Don’t Be Diluted

When I keep telling you that Scott Adams’s blog is required reading, it’s not because I necessarily agree with him. It’s because he has been the only observer that has accurately predicted the rise of Trump – and done so with eerie specificity. If you love Trump, or especially if you hate Trump, Adams is the only reliable source if you want to understand Trump.

His latest post as of this writing is one titled “Outrage Dilution,” and he once again makes a point that nobody else seems to have noticed.

I quote from him at length:

At the moment there are so many [Trump] outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time…

Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done. [Emphasis in original]

Initially, I read this and decided the conclusion was accurate but incomplete. Yes, the public will conclude, eventually, that Trump did a whole lot in his first few days, but while they may believe Trump has accomplished something commensurate with the noise he has generated, the actual changes to our national life won’t be nearly as remarkable as they think. I then imagined writing a clever post about how Trump is all bluster and no real beef.

And then, today, Trump tried to deport Muslims with green cards.

Permanent residents of the United States – people who have been vetted to every extreme possible and have been given permission to live in this country indefinitely – were told at airports that they couldn’t go home and would have to return to their countries of origin. As a guy who has tried very hard to talk people off the ledge and convince them that Adolf Hitler has not been reincarnated with an orange-ish hue, I find myself seeing a path from kicking out permanent residents because of their religion that leads to fascistic destinations where I insisted we would never, ever go.

Thankfully, the courts stepped in to temper some of Trump’s latest Kristillnachtian impulses, so maybe I was right the first time, and all this will just be noise that won’t amount to much. But increasingly, I find myself feeling like the dog in this cartoon:

So I got to thinking about Scott Adams and his so-called “outrage dilution,” and I came to realize that he’s on to something even bigger than he initially realized.

Let me step back and recall an article written during the campaign titled “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible.” I recommend you read the whole thing, but by way of quick summary, the piece maintains that the full-volume hysteria of the Left about every Republican candidate made it impossible for them to have any remaining credibility when someone as reprehensible as Trump came down the pike. It doesn’t mean much to say Donald Trump is Hitler if you said Mitt Romney was Hitler, too.

The brilliant Camille Paglia long ago pointed out that this was part of the problem the Right had during Obama’s first week. I’ve quoted this before, but her wisdom bears repeating:

Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama’s first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama’s election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there’s nowhere to go, and monotony sets in.

That’s true, but it, too, misses the salient point. Non-stop shrieking isn’t just monotonous – it leaves you powerless if the sky actually begins to fall.

The attempted deportation of permanent residents because of their faith is so egregiously beyond the pale of anything that any president in my lifetime has ever tried to do, or even thought of doing, that I find myself unable to find words to adequately express my revulsion to it. It’s several orders of magnitude worse than anything else Trump has actually done, but since every bit of Trumpism has been greeted with the outrage volume turned up to eleven, there’s no way to differentiate between faux-fascism and the real thing.

So this past week, I’ve seen hyperventilating Facebook posts that Trump has already repealed the Affordable Care Act (he hasn’t), and that he’s already slapped a 20% tariff on Mexican goods (empty rhetoric unless Congress complies), and that the wall has started construction (yes – much of it was already built before Trump took office), that he’s banned overseas abortions (no, he’s only revived a Reagan-era piece of pro-life window dressing that accomplishes nothing), and even that, according to the orgasmically overwrought Keith Olbermann, Trump’s fixation on his inaugural crowd sizes will lead inevitably to nuclear war. (Apologies to those who think “orgasmically overwrought” is too indelicate a phrase, but you have to concede that it’s Olbermannically descriptive.)

This outrage dilution has done more than just make it difficult to respond to every one of them; it’s given the illusion that each of these outrages deserves dollops of outrage in equal measure. Trump’s stupid obsession with his inaugural crowd sizes and his refusal to acknowledge hard data is maddening, yes, but it pales in comparison to the outrage of taking concrete steps to remove legal Americans from their homes because of how they worship. One is stupid; the other is fascist. Fascism deserves exponentially more outrage than run-of-the-mill stupidity.

So now, of course, I have to be concerned that my newfound willingness to drop the F word – i.e. “fascist” – in describing Trump means I’m joining the chorus of wolf-criers. It’s imperative, then, that as the outrages keep coming with relentless fury as Trump continues to tornado through the traditions that have been at the core of this Republic for over two hundred years, we learn to separate what’s truly worthy of outrage and what’s just eye-rollingly dippy.

TL/DR: Trump’s using mud to dilute poison. Don’t let yourself be diluted.

A Perfect Object

In 1972, Jerry Lewis made a movie called “The Day the Clown Cried” about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp. It has never been released. It is supposedly so awful that Lewis has gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from view, even after he dies.

“You will never see it,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”

But while we will never see it, someone else has. Harry Shearer, voice of a thousand Simpsons characters and the bassist for Spinal Tap, claims to have gotten a screening of the notorious film in 1979, and this was his assessment:

With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.

Now I have never seen this film, but yesterday, for perhaps the first time in my life, I was in the presence of a perfect object. Due to bad judgment and an OCD unwillingness to blithely accept asininity, I participated in a Facebook “discussion” with some militant Mormon Trump supporters. Their arguments were so drastically benighted, their spiritual loyalty so wildly misplaced, that I could not possibly, in my attempts to write a fictional brief in support of Donald Trump, improve on the boneheadedness of what they were actually saying.

