Six Months Later

As I sit drafting this post, it is only a few hours until six months will officially have passed since Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.  Looking back on many of the opinions I offered over those months (and before) as well as what a lot of people who actually get paid to write down their opinions on political affairs, there has been a lot of doom and gloom.  Six months is not a lot–there are still (supposedly) 42 months to go in Trump’s administration, and a lot could change.  I have no confidence, though, that there will be any positive change any time before 2020, and if there is not a change in thinking by a lot of the US electorate, maybe not even then.

To take a look at trends and directions and the possible effects on the body politic of the USA, six months is probably long enough to evaluate who Trump is and is not, as well as to take a look at how he seems to see the political landscape of the country, and maybe to take a stab at predicting how he will react to what has happened during those six months, as well as what may happen during months to come.

One frequently-asked question is whether Trump is in fact a Republican.  Commentators from both ends of the political spectrum have tried to assign him to one place or another on that spectrum.  I think that is a waste of time.  It appears to me that he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, in any conventional sense of either term.  His public pronouncements and his unconventional methods of communicating with the public (especially his tweets, which are worth a whole analysis of their own) reveal several things.  Foremost is an enormous ego, reinforced by a seemingly rock-solid conviction that no one will or should ever call him on some of his more absurd statements.

Just to take an example, he has made pronouncements on the current state of health care law that have been all over the map–from braggadocio to the effect that he would be signing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) on his “first day” in office to complaints that such a repeal has not yet been possible because of Democratic obstruction.  He thus has gone from complete confidence that he could dictate the fate of the most significant federal legislation of the last decade to whining that legislators of the opposite party won’t assist him in undoing their biggest accomplishment of that period!  What does this represent in terms of his thinking?  In partisan terms, I would submit that these pronouncements mean precisely nothing: they are self-evaluations of his own goal of self-promotion–he wanted to show his own mastery of the whole government apparatus, and reacted with anger and frustration when he was thwarted.

In the James Comey affair (I love the guy, no, he is a disastah who had to be fired because he had lost the confidence of the bureau.  Or something…anyway, I had to fire him!)  I am old enough to remember Nixon and the Saturday Night Massacre; there was a significant debate over whether the President could fire someone who was investigating the President, and in the end, Nixon fired people in the Justice Department until he found one who was receptive to his own views,  but Trump didn’t even look for such a fig leaf.  He simply fired Comey totally on his own, with no recourse to anyone else, and apparently no advance consideration of possible backlash.  The backlash continues to this day, though, and Trump’s discomfort with the situation has been related chiefly to his inability to stop anyone from questioning the propriety of his action.  Again, he appears still to be absolutely convinced of his own ability to do as he pleases without criticism or questioning.  In truth, he appears to have believed that he was elected to exercise dictatorial powers.  None of this indicates an inclination toward either major political party, but a serious tendency toward megalomania.

Much has been written or said about Trump’s treatment of the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution, about his own insistence that the President of the United States can not have a conflict of interest, and other such flouting of convention, at the least.  The more extreme examples of this type of operation are going to come back to haunt him at some point, I think.  The comedy (that wasn’t really funny) of Trump’s trotting out a private attorney, complete with audio visual aids consisting of a pile of papers, to tell the country that his “arrangement” to have members of his own family directing his business affairs during his term satisfied the need for a “blind trust,” as had been customary in the case of previous presidents, was ludicrous.  Not a single government attorney supported it, but of course Donald, Jr., repeated in interviews that this constituted a blind trust, and Trump, Sr. continues blatantly to  helm his various business ventures.  Similarly, he has named various members of his own family to official positions requiring security clearances.

Jared Kushner may find himself in significant trouble over this in months to come.  He filled out a government from (SF-86) that requires disclosure of financial interests as well as any dealings with foreign nationals. (Disclosure: I have filled out several of these, and each contains a warning that failure to disclose requested information or to furnish false information may create legal problems.)  Kushner not only omitted contacts with several Russians (of course, this was inadvertent, wink, wink), but I suspect that coming months may bring news of financial interests in foreign countries, most notably Russia.  This is not an accusation, just a hunch–for now.  Information continues to drip, drip over time.

Fervent Trump supporters point at President Kennedy, who named his own brother as Attorney General.  Bobby Kennedy, though, despite his relative youth, was an attorney of some note and considerable experience in the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice when he was chosen.  Jared Kushner’s chief qualification is that he is Trump’s son-in-law.

What, then, is the aim of Donald J. Trump in becoming President of the United States?  I would submit he saw it as a chance to enlarge his “brand” and concentrate even more wealth in his own hands as well as the hands of his extended family, and was confident he could bluster his way past any objections.  His unfortunate tendency to venerate Russia and with it, the bloody-handed Vladimir Putin, is, I think, mostly a result of an excess of trust in Steve Bannon.

Bannon would merit considerable exploration as a topic.  I’m not going to do it here or now, and I don’t even want to know enough about this sinister character to do it at all.  Suffice to say that before coming aboard the Trump campaign, he was the publisher of Breitbart news, an online source about which the eminently innocent Wikipedia says,

“…A far-right American news, opinion, and commentary website…”

and adds

Breitbart has published a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories.”

With this as your “strategist’s” background, who needs an erratic, megalomaniacal personality of one’s own?

All in all, in my own humble opinion, Trump eagerly grabbed at a job that is much too big for him.  He is relying on advisors whose expertise is sparse.  He speaks recklessly on topics on which he is ill-informed.  And he seems not inclined to admit any of it, preferring to try to intimidate all in his way.

Two things, I think, can happen within the next three years.  First, Trump could change and moderate his habits and his behavior, which  is not likely, given his self-image as the ultimate success story.  Second, the adults in the Republican party could find a spine and begin to try to purge themselves of this menace.  We’ll see.

Tantrum Time!

Now and then, just because it’s my blog, and no one else’s, I get to use it just to vent, just to say what I find really irritating in daily life.  That, and because, even though there is so much to say about politics and government these days, I do get fatigued with saying it.  So, here goes: if you have never heard a guy of sufficient age to wear caps with statements like, “Don’t Forget My Senior Citizen Discount,” list things he would like to see disappear, here’s your chance.  These are in no particular order, and not by any means exhaustive, just on my mind today.

Highway “work zones”

Don’t deny it.  I know these get to you, too.  I’m just going to describe what they are and why they cause me to lapse into rages.  Last month, my wife and I were on a long road trip.  Each stop on the trip had a purpose, some for career reasons (Hers, not mine: I’ve been out to pasture for a while now…) and some for family reasons.  In the space of 13 days, we passed through (or stopped in) a total of eight different states, some of them twice, since we were making a round trip, and covered more than 2000 miles.

During this time, we traveled on mostly interstate highways, those ribbons of concrete or asphalt with limited access and multiple lanes in each direction, designed for high-speed travel.  I drove at or just over the speed limit, which most often was 65 or 70 miles an hour (104 to 113 kph, for non-US readers) for fairly long stretches, when there suddenly would appear a temporary road sign, warning of a work zone for the next ___ miles, reduced speed for the duration of the work zone, blocked-off lanes, and, often, the threat of doubled fines for speeding throughout the zone.

