fear him as president. Wingnuts loved it. Most people were appalled, because they recognized that this is was dictators do.

Bottom line: The Right’s ultimate dream is to make the U.S. a right-wing dictatorship in which the civil liberties guaranteed us by the Constitution they claim to worship could be wiped out on the whims of their God Emperor. They want a Strong Man to come and save them from everything they hate and fear, which is pretty much most of the world. This is what the Republican Party has devolved into.

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Winner and Winners of the Veep Debate

Obama Administration

The Veep debate had multiple winners, depending on what you mean by “winning.” For example:

I’d say Mike Pence won in the category of Likely 2020 GOP Front Runner. Word is that the Republican establishment is weeping and wailing today that Pence isn’t at the top of the ticket instead of Trump.

Mike Pence also arguably won in the category of Coming Across as More Reasonable Than He Really Is. Pence actually is a five-alarm whackjob who got into politics after hosting an Indiana radio show, apparently as a softer-spoken version of Rush Limbaugh. He is anti-women, anti-science, anti-LGBT rights, anti-Black Lives Matter, and pretty much anti-modern secular society. But the Crazy Vibes didn’t come through the teevee monitor.

And Mike Pence probably won the Sympathy category, since Kaine came across as something of an over-eager attack dog, especially in the first 30 minutes or so of the debate.

I believe Tim Kaine won Most Effective Sound Bites, which probably is what he was going for. Examples:

“So it’s smart not to pay for our military, our veterans and our teachers? And I guess all of us who pay for those things are stupid.”

“Donald Trump can’t start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot.”

“If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you’ve got to go back to a fifth grade civics class.”

Mike Pence, on the other hand, had the Most Talked-About Sound Bites. These were “I try to spend a little time on my knees every day” and everyone’s favorite, “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

Stephen Colbert: “That Mexican thing? That Mexican thing? It has a name governor,” Colbert said. “I call it Pedro. And it taught me Spanish.”

Not touchin’ that.

TimKaine won the Fact-Checker Award. According to Politifact, 79 percent of Kaine’s statements were true or mostly true, versus 31 percent of Pence’s statements.

Pence was at a disadvantage, of course, because time and time again Kaine challenged him to defend some dumb thing Trump had said, and Kaine had little recourse but to pretend The Donald hadn’t actually said those things. Here’s a run-down.

I’ll be really astonished to not see a television ad showing Pence denying things Trump had said, followed by the video of Trump saying them. Bottom line, Pence is at least self-aware enough to know that he couldn’t defend Trump directly without looking ridiculous. His debate performance amounted to throwing Trump under the bus while pretending he wasn’t really throwing Trump under the bus.

More winners:

The Unintended Irony Award goes to Donald J. Trump. While Mike Pence was rejecting the charge that Trump was running an “insult-driven campaign,” Trump was on Twitter, posting insults.

Elaine Quijano gets the award for First Asian-American Woman to Moderate a Vice Presidential Debate. I thought she did pretty well; definitely better than Matt Lauer, and no worse than Lester Holt.

Now, who won the debate? I’m hearing people say Pence won on style and Kaine won on substance, and I can’t argue with that.  I don’t think it will move the needle much, if at all. I agree with the FiveThirtyEight crew, that this debate will be quickly forgotten.

Well, except for the Mexican Thing. That’ll be with us for awhile.

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A Tale of Trump’s Taxes

Obama Administration

Today in Trump News, the NY Times somehow got its hands on a copy of part of Trump’s tax returns from 1995 that show some, um, losses.

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

Most people, I suspect, would consider losing nearly a billion dollars in one year an indication that one is something of a screw-up. But not Trump and the Trumpettes.

Trump and his surrogates, meanwhile, tried Sunday to turn the story into an asset, saying that reports he avoided paying taxes for years prove his business acumen and deep knowledge of the tax system.

“He’s a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC’s This Week.  “I want a man who’s a genius at figuring out how to take this country, that’s moving in the wrong direction.”

Christie told Fox News Sunday that it was a “very, very good story” for Trump, and noted that “he’s already promised in his tax plan to change many of these special interest loopholes and get rid of them, so you don’t have this kind of situation.”