I’m not going to name names, as my purpose here is not to shame the stupid. Indeed, what they have written here is so pure in its philistine pig ignorance that, in its own awful way, it is a thing of beauty. Behold – a perfect object.

Actually, it’s less than perfect in the sense that I have altered the object from its original form. Below is an edited version of the exchange that will transform it into an essay rather than a series of comments. Other than editing for length, I have made minimal changes. Mostly, I have cleaned up some punctuation and added some white space, as the original author chose to spew this nonsense in solid, unreadable blocks of text.


I believe at Trump’s core he is a good man. I believe he got mixed up in the world for about 10 or 15 years. I believe he has apologized for all the things he has done. (I have seen the videos myself).

We don’t know if [the Access Hollywood] video is real. It could have easily been made up. His voice is easy to copy. And you don’t actually see him say it. It is actually uncharacteristic of him to speak that way. But even if he did at that time he was entangled in Hollywood, and he has come back out of it. Hollywood hates him now. And I believe he feels the same towards it.

[In reference to Trump’s televised comment that if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he’d probably be dating her],  I had a teacher that said something similar to me thinking it was a compliment. He was the age of Trump. Perhaps it is a generational thing. They consider it a compliment. 

I also believe many people cast things upon him that weren’t true just to bring him down or get themselves votes. I believe I can forgive him (seven times seventy at least). I believe he is a different man now. He has stated that he is sacrificing himself so that perhaps he can get into heaven.

He is a charitable man. He does not drink. He loves people and believes in a positive attitude. He recognizes evil and isn’t afraid to stand against it. You may not believe me on all this but I know it all to be true. That is who he is. I studied it out getting headaches every night for a good several months.

We are a bunch of complainers that won’t take time to understand him. Laman and Lemuel were complainers. Trump is a doer. And a thumbs upper. He is doing good things now and that’s what counts. It’s okay if you don’t like his personality, but to completely overshadow his good qualities by the bad is, well, building a wall for unhappiness and unforgivess. What about his positive traits? I love his thumbs upping. I love his positive attitude. And most of the time he is very positive if you can recognize it without looking at him like a pig.

By the way, it is one thing to be mean to people. It is another to speak truth and then have people react in an offended way. He may not say it well, but he is far from a rude man. He speaks truth as it should be – loud and clear. We need that right now.

I just want to throw this out there. I want to show people that Trump is doing exactly the right thing at this time. We know the [Book of Mormon] story of King Benjamin, and if not, then I’ll fill ya in. He was a righteous good king. He had an awesome speech up on the tower and all were converted to Jesus Christ. Before that could happen, he actually had to take action on the wicked.  I bet there were many that were offended by King Benjamin.  I’m not saying Trump is King Benjamin, just saying his actions reflect King Benjamin’s. He wants to round up our enemies. He wants to throw the false preachers (the media) in line and the criminals that have taken over our system in prison. Therefore, they are not bad actions to take.

At the beginning, I couldn’t stand the thought of a man like him being President. And so I prayed. I completely opened my heart to God and His will and said what do you want me to do?!

Now he DID NOT tell me who to vote for. But he did immediately tell me very audibly, “I have paid for him.” And then basically the feeling of “what is that to you if I use him for my work.”  I can’t tell God he is wrong. Seeing through God’s eyes is an incredible journey.

I started looking at everything I could about Trump to see what was desirable about him. I looked for months and months every day getting migraines from all the exhausting work of looking at all angles and reading everything. We’ve had a media who have been lying to us. His strength of his truthful mouth is also his weakness, but he’s getting better at it and I applaud that effort.

What would you do if you were a great person running for president and the whole time people kept misreporting about you and saying you had said or done all these things that you hadn’t actually said or done? You would be frustrated because you would know that wasn’t true. You’d probably even apologize a time or two just to get past the issue. But if you knew you were good that would give you strength to keep you going.

If you knew that you had done those things you would either try to lie about it more or you would shrivel up and not be able to withstand. If you lied some more than you are in cahoots with the devil, right? So he either got there because of the devil or God. The odds were against him. It is a “miracle” that he is there. So it is either a deception or God’s miracle. But like I said, I know his true character and he is good despite the aweful things the media have cast upon him. And I know what God told me and that is enough.

Phew! Sorry, there’s just so much to this and my point is, figure it out and ask God about it. Then maybe you will see. And if not, then you can remain unhappy. But if you come to know what he’s doing then maybe there will be a release from that sadness and you can feel at peace. It’s worth a try. Anywho, thanks for discussing and I’m sure you don’t want to keep this going for days and days. Neither do I. However I am always here for questions.😘💗 LOVE AND HAPPINESS ALWAYS!!


A perfect object.

Please Hold

23 years ago this month, I was a newly-married young goofball living in the District of Columbia who had just started work as in intern in the office of Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. I adored Senator Simpson – and still do. I have often said that if he were running against my own father, I’d have a hard time making a choice between the two. (Which, really, isn’t true. I’d vote for Dad. But Al Simpson is a close second!)

One of the glamorous jobs of a Senate intern is answering the phones in the front office. For some reason, lots of people would call in complaining about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they were convinced was going to have the UN take away their children and raise them in some godless socialist utopia. There was some radio host in Wyoming who would bring this up, and, like clockwork, the phones would start to ring every time he told his listeners to “call your congressman and tell them how you feel.” (Just for fun, I once stepped out to the payphone in the hallway and called the office to tell them, in a disguised voice, that I supported the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and could Senator Simpson please send someone round to pick up my kids that afternoon.)