No problem, right?  Roads do have to be maintained, right?  And surely an abundance of care would dictate slowing traffic.  All good points!  On the other hand, we passed through at least fifteen such zones on this trip, often at the cost of much travel time lost due to slow passage, and how many of these sites were actually being, you know…worked on?  ONE.  Driving on mostly weekdays, and almost exclusively during daylight hours, I counted exactly one of these work sites actually hosting workers.  You protest that surely there were many places where a square of pavement had been removed, requiring closure of a lane so that unwary motorists would not fall in, or that paving in progress or incomplete bridges or whatever, but…no.  Most of these areas just represented long stretches where barricades or orange barrels or traffic cones closed off lanes, causing congestion in the open lanes, and a slowdown of the highway in general, with no work apparent.  And such, I suspect, is the condition of many roads during the summer months across the USA.

Hostility between generations based on stereotypical assumptions

I’ve mentioned that I am a member of the large group of the population that social scientists christened “baby boomers.”  Once you know that, you know…well…uh, just that.  You know how old I am within broad parameters, and you (may) know, more or less, conditions in the country when I passed through childhood, adolescence, etc.  You do not know anything about my work habits, my likes or dislikes in food, cars, movies, vacations, etc.  What you think you know is likely a collection of stereotypes picked up from satirical references in mass media or, increasingly, through social media.

What about you?  Are you a so-called “millennial?’  Do you have a lackadaisical attitude toward work?  Toward education?  If you are a millennial, you probably (and rightly) resent it when people “size you up” thinking they can predict how you will work out in a certain situation, just by identifying  your cohort of people of a similar age.  People–all people–deserve to be seen as individuals.  All will have their quirks and all will adhere to your stereotypes in some cases, but not all, and maybe not in many.  And prejudging anyone based on such categorization is just as lazy and blameworthy as doing so by race or belief system.

Recently, I have seen several cartoons or written descriptions depicting older people enjoying long vacations and material wealth while criticizing younger people for a perceived lack of drive toward self-improvement and advancement.  The younger generation, in turn, is depicted as unable through no fault of their own to get ahead.  As is the case with stereotypes, generalizations can contain an element of truth; the danger is in overreliance on such generalizations and accepting them as givens.

Come on, junior.  Maybe you think I (and others) never worked through years-long periods in jobs we didn’t really care for, making not enough money?  And to those my own age, do you think Grandma and Grandpa’s generation never looked on us as a bit unmotivated?  And to be fair, boomers had, and millennials have, challenges the other group does not grasp.  We had a military draft and the expectations of “the greatest generation.”  They have student debt many times worse than ours ever was, and they have a fast-changing labor market.  It’ll all work out in the long run.  And millennials, your time is coming–your children and grandchildren may not find you as coolly ironic as you would like.  Deal with it.

And, in some much less wordy pronouncements, here are some daily irritants:

Loud TV commercials. 

No explanation needed.

Common, correctible errors in spelling or diction.

 These are legion, and too easy to avoid to be as prevalent as they are.  “There” means in that physical or metaphorical place, or is used in the expression “there  is” or “there are.”  “Their” means “belonging to or related to ‘them.’ ”  “They’re” means “they are.”

“Your” means “belonging to or related to you.”  “Your sister” or “your car.” “You’re” means “you are.”  “You’re my friend.”  I recently saw (really) a social media argument that included the comment, “Your a idiot.”  Wow.  I can’t even bring myself to comment.  If you are not literate, don’t expose yourself like this.

“To” is either a preposition or an indicator of an infinitive–i.e., “to the store,” or  “to make some money.” “Two” is one more than one.  “Too” is “in an excessive degree or amount,” as in “too tired” or “too slow.”

About a hundred things Donald Trump says often.

“Believe me.”  Sorry, I don’t.

Any superlative, as in “the greatest,” the best,” or “the greatest in history…”

 

Oh, wait.  I’m veering into politics again.  Until next time…

 

 

No Time for Celebrations

If you read the last post on this blog, you know that I was glum at the prospect of Mitch McConnell’s preparations to announce that he had finally succeeded in repealing (most of) the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Secret drafting of a “replacement” bill that was actually a huge tax cut for the truly wealthy, and equally secret rehearsals by Republican Senators for their bravura performance–great drama over their sensitivity toward the elderly and the sick, or the opioid-addicted, etc., followed by McConnell’s moves to direct funds to the states where those Senators come from–would end with relatively fast passage of his bill.  Obamacare would be (mostly) dead and the USA would once again be safe for huge profits by pharmaceutical companies and health insurance company executives!  USA!  USA!

An odd thing has taken place in Washington, though.  In a Senate where two Republicans could have voted against McConnell’s bill in order to save face with enraged constituents, then tut-tutted when it passed, for some reason, more than two of them said they would not support the bill.  And they did not follow the script I spoke of, at least not right away.  All this week I have waited for all but two Republican dissenters to return to the fold and announce their support.  But it has not happened.  At least not yet.

There are rumblings behind the scenes and even some out front that the legislation was no good.  Notably, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich forthrightly condemned it as nothing more than a tax cut for the rich while the less fortunate would lose.  The Republican tandem in Nevada of Republican Governor Sandoval and Senator Dean Heller have not wavered publicly in expressing doubt at the intent and effect of the bill.  You will not be surprised to learn that Heller is up for re-election next year, and that this office has been besieged by calls urging him not to support it.

Have some high-ranking Republicans acquired a conscience?  Or perhaps they have considered what civic duty entails?  More likely there are some few of them who worry that casting a vote in favor of this legislation might do grievous harm to their re-election chances, and, further, that it is fruitless to think that President Trump will somehow “have their back” down the line.  In fact, none other than Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina has been quoted as saying (out loud!) quite the opposite.  Trump, in other words, has shown himself to be concerned mostly with Trump.  Further, many party elders may be more concerned that the Donald may not last even one term as president, and thus will not be able to stand behind anyone among Republicans in any meaningful way.  (How many Republicans were elected to the Senate, House, or State House in 1976 with the support of Richard Nixon?)

So, is the McConnell bill dead?  I doubt it.  Donors to his many campaigns, on one hand, and Political Action Committees funded by the Koch Brothers and others are not happy at this turn of events, and they are not going to give up. I still think we will see passage, but perhaps with some more rounding off of the roughest edges than we might have otherwise seen.

One interesting sidelight, though, to this whole piece of performance art is that other voices are being raised, not least of which is that of Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont, whom I heard voice some thoughts just yesterday on the current impasse.  Sanders, though known to favor a single payer “Medicare for all” solution to health insurance, said that perhaps a gradualist approach would be timely, specifically, lowering the Medicare eligibility age from the current 65 to 55.  This would have the effect of creating a larger, comparatively healthier pool of  those insured by Medicare.  Looking, as always, at whose ox would be gored, you will see health insurance companies at the front of the line, as many not-quite-golden-agers would opt for Medicare at reduced rates (even with perhaps higher deductibles) than they pay now.  The CEO’s of Blue Cross/ Blue Shield and their colleagues with other insurers will howl against the idea for years to come, and, of course, their donations flow not only to Republicans.  Don’t look for this to happen any time soon.  But hearing it injected into the discussion is a beginning.