Yes, losing a billion dollars is genius. What else can one say? Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story up about Trump having another public meltdown yesterday after this news broke. A couple of highlights:

He told the crowd to get a group of friends together on Election Day, vote and then go to “certain areas” and “watch” the voters there. “I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about,” Trump said. “So, go and vote and then go check out areas because a lot of bad things happen, and we don’t want to lose for that reason.” …

… “Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself,” Trump said. “I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth.”

The crowd gasped and many shouted: “Ohhhhh!”

Trump shrugged.

“And really, folks,” Trump continued, “really, why should she be? Right? Why should she be?”

Back to the Times — publishing a tax return without authorization to do so is against the law, and the Times may end up paying a penalty for it. But I’m sure the Times editors knew this and decided the benefits outweighed the costs. That was gutsy of them. Credit where credit is due.

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Debate Live Blog

Obama Administration

It’s almost time. I’ve got Bloomberg TV fired up; they promise to do fact checking while the debate goes on.

Lester Holt is on. OK, here’s the candidates.

Achieving Prosperity: Jobs. Let’s go.

Hillary has a granddaughter! Who knew?

So far, so good for Hill. Raise minimum wage, fairer economy, do more to help those struggling to balance family and work. Paid family leave. Debt free college. Wealthy pay fair share; close corporate loopholes.

Trump: Jobs fleeing country, going to Mexico, China, and Trump is sending them. No, he didn’t say that. Thousands of jobs are leaving, etc., says he agrees with Hillary on child care. I think reasonable Trump is trying to show up  here.

Cutting taxes on business to expand business? That hasn’t worked in the states.

Hillary — Donald is proposing trickle down economics. He started his business with 14 million dollars from his father. The more you help wealthy people the better things are? I don’t believe that.

Invest in the middle class! She’s been reading Bernie’s speeches.

Trump says his father gave him only a little money.

Trump’s a one-note speaker — foreign countries stealing jobs.

He’s talking about tariffs. Tax goods coming in.

Oh, she’s taking it to him. He rooted for the housing crisis. He admits it. “That’s called business, by the way.”

Independent experts say that Trump’s plans would cost jobs and start another recession, she says. My plan would grow the economy.

He is interrupting her; she ignores him and keeps talking.

He says Obama doubled the debt. Fact checkers? He’s talking about trickle down economics; giving companies tax incentives to invest. Doesn’t work.

He’s losing it. He’s screaming about NAFTA. He’s interrupting her. Lester needs to reign him in.

Go to for the facts, she said. Your plans would add $5 million to the debt. Raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for investments.

This has to be stopped. He’s on the edge crazy. He wants to cut taxes on the wealthy to help create jobs. Companies are fleeing because taxes are so high. They can’t bring their money into the country because of bureaucratic red tape? He’s not even making sense.

Broad-based inclusive growth is what we need in America, she said, not more benefits for the wealthy. He’s got nothing to say except everything is awful and it’s her fault.

Lester Holt asks him about his tax returns. He says he’ll be happy to release them someday. He says he can’t release the taxes because he’s being audited. Holt says that doesn’t stop him from releasing taxes.

Audience cheers Trump. They shouldn’t have live audiences in these debates.

Clinton — he doesn’t want the American people to know he has paid nothing in federal taxes. “That makes me smart,” he says.

My suspicious is that people who actually like Trump think he is winning. He’s really good at complaining about all the stuff that’s wrong,

She’s going into all the people Trump has stiffed. You’ve taken their labor and taken the work they produced, and you stiffed them.

He’s saying that you can’t blame him for cheating his suppliers because the laws of the U.S. let him do it.

Race — He’s calling for Lawnorder, like Nixon. He’s not addressing racial problems except in terms of disorder.

He’s calling for stop and frisk! Unreal!

She really is doing very well in this debate. I haven’t yet seen her put a foot wrong.

Lester Holt asked Trump about birtherism. He’s now blaming Clinton for birtherism. Now he’s not even making sense.

My guess is that this debate won’t change the trajectory of the polls that much. She’s doing very well; he’s an idiot. But I think the people who are stupid enough to have believed Trump all along are still going to like Trump.

He thinks we should have taken the oil?

He thinks Iran was about to fall? He just makes shit up.

The Donald keeps sniffing. There’s already an Internet rumor that he’s on cocaine.

Lester Holt is insisting that Trump was for the war in Iraq in 2002. He denies it.

