Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ethical Bankruptcy of House Republicans

Any objective observer of the known interaction between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials and allies during the campaign … not the transition … would say that at a minimum it creates the appearance of if not collusion, that is some agreement or understanding, then an effort on the part of the Trump campaign to encourage the Russians to intervene. 

Why else would there be so many contacts during the campaign?  Especially following Trump’s public invitation to the Russians to engage in cyber-espionage and hack Clinton’s private email server.  Then there is Roger Stone’s tweet prior to the DNC email dump by Wikileaks that “Wednesday @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”

If there indeed was collusion or cozying-up to the Russians by the Trump campaign for the purpose of encouraging them to engage in activities to degrade Clinton and swing the election to Trump, that would be an attack on our democracy far more serious than the Watergate break-in.  This demands an impartial inquiry into the events.

Yet we have Republicans in the House doing everything possible to play down the seriousness of this matter and turn it more into a hunt for the people who leaked information about the FBI investigation.

Recently Representative Nunes, who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee and thus is head of the House inquiry, committed various serious breaches of impartiality.  The first was when he took information he supposedly was given by an intelligence source and went straight to the White House and Speaker Ryan with it, without providing the information to the rest of his committee or even the ranking Democrat.  Then it was revealed that he met with this intelligence source in the White House, for a stated reason which is totally bogus.  And I used the word “supposedly” because he has refused to either say who gave him the information or reveal the specific pieces of information.

Given these lapses, together with the fact the Representative Nunes was on the Trump transition team and thus not just a supporter of Trump but close to him, one would expect that Speaker Ryan or some Republican in the House (the Senate does not interfere in the House’s business) would call for Nunes to recuse himself from the inquiry.  That has not happened to date.  Instead, the call has only come from Democrats.  And Representative Nunes has refused, saying, “It’s their problem.”

All of these Republicans are guilty of dereliction of the duty they undertook when they swore an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution.  The Trump campaign activities vis a vis the Russians smacks of treason.  Congress and the public deserve to know the full facts so that they can come to a decision whether these interactions were innocent or not.

It is relevant to note that this is not the first time that House Republicans have acted in a cavalier manner on such a serious matter.  When the basic facts of Watergate became known, not a single Republican on the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of strong subpoena powers.  And when the final vote on articles of impeachment was taken, only 6 of the 17 Republicans on the Committee voted in favor of impeachment.  After all the damning testimony!

Thankfully, the Senate Intelligence Committee appears as though it will be acting in a bipartisan impartial manner.  Senator Burr, the Republican Chair, and Senator Warner, the ranking Democrat, have jointly pledged to follow wherever the evidence leads, even to the President.  

I have not forgotten that the FBI is investigating these contacts, but their effort is limited to whether there was collusion.  This would be very difficult to prove, without a whistleblower.  So regardless how damning the circumstantial evidence is, given that their investigation is not open to the public, the public will never know absent their finding a “smoking gun.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

So You Want to Be Rid of Government Regulation?

Businessmen grouse about the burden of government regulations and paperwork.   They don’t want “pesky” inspectors snooping around.  The New York Times recently reported that small business owners are happy that Trump will free them from these burdens.   Investors are clearly cheered by the prospect of lower corporate taxes and less regulation.  

But does this put the public at risk?  Before the industrial revolution, when the people who made things had a very personal connection with their customers and took pride in the craftsmanship of their work, there was no need to protect the consumer or general public from the actions of business.

But after the industrial revolution, that relationship  changed.  There was no longer a direct connection, no craftsmanship.  Mass production became the norm, with workers toiling under terrible conditions, and profit became the main premium for the businessman, the main source of pride, not the product.  During this period, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, both smaller industries and large conglomerates became rapacious, with no concern for either their workers, their consumers, or the environment.

To protect workers, consumers, and the environment, the federal government began to pass laws and enacted regulations to force industry to act in a responsible way.  (See my post, “The Responsibility Crisis.”)  The need for such oversight is as great today as ever because of investor pressure on industry to constantly increase profits.

