Pause 2.0

This is going to take some time. Please continue to be patient.

Post images will continue to be missing for now. Theme will be abnormal. “All is calm, all is bright…”

Economic Problems

We see it on education. On healthcare. On climate. On recreational drugs. On abortion. On practically every issue our nations face.

Our debate isn’t really about any issue, per se. It’s all come down to the economic structures we use to do work.

Take education. We know how to teach people things, more or less. While there are challenges, the fundamental question of education is one of funding. The conservatives want to have McSchools pop up across the land, where you go in and order a number six with cheese and you learn how to do algebra (with cheese). The liberals want to continue to have school lunch: you go to school and the meal is the meal.

In both scenarios, the mechanism of learning is basically the same: read, hear, watch, then practice. The idea that we need to undercut the fabric of education, that this has to be a debate rather than an experiment, is silly, but for scarcity of time and money.

The same is true on healthcare. There’s nobody saying we need to trepan patients’ skulls to let the demons out. The medical science is advancing as it is, more or less on schedule. The argument is over how much money should be made, and how should it be allocated. The courts are currently blocking the march to private-single-payer with their rulings on anti-trust actions by the DOJ.

And climate, where the oil companies aren’t arguing that global warming isn’t real (not really), that the disasters aren’t coming, but that we should pay for it by enduring its effects, rather than mitigating it. Or, as some Republicans now push for a carbon tax over regulation, maybe there can be a market structure.

Reduced to this high-level view, our problems are fundamentally about who profits and how much, a frank discussion that is sorely needed but that is continually obfuscated by pretending it’s about healthcare or abortion.

We should not be fanatical about which side of the imaginary public-private line a service like education or healthcare resides on. But, more importantly, the people should demand high-quality and low-cost with protections and rights retained wherever the service lives. That includes representation, due process, fiduciary duties, and the like.

The politicians need to stop having fake arguments about issues and start having the real argument about the monetary structures of society.

In unrelated news, 1.5% of the current presidential term is already over. Just remember, every fortnight is 1% more of the term gone.

The High Price of Non-regulation

The Republican Unified Government (RUG), high off the fumes of kerosene they have bathed over the regulatory state, should open a window and call their accountants.

Regulation has a cost (nearly $900 billion for the past eight years, according to one study). But burning the check on externalities and leaving consumers unprotected has a cost, too. The RUG should be wary of its plan to abolish the sensible regulation alongside the onerous.

Consider the concept of healthcare, of medicine. When doctors diagnose an illness, it incurs a cost. That worker may need time off to recover, or may suffer under the side-effects of their prescription. The business may pay out some money to cover treatments. They may have to make accommodations for the worker’s weakened state, temporarily or permanently.

But the alternative, a worker dying on the job, the fear of other workers that they will arrive in the same state, is untenable. Worse, to fire someone for an illness, undermines the argument that employment is a stable, dependable method for allocating value to the individual.

Or consider food regulations, whether from the FDA or the USDA. Those hard-won protections of food quality arose from public outrage at the contaminated foodstuffs that people were buying. Maggoty bread and spoiled meat may fit with the latest RUG-endorsed diet fad (“The That Food Looks Rancid Diet”), but most Americans want wholesome meals for them and theirs.

No. Slash-and-burn regulatory policy will result not in record gains, record wealth, but will instead only hasten the adoption of stricter regulation in the years that follow. It will hasten migration to the states that hold fast to their own regulations, as millions in places like Flint, Michigan start to recognize that it’s not worth it to live somewhere with poison water.

The cost of incompetent government is too high, and the Muralists are teeing themselves up to be a memory that will echo for generations against the emergence of any future RUG.

Things that are properly regulated stipulate a “pay me now or pay me (more) later” arrangement. Just like with health insurance, paying up front is cheaper and easier than paying in the rear-view. The RUG would do well to study the problem and only eliminate or recast regulations that fail the obvious test of appropriateness.

The Trump ARG

“Alternative facts?” Try alternate reality. Alternate-reality games are a kind of live-action game where people have to cooperate to find clues and solve riddles.

But in the context of the new administration, there’s a new kind of ARG. The Trump administration sees the world as a game. It’s right there in his obsession with the “achievement” of winning the presidency—never mind that the presidency is no prize, but a job of enormous responsibility.

To the Muralists, it is a game. Of course, it’s always been a game, and a prize, of a certain sort. All presidents have had a certain level of gamesmanship-via-bullshit, as do all politicians. But at present, whether owing to the particular disposition of the president or to the level of game-ness the administration views the world with, the limits are far higher.

The willingness to march in front of the press and chastise them for reporting the truth, along with the feints toward curtailing access, point to an administration that believes it is freed from the restraints of the past. They believe that they can do big things, which is good, but they believe to do them they must break rules, which is bad. And, the things they seek to do are quite bad, too.