I think Clinton has landed some blows during the segment on national security.

China should go into North Korea? And why would China do that?

He saying the Iran deal should have included something about North Korea? WTF?

Trump has been losing it in this last segment. I think several of his rantings in this last segment are going to come back to bite him.

Well, that’s it. In some ways it wasn’t as awful as I had feared. Clinton did very well and hit all the right notes, I think. As the night wore on Trump got more and more defensive and more and more irrational. He didn’t help himself at all, I don’t think, although he probably didn’t drive his core supporters away. She probably helped herself just by demonstrating she doesn’t really have fangs dripping blood, but I don’t think she made any mistakes.

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Red and Redder

elections, Obama Administration

I’m getting ready to resurrect the old slogan “Better dead than Red.” Of course, back in the day, “red” meant “Communist.” I’m struggling to come up with a term that sums up what “red” means now, other than “we are so screwed.”

In Red State Missouri the general election candidates are all running on the platform of Redder Than Thou. There’s an open seat in the governor’s mansion; the two candidates are:

  • Chris Koster, the Democrat, who brags about being tough on crime and how he is endorsed by the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police. After Ferguson, that’s, um, a tad alarming.
  • Eric Greitens, the Republican, whose primary campaign ads featured him gunning down some farmer’s field. His major selling point is being former Navy Seal.

I’m pleased to say Kostner is ahead in the polls. Kostner appears to be okay on women’s reproductive rights and also on marriage equality and Obamacare. He may be trusted to continue the illustrious legacy of the current governor, Jay Nixon, who functioned primarily to veto whatever nonsense the legislature came up with. Greitens will, I fear, do to Missouri what Sam Brownback did to Kansas, and also will green light whatever shit-for-brains laws the state legislature comes up with. If Greitens wins, I would advise anyone with business interests in the state to get the hell out before the inauguration.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, patron saint of lobbyists, is up for re-election. He’s one of those incumbents who feels as if he’s been around since Reconstruction, but it’s probably only been since the Coolidge Administration. The man’s a walking archetype of what’s wrong with Washington. If Blunt were an actor, he’d be the guy they’d always want to cast as the fat cat politician. Naturally, Blunt, who has never served in the military, enjoys the endorsement of the NRA and has featured this prominently in his campaign.

The NRA released an ad attacking Blunt’s opponent, Democrat Jason Kander, who is currently the Missouri Secretary of State. Kander released this ad:

Basically, Kander has the nerve to think there are some people who shouldn’t have guns. People with criminal records, for example. He’s also on the record as being opposed to “stand your ground” laws and thinks there are some places civilians shouldn’t be carrying guns,, such as schools. This makes him an official Enemy of Freedom as far as the gun nuts are concerned.

Gail Collins commented on this race, and added:

Now Hillary Clinton is running on centrist reforms like background checks, while Donald Trump wants to eliminate gun-free zones at, say, nursery schools and give people from Missouri the right to carry their permit-free concealed weapons in Midtown Manhattan.

In gratitude, the N.R.A. has been running an ad that shows an intruder smashing into a house where a woman is sleeping, alone. When the terrified resident opens the safe where she keeps her gun, said weapon vanishes, and it’s pretty much curtains. This could happen to you, if you let Hillary Clinton take away our “right to self-defense.”

Of course, a woman is less likely to be shot by an intruder than by a member of her family. And really, Missouri, do you want to have everybody in St. Louis carrying a concealed weapon? Let’s talk.

Blunt is leading in the polls, but it’s close enough that Kander “has a shot.” Please, oh please …

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Deplorable or Pitiful?

Obama Administration

You will have heard about Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” remark.

“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” Clinton said. “Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

Of course, actual Trump supporters, who whine incessantly about “political correctness,” threw a fit and complained that Clinton wasn’t nice to them. Meanwhile, they’re assaulting Trump protesters again. Those who are not Trump supporters think that “half” is way too low an estimate.

However, I think “pitiful” is more accurate than deplorable.