Further, if the idea of health care/insurance reform is for real at all, costs must be reduced.  How? Start with the cost of prescription drugs.  Sanders (again) points out that Americans pay the highest prescription drug costs in the world.  Canadian drugs, virtually identical to the versions sold on this side of the border, are often one-half to one-third the cost of their American counterparts.  Why is that?  And Medicare itself, the largest buyer of prescription drugs in the country, is currently prohibited from negotiating drug discounts with any suppliers.  Or importing many drugs from Canada or anywhere else.

Politicians who talk long and loudly about the virtues of cost reduction in government, where are you?  Many have acted hypocritically, refusing to change current regulations on procuring medicine, citing risks to American consumers from medicines manufactured by other than American companies.  (Cory Booker, I’m looking at you…)  OK, but–Canada?  We can’t trust Canada’s controls?  Give me a break.

There will be a lot of strutting, preening, and citing danger to Americans if any changes are made to monopolistic practices in procurement and delivery of health care.  It still will probably not end well.  Don’t count McConnell’s vision out yet.  And don’t give up, on the other hand, on improving a system that is failing many while making a few rich.  Er, richer.

 

USA! We’re the Best! Even When We’re Not.

First, if you haven’t already done so, you will need to follow this link to a Slate magazine article:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/06/trumpcare_is_right_where_republicans_want_it.html.

Now, if you’ve read the article, what I’m going to talk about will make more sense, but, if you haven’t, in capsule form, what it says is that the coming “debate” over Trumpcare in the Senate will have all the suspense of a pro wrestling event, and perhaps all the drama as well.  Jim Newell, a staff writer for Slate, has done the analysis to show that the current hand-wringing by a few Republican Senators over “Trumpcare,”  designed to overturn (for the most part) the Affordable Care Act, is all scripted, and that Mitch McConnell has reserved a few bones to throw to selected Senate colleagues (after an appropriate interlude, of course) so as to guarantee at least 50 Republican votes for the measure, and thus, its passage as soon as next week.  One or two Republicans can opt out, for the sake of optics, but the outcome is foreordained.

Is Newell right?  We’ll all know in a short time, but as I read his scenario, I could not help but hear the depressing ring of truth.  The Congressional Budget Office markup of the House-passed version of this has forecast that 24,000,000 Americans will lose healthcare insurance and that Medicaid funding will drop over the next decade by billions; those of us who have insurance now and will continue to carry it even after all this will probably see our rates rise because, well, that’s what they do.  We’re used to it, aren’t we?

I have Medicare, since I am over 65 years of age.  Contrary to a common belief, it is not free.  It costs me somewhere over $200 per month, as a deduction from my Social Security annuity.  Also, contrary to a common belief, Social Security is not “welfare for seniors,” and should not be derided as an “entitlement.”  I and millions of others who receive Social Security do so because we paid into the program for many years.  And, primarily because I continue to pay for the group private health insurance that I had for upwards of 40 years during my careers, I keep that, too, both to maintain a secondary insurer, since Medicare only pays part of my own medical expenses, and because there are family members who can be covered under my membership.  In all, I pay several thousand dollars per year for the privilege of handing a doctor or hospital a card to show that they will be paid if I need their help.

So, some ask, why would I care about the fate of the Affordable Care Act?  It won’t affect me personally.  And that attitude always causes me to shake my head, even if only mentally.  You see, the whole idea of “civics,” which Wikipedia defines as ” …the study of the theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government,” is the give and take of those rights and duties among the citizens of an organized nation, whether it is a republic, a monarchy, a dictatorship, or any other type of governance you can think of.  Suppose, in December of 1941, President Roosevelt had responded to the Pearl Harbor attack by noting that Hawaii was, at the time, only a territory of the United States, not a state, and that the 48 states (at the time) of the United States were not affected?

Get away from the keyboard–I know that hypothetical is ludicrous; I’m not stupid.  Usually not, anyway.  And anyway, citizens of the US and property were lost at Pearl Harbor.  All citizens were called on to defend the wrong done to the civic body.

But I find it equally ludicrous that in the 21st century, the United States as a nation is choosing repeatedly to protect the privileged and the wealthy to the detriment of the weak and the poor.  It’s nothing new; it’s been going on for nearly four decades now.  One of our two principal political parties stands openly and proudly for that position, and the other lacks the unity and the moral standing to make a strong moral case against it.

It has been often said that where one stands on any issue can be told by determining whose ox is being gored.  This particular issue–the American health care system, its ability to heal the sick, and maintain the public health, is being steered by interests rather than by principles.  Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and other figures on the Republican side of it endlessly spout their credo that this country has the best health care in the world, but when pressed for why, in every important measure of how healthy Americans are, it is demonstrably not true that we have the best, they can not rebut the facts.  We do not rank among those countries whose health is being well-maintained by that health care system.  In one metric after another, be it infant mortality, average lifespan, maternal mortality, etc., we are outranked by other nations.  The apologists have resorted to assertions that, well, those statistics fail to take into account that the average American has access to this or that medical specialty or facility.

Having access to something is not the same as having it.  If your house is struck by a hurricane, and you must rebuild, and if your homeowner’s insurance retreats behind claims of “acts of God,” the facts are that the labor and the materials to rebuild your house probably exist in your community, but your access to that labor and those materials then are absolutely defined by the money that is available to you.  If you are someone who has put aside enough to make a new construction fall within your means, then you will be able to rebuild.  If not, you are reliant on the indemnification your insurance provides.  No money, no insurance=homelessness.

Equally, the citizen who is struck by catastrophic disease will survive and prosper only if he has resources or if he is protected by insurance.  But the consequences are not homelessness: they are death or perhaps disability.

Thus, my somewhat extreme analogy.  The exercise of civic duty in every other developed nation in the world has led to the establishment of a base of public health freely (and truly) available to every citizen.  The quality of that care may vary, but it is accepted by the populace that all should find the access to needed health care available as a common right of all citizens.

Getting back to the ox’s being gored, look at who stands to benefit by a return to an every man for himself, “survival of the fittest” system.  Money flows from consumers of health care to its providers and its facilities, but also to another class: the insurers, and the purveyors of patented drugs.  Corporations and executives of those corporations give no shots, bathe no infants, and dispense no medications, but they do donate to politicians.  Into the millions of dollars.

And so, the senior Senator from Kentucky, who has been the beneficiary of a goodly share of those insurance millions (as well as pharmaceutical companies’ millions) should be able to look at his handiwork some day soon and tell his real masters that he has made the world safe again for enormous profits in insurance and pharmaceuticals.