Worse, they believe they are living in an alternate reality game, where the victory is not measured by real outcomes, but by their ability to spin whatever outcomes occur.

There was lackluster turnout at the inauguration. Is that a defeat? Not if they deny the fact. But they believe, according to the rules of the game, it would be a defeat. So they play the game, denying reality.

Would it be a defeat if they admitted the fact? Of course not. Yes, Trump is unpopular. He will remain so until he repents his sins. He will remain so until he can point to real accomplishments and not just a lot of bullshit. But defeat is not found at any given point in a presidency, only at the whole.

Trump can always, to paraphrase Armstrong, direct his feet to the sunny side of the street, if he so chooses. But he chooses to walk in the shade. As does his administration. In the hot sun, they would find the game is not a game at all. They would have to face the reality they are positioned to manage.

I never believed they would be equipped to handle that reality. And so far, they don’t seem equipped to even confront it, preferring their game instead.

Welcome to the Trump Years

Officially, now, Donald John Trump the First is the 45th President of the United States of America. He has 1460 days to make America great again, which means:

  • Raising 30,000 people up from poverty per day
  • Legalize and stabilize some 7500 undocumented immigrants per day
  • Rehabilitate and release some 1500 state and federal prisoners per day
  • See 17,000 undereducated individuals achieve at least a GED per day
  • Employ or improve the employment of 11,200 unemployed or underemployed persons per day
  • Repair or replace 41 bridges per day, among other infrastructure improvements needed
  • Cut the carbon emissions another 1.25% per year to reach the 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020

And so on.

It will not be an easy task, and it will be all the harder for the resistance to greatness that the Republican party loyalists in Congress cling to. They seek not to address these problems with an eye to solution, but instead to focus on limited agendas to improve the bottom lines of a few corporations.

If President Trump truly wants to make America great, he will have to stave off the legislative assassins who will gut any real reforms he might seek.

Greatness is not a measure of the stock market. It is not found on balance sheets. It is quantifiable, but only in the quantity of humans who are prosperous. And prosperous not for a day, a week, a month, a year, or a presidential term, but for their lives. For their children’s lives. And on down the road.

If President Trump does not address the measures above, and others, he will not have succeeded in making America great. He will be held to that standard by history. He can either go down as another in a line of those he would say to, “You had four years, and yet you did not succeed.”

It is a weighty task. There is much to be done. But it is doable. It has always been doable. It will take a lot of work, but any president that is willing to put in the effort can achieve great things.

So, go ahead, punk. Make America great. I dare Trump. I double-dog dare Trump. What is Trump, a chicken? Bok-bok!

Whatever happened during the 2016 election, Trump is now president. He ran to make the country great, to shed the shrouds that have weakened us. Now he must perform.

The Impossibility of the Trump Era

Unconfirmed rumors from a Trump dossier. A shitshow of a press conference. (Need to come up with a better descriptor for that one; “kangaroo conference?”) The ongoing scandal of conflicts of interest that have no appearance of being mitigated which will lead to numerous lawsuits. The cabinet hearings with such revelations as the fact that Trump never bothered to discuss Russia with his pick for Secretary of State. And so on.

How can our attention stretch this thin? Will this be on the test? My brain hurts?

It seems the best practice is to just take in the scene. It’s all happening, but if you breathe, you can slow things down enough to just see it all unfolding. A Rube Goldberg Machine of a presidency is about to happen.

Don’t Believe His Lies

Trump is full of shit. Full-stop. Giving him an enema would leave behind a scaly, translucent orange skin and a big mess.

Stop waiting for him to make sense. Anything that he says you may agree with, that’s fine. He says all sorts of things. He doesn’t mean any of them, because he is not in a position to mean anything. Agreeing with a statement is not agreeing with the man.

The Trump agenda is to promise only the most-vague of outcomes, and then claim whatever is delivered was even better than what was promised. But Trump doesn’t care about details. He doesn’t want to know about details. He just wants to show up at the plot points and finesse the audience.

If You Can Read This, You’re Not the Audience

Trump’s audience is a very particular slice of the electorate. The people who voted for him do not comprise his audience. Only the people who buy absolutes are in the club. They believe Trump is the Wizard of Oz. He’s the preacher that’s—Holy shit! He just made that guy able to walk again!

There is a reason he has prosperity preachers lined up for the inauguration. They’re part of the same act. So unless you’re the sort that will buy that bullshit, Trump’s not speaking to you and doesn’t care about you. Don’t listen for him to make appeals that you care about. He doesn’t know how to con you, so he just walks on by to find someone he can work on.

He’s Going to be Hands-Off, but will Tweet His Own

Trump is just shoving parts under the hood and will turn the key and claim it’s all going so smoothly without having a clue. Between Pence and Priebus and the other advisers, they may keep the engine running, but at some point something will break.