Here’s a New York Times story that was published a couple of days before the “deplorable” remark. It’s one of those “educated well-paid East Coast reporter spends time with hick southern rednecks, tries to be sympathetic” stories. For example:

Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos. I heard a lot about how Obama has not been supportive enough of the police, of how white lives matter, too, and of how illegal — as in illegal immigrant — means illegal, just as robbing a bank is. For anyone used to New York chatter, or for that matter London or Paris chatter, Kentucky is a through-the-looking-glass experience. There are just as many certainties; they are simply the opposite ones, whether on immigration, police violence toward African-Americans, or guns. America is now tribal, with each tribe imbibing its own social-media-fed ranting.

I’m hearing him say “This species homo ignarus is like us, only opposite.” But maybe I’m not being charitable.

Hazard is in Perry County, where unemployment is above 10 percent. On a bench opposite the county courthouse, on the Starbucks-free Main Street, I found Steve Smith and Paul Bush. Smith used to work underground at the Starfire mine. He earned as much as $1,500 a week, but was laid off a while ago. His unemployment has dried up and he has four children to feed. His family scrapes by on his wife’s income as a nurse. He’d been in court over a traffic offense; now an idle afternoon stretched away.

“Trump’s going to get us killed, probably!” he told me. “But I’ll vote for him anyway over Hillary. If you vote for Hillary you vote for Obama, and he’s made it impossible to ship coal. This place is about dried up. A job at Wendy’s is the only thing left. We may have to move.”

Trump has promised he will get the coal industry up and running again, but of course that’s not going to happen. A very long time ago someone should have been explaining to coal mine workers and their dependents that coal is going away and not coming back. And politicians in the state should have been pro-active in bringing in industries or something to replace coal. But nobody did that, and nobody ever talks to these people except to exploit them.

Jenny Williams, an English teacher at Hazard Community and Technical College, told me it’s past time to get over divisions between “Friends of Coal” — a popular movement and bumper sticker — and anti-coal environmentalists to forge a creative economy around agriculture, ecotourism, education and small-scale manufacture. Coal, she observed, was never going to last forever. “How could any idiot support Trump?” she said. “But when you’ve been on $70,000 a year in coal mines, and your life’s pulled out from under you, who else can you be mad at but the government?”

This has been beyond obvious for a long time. But while the Trump supporters blame Obama, they should have been blaming the local and state officials and their U.S. Congress critters who did nothing to address the inevitable end of coal going back 20 and 30 years. Even now, according to the article, those same officials are asking for something to be done to save coal.

“We need Trump for a reasonable Supreme Court and an E.P.A no longer skewed against fossil fuels,” Bissett argued. “A lot of jobs here still depend on coal and cheap electricity. That’s why Clinton is toxic right now.”

They still aren’t facing reality.

Back to the guys in front of the courthouse:

He was awaiting his son, in court on a drug charge for the painkiller Percocet. A retired operator of heavy equipment for the Road Department, Bush said his son did nothing, “just a few odd jobs.” He continued: “Obama’s probably never known hardship. He and Hillary don’t get it. At least Trump don’t hold nothing back: If he don’t like something, he tells you about it.”

His son’s girlfriend emerged from the courthouse. “They locked him up,” she said.


“He failed one of the drug tests.”

“Well, ain’t nothin’ we can do about it,” Bush said.

 Like Trump ever suffered hardship, but let’s go on … The small-town and rural South and Midwest are being eaten alive by drugs. Not only is it one way to make money; it’s easier to set up a meth lab or whatever that won’t get noticed if you’ve got lots of woods to hide in, as opposed to a city. And you’ve got a population of people who don’t see a future for themselves, all too willing to self-medicate.

What’s happened to eastern Kentucky is devastating, but far from unique. At France’s diner, another popular Hazard hangout, Daniel Walker, who works from home for a medical software company, told me: “Look, I lived for a while in Mansfield, Ohio, and General Motors moved its stamping plant there to Mexico, with the loss of thousands of factory jobs. The decent middle-class life is gone.”

This is the real complaint, and it goes beyond coal. Somehow, politicians saw that these big global trade deals would boost the economy overall, but they ignored the part about cutting middle-class  workers out of the deal. All those factories closed; people were just supposed to find other jobs. But there were no other jobs, or at least, not jobs that paid at the same rate.

I can remember when George W. Bush promised Americans that it was okay to ship manufacturing jobs to India, because that would just create more jobs here in America. It was absurd, but I suspect he believed it. I suspect all of the people he ever talked to about economics believed it. Outsourcing creates new foreign markets; new foreign markets meant that companies here made more money. Obviously there would be jobs.