If the business community wants to get rid of government regulation, then all businesses must have in their articles of incorporation language that speaks to their responsibility to their workers, their consumers, and the environment.  And those articles must provide for both regular impartial reports regarding their actions and an easy means for workers or effected third parties to complain and sue if they are not meeting their responsibility.

Corporations are a creature of the law and are protected and favored in many ways because they were perceived as providing a benefit to the greater good.  If they cannot be depended upon, on their own initiative, to protect others by refraining from actions that would harm their workers, their consumers, or the environment, then it is government’s responsibility in its role of protector of public safety to regulate their actions.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where Is Trumpgate’s Howard Dean?

Here are the basic facts as we know them at this time.  

1.  The Russian government, either directly or through surrogates, made numerous efforts to degrade Hillary Clinton in the eyes of the public and so swing the election to Donald Trump.  These efforts included not just the hacking and release of DNC emails, but using social media to bombard Clinton fence sitters with negative fake news stories.   

2.  Several highly placed members of the Trump campaign team and people close to the campaign had numerous contacts with the Russian government, including intelligence figures.  One of them, Roger Stone, stated on Twitter prior to the Wikileaks’ dump of the DNC emails that "Wednesday @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”  Without question he knew what was coming.

Given these facts, several conclusions seem warranted, indeed obvious.

1. The Russian attempt to influence the election was so nefarious that it far surpasses Watergate’s break-in of the DNC headquarters.  If members of the Trump campaign team knew of this activity and stayed silent, they are guilty of treason.  If Trump was aware, he is guilty of an impeachable offense.

2.  Given the extent of contacts between Trump surrogates and the Russians during the campaign … not during the transition … it is at a minimum highly suspicious and more than likely that they were aware.  Also, remember that Trump at a news conference back in July said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.  I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”  The official spin was that he was being sarcastic.

This last little nugget seems to have been forgotten as I have not heard it mentioned in connection with the questions raised about the campaign’s contacts with Russians.  It is relevant that two Federal courts in reviewing the Trump travel ban referred to his statements during the campaign about barring Muslims from the country as evidence of the intent of the ban.

The investigations currently being conducted into this matter are behind closed doors, both by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and by the FBI.  And it is more than likely that nothing will come of these investigations because it will be very difficult to prove that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Collusion requires having a secret understanding.  And that's what both the FBI and the committees are looking into.  But I think that bar is too high.  Even if there was not a secret, unspoken, understanding, if there was just knowledge by the campaign that the Russians were acting to subvert the election and they remained silent, that should be sufficient to prosecute them for treason.  Likewise, if Trump was aware, that would constitute an impeachable offense.

But let’s say that, despite Roger Stone’s Tweet, the campaign was not aware of Russian efforts to subvert the election and swing it to Trump.  If they were trying to cozy up to the Russians during the campaign, letting them know that they would end the sanctions and in other ways carry out Trump’s pledge to have better relations with Putin, the question becomes “why?”  The only thing to be gained by the Trump campaign by such conversations with the Russians would be if they acted to influence the election.  

There is no other possible reason that would explain such conversations during the campaign, as opposed to during the transition.  So, I would hold that merely having such conversations, making such assurances, while perhaps not grounds for criminal prosecution, would if known by Trump be grounds for impeachment.

This matter is of such a high importance that there needs to be a Watergate-style public hearing in Congress so that the American people learn first-hand the full extent of the Trump campaign’s treasonable activity, if in fact that is what occurred.  But barring the emergence of a Howard Dean, who gives the lie to all the denials by Trump and his campaign associates of contact with the Russians regarding sanctions and other matters, it is quite probable that nothing will ever be proven.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Unconscionable Republican Health Care Proposal

According to The New York Times, reporting on the CBO report on the Republican’s American Health Care Act, the impact of the Act on Americans in their 60s would be catastrophic.  In addition, millions of the poor who benefited from Medicaid expansion will loose their insurance.

The proposed law bases subsidies for people not on their income … like just about every other subsidy system in the world does … but on their age.  So for example, a 21 year-old would have a net (after subsidy) premium of $1,450 a year.  A 40 year-old would have a net premium of $2,400.  A 64-year old would have a net premium of $14,600!