And, just think, that same Senator, who proclaimed in 2008 that his priority would be to ensure that Barack Obama would be a one-term president, will also get his revenge by working so hard to undo Obama’s most famous legislative achievement.  Mitch McConnell, you are a hateful old man who has used your office to glorify the pursuit of profit over the health of children and over the sincere efforts of a political opponent to protect the well-being of those children.  Sleep well.  You, too, are mortal.

If I Were King

Now this is just a harmless exercise.  I am a thoroughgoing believer in democracy.  As has been said (endlessly), it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others, but…admit it.  I bet you have thought at times how much better the country would be if you were, even for a short time, the omnipotent monarch.  Not some so-called king or queen like the ones in Britain or Spain. The real thing, attempting to show wisdom while ruling over a country.  What would I do?  Glad you asked. Here are a few things I would enact and change.

In government, I would maintain most of the current structures.  Congress would continue as a deliberative body.  Voting law would be uniform in all 50 states, though.  Registration would be in person with some proof of age and residence, and there would be a national registry of voters–any move by a voter to a different place (locality or state) would be a mere change of address.   Uniform regulations in all jurisdictions would be brought into being.  Why should voting in Vermont carry different qualifications than voting in Mississippi?  A national registry would also eliminate concerns of registry in multiple states and most any other fraud concerns.

There would be term limits.  Why should some 80-year old dementia sufferer just keep holding a seat in Congress?  And please don’t tell me that because Congressman X “helped my uncle get his social security,” Congressman X is deserving of 20 terms.  All those problems are farmed out to some staffer, anyway.  So, my thought would be that no person could be elected to more than 10 terms, or 20 years.  And each of them would be entitled to an “ombudsman” who would deal with constituent complaints.  And maybe one other staffer for legislative affairs.  Other employees?  OK, as long as you pay them.

Similarly, Senators would get a maximum of three terms: 18 years.  Just because.  And under the same staffing limits as Congressmen.  And donations to a political candidate would be severely restricted, replaced by air time on local TV and radio, which would be a condition of stations’ licensure.

I would have line-item veto authority over all budget matters.  No more would one state, by virtue of a long-term representative in Congress, get preferential treatment in matters of large federal expenditures, such as military bases or call centers.  Government expenditures are all “pork” according to some, except when that “pork” goes to their own districts, when it becomes “long overdue economic stimuli.”  I can’t give you a set formula that would govern my actions here.  You’ll just have to trust me.

Health care: big problem, but not insoluble.  I would set a timetable for long-term overhaul–say, 10 years.  And I would listen to the concerns of all who are involved.  Congress, of course, must represent the will of the people.  Pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and the insurance industry, too.  I would start with the premise that we all need to recognize that there is truly no such thing as a free lunch–someone, in the end, pays the freight for everything.  And most people just nod at that notion and accept that the costs are out of line, and that it is all too big for us to solve.

Here’s the thing: it’s not really that way.  I’d start with some assumptions that are not widely considered.  “The cost of medical care” includes much that is not salaries or bandages or saline solution, etc.  A primary care physician may pay thousands of dollars in malpractice insurance, for example.  Why? Just think about that robocall you got today advising you that if you or a loved one has suffered from side effects from XYZ drug, you may be entitled (emphasis mine) to compensation, etc., etc.  Drug companies spend millions to develop chemicals that will have this or that effect on humans.  Then, once the drugs are approved for human use, the companies spend millions more to advertise them!  The costs of all this development and branding, of course, are paid by the consumer…well…in reality, by his insurance, assuming he has insurance.

The insurance industry is, like all industries, out to make a buck.  There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but, unlike some guy who works in a hardware store or a woman who runs a beauty salon, an insurance company, if it has to pay out a multi-million dollar claim, can pass on the cost of that payment to its consumers in the form of higher rates.  And they all get hit with this sort of catastrophic cost at times, and all pass on the costs.  Who pays the increased costs?  Doctors, nurses, and other people involved in the delivery of health care.  How do they pay?  Through cost of services that builds in money for that insurance.  And who pays that?  You and I do, in premiums.

Who benefits from this spiral of costs and benefits?  Lawyers (Why do you think they make those robocalls?) and some winners of lawsuits.  If our hypothetical hardware store employee dies from some negligence or malpractice, his wife and his kids should be entitled to have his insurance make up for the loss of his earning power.  But why, if he makes $25,000 a year, should that compensation soar into the tens of millions?  Two words: “pain” and “suffering.” Remember, I said ten years to settle health care?  Huge rewards are at the root of high insurance rates, both for participants in health care delivery and for those who are its consumers.  There has to be reform of that system, and that means that ambulance-chasing lawyers will have to settle for less, and so will survivors. There should be a common-sense solution, but the current system has huge rewards, and the lawyers will howl.  We’ll get it worked out–within a few years.  The long-term final result is single-payer health care, just as it is in every other first-world country in the world.  It’s inevitable.

Church and state are separate in US law and practice, right?  Then why does the state permit any organization that meets certain minimum standards (really minimum) to evade many of the taxes that a flower shop or bakery would pay? This has had the effect of permitting some organizations to operate tax-free or at least at a reduced tax rate.  I would abolish this early on.  To the idea that some would no longer be able to operate, I can only shrug.  The state has no interest in fostering religion, or it must impartially foster all religions.  I opt for none.  Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen,  Jerry Falwell, Jr., will not starve. They are in reality TV personalities or corporate pitchmen anyway.

Infrastructure?  We really need it.  Trillions of dollars’ worth.  Decaying roads, bridges, water lines, and more must be rebuilt, and this is not open to debate.  Financing it all is a major problem, but not one that can’t be solved.  Institute, if need be, a 50-state lottery.  Or some combination of that and a spree of closing tax loopholes.  Or a temporary raise in gas taxes–a 25-cent levy on each gallon of gas sold in the US would raise billions, and it could be sunsetted, made to expire after 5 or 10 years.  Remember, in the runup to the election of 2008, we were paying nearly $4.00 a gallon, nationwide.  Now with gasoline at about $2.50, we’re driving more but enjoying it less.  Fix those roads!  And every road that gets repaved, every bridge that gets rebuilt, all create jobs that can’t be outsourced to China or Bangladesh.

There is a lot more that could be done, even without a king.  Will it?  I don’t know.  Will we sink into the crowd of second-tier nations?  We could; some would say we already have.  Let’s dream bigger.

President Pence

In yesterday’s post, I laid out the grim circumstances vis-à-vis a possible impeachment of President Trump.  I take no joy from such guesswork, but I think that even if you are a blind Trump worshipper, the possibility has to impinge on your thought processes by now that the man is a walking disaster as President of the United States; whether he is temperamentally unsuited to the job, mentally not quite up to it, or just too devil-may-care for the awesome responsibilities, he is not a good president.  What’s more, I sense no desire in the man to “grow into” the job.  For all of you who think that being the head honcho of a family business enterprise is a good way to prepare to be President of the United States (and leader of the Free World), I beg you to look at the results.