I was given very specific instructions as to how to handle phone calls. Before they launched into whatever tirade they had prepared, I was to ask them their name and where they were calling from. I had a form next to the phone where I wrote down the details of their complaint or question, and if a response was necessary, I’d ask them for their contact information so the office could mail them a reply.

Of course, I was only supposed to write all this down if the person was calling from Wyoming and was one of Al’s constituents. (Sen. Simpson wanted everyone to call him Al, even us lowly interns. This was a bit informal for my father’s staffers, who referred to Dad as “the Senator” and were definitely not on a first name basis.)

“What if they’re calling from, say, Florida?” I asked.

“Don’t write anything down. If it’s not busy, you can listen to them politely until they get whatever it is off their chest,” my supervisor said.

“What if it is busy?”

“Then you say, ‘Please hold,’ and you put them on hold and leave them there until they hang up.”

That struck me as rather cruel, but the intern coordinator shrugged her shoulders. “If they can’t vote for Al,” she said, “then he’s not accountable to them, and he doesn’t care what they think.”

I had my first phone skirmish after Al had been on the floor of the Senate giving a speech about entitlement reform. Al was quite a colorful character, and he had a penchant for referring to the “greedy geezers” of the AARP who opposed any changes to Social Security. Needless to say, “greedy geezers” are the only people watching C-SPAN2 at any given moment, and all of them have plenty of time on their hands to make an angry call to a senator they don’t like.

The first call went something like this.

“Hello, is this Senator Simpson’s office?”

“It is, yes. How can I help you?”

“Well, you can tell your boss that if he’s going to start calling people ‘greedy geezers,’ then he ought to know that this World War II veteran doesn’t take kindly to some rich, out-of-touch Washington hack messing around with my Social Security. And furthermore -”

“I’m sorry,” I said, interrupting, “but where are you calling from?”

“I’m calling from Florida, and I…”

“Please hold,” I said, interrupting again.

I pressed a button, and just like that, the angry voice became one of a series of blinking red lights on my phone console.

(Disclaimer: While this story is representative of what actually happened, it should not be interpreted as a verbatim transcript of the conversation and would not hold up as such in any court of law. With regard to precise words or locales represented, it may contain alternative facts.)

After the rush was over, my fellow interns and I watched the series of blinking red lights drop off one by one after all the greedy geezers finally lost patience or found something better to watch on television.

I was working on the Hill when Newt Gingrich had just become the first Republican House Speaker in 40 years, and lots of people called asking for the number to his office so they could give him a piece of their mind. I was instructed to give them the number for the Capitol operator. I was assured by my supervisor that if they weren’t from Georgia, or even if they were from Georgia but not from Newt’s district, they, too, would become nothing more than blinking red lights.

I tell you this story because I have seen a number of friends on Facebook posting calls to arms to write or call Paul Ryan, or Elizabeth Warren, or Ted Cruz, or whoever else to get them to oppose all or part of the Trump agenda, and I think you should be warned in advance that whether it’s Ryan, Warren, or Cruz or anyone else in Congress, you’re wasting your time if you’re not one of their constituents.

It is true, for instance, that Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, and that his role as such has an impact on the nation at large. But the nation doesn’t vote for the Speaker; the House does. The only people who actually vote for Paul Ryan live in a congressional district in Wisconsin, and those are the only people Speaker Ryan has to please in order to keep his House seat.

If you are not one of those people and you call his office, they may listen politely if it’s not busy, but they aren’t going to make any note of what you say. If you write him a letter, that letter will be discarded, unopened. Your email will be deleted, unanswered and unread. I was answering phones long before email was a big deal and social media was even a fantasy, but I’m confident that innovations in technology haven’t changed the meaning of “please hold.”

 

Alternative facts can feel like justice

Kellyanne Conway has blessedly introduced the phrase “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, and she has been roundly and rightly excoriated for her claims that hard data is actually a matter of opinion. I mean, yes, the sky is blue, but I offer the assertion that the sky is green as an alternative fact. Others have offered any number of examples of this brave new subjective world, and most of them are funnier than mine has been. Here’s my favorite, provided by my Sanders-supporting daughter:

(Disclaimer: I love Ringo. Please note, however, that Paul is objectively the best Beatle. That’s beyond dispute.)

All this mockery is well-deserved, but there’s another lesson here that many Trump haters have overlooked.

I take you back to the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty and large numbers of African-Americans erupted in applause. I remember seeing television footage of black people cheering when the verdict was announced, and I was dumbfounded. All the contemporaneous polls indicated a stark racial divide in how the verdict was interpreted, with a majority of whites overwhelmingly convinced that Simpson got away with murder, while a majority of blacks were celebrating because one of their own finally beat a corrupt and racist system.

For me, personally, it was jarring to see all this happening in my hometown. I grew up in LA. I attended many a family dinner in my cousin’s Brentwood home that was within walking distance of where Ron and Nicole were killed. How was it possible that so many people from the same place could interpret those facts so differently?

It wasn’t too long after that I was watching an interview with actor LaVar Burton, who put the whole thing into perspective for me. I can’t remember his exact words, and I can’t find them online, but his premise was that for many of his fellow African-Americans, it was almost secondary as to whether or not O.J. had actually stabbed and nearly beheaded his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. So many of them had seen so many of their friends and family suffer at the hands of racist law enforcement that they assumed, from the outset, that there was no way O.J. could get a fair shake. To many, O.J. symbolized all victims of America’s collective racial sins. The actual facts, and even the alternative ones, weren’t nearly as important.