But doing what, exactly? That’s where the dots don’t connect. American companies made more money but had no work for American workers to do.

There are communities like Hazard County all over America, where there was once a factory or a mine or some sort of industry that paid good wages. Fifty years ago the boys could graduate from high school one day and get a secure, decent-paying job the next day. And with the money they made they bought cars and houses and kept money flowing through that community. That way of life is pretty much gone in the U.S., and nobody prepared the working class for it or even gave serious thought about what would happen to those workers when the industrial jobs dried up.

“Nobody” includes politicians of both parties. As long as their investment portfolios were doing well, everything was hunky-dory.

In a way, I can’t blame them for preferring the candidate promising change, narcissistic humbug though he may be, over the one who exemplifies the status quo. Yes, a lot of these workers are racist and xenophobic and badly educated, and they have no clue what’s really going on in the world. But who’s telling them anything about what’s really going on? Politicians? News media? Um, nobody, that’s who.

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Obama Administration

Now the Dems are worried that Hillary Clinton may not have as strong a lock on the “black vote” as they had assumed. Especially the younger “black vote.”

Young African-Americans, like all voters their age, are typically far harder to drive to the polls than middle-aged and older Americans. Yet with just over two months until Election Day, many Democrats are expressing alarm at the lack of enthusiasm, and in some cases outright resistance, some black millennials feel toward Mrs. Clinton.

Now they notice.  Especially after the early southern primaries in which African American voters gave Hillary Clinton what would prove to be an insurmountable advantage in the pledged delegate count, establishment Democrats have assumed African American voters were safely locked in the “we’re with her” box.

Indeed, for a time we who supported Sanders were jeered at as letting our “white privilege” show, because if we really cared about African American issues we’d support Hillary, for some reason that was never clear to me. And no other politician on earth beside Hillary Clinton could be counted on to defeat Donald Trump, we were told.

Of course, those early southern primaries were held before voters had had much of a chance to know who Bernie Sanders even was.

A Gallup poll back in February showed a whopping 31 percent of black Democrats polled didn’t even have an opinion of Sanders yet, while only eight percent had no opinion in regards to Clinton. Obviously Clinton had much more name recognition than Sanders, but 1/3 of the voters of an entire race is a staggering number—and one that could clearly cost a candidate dearly.

And I’m sure Sanders regrets not working harder to make himself known. But it still stinks.

Sanders enjoyed a the support of a majority of black millennial voters, a point usually buried deeply in the few news stories that mentioned it at all. But now the Clinton campaign is in general election mode, and to their consternation they are realizing they can’t count on the black millennial vote. And this could cost them some swing states.

The question of just how many young African-Americans will show up to vote carries profound implications for this election. Mrs. Clinton is sure to dominate Mr. Trump among black voters, but her overwhelming margin could ultimately matter less than the total number of blacks who show up to vote.

To replicate President Obama’s success in crucial states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, she cannot afford to let the percentage of the electorate that is black slip far below what it was in 2012. And while a modest drop-off of black votes may not imperil Mrs. Clinton’s prospects, given Mr. Trump’s unpopularity among upscale white voters, it could undermine Democrats’ effort to capture control of the Senate and win other down-ballot elections.

The real problem is that Democratic elites cleared the field for Clinton before the primaries even started to be sure she’d be the nominee. They had persuaded themselves from polls that the Democratic base adored her and would support her candidacy with wild enthusiasm. But the same polls taken at the same point in the election cycle showed exactly the same thing in 2007, as well. The truth is that a big chunk of the Democratic base has been lukewarm, at most, to her all along. And independent voters are not even lukewarm.

With the DNC’s partisan help, and with no real competition in the primaries other than an aging socialist, she prevailed. IMO if Joe Biden or Sherrod Brown or Liz Warren or a number of other well-known Dems had challenged her, she probably would have lost the nomination again. Hence, the field had to be cleared. The elites seem to have missed the part about how an astroturf candidate might be weak in the general election.

Mrs. Clinton’s difficulties with young African-Americans were laid bare in four focus groups conducted in Cleveland and Jacksonville, Fla., for a handful of progressive organizations spending millions on the election: the service employees union, a joint “super PAC” between organized labor and the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, and a progressive group called Project New America. The results were outlined in a 25-page presentation by Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, and shared with The New York Times by another party strategist who wanted to draw attention to Mrs. Clinton’s difficulties in hopes that the campaign would move more aggressively to address the matter.