Today’s news brings even more reason to suppose that the Trump/Russia/Comey saga will turn out to be even more of a whack-a-mole game wherein each time Trump tries to bash some emerging scandal, another just crops up.  One consequence of advancing age is that “everything old is new again,” and I am eerily reminded of something from a time when I had much more hair and much less worldly experience—a steady drip-drip of scandal that came to be called Watergate and came to cost Richard Nixon the White House.  All the same, I do not see Trump being impeached by the current Congress, as I explained yesterday.  I would not be surprised, though, by Trump’s resignation at some point (or removal via the 25th Amendment), which leads to the same end: Mike Pence is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

Who is Mike Pence?  You probably know he was the Governor of Indiana, but before that, did you follow his career at all?  I will present no brilliant insight here, only a boring list of the things he did or signed into law as the chief executive of that state.  It’s all a matter of public record.  You can even find it through Wikipedia.  But once I had read through it all, I had the sinking feeling of knowing that a Pence presidency will not end the country’s struggles, and it may make the whole things worse.

In capsule form, then:

Mike Pence, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was, in his earlier life, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic.  He graduated from the University of Indiana’s law school in 1986.  During his college years at Hanover he converted to evangelical Christianity and to Reagan-inspired “conservatism.”  He was in private legal practice for two  years before deciding to run for Congress in 1988 at age 29.  He lost.  Two years later, he ran again, and lost again.  He spent 1991-93 as president of an Indiana “think tank” closely linked to the Heritage Foundation, that well-known reactionary, oops, “conservative” national think tank that loves to hinder the power of government at every level to work for things like a higher minimum wage and regulation of pollution, etc., that it regards as necessary byproducts of modern society.  Lower corporate taxes are another of its favorite causes.

Pence left that position to go full-time into “conservative” talk radio as host of his own show, where he billed himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”  He continued his radio gigs until 1999.  At some point in the 1990’s (I don’t care enough to find the particular dates) it became known that Pence, during his Congressional campaigns, had used donated campaign funds to pay for a host of personal expenses.  Such diversion of campaign donations was found not to be in violation of the law at the time, though it did damage his campaign and his reputation,  In 2000, after Indiana had undergone redistricting, and the boundaries and numeration of its Congressional districts were different from those of his earlier runs, he ran again, and this time, he won.

Pence served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, and in 2006, associated himself with the “Tea Party” faction of the Republican Party.  In that year, he ran against John Boehner for leadership of the Republican caucus and was soundly defeated.  In his dozen years in Congress, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions.  None became law.  In 2010, he was the top choice for President by the Values Voters Summit, that collection of voters who seek commitment by political figures to stop social change through government action on matters such as drug legalization, LGBT issues, and abortion.

2012 saw Pence declare for the Republican nomination for Governor of Indiana.  He won the republican nomination, and then went on to win the General Election with 49.1 % of the vote in a reliably “red” state.

So Pence’s term as Governor ran from 2013 to 2017.  The list of accomplishments of that term include the following:

Reducing college and university funding in Indiana.

Reducing funding for Family and Social Services.

Reducing funding for the Department of Corrections.

Overseeing a job growth rate in Indiana that lagged the national rate.

Killing Indiana’s inheritance tax.

Cutting business taxes in several categories, a favorite Heritage Foundation position which supposedly improves business climate in a state and leads businesses from other states to relocate.  Job creation did not respond, and Carrier Corp. resisted Pence’s entreaties to maintain its manufacturing in the state.  Later, Trump joined in this effort, and let him and Pence argue that they had “saved” Carrier jobs in Indiana.  Nonetheless, many Carrier jobs were lost, along with several million tax dollars in “incentives” given to Carrier in the deal.

Sought increased funding for charter schools and voucher programs.

Declared Indiana to be a “pro-coal state” and resisted the “overreach” of EPA clean air standards.

Defunded Planned Parenthood clinics, even those that did not furnish abortion services.

Signed and defended a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which critics said was designed to let businesses and private individuals discriminate legally against LGBT persons.  Later, faced with the possible loss of millions of dollars in convention business and business expansion, he backed down and signed a revised law.

Signed a controversial abortion restriction measure which would have required, among other things, burial or cremation for any “remains” after an abortion procedure.  It was struck down soon thereafter.

Attempted to ban resettlement of refugees from Syria within Indiana.

There’s more, but if by now (or maybe a while ago) you got the idea that Pence is one more reactionary who talks calmly and works for an agenda of restrictions on personal liberty, lack of restrictions and low taxes on corporations, I’m with you.  I do not want to see President Pence, but I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed.

Some thoughts: Our Now and Future Political Crisis

If you have read from this blog before, you know that I write about U.S. political affairs often, not because I necessarily want to, but because the spectacle that is the current U. S. administration fairly cries out for attention.  And I, as many other Americans, keep on looking on with the horror akin to witnessing a train wreck.  As the carnage mounts, I recall having predicted in this space, on Election Day Eve, 2016, that Donald Trump will serve at most one four-year term, and likely not that much.  Today, I stand by that prediction as much as ever.  In this post, I will comment on some of what reinforces my initial thought.  A follow-up post in a day or two will lay out why I think Trump’s removal from office would not end the crisis; it might, in fact, make it worse.

A president’s term in office may come to a premature end in three Constitutional ways: his own death, impeachment and removal by congress, and resignation.  In my own lifetime, unbelievable as it is, I have seen one president die in office (Kennedy); one be impeached though not removed from office (Clinton), and one who watched an inexorable march begin toward impeachment and resigned from office before it could come to fruition (Nixon).  From 1789 to 1998, only one President (Andrew Johnson) was impeached and was not removed from office.  Impeachment was, is, and was meant to be, a serious thing, not lightly undertaken by any present or future Congress.  A President’s removal by impeachment is extremely difficult, requiring the votes of two-thirds of the Senate.  It is difficult to imagine two-thirds of the current Senate agreeing to anything, since the two parties view nearly everything in terms of their own re-election.

Edit: A good friend from my days with State reminded me that there is another way a president may be removed from office–via the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which deals with the inability of the President to carry out his duties.  It is complex and allows the Vice President to assume the duties of the President as the “Acting President.”  This would be a can of worms on a scale never before seen, (if it became more than some brief period) but is also an interesting possibility as a way of taking power from the Donald should his mental state at some point be adjudged as not up to the challenge.  End note.  Thanks, Dave!

In the case of Trump, there is plentiful speculation as to his eventual impeachment.  Much of it has solid legal grounding, but he will not be impeached unless, by a curious convergence of events, Democrats, either with the help of some disgusted Republicans, or with a newly-elected majority in the House of Representatives after the 2018 elections, manage to get Articles of Impeachment through the House.  Republican Senators would have to be haunted by the prospect of their own electoral underperformance to a degree that they decide to attempt to influence Trump to resign and disappear from the public eye.  Given Trump’s egotistical and narcissistic tendencies, his agreement would be hard to envision.  But I could easily see a long series of delaying tactics by the Senate (Mitch McConnell could drag this out for a long, long time…) with the endgame of having some more conventional Republican challenge Trump in the Primaries for the 2020 campaign.  One can only imagine the turmoil of a weakened Trump fighting the party who urged the electorate to accept and embrace him.  Third-party bids?  Maybe.  At any rate, 2020 appears, at least so far, to have the potential for heavy-duty political turmoil.