Or, as LeVar Burton summed it up – and these words I remember verbatim:

“In a warped way, it felt like justice.”

Seeing so many Trump opponents recoil in horror and astonishment at the victory of our new Cheeto-in-Chief reminds me of me watching the O.J. Verdict. For many of them, this may have been the first time that they were confronted with the reality that roughly half of the country is interpreting reality in a very different way. Because even Republicans who know full well that a good chunk of what comes out of Trump’s mouth isn’t worth the spittle that accompanies it also see him as a symbol of a Republican willing to fight back. In a warped way, even the alternative facts Trump serves up can feel like justice.

Again, I have to reiterate that I’m not a Trump supporter. I remain a conservative and a supporter of free markets, and many of the things at the top of the Trump agenda are anathema to my political point of view. In some very crucial ways, Trump is not a conservative, and because Trump has corrupted the party, I’m no longer a Republican. But I know full well what it’s like to be a Republican in a country where all the culture at large feels stacked against you.

I don’t think many Democrats know how it feels to watch a movie or TV show and have all the good guys making fun of everything they believe. I think many get offended when Republicans complain of bias in the news media because they’re not used to ABC, CBS, NBC, and every major metropolitan newspaper in the country taking editorial positions telling them their ideology is not only wrong, but evil.

(A tangent, but if you feel the need to comment on this post with an argument about how conservatives are wrong to complain about media bias, or who want to use this as a vehicle to launch into a tirade against Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, I respectfully suggest that you’re missing my point, which is that conservatives feel like elite opinion is stacked against them, and they respond accordingly. Whether or not these feelings are justified is a separate – and probably unproductive – discussion.)

So, okay, fade out, fade in. Along comes Trump. And for the first time in living memory, a Republican is fighting back. A Republican is telling the press that they’re biased; they’re liars; they’re hacks. And he wins by beating up on the biased, lying hacks, who have never before been defeated as soundly as they were on Election Night. Does that feel like justice to many? You bet it does.

So, yes, of course there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than were at Obama’s in 2009. (Why Trump keeps hammering on this point is beyond me. 2017 inaugural attendance was entirely in line with previous presidents, and a POTUS’s power and authority does not in any way correlate with the number of people who stand outside on a cold January morning to hear him speak live.) But please know that your mockery of Kellyanne and her “alternative facts” is likely to galvanize the Trumpers, not shame them into submission. The angrier you get, the happier they get. To them, your rage feels like justice.

The saddest part about all of this is that justice isn’t about feelings. It’s about facts, and not alternative ones. And if we’re ever going to live in a country where we all acknowledge the same set of facts, we have to be willing to walk a mile in the other side’s shoes. (Just make sure that if you’re going to walk in rare Bruno Magli shoes, don’t allow photographs of you wearing them surface after bloody size 13 Bruno Magli footprints have been identified at a murder scene.)

On HRC and Climate Change

Got a very nice message from an old friend who told me she appreciates what I write, even though she disagrees with me on climate change and Hillary Clinton being evil. So I thought I’d talk about those two things as I keep blathering on about our new Trumpian reality.

With regard to HRC, my opinion of her no longer matters. The greatest thing about this awful election is that the Clintons are now permanently gone from the national stage, and I need not ever comment on or even think about them again. I wish Hillary a long, happy, pleasant retirement, and I hope she has plenty of time with her grandkids. At this point, any further investigation of her is a waste of time and resources and serves no purpose. I’m happy that Trump seems willing to let it die, even if Jason Chaffetz doesn’t. (He should let it die, though. Hillary’s gone. Move on, folks.)

As for climate change, I’ve been thinking about that since people began hyperventilating about Trump’s removal of the climate change section of the White House website. As I noted earlier, it’s an issue too poisoned by politics to discuss rationally. I’m therefore going to try to approach it from a different angle in the hopes that I don’t fall back into the tired partisan grooves that make for a tedious discussion.

Let’s begin with President Obama, who felt strongly enough about the issue to put a section about climate change on the White House website. That’s all well and good, but the undeniable truth is that Barack Obama, over the course of eight years, did absolutely nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

That’s not to say he didn’t try. True, he issued executive orders that would have increased the cost of energy by 30% and done nothing to affect the climate, but those orders got bogged down in court challenges and were never implemented. During his tenure, domestic production of fossil fuels rose dramatically, due primarily to fracking that Obama hated and tried to stop, but, again, couldn’t. His partisans can applaud his intentions, I suppose, but in terms of what he did in practical terms, it’s the equivalent of what Trump plans to do – absolutely nothing at all.

But Obama sure talked a good game, didn’t he?

He’s the one who insisted that “climate change is a fact” in his 2014 State of the Union address. He wasn’t wrong, but the problem with this statement is a very simplistic distillation of a rather complex issue. Climate change is much more than just “a” fact. It’s lots of facts. It’s also a large number of assumptions and, increasingly, a whole lot of political agendas that often have little or nothing to do with assumptions, facts, or anything resembling reality.

It’s an indisputable fact, for instance, that carbon dioxide traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, and that human activity generates carbon dioxide. That fact is undenaiable, and when you call me a “denier,” remember that this is a fact I do not and cannot deny.