Trump will lash out at his own cabinet members, blaming anybody but himself. Indeed, there is some circumstantial evidence that he largely chose his cabinet based on their names and their facial hair.

Maintain a mental distance from the news. It’s happening, but it’s too easy to go on wild-goose chases and snipe hunts with this sort of leader. Don’t do it. When Trump cries wolf, we owe it to ourselves to let him be eaten.

The 115th’s First Week

The mommy and daddy legislators packed lunches in leather backpacks and carted the rugrats to the Capitol. There was crying and separation anxiety and some had to change their pants after wetting themselves. Ah, they grow up so fast.

The Ethics Reform Ironies

Although they quickly backtracked, the House tried to gut ethics reform. The debacle highlighted how hypocritical and tone-deaf the legislators truly are. They had the gall to complain about their treatment at the hands of independent oversight, while they continue to ignore the plight of indigent defendants in criminal courts and civil courts throughout the country. Moreover, the Republican members gladly hounded the executive-branch with oversight attacks without a second thought to issues like due process or press overreach.

Meanwhile, folks called about it, then Trump tweeted against it, and then it went away. But for all the folks dealing with a case against them that can’t afford proper representation, Trump is silent and the House is making no first-day efforts to ease their burdens.

Does Trump deserve credit for being outraged with everybody else? Sure. Good job. But he also said the office was unfair, suggesting it needs reform. Again, fine. But what about criminal justice reform, specifically ensuring all defendants have access to equal justice and due process? Even the media hasn’t connected those dots, much less Trump. I’ll be waiting for Trump’s tweet about that.

Go ahead, reform the guard dogs at the Capitol. But you damn well better fix the other guard dogs while you’re at it.

Repeal and Retire to Be a Lobbyist?

The efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are underway, with the Senate clearing their hurdles and committees gearing up to write reconciliation language that will gut the health insurance law. A replacement will likely be left for future members of congress, as it seems reasonable that the current crop will run to the refuge of lobbying jobs as soon as possible upon recognition that replacing the law (or even finishing a repeal) is a task they are not suited for.

Trump Uproots Ambassadors’ Families, but Not His Own

As has been widely covered, Trump’s wife and his youngest male heir will remain where they currently reside while Trump moves to the capital, but now we know he doesn’t offer the same courtesy to the families of ambassadors who may not be replaced for months. Hip-hip-hypocrisy! (Though the common misspelling, hypocracy, might actually fit in this case.)

Cutting Peoples’ Healthcare to Pay for the Wall

Republicans and the Trump administration are planning to re-fund a dusty plan from the Bush years to build hundreds of miles of barriers along the southern border. The money they are cutting from health care is basically going to be redirected to build the wall. They are robbing Peter of healthcare to pay for a wall to keep Pablo out.

2⁵ (2⁶ – 1)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of 2017. So, final headlines of 2016.

Netanyahu’s on First?

President Obama continues to turn heads with foreign policy moves, but an inside source from the Trump transition team has admitted that these actions were taken to benefit the next president. It seems that the president-elect does not know “shit about dick,” according to a self-described “bigly official” of the transition.

In order to force the president-elect to learn the conflicts, Obama has undertaken several international shake-ups, so that Trump can see all the moving parts in real time. Among Trump’s questions were, “I thought Reagan killed the Soviets back in the 1980s, but they just changed their name?” and “If it means ‘City of Peace’ then why are they fighting over it?”

Putin’s Mама Wore Combat Boots, and Now You Can, Too

In a bid to match the gaudy inelegance of Trump’s own family businesses, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s will put out a line of smart, fashionable combat dress uniforms and equipment inspired by his dear мама’s own personal style. It should hit stores by early next winter.

Russian fashion critics are expected to rave over the new line, which they will all be forced to wear.

Republicans Unveil Sanctions… Against Themselves!

The House Republicans are moving ahead with a package of sanctions they say will restrain not just Vladimir Putin, but also American lawmakers who will be unable to help themselves from joining a Trump administration’s support for the brutal man.

One nameless Republican said: “When another country screws with us, we just do this. It’s tradition. So we felt it only appropriate to put the screws on ourselves to prevent the United States from being usurped.” Sanctions include the confiscation of their dog whistles, at least one bill that would force all churches to teach the controversy of God, and a requirement that all members do at least one fundraiser while dressed as clowns.

Building a Wall

The Trump transition revealed they will pay for the wall they will seek to build by moving all American business to Mexico and issuing a new tariff on imports. The move, while controversial among economists, will “probably raise enough money,” said Trump’s personal trainer (who is expected to play a key role in the new administration).