We are in the midst of an odd political moment when impeachment is so unlikely as to be of negligible consideration.  But wait–I mentioned above that the solid legal means for impeachment already exists, and I do believe it.  The so-called “emoluments clause” of the Constitution is generally understood to prohibit the President to make money off the office above and beyond the salary to which he is entitled from that office.  In brief, the argument that Trump is profiting off the office of President is based on a couple of facts: he has a long-term lease on a property in Washington, D. C., upon which one of Trump’s companies built a hotel (plastered, of course, with his name).  The hotel is often occupied by persons with business before the government of the U. S. (and thus before Trump), and so such persons might think that they curry favor with the President by staying in the hotel or eating in its restaurant.  Far-fetched?  Not at all.  A similar situation applies in the case of “Mar-a-Lago,” the resort property Trump owns and uses for his weekends.  In a recent meeting Trump had with the Chinese president, can you imagine how much money flowed to the Trump property by numbers of Chinese government employees who stayed at the property?  But never mind.  He will never be called upon to defend himself from charges of “government for profit.”

Another facet of the “for personal gain” way of thinking is Trump’s refusal to put any of his considerable assets into any sort of trust.  Several presidents have been wealthy men in their own right; it has been the normal procedure in these cases (until now) that the president transfer his assets into the care of a “trustee” who keeps the asset in a “blind” trust while the president is in office.  Theoretically, at least, the president is kept from manipulating the interests of the people’s business in line with his own business’ interests.  It has never been a perfect system for insulating one from the other, but Trump has essentially thumbed his nose at the whole concept by placing his assets in the control of relatives.  This isolates him, he insists. It doesn’t, insist hordes of experts.  Again. it really doesn’t matter.  The Republican majority in Congress will never hold him to account.

And now, we see the spectacle of the President’s firing of the FBI director  he lauded during the campaign for digging into his opponent’s e-mails.  Now, six  months post-election, he cited this treatment of Hillary Clinton as grounds for Comey’s removal.  At least he did at first, though he later blithely admitted that he had decided to fire Comey before he asked his Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (who tasked the memo out to his Assistant Attorney General). to write a justification for the firing.  Floating the airy statement that Comey “was not doing a good job,” he later said the ongoing probe by the FBI of Russian influencing of the 2016 election was part and parcel of the whole sordid episode.  And if this investigation turns out to engulf more of the Trump organization and the Trump campaign, the phrase “obstruction of justice” will be on the lips of all official Washington.  Impeachable offense?  Yes.  Will he he be called to account?  Again, I doubt it.

So what if Trump, by some miracle, is impeached?  Or suppose Trump tires of being questioned and just decides he’ rather sit on his gold-throne toilet in Manhattan?  What happens?  Mike Pence is what happens.  And that is not an outcome to be desired.  More in the next post.

Who’s up for some “Reform?”

What does the word reform mean?  As with many other words, it tends to mean different things to different people.  And when it comes into the political arena, it means not only different things to different people, but in the mouth of a politician, its meaning may shift with the wind, so that what you hear may not be what was meant.  Or what was meant was not supposed to come through clearly, or maybe it was just the thing to say at the time at some rally, and meant just about nothing.

Since we are in the first year of a new presidential administration in Washington, the air is thick with talk of reform.  What can we take from this talk?  Well…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online lists as its first definition “to put or change into an improved form or condition.”  Good!  I think of reform pretty much like that.  If I speak of reforming bad habits, and if I am sincere about the whole thing, I should be a better man thereafter.  If a company spokesman talks about reforming its customer service procedures, that should result in service that is better, and which more people will find pleasing.  So the idea of change for the sake of improvement is pretty well baked into the shared public perception of “reform.”

What the western world knows as the Reformation caused such a rift between Martin Luther on one side and Pope Leo X, and their respective followers, that Luther’s attempt to reform the church from within, followed by Leo’s negative reaction and attempts to get Luther to back down, resulted in a rift that is now nearly 500 years old.  Such is the way of reform; while everyone seems to think it’s a good thing, any two advocates will have a hard time defining what is true reform.

And, with all that as prologue, I will settle on two themes that advocates frequently cite as being in need of reform: the US tax code and the US system of legal immigration.  Both have been used as debate points by many politicians over numerous campaigns, with little change resultant.  If everyone would like to see these areas reformed, why is there never a real and lasting effort to push forward consensus legislation and then implement such legislation?

I have written about immigration once before, and I really don’t want to belabor this one issue, but it bears repeating that this becomes a “front and center” issue only in federal election years.  Of course, it is an item of federal jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction alone, so there is some logic to the cyclical importance.  On the other hand, if it is as important as it is made to seem during each presidential cycle, shouldn’t work continue in the off years to solve this issue?  In reality, immigration is used by opposing sides only as a club to beat other political candidates as being either “soft on immigration” or as “heartless” toward the huddled masses.  Old familiar slogans get repeated (“We are all immigrants” on one side, and “let’s take care of our own first,” for example).

The Trump campaign made all sorts of hay out of a gross distortion of the truth in the 2016 campaign, namely that huge numbers of illegal immigrants were “pouring across our southern border.”  Of course, Trump himself profited by citing a few cases of crimes committed by these illegals to whip up fear that some dark-complexioned foreigner was waiting behind each tree to either steal your job, your spouse, or maybe murder you.  In truth, our southern border, in recent years, has been more of an exit for illegals (or undocumented immigrants, if that falls more easily on your ears) than an entry point.  11,000,000 is the widely accepted estimate of people present in the US (and not all from south of the Rio Grande, either) now present in some violation of visa law, and it is gradually declining as people from points south return home at a greater rate then they enter.  And those who do enter illegally or stay beyond their legal visa status do not commit serious crime more frequently than the native-born American population.

What is meant by Trumpists, then, when they speak of immigration reform?  Beefed-up enforcement and throw the bums out, of course.  This is consistent with their “America first” rhetoric.

On the other side are many of Trump’s own business colleagues, who benefit from any depressing effect on wages that results from a shadowy, fearful labor force.  They are joined by people whose humanitarian instincts cause them to sympathize with those who seek to answer the call of the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor…”  At some point in any discussion of the issue, someone is bound to assert that “We are all immigrants!”

If Trumpists get their way, legal immigration will decrease in absolute terms, but you can bet the supply of cheap immigrant labor in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and a handful of other locations will continue.  I will add one pure opinion of mine on the issue of legalization of the many who live and work here without the inherent legal right to do so (the so-called “undocumented immigrants”): Here’s as offer.  Come out of the shadows. Present yourself along with proof of your stay and your employment (or some other reason why the American public should want you to remain).  I would reward such people with documentation that would let them remain as long as they are not convicted of any crime (I mean crime, not infractions like speeding or bouncing a check), in a provisional status for a long period of time–say, 10 years.  No mass legalization into full status as happened under Ronald Reagan’s “legalization.”  Large numbers of Americans are sympathetic enough–many because they know someone in questionable status–to agree to some remedy.  What they do not want is for “scofflaws” to be rewarded by becoming eligible for the same benefits as people who enter legally, and at the same rate.  Compromise?  Sure, that’s what you call anything that leaves both sides equally unhappy.