From this fact, however, it does not necessarily follow that forcing all existing coal power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 is a good idea, which is what Obama wanted to do. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that these emissions reductions would have a negative drag on the economy at a cost of about $50 billion per year. The price tag for hitting Obama’s arbitrary targets will therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 billion.

So what would we get for all that money?

On this fact, the scientific consensus is clear: we would get nothing at all. The emissions cuts would neither reduce global temperatures or even slow their rise. That’s the finding of the Obama administration itself, which determined that shutting down all coal-fired plants in the country would only reduce the increase global temperatures by a paltry five one-hundredths of a degree by the year 2100.

But we wouldn’t be shutting down all coal-fired plants. We’d only be cutting their emissions by a third, and we’re aiming for 2030, not 2100. With those variables an applying the Obama administration’s own assumptions, that means that those now-dead regulations would have slowed rising global temperatures by a few thousandths of a degree, a measurement that is all but indistinguishable from zero.

In other words, they would have been a total waste of time, money, and resources. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand the math.

This is almost criminal when you consider who will bear the cost for this kind of feel-good government overreach. Coal plants facing steep increases in costs would pass those increases on to their customers in the form of higher prices. This ends up acting as an extremely regressive tax, 99% of which would be borne by the 99%. When President Obama promised in 2008 that electricity prices would “necessarily skyrocket,” he seemed to think that was a price worth paying to save the planet. And, indeed, if these regulations could have actually saved the planet, that might be a discussion worth having. But they wouldn’t save anything, and they’d cost a great deal. The same is true for the Paris climate agreement. Even if fully implemented, it would have no discernible impact on the climate. It’s all nothing but empty – and expensive – symbolism.

We need to be wise environmental stewards, which means to approach every challenge with our eyes wide open. Everything the government does should be subject to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. The previous administration has thrown a great deal of money at a number of boondoggle projects – anyone remember the Solyndra debacle? – that have had the appearance of being environmentally responsible, but ultimately were useless. They were only “green” in the sense that they cost billions of taxpayer dollars.

That said, there are a number of reasons why we need to make every effort to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Technology, not regulation, is our best bet in thwarting a climate crisis, and free markets are far more likely to come up with solutions than the federal bureaucracy. When someone discovers they can get rich by figuring out a way to effectively harness solar power to power cars and heat our homes, many of our current energy and climate problems will vanish virtually overnight.

That’s why I take heart in the fact that some heartless, capitalist pig with no regard for anyone but himself is going to figure out how to make billions of dollars by inventing a car that can turn crap into fuel. As soon as someone can get rich by inventing a sustainable power source, fossil fuels will go away of their own accord.

That, incidentally, is how cities drowning in horse crap from the animals pulling their buggies were saved from a sanitation nightmare. Back in the day, the Model T was an environmental miracle that washed the feces off all our city streets.

The best thing the government can do to help make that transition is to take a common sense approach and, whenever possible, get out of the way. Which, realistically, is what Trump is going to do, and what Obama, despite his best efforts, actually did.

Trump: Day 2

I’ve been steering clear of Facebook, which has allowed me to gather my thoughts about Trump Nation absent the high-volume caterwauling that has defined social media lo these past couple of months. So pardon me for spewing all my unedited brain droppings here on my blog. I just can’t seem to help myself.

First, I found myself with somewhat mixed feelings about Trump’s press secretary’s belligerent attack on the media in his first briefing. The guy didn’t take questions; he just complained about an erroneous report about Trump removing a bust of MLK that he merely moved to a different part of the Oval Office. But he also beat up on them for claiming that Trump’s inauguration wasn’t well-attended and insisted that more people showed up in 2016 than showed up in 2008.

Which is, you know, not true. At all.

Behold:On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to see Republicans take on the press and expose their blatant bias. So that’s kind of fun. At the same time, this isn’t really a Republican administration – it’s Donald Trump. And in part, he’s beating up on the press for telling the truth. Stylistically, it’s delightful, but substantively, it sucks.

Speaking of sucks, today’s Women’s March was a turgid mess that represents a huge missed opportunity. You had massive turnout to demonstrate widespread feminist anger aimed at the Vulgarian-in-Chief, and then you hand the microphone to Madonna, perhaps the only woman in America more vulgar than Trump. She drops F bombs and talks about fantasies of blowing up the White House. (If Trump really were Hitler, Madonna would already have been shot.)

Anyway, way to keep it classy, M. If you’re looking to build a credible opposition movement, this is precisely the way to sabotage it before it gets off the ground.

Speaking of sabotage, Trump has signed an executive order that guts the Obamacare individual mandate that conservatives now hate, having wholly forgotten that it was initially a conservative idea designed to avoid a single-payer system.

The reality that no one admits is that the United States has had universal healthcare for decades, even before Obamacare was a twinkle in Barack’s eye. By law, nobody can be denied healthcare because of their inability to pay. Of course, that means that people wait until they get sick and then show up in the emergency room, which is the most expensive and inefficient form of healthcare delivery available. Obamacare was a well-intentioned-but-deeply-flawed attempt to make the system less expensive and more efficient. Repealing it without a replacement wouldn’t throw people out of hospitals to die in the streets, but it would return us to the days when we were trying to pretend that we weren’t wasting massive amounts of money on a fundamentally broken healthcare system.