So a 60 year-old, low-middle income person earning too much to be eligible for Medicaid and too young for Medicare, would be stuck with a huge bill that he could not afford.   All commentators assume that such people will opt out of the system which will leave them uninsured.  If the Republicans create a high-risk pool, which in the past was typically very expensive and provided bad coverage, that would not be a practical option. 

For the Republicans to do this to 60-year-olds in order to keep premiums down for the young, encouraging them to buy insurance, is evidence, if that were needed, that Republicans lack a social conscience.  It is unconscionable.

For the Republicans to also gut Medicaid expansion resulting in millions of the poor losing their insurance while at the same time providing for a $600 billion tax cut over 10 years for wealthy Americans, as they would no longer be subject to the taxes that had been assessed to pay for Obamacare subsidies, so that the net effect of the act is still a significant budget saving for the government, is more proof of their lack of social conscience and is unconscionable.

In their press conferences, they of course do not mention these details.  Instead, they emphasize the CBO finding that overall rates will go down, after initially rising for a few years.  And that the Act would result in savings of $337 billion over 10 years.  This is deceitfulness at its worst.

All middle-aged and older Americans, and the poor, should bombard their Congressmen with calls and emails telling them to vote No on the American Health Care Act.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Responsibility Crisis

There is a crisis in the United States (I cannot speak of other countries) of a failure to take responsibility for the impact of one’s actions on others.  This crisis occurs at all levels … the individual, family, business, government.

What lies at the core of this crisis?  The “me” syndrome.  

Man has, of course, always had a side of him which is self-centered.  Hence the exhortation of all religions and spiritual practices to think of others, not just oneself.  

But during the progressive phase of American politics, starting with Teddy Roosevelt until the Reagan years, there was societal peer pressure to consider the impact of our actions on others.  That was the basis for the government’s regulation of industry which had been rapacious, totally unconcerned with its impact on its workers or the general public.  That was the basis of the institution of the Federal income tax.  These measures did not negate self-interest, but placed on the balance scale the greater good, the interests of the average person.

When JFK was inaugurated, he asked Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  That was the very embodiment of the progressive perspective of shared social/civic responsibility.  Contrast that to what Reagan said in the 1980 Presidential debate, “Are you better of today than you were four years ago?”  This was all about “me.”  

For the “me” generations that followed Reagan, this became the perspective with which all things were viewed … “Is it good for me.”  Whether it was good for anyone else became irrelevant.  This is how, even on the Democratic side, we got stuck in identity politics.  It’s all about whether something is good for me.

Over the ensuing decades the weight on the balance scale of “me” v “others” has become ever heavier.  Politically it has gotten to the point where our country is beyond being deeply divided, where there is only rage, no compassion, towards the “other.”  And so our very democracy is threatened.  It also threatens the environment and our most basic social institution … the family.

Let me provide some examples, beyond the obvious political ones, of how this crisis pervades all aspects of our life.

1.  The individual level:  The most obvious place to look for examples here are man’s interaction with the environment.  While indigenous people have always been very aware of their interconnected relationship with the environment and have treated it with respect, that is not true of “civilized” mankind.  

In the early stages, it was only those who moved into cities and thus lost contact with the land who thought nothing of the pollution that came with civilized life.   The impact of this thoughtlessness was the Plague, which devastated Europe on and off for centuries.  

Since the industrial revolution, however, the impact has been the steady destruction of the environment … the pollution of the air and water and the cutting down of forests.  The scale of this combined with the huge growth in the world’s population due to advances in hygiene and medicine have resulted in what is being called “global warming” or “climate change” … neither of which phrase is satisfactory … which will drastically change life as we know it within several generations.

One cannot just blame industry for this.  Every individual that consumes what industry produces is an integral part of the problem. We continue to produce mountains of non-recyclable trash that get dumped into land fills.   Gas-guzzling cars, SUVs, and trucks continue to be big sellers.  Indeed, our very continuing to drive is part of the problem.  I live in New York, a city with a usually efficient and vast public transportation network, and yet the number of cars on the roads is incredible.