Tax reform?  No reform in the sense of improving the current state of things is going to happen.  Period.  Full stop.  Republicans may have enough strength in the current House of Representatives to  force through one or more of their fantasy measures (and I’ve talked about this before, as well) such as an outright repeal of the estate tax, which would stop any tax on estates of over about 5 million dollars.  Stop the excruciating levy on the Paris Hiltons (oh, and the Ivanka Trumps, coincidentally) of the world.

Democrats do not capitalize on arithmetic.  Stuck as their rhetoric is on talk of “a gift for the one per cent,” this fails to convert to anything that will  make anyone think in concrete terms.  One per cent is one person per hundred, ten people in a thousand, 100 people in ten thousand, 1,000 people in 100,000, and 10,000 people in a million.  I will never sniff being one of the top one per cent in income, and chances are, you never will either.  Your taxes and mine are not likely to be reduced by any “reform” that comes to pass in the Trump years.   The idea will be to try to buy us off with five dollars here and there so we will not notice Wall Street celebrities socking away more millions that they might heretofore have paid taxes on.  And the talk of eliminating the deduction of state and real estate taxes might even lose us that five dollars.

WAKE UP, America!  Do you really think Donald Trump is a “little guy’s advocate”?  If so, just wait.  Bernie Madoff will be out of prison some day.

Why Do Only 2% of Trump Voters Have Remorse?

It has now been more than five months since the voters of the United States of America took a leap of something–faith (?) and sort of, voted Donald Trump into the seat once occupied by men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt (either one).  Actually, no: on November 8, 2016, the US electorate voted for Trump’s opponent by a margin of nearly 3,000,000.  Those voters, though, whether they realized it or not, just were clumped together in states with large populations, which meant that Trump, by carrying numbers of small states plus two or three populous ones, was able to put together enough votes from the Electoral College to win the real election with 306 of 538 Electoral College votes.

Now, I am not going to sing a chorus of “Abolish the Electoral College” as many have.  Actually, maybe I will one day, but not for now.  You see, I have never been able to make any sense out of holding onto a system devised to lure states with fewer voters (at the time the Constitution was written) disproportionate representation in election years, to “protect their interests” in the new federal system.  (And for most of these “small states,” the interest they were protecting was the right to keep slavery legal and profitable.)  The Electoral College allows each state a number of electors equal to the number of U.S. Senators plus the number of Congressmen it sends to Washington.  Thus, in 2016, Wyoming, with a population of 568,300, gets three votes (two Senators, one Congressman) in the Electoral College.  California, population 37,342,000, if it were granted representation proportionate to Wyoming’s, would get…wait for it…66 times (since its population is 65.74 times that of Wyoming) as many Electoral College votes, or, 198!  What does it get in actuality?  A very large vote, at 55 electors, but…well, that’s not proportional.  One California Elector represents 678,045 constituents, while one from Wyoming represents only  189,433.  “One man (or woman!), one vote?”  Not so much!  But that’s a digression from my topic just now.

Every election produces a few mind-numbing trends and statistics, and every aftermath, that is, a new presidential term, may equal the election itself in terms of such surprises and riddles.  At the moment, the current administration is off to a lackluster start that features ethical lapses, brazen nepotism (Ivanka and Jared as Federal employees with West Wing offices?!?), no real legislative achievements, hints of campaign collusion with Vladimir Putin’s Russia…shall I go on?  You know the story.  I would have expected that a great many voters, including an appreciable number of Trump voters would by now be scratching their heads and asking themselves how in the world they convinced themselves that a vote for this was the right way, and continues, under current evaluation, to be the right way to have spent their ballots.  But a recent national poll shows that only 2% of Trump supporters are now experiencing “buyer’s remorse.”  One, two.  That’s one out of every fifty.  Let that sink in for a second or two.

Okay.  Now let’s examine the regular list of reasons why maybe, just maybe, people who supported the current occupant of the White House still feel fine with their choice.  The most obvious one, tried and true, is that under our current two-party system, each candidate, whatever his/her warts might be, will get, at the least, 35% of the electorate.  These 35 percenters remain true to their man (or woman) whatever comes to pass during the subsequent administration, so write these folks off.  Period.  If Trump plunges the country into Depression and war, these people will not waver, usually announcing loudly that “He is the President of all Americans, and he deserves the support of all Americans!”  I get that.  I really do.  Of course, at the same time, such voters’ loyalty only extends to Presidents of the party to which these voters are unstintingly loyal.  And just to be clear, I did say each of the two major parties has a core of such loyalists.

So, given that Trump won only 46% of the popular vote, and 35% of the total electorate demonstrates such fervent party loyalty, that leaves only 11% of his total who might be thinking they may have made a mistake, and we only need to look at that 11% to understand why so few are in the “wavering” category.

There must absolutely be some among them who are shaking their heads at the unfairness of judging Trump so soon into his mandate.  These folks may be thinking back and remembering that Bill Clinton came back from a nosedive in popularity in his early days in office–who among us over 40 can not recall Clinton’s being roasted in the cable news shows and editorial columns as his haircut in Air Force One clogged the runway at Los Angeles, the indignant comments about such vanity and the nerve of delaying so many good folks over something like that?  Or the Paula Jones fiasco?  His presidency survived those shocks and more, and he left office only after two full terms.  So let’s arbitrarily assign a figure, say, of 6% as a possible figure to quantify those who think in that way.

Another couple of percentage points can be assigned to people who are thinking (and saying) “Hey, the guy is a successful businessman and that’s what we need right now!  Just wait, he will straighten out the illegal immigration problem and slap down that runt in North Korea!  I don’t care if he doesn’t act like a normal politician. These are not normal times.”  I have heard all of this, and I know you have, too.  It is probably a genuine thought process, even if I don’t think it excuses much of what I have seen in the first 100 days.

But all of that taken together still does not explain away the extraordinarily low figure of repentant Trump voters.  And I puzzled over this, unable to think of a reason why, if I had been a Trump voter, I would not now be face-palming and saying “Never again.”  And then it hit me.

You may be altogether different from me.  You may live in another area than I do.  Unless you are over 65, male, Caucasian, and live in a semi-rural area, you may think much as I do, but, belonging to that demographic, I hear people express certain thoughts that you may not hear.  And I have heard a lot of those thoughts.  In fairness, I have criticized such as George W. Bush, who I thought often spoke and behaved as a rude, less than brilliant man.  And I still think history will judge him as a pawn to the neoconservatives in his party during his first term and half of his second term, especially of their chief practitioner, Dick Cheney. But I never sank to the level of some of the criticism, often baseless except for sheer prejudice, that I have heard thrown at President Obama and then at Hilary Clinton.