Trump has said he’s going to keep Obamacare’s “good parts,” but that just doesn’t work. The bad parts fund the good parts. You can’t force insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions unless you also have a mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance. A solvent insurance pool requires enough healthy people to participate in the system to cover the costs of the unhealthy. If healthy people can wait until they get sick before they buy insurance, then the pool can’t cover costs, and the whole thing collapses.

My father was beaten up in his final campaign because he was championing a system that included a mandate to buy insurance, too. His bill, the Healthy Americans Act, had bipartisan support and is the perfect alternative to the ACA. The Congressional Budget Office determined that it would save the Federal Government $1 trillion over ten years.  If Trump were smart, he’d pull it off the shelf and take credit for it.

Trump, alas, isn’t smart.

Speaking of smart, several conservative columnists had a similar reaction to Trump’s inaugural speech and said very clever things about it. I share a few of my favorite bon mots with you here:

“After every major Trump speech or event, the person I was before it seems desperately naive. I have been a consistent Trump critic, but my expectations are never quite low enough.”
– Michael Gerson

“Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.”
– George Will

“Trump’s inaugural declaration (which mirrored much of what he said in the campaign) is a historic milestone, but not in the way Trump believes. It’s a formula for America’s decline on the world stage and runs enormous risks of destabilizing the global economy.”
– Robert Samuelson

“So, that happened.

Let us pray.”
-Kathleen Parker

Let us pray, indeed. I’m going to bed.

 

Now THAT’S a bad speech

This past summer, I was at a wedding reception talking to a guy who was terrified about the trade deficit.

“Did you KNOW,” he said, speaking in capital letters, “that the TRADE DEFICIT last year was 700 BILLION DOLLARS?!!” (That’s him verbatim. You could absolutely hear the extra exclamation points after the question mark.)

I told him I didn’t know – I still don’t, as that number sounds like it was a number pulled out of his butt – but even if that were true, I told him I couldn’t care less.

He was aghast. “But WHERE is AMERICA going to come up with THAT kind of money?!”

It was then I realized that the word “deficit” had convinced him that a “trade deficit” is exactly the same thing as a “budget deficit.” That’s about as stupid as someone who thinks salad dressing should only be stored in dressing rooms. The words are the same, yes, but the meaning is different enough that no one really needs to worry about spilling Thousand Island on their Hamlet tights.

When the government has a budget deficit, they have a shortfall between the amount of money they spend and the amount of money they take in. We buy, say, two or three trillion dollars worth of stuff, but we don’t have enough cash to cover that extra $500 billion or so. So we stick the rest on the credit card and hope that the bill arrives in the mail when the American people aren’t looking.

A trade deficit, however, is the difference between the amount of stuff we buy as opposed to the amount of stuff we sell. So if I sell you my old comic book collection for fifty bucks, you have just racked up a staggering $50 trade deficit with me. WHERE  are YOU going to come up with THAT kind of money?!

As you can see, the question makes no sense at all. You don’t owe me anything, since you were already stupid enough to blow fifty bucks on a piles of rotting newsprint with pictures of Green Lantern drawn on them.  But you’re okay with it, too, because you decided that you wanted those dog-eared comics more than you wanted the fifty bucks. And thus, through the magic of capitalism,  both of us walked away happy.

Last May, Donald Trump, ostensibly a savvy capitalist himself, proved that when it comes to this fundamental tenet of economics, he doesn’t know salad dressing from comic books. Speaking to a rally of true believers, then-Candidate Trump mocked the people who were worried that his proposed tariffs and taxes would start a trade war.

“Trade war?!” he sniffed, the extra exclamation point dripping from his scowling smirk. “We’re losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?!”

(Wait, it’s $500 BILLION, not $700 BILLION?!!  Why didn’t TRUMP tell the GUY at the WEDDING RECEPTION ?!)

Kindly consider the depth of ignorance found in Trump’s statement. We’re “losing” $500 billion in trade with China. So when we trade with China, we hand them $500 billion, and they hand us… nothing, apparently, because that money is lost. LOST! We’re losing it. So WHO the HELL cares?

Of course, that money is not lost. We handed them half a trillion bucks; they handed us all kinds of crap – shoes and umbrellas and refrigerators and iPhones and Trump-brand neckties, all made in China. (Yes, before he inflicted himself on the American electorate, Trump was making America great again by exploiting cheap Chinese labor.) That $500 billion isn’t “lost.” It’s been traded. And it wouldn’t have been traded if we didn’t prefer having iPhones to having the money we paid for them. The trades were voluntary – both parties are satisfied. No bill for $500 billion is going to arrive in the White House mailbox unless Melania decides to surprise Barron by buying Guam for him as a birthday present.

All this is prelude to how terrible President Trump’s inaugural speech was. I’m not talking about its moments of breathtaking stupidity, like his line about how kids are stuck in a school system which “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Really? Deprived of ALL knowledge? Do they become zombies? Or game show hosts? Well, at least they’re young and beautiful. Maybe they could hook up with some creepy billionaire who likes to grab young and beautiful people by the…

But I digress. (Although it’s hysterical that the word “all” before knowledge has been dropped from the official transcript. Trust me; it was there. I’d suggest that you rewatch the thing if you don’t believe me, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.)

Trump got most passionate as he was describing “American carnage” caused by the horrors of other countries “making our products.” Other countries making OUR products?! No more!  It’s time to rebuild the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  It’s going to be “America First.” Two rules: “Buy American and Hire American.” And that, my friends, is how we’re going to make America great again.