The only message that Clinton is getting out is that she’s not Donald Trump, and that ought to be enough to win the election, because Trump is horrible. But one does wonder what she’s raising money for.

Clinton is beginning September with $68 million in her campaign coffers. The hefty war chest means the Democratic White House hopeful has the resources to continue an expensive ad blitz against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, while also investing in an expansive field operation.

The only Clinton television ad I’ve seen more than once is one in which Trump is on a television talk show showing off his ties made in China. The black millennials (and white ones, also) want to know what she plans to do about systemic racism, including mass incarceration and police conduct. She’s issued statements about these things, her campaign says.

Do you know what those statements are? This information is sorta kinda on  her website, if you want to read about it, but I haven’t seen anything in news media. And yes, Trump is sucking all the air out of news coverage. But Clinton hasn’t held a splashy public event in several weeks. She’s been busy raising money.  That field operation she’s investing in must be something.

There’s still the debates, and I still expect her to win. But she’s still a terrible candidate.

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The Collateral Damage of Neoliberalism

Obama Administration

A professor emerita of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley spends time with Trump supporters in Louisiana and forms a hypothesis about why they support Trump, which actually is interesting and insightful. Read “I Spent Five Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The capsule version is that there are pockets of white culture that have developed a huge ambivalence, shall we say, about government. I can remember when people of the same demographic were excited about Ronald Reagan because they believed he would “kick all the bums off welfare,” as one woman told me then.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is that these white people consider it shameful to take government assistance and resent the “undeserving” types who are in an imaginary line ahead of them and soaking up all the benefits. “Shaming the ‘takers’ below had been a precious mark of higher status.”

But then she says,

Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he’s hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls “big government handouts,” for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be “high energy” macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, “Why not? Trump’s for that. If you use food stamps because you’re working a low-wage job, you don’t want someone looking down their nose at you.” A lady at an after-church lunch said, “If you have a young dad who’s working full time but can’t make it, if you’re an American-born worker, can’t make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine.”

But in another stroke, Trump adds a key proviso: restrict government help to real Americans. White men are counted in, but undocumented Mexicans and Muslims and Syrian refugees are out. Thus, Trump offers the blue-collar white men relief from a taker’s shame: If you make America great again, how can you not be proud? Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

It struck me while I was reading this that white folks didn’t have problems with the New Deal. I know I’ve written about this in the past, but the anti-government thing really didn’t start until Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. Then, all of a sudden, white people who had been helped enormously by many New Deal programs, and who had received subsidized mortgages and college educations thanks to the GI Bill, were against government programs.

But they might have gotten over that by now had the Democrats remained committed to working class Americans. But in the 1980s neoliberalism became the new, shiny thing among up-and-coming Democrats, and neoliberalism threw working people under the bus in favor of of investors and entrepreneurs. The neolibs were even anti-union.

Red states are, in fact, a lot stingier with benefits, and “welfare reform” didn’t help. (See also.) In the poorer states, white people are either hanging on to a middle-class lifestyle by their fingernails or have fallen out of it. And once you’ve lost your grip, it’s close to impossible to climb back up.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is also interesting because it tells us that Trump voters are rejecting right-wing “small government” ideology. Maybe the tipping point has finally been reached at which enough red-state whites are hurting enough to admit they need help, but they are still too racist to accept help if it puts them in the same welfare line, so to speak, as nonwhites.

Well, it’s a start. But see “Trump a Working-Class Hero? A Blue-Collar Town Debates His Credentials.” Here it’s blue-collar workers in Youngstown, Ohio, who have watched their community get poorer and poorer.  Trump appeals to many of them because they think he will take charge and actually do something, as opposed to the nothing they’ve gotten from either the public or private sector for a long time. Of course, one would hope a more pro-active and progressive government would have done something to keep Youngstown from stagnating in the first place. But government hasn’t been pro-active and progressive for a very long time.

A number of people interviewed in this article are Democrats who plan to vote for Trump. Hillary Clinton isn’t mentioned. But note that all the polls show Clinton beating Trump in Ohio.

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