All of these actions are an example of people thinking only about themselves, their convenience, their comfort.   What makes their immediate life better.  Not what would be in the greater good.  Or even what is in their own and their children’s long term best interest.

2.   The family level:  As I walk around the neighborhood where I live, I pass by day-care centers where the “parking lots” are crammed full of strollers.  I see nannies everywhere (always people of color) tending to other (white) people’s children.  I see dog walkers taking care of other people’s dogs.  

Now the reader could well say, “Where’s the problem?  This shows that parents want to provide their children with good pre-school opportunities for development while they are away at work.  And they want to provide their pets with fresh air and exercise while they are away at work.”

This is no doubt true.   But our system of substitute parenting or substitute dog-walking can never take the place of the real thing.  Day-care for toddlers, or the use of a nannie, cannot take the place of the love and care and teaching of a parent.  A dog being walked with 4 others on a leash does not get the exercise that a dog gets when he’s walked by his owner, let off the leash to run, play fetch, etc.

We tell ourselves, and society fully agrees, that this is an accommodation that allows both parents to work, which is necessary for their financial well-being as well as woman’s feeling of self-worth.  It is also necessary for the constant expansion of our consumer economy and thus the profit of big business.

But all this is nothing but rationalization.  Denial.  Avoidance.  When two people decide to have a child, that should be accompanied by an acceptance of the responsibility to the child entailed by that decision.  

In my book, Raising a Happy Child, there is a chapter entitled, “To Have a Child or Not.”  It deals with the need to make a conscious decision, after deep discussion, that both parents are ready for their responsibility to the child.  In a later chapter, the specific issue of both parents working is raised.  

I put it this way in the book.  “Although the financial imperative is often inescapable, you should stop and think and discuss with your spouse/significant other how critical it really is. … There’s a difference between keeping food on the table and a roof over your head, and being able to afford discretionary niceties or maintain your career.  When you balance the welfare of your child with bringing in more money or maintaining your career trajectory, which is of greater importance?  … Remember that having a child was a choice you made; your child had no say whether to be born or not.”

Most people unfortunately make even a decision such as whether to bring a new child into the world based on what is in their interest, what is their need.  Certainly for lesser decisions, they also take little account of the need of anyone else, whether a spouse, child, or dog.  Obviously the issue of care for your dog is on a different level, but the same principle applies.  

3.  The workplace level:  It will be no surprise to anyone that the workplace is full of “me” attitude given the atmosphere of competition and vanishing job loyalty/security.  That’s not a good state of affairs, but the harm is mostly to the individuals, not the greater good.

But where the self-centered perspective does do great harm to the greater good is the attitude of big business towards their workers, their consumers, the general public, and the environment.  Through a combination of the nature of the corporate beast and the pressure on corporations by investors to constantly increase profit,  corporations today have one concern and one only … how to improve their bottom line.  

The interests of their workers, consumers, the general public, and the environment have no relevance when making corporate decisions, unless those interests can operate to increase corporate profits.   Thus the greater good and the environment are routinely violated for the sake of corporate profit.

4.  The government level:  Need I say anything here about how self-centeredness by politicians and countries, a lack of responsibility for others, damages the greater good?  Whether we look at the current Republican feeding frenzy brought about by their ascendancy to total power or whether we look at our actions in undertaking the Iraq war, these are just two of many examples of the harm done to the greater good by just thinking what is in my interest.

Nothing will turn this habit-energy around unless we as individuals and our leaders see the damage and danger in making decisions based on the “me” perspective.  That ultimately it is in every individual’s and every country’s enlightened self-interest to take responsibility for the impact of our actions on others.  

Why?  Because if we are doing well, but everyone around us is doing poorly or if the environment is degraded, then that makes the world that surrounds us uninviting if not unstable and dangerous, which in turn makes our lives constricted.  That is not the definition of freedom.

What we need is a massive re-education effort.  Basically, a return to the maxim at the core of every religion and spiritual practice:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It is not only important for our spiritual well-being.   It is important for our practical well-being and freedom.