Or, at the very least, make America as great as North Korea.

North Korea, you see, has a philosophy called “Juche!” It’s a word that roughly translates into “self-reliance,” but in practical terms, it means that North Korea follows two simple rules: Buy North Korean and Hire North Korean. International trade is considered a betrayal of the Hermit Kingdom’s revolutionary principles.

That text either translates as “Self-Reliance” or “Deprived of all knowledge.”

And the result? Widespread poverty, massive repression, and famines so bad that vast swaths of populace have had to survive by eating grass.

Trade is good. It creates wealth. And, like it or not, we live in a global economy. Pretending we don’t won’t return us to the 1920s, when we didn’t.

Back then, the now-rusted-out factories were rust-free and churning out Model Ts built by 100% American labor. But now Ford can churn out sedans and SUVs that are exponentially more sophisticated than the Model T, and they can do it with a tiny fraction of the labor force. Why? Automation. Those assembly line jobs have been made obsolete by technology, and, Trump’s populist, protectionist rhetoric aside, they’re not coming back.

I’ve said many times that the entirety of the MBA I earned can be summed up in three words – markets are efficient. If labor is going overseas, it’s because the market has found a more efficient use of capital. If government jumps in and tries to stop it, it’s a bit like tearing up all the modern car-building machinery and forcing Toyota to make all its Priuses by hand, complete with hordes of seamstresses sewing up the leather seats. Will that create jobs? Well, yes, but it will also destroy other jobs, destroy a great deal of wealth, and ultimately make Toyota so non-competitive that they’ll go out of business, thereby destroying the short-term Prius-leather-seat-sewing jobs that made Trump look like a hero when he created them.

This is the real danger of Trump, folks. He’s going to mandate that the economy operate like it did fifty years ago, and if he gets his way, we’ll ALL be eating GRASS!!

Hopefully, we’ll still have some SALAD DRESSING.

A Practical Guide to President Trump

“Tomorrow, January 20, 2017 is a day of mourning,” wrote a friend of mine on Facebook.  “Not only are we forced to say goodbye to the people who TRULY ‘Made America Great’, the best President, first family and Vice-president our generation will ever see, but we are also witnessing the death of a nation by swearing in the modern day Hitler.”

Ah! The modern day Hitler. (The actual Hitler, apparently, was a product of antiquity, despite having lived less than a century ago.) So all of us are at risk of having the gestapo pound down our doors and drag us into forced labor camps where we’re either gassed on arrival or worked and starved to death.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is beyond nonsense. Yes, I’m a middle-aged white male, so I’ve got privilege coming out the wazoo. But even if you are a transgender Jewish Muslim of African descent in a same-sex marriage and seeking an abortion, you are equally at risk of being hauled away by the Trump SS as I am. Which is to say, not at all.

Again, this is not to say I’m now a Trump devotee – it’s a plea from a Trump critic who wants the people who oppose Trump to focus on reality and stop crying wolf.

No, you’re doing more than crying wolf. You’re screaming wolf. And it’s making things worse.

If you’re reading this, things may suck for you in the near future, but the good news is that you don’t have to hide in somebody’s attic for the next four years for fear of being slaughtered by the government.  There is much to be concerned about with regard to the buffoon sitting in the Oval Office for the next four years, but don’t flatter yourself into thinking you’re freakin’ Anne Frank. That kind of hyperbolic hyperventilation is insulting to the memory of the real Hitler’s real victims, and it’s counterproductive to dealing with the reality in which we all find ourselves.

So rather than just add to the rhetorical cacophony, I thought I’d offer some practical tips as to what President Trump will actually mean.

1. Genocide is off the table.
In order for Trump to be Hitler, he has to create the apparatus necessary to begin the slaughter of millions of American citizens. That infrastructure, as well as the widespread political will to enable and maintain it, simply does not exist. Hitler spent a great deal of time and effort building his genocide machine, and Trump is both dumber and lazier than the Fuhrer he’s supposedly emulating.

In addition, while there certainly remain troubling pockets of racism and bigotry throughout our country, the vast majority of the American people are not on board for the wholesale slaughter of their fellow citizens. Combine an unmotivated genocider-in-chief with a public almost wholly opposed to genocide, and you have a surefire recipe for non-genocide.

When people start talking about Trump as Hitler, I ask them to paint me a picture as to how that will happen in practical terms. So far, I haven’t gotten any workable proposals as to how we get there from here.

2. And no, climate change is not the same thing. 
The closest someone has come to offering a realistic Trump genocide scenario is the idea that climate change will now do the dirty work that concentration camps used to do. Trump will kill us all by abandoning the Paris climate change accords, a friend of mine wrote, since “climate change knows no borders.”

“No matter how isolated i am in the sane enclave of california,” he wrote, “climate change will destroy us all. This will be trumps legacy. Anything else he does can be undone.”

The subject of climate change has been so poisoned by politics that the fact that even the most ardent supporters of the Paris accords recognize they are essentially symbolic gestures will be lost on the alarmists. Every credible scientist admits that even full compliance with them will do nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

The scientific consensus is 100% clear on this point – the climate is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of who’s in the White House. Replace Hitler with Gandhi for the next four years, and the climate outcome would be exactly the same.