In related news, oil prices jumped to $10K BBL when it was revealed that everybody would have to make the commute to their new offices in Mexico. Commute times will range from minutes for those living near the border to more than a few days for those coming from Alaska and Maine. Oil prices sank back to $50 BBL after traders realized the logical contradiction of building a wall and then trying to drive through it. One trader is quoted as saying, “Good golly, I thought I was rich and then there’s that wall, I mean, we need to tear that sucker down as soon as it’s built so that it doesn’t affect us economically when we can’t get to our jobs in Mexico.”

Have a nice new year.

2016 Review

Only Two Posts Left! Get them while you can. This is the penultimate post for 2016.

People died, some famous, whom we remember, many not famous, whom we gloss over.

Political upheavals took root. The Arab Spring has given way to the Western Winter of Democracy.

Record temperatures, wildfires, floods and droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes.

Was 2016 as bad as the critics suggest? The economy is relatively healthy in the USA. There have been some slippages in things like distribution of wealth, life expectancy, and voting rights, but the basic outlook should seem positive on the whole.

A lot of people are fixated on the presidential victory of the infamous Donald Trump, but early indicators point to enough legislative friction and civic fervor to push back on anything crazy he might attempt. So Alaska might get invaded by Russia, or Miami might get a new above-ground salt-water swimming area a bit sooner than otherwise. New neighbors are nothing to be afraid of, and swimming is great exercise!

Sure, the Republicans are planning to cut taxes, cut Medicare, cut Social Security, block-grant Medicaid, repeal the Affordable Care Act, defund Planned Parenthood, dismantle the scientific capacities of our most-lauded federal agencies including NASA, the EPA, and the FDA… but all of that’s planned for 2017. This is supposed to be about the year we’re finishing, not the year yet to come.

And if the Republicans can cut all of that with a single blade, we’ll just package that up and sell it on late-night infomercials. If it can cut through the will of the people, it can cut through anything, including that fruit cake you got for Generic Winter Holiday.

Point is, 2016 was largely a fuse being lit. 2016 wasn’t the worst year in history, but it may represent the winter solstice, the start of an unfortunate historical period. The governmental explosion that is the Trump-administration-to-be will play itself out, and like always, humanity will work to right itself in the aftermath. Same goes for the Brexit and other pending disasters.

The real risk that Trump poses may not be his policies (however much damage they may do), but the legacy of skepticism that will result: the next generation of real, needed government shakeups may be harder to come by once Trump has tossed out a lot of rotten fruit that takes years to clean up.

The Uncertain Presidency

Is Donald Trump really the President-Elect, or is it fake news, or is it a bald-faced lie from a serial maker-upper, or is it the Russians?

As 2016 starts to close, there is massive uncertainty ahead on all fronts. Will the US continue to ignore climate change? Will millions lose their access to healthcare? Millions of others face deportation? Is the presidency headed toward autocracy? Kleptocracy?

And why isn’t Donald Trump doing anything to reassure the public? Why is he doing the opposite, spreading lies and increasing the uncertainty? Is he dumb? Mean? Uncaring? Insulated?

ProPublica is currently running a story about Agent Orange (rumored to be Trump’s Secret Service name) (ProPublica: 16 December 2016: “The Children of Agent Orange”). The piece reports, with the caveat that the finding is based on self-reporting data to the Department of Veterans Affairs, that higher levels of birth defects occurred in children of soldiers who were in contact with the carcinogenic herbicide.

One wonders what the effects of informational Agent Orange (i.e., the destruction of news credibility at the hands of fake news and other sources of informational mutilation) will have on the ability for democracy to function. To be sure, weaponized information is not as potent in its current form as Agent Orange was. Given the broad levels of propaganda, the amount of direct harm remains relatively low.

But is there a sort of informational equivalent of bioaccumulation? Does bad information build up in the minds of the gullible, leading to broader dysfunction over time? And what do we make of the fact that the President-Elect himself seems to be a victim and vector of the hoax news trend?

Early lessons seem to be:

  1. The bully pulpit just got a lot less useful. An oversized bloc of people will not be taking cues from a President Trump.
  2. In that vacuum, one assumes that a combination of civic leaders outside government and legislators will take his place.
  3. If such weakness continues throughout his term, there will be a primary challenge to Trump (something not seen since 1980 when Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter).
  4. If such weakness continues, the best-positioned state legislators will try more than usual to move up in 2018 to spring-board for 2020, even if it means a primary challenge to the party’s incumbent.

(The latter two depend on a number of factors, and it’s too early to say anything definitively, but 2018 and 2020 look to be every bit as bad as 2016 has been.)

When (and where) the legislature is weak, the presidency grows stronger. And vice versa. Power is not monolithic, so Trump will probably have some strength, somewhere. But one expects the Republicans to try to show their strength in Congress wherever they can. If they can manage to forestall infighting among their ranks, it will be despite Trump, who seems to sow dissension without even trying.