I have heard poorly-spoken people refer to Obama as “stupid” (in fact, Trump himself has been guilty of this), a “goddamned foreigner”, “dirty Muslim” and yes, more than once, the dreaded N-word itself.  The 2016 campaign was not kinder to Hilary Clinton; words such as “bitch” as well as the C-word that is not used in polite society.  For those who think in this way, it is all too natural to denigrate anyone who does not fit their picture of an ideal president, that is, Caucasian and male.  For them, Trump represents “getting their country back.”  I associate these people and their way of thinking with such political figures as Mitch McConnell, who famously violated all precedent and then dissembled about it all as he not only stopped Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy but bragged that there would not even be any Senate hearings for Obama’s proposed new Associate Justice.  McConnell also, rather than pledging to find any areas of common interest on which to work with Obama, nakedly said he would make a priority of making sure Barack Obama was a one-term president.  Or think Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a cheerfully unrepentant racist who now serves at Trump’s pleasure as the Attorney General of the United States.  Voter rights?  Not while he’s around.  He has pledged to go after “voter fraud,” the same “issue” that troubles reactionaries his age all over the country.

Change their minds?  I doubt it. These people think they’ve “gotten their country back.”   Well, I hope it isn’t too badly broken and warped when someday they have to hand it over.

Commercialism: You Don’t Need to Actually PRODUCE Anything…

Warning: you are about to encounter a near-rant, and it may get uncomfortable…

Philosophy,  political science, psychology, and religion are full of –isms.  In this particular usage, and for the duration of this (near) rant, I will use –ism, and commercialism in particular, in the general sense of “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory,” as taken from Merriam Webster, as opposed to a particular belief or prejudicial manner of thinking.  So, to be clear, commercialism, as I will use it here, refers to the distinctive cause of packaging absolutely anything, any occasion, or any idea as a possible commodity: something that can be sold to other human beings at a profit to the packager.

I am not some doctrinaire socialist or moralizer fastened on the idea that the word profit is an obscenity or that all corporations are evil in all they do and all they propose to do.  Working for a living and profiting from one’s labor are cornerstones of our (American) system of free enterprise, after all, and many other countries operate similar economies, at least in those aspects.  What I like less and less as time goes by is the largely unspoken, though increasingly powerful and omnipresent idea that, if a buck can be made from something, it must be exploited, and those bucks must be extracted from other members of society.  A corollary effect is that once such exploitation has started, those who are unwilling or unable to pay for the thing someone has successfully made into a commodity are frozen out, prevented from enjoying something they might previously have had at lesser expense.

Even more egregious is the idea of making oneself into a distributor or controller of the product of another’s labor, knowledge, or goodwill; the more this sort of thing gets added into the ultimate cost to the ultimate consumer, the more expensive it becomes.

One of the worst examples of this magnification of costs is our American nonsystem of health care delivery.  Health certainly is a basic human need–if you get appendicitis, and it is not taken care of, a ruptured appendix is the likely result, followed by peritonitis and death.  The good news is that a relatively simple surgical procedure and postoperative medication will likely avoid all that.  Are there costs?  Of course.  The surgeon is entitled to be compensated for his skills, any assistants likewise, and the antibiotics the patient consumes after the surgery are not free of cost.  And the hospital that houses all this has an attendant cost, too.

Sound complicated? Of course.  But let’s examine what has evolved in this country in response to such a need.  Some people will never need such medical care and will go to their graves with their appendices intact.  Others will be less fortunate and will need numerous medical interventions during their lives.  As a society, we like to see ourselves as compassionate.  We don’t want to see an inflammation of the appendix become a death sentence.  Barring some system of charity health care or government administration (shudder!) that is exactly what would happen, though.  So the solution here has been the industry of health insurance–more accurately called hospitalization insurance, but I digress.  Each surgical invention results in a bill which is submitted to the patient’s insurance company, which may employ claim adjustors and adjudicators, all to ensure that “the company’s” money is not paid out in spurious or inflated claims, administrative personnel, etc., etc., and a highly-compensated CEO, all of whom are entitled to be compensated for their work, as well.  Costs are spread over a spectrum of users.

Are these intermediaries immoral, thieving wretches?  Of course not.  They are all striving to excel inside the system they were born into.  But consider Canada, our neighbor to the north.  Canadians enjoy a standard of living similar to ours, and their health care is good.  Their life expectancy is better than ours–a recent study (2015) by the World Health Organization puts their life expectancy, on average at 82.2 years, while we Americans are at 79.9.  They have a health care system that covers them all through a government program that pays all medical costs.  Of course, ultimately they all pay for their own health care through taxation or other government funding methods, but still…it works.  Just as an aside, I read an article recently about the auto industry.  It contained an interesting little tidbit: with the US dollar and its Canadian counterpart at par, Ford or GM or Chrysler produce the average car meant for the US market at a cost of $1500 less in Ontario than in Michigan.  Why? Well, you must have guessed.  The US autoworker working under his negotiated contract bargained for (largely) company-paid health insurance, while his counterpart to the north is covered by his national health care plan.

Need another example?  Look at the music industry.  Take a new, young artist who has come up with a style that someone in the established industry finds exciting enough to offer the artist a contract, typically involving the artist’s producing x amount of music in y length of time.  The recording label pays the artist a fixed sum, with (maybe) a fixed commission determined by the sales of the artist’s music.  There is a story about the band Van Halen (which, unfortunately, I can’t confirm, but still…) wherein Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist, claimed they recorded one album that sold 2,000,000 copies, and after they had toured in support of that album, were informed by the record label that the band still owed several million dollars to the label.  Incredulous, Eddie said he hoped the album would not sell 2,000,000 more copies or the band would owe twice as much money.  Was the label entitled to recoup its costs for promotion and distribution?  Of course.  How were those costs figured?  Hmmm…

More recently, Taylor Swift had a dispute with Spotify, the popular file-sharing service that lets consumers download and listen to music.  Swift, one of the most popular contemporary artists in the world, was getting less than one cent per play from Spotify, which led her to pull much of her music from the service altogether.  Most of such a service is, of course, automated, with selections made through the consumer’s computer, so there would appear to be little justification for charges by the company of much over one cent!

And finally…this is going to irritate some people, but it is what got me thinking along these lines in the first place.  Today is the eve of Easter, the Christian feast which observes the Resurrection of Christ.  I will not preach to anyone what he or she should believe or practice.  I will admit to being troubled at the number of people who huckster in the name of religion, and I am not, in this instance, talking about those who solicit in the name of a legitimate charity.  Jesus, in His time on Earth, after all, did advise that, to follow him, one should feed the hungry, house the homeless, etc.  He did not advise that one should subsidize TV preachers or the proprietors of distant megachurches.  If you want to do that, I have no business telling you not to.  I will say that these people seem like little more than self-appointed intermediaries–commercial enterprises of something that had no commercial aspect in the beginning.  And it’s available at some location near you at little cost–even if you are a shut-in.

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you Happy Easter, Passover Blessings, or, Eid Mubarak.