For my part, I take comfort in the fact that the computer models that have predicted catastrophe have been off by an average of 300% over the past thirty years, but if you’re still convinced that we’re doomed, the harsh reality is that the Paris agreements will do absolutely nothing to undoom us, and Trump’s withdrawal from them won’t make any difference one way or the other.

3. Trump’s stupid border wall is empty symbolism, too. 
It’s heartening to see Trump having to backpedal his moronic assertion that Mexico is going to foot the bill for his dopey wall, but if you’re troubled that this is going to create some kind of police state dystopia, then you’re probably not aware that huge chunks of that wall have already been built, and all of it was built before Trump even announced his candidacy. (Even Mother Jones admits that.)

The wall is fuel for increased xenophobic rhetoric, and that’s problematic, but it will have little or no impact on actual illegal immigration. If you doubt that, then you probably think illegal immigrants get here by scurrying across the border in the dead of night. Most of them aren’t that stupid. Instead, the vast majority of them simply get a visa to come visit the United States, and then they don’t go home when the visa expires. It’s easy; it’s clean, and, best of all, nobody gets shot. And nothing Trump has proposed is going to change it much.

4. Gay marriage is here to stay. So is abortion.
I have a number of friends who think the Trump apocalypse will be heralded by his Supreme Court picks, who will undo both the Obergefell decision that made gay marriage legal and the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

Is it possible the Court will do this? Yes. Is it likely? Not at all.

Start with gay marriage, which is in no danger of going away. Obergefell overturned only part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The other part – the section that states can ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states – is blatantly unconstitutional, since it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which reads as follows:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

So if one state makes gay marriage legal, every state has to recognize those marriages.

Congress knew this part of DOMA was illegal when they passed it, and President Clinton knew it when he signed it. It was a cynical, craven pandering to an electorate which, at the time, was solidly opposed to gay marriage. (Yes, times have changed.) Clinton even publicly stated that he looked forward to the day when the High Court overturned the unconstitutional law he had signed.

So that’s out there like a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on anyone who tries to overturn Obergefell. But even if it weren’t, the Court would now be in a position of not just preventing new same-sex marriages, but of nullifying thousands of existing marriages, something even the most conservative members of the Court would be reluctant to do. In addition, a case would have to be brought before the Court with the potential to overturn Obergefell, and no such cases are in the pipeline. And remember, replacing Scalia with a conservative wouldn’t alter the makeup of the Court that decided Obergefell and has repeatedly upheld Roe.

And what about Roe itself? Well, what about it? It’s survived decades of challenges, even when conservatives have held a majority. Furthermore, many of its principles have already been codified into federal law. Many states have legal protections that go further than Roe in thwarting government interference on abortions, and none of those would change. People don’t seem to realize that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.

5. Repeal of the ACA? Don’t bet on it.
Actually, in one sense, yes, bet on it. There will, in fact, be a formal repeal of Obamacare, and it will be conducted with huge fanfare and a dramatic signing ceremony, and Trump will tweet something awful, and everyone will wring their hands.

But will the law then allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions? Or kick kids of their parents’ policies? Or cap lifetime benefits?

No, no, and no.

Obamacare is an expensive mess, but the pre-Obamacare status quo was an expensive mess, too. And voters will not tolerate the return to a time when people couldn’t get coverage because they’d gotten sick. And even before Obamacare, people were never denied emergency care because of inability to pay. Republican promises to “replace” Obamacare are all predicated on the fact that the provisions I listed above are wildly popular, no matter which party you belong to. Watch for Trump’s Obamacare’s “replacement” to look an awful lot like Obamacare.

6. So okay, then what’s Trump going to do that’s really awful?
What, you mean besides just being Donald Trump, who is an awful human being? Because that’s awful in how it sets a tone for the country that makes us all crasser, coarser, and crosser than we were before. But that’s already baked into the Trump cake. What’s his administration actually going to do that will make things worse for the day-to-day lives of Americans everywhere?

Two words: trade war.

Trump wants to tax products coming across the border at a rate of 35%. Guess who pays that tax? You do. Companies don’t just eat those kinds of costs – they pass them on to consumers. In a global economy, tariffs and trade wars are asinine, and they’re huge disincentives to economic growth. The fact that Donald Trump has turned the GOP into a protectionist party is the single biggest disaster Trump has inflicted on the nation as a whole. It’s going to sink the economy, and it’s going to cost you personally.

He’s also going to spend as much as Obama, and probably more. When Obama took office, Republicans fell all over themselves to block his bloated trillion-dollar stimulus package. They were right to do so. But now they’re falling all over themselves to push through Trump’s “infrastructure” package, which is exactly the same thing, only at a higher cost. Republicans are repeatedly demonstrating that they’re not above rising above principle for partisan gain. Trump’s also going to beef up defense spending, so we’ll all drown in a river of red ink regardless.

There’s also no appetite among anyone in either party to get entitlement spending under control, which means that the country is looking at the inevitability of a Greece/Venezuela-style meltdown within the next ten to twenty years, and since debt only becomes painful when default is nigh, nobody is going to notice until the ship of state goes over the waterfall. 

7. So what to do? Because there’s a great deal to be done. 
There is, indeed. Which is why it would be very helpful to tone down the Hitler crap. The screeching makes it impossible for anyone to be in the same room with you for very long. (I’m swearing off Facebook for the next few days for that very reason.) The better approach is to talk to each other and, even more importantly, to listen to each other.

That’s the approach I intend to take a few days from now, after the screaming of wolf has died down to a dull roar.