Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mission Accomplished: Mike Pence Made An Unfit Presidential Nominee Look Better

Listening to the pundits this morning, the big question following last night’s highly entertaining first and only vice-presidential debate is, “Did Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, help Donald Trump’s candidacy by making him look better.”

What a bizarre question to ask.

The question should not be whether Pence helped the person at the top of the Republican ticket look better, checking perhaps, any concerns about Trump’s fitness to serve as President.

The point of a vice-presidential debate is to introduce the number two person on the ticket and hopefully give the American people confidence that person is capable of being the President if called upon.

Clearly, more was at stake last night than the usual (especially, given how easily Hillary Clinton demolished Trump at the first debate).

Trump supporters (and Clinton haters, but Trump detractors throughout the political and business “elite” establishment) had to have let out a collective sigh of relief following last night’s vice-presidential debate. Indeed, if I were a Trump supporter this morning, I’d be circulating a petition to flip the ticket and put Mike Pence on top.

Deep down, even his most strident supporters all know that Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States. Nearly every opportunity he gets, he demonstrates that he is a racist, xenophobe, misogynist, megalomaniac, simpleton, and con man.

Perhaps, the most effective thing Pence did all night was dodge and deflect questions about Donald Trump’s odious record (a job Trump’s regular cast of surrogates must be exhausted from doing on 24-7 cable news).

Don’t get me wrong, Pence is terrible in a lot of ways too, especially abortion rights, the right of workers to organize, and LGBTQ rights. And, while he has tried to distance himself from really stupid things Trump has said and done, his answers at last night’s debate to issues ranging from immigration to warrior cop style policing in black and brown communities (especially his denials about implicit bias and structural racism) show that he and the Republican Party presidential nominee have a lot in common.

Nonetheless, last night’s debate, at least according to the pundit class, will be remembered for what Dick Cheney did in 2000 for the ticket led by George W. Bush, which is, to make an unfit nominee look better.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Police Are A Domestic Military Force That No Longer Simply Serves And Protects

Like many people, I was enraged and glued to the television for several days watching thousands of people across the country peacefully protest the lynchings of two black men by police officers – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

I was shocked and disheartened to hear that a mentally disturbed shooter, filled with anger and hatred of white police officers, army reservist Micah Xavier Johnson, opened fire on police at a peaceful demonstration under the banner of Black Lives Matter in Dallas, Texas.

My jaw dropped and I yelled out loud “what the fuck,” when I heard the chief of the Dallas police department describe at a press conference how negotiations with a pinned down Johnson in a garage where going no where and in order to put no other officers or civilians in harms way that they had decided to use a C-4 plastic explosive attached to a robot to kill the suspect in the Dallas ambush.

The police chief, David Brown, somberly described it as their “robot bomb.”

I immediately thought about the first time I ever heard about the police using a bomb in an American city. That was 30 years ago when the Philadelphia police dropped an incendiary device on a bunker on the top of a fortified compound from a helicopter during a standoff in West Philadelphia between the police and an outcast black separatist group named MOVE.

There were nearly 500 police officers at the scene, ready for urban warfare – flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun.

Early in the morning on May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police commissioner, Bregore Sambor, yelled into his megaphone, "Attention, MOVE … this is America, … you have to abide by the laws of the United States."

Shortly after someone in the MOVE compound fired a weapon, the police responded with an estimated 10,000 rounds of ammunition over the next hour-and-a-half. Later that day, the city’s firs black mayor, Wilson Goode gave the go ahead to drop a bomb on the roof to destroy the bunker.

When the dust finally settled, 61 houses had burned, 250 people were homeless, and 11 people were dead, including 5 children. Only two people made it out of the MOVE house alive – a woman named Romona Africa and a child named Birdie Africa.

With little public debate, the police have slowly transformed themselves into a domestic military force – with what appears to be all the powers and protections of the regular military – and American cities populated by black and brown people have become urban war zones.

How did this happen?

Following a decade of "rights" movements (especially black and Chicano liberation movements), urban rebellions in hundreds of cities, and an increase in casual drug use by the baby boomer generation, the nation's policy makers (with popular support from the public especially those that fled the cities for the suburbs) declared wars on drugs, crime, and political protesters.

Local police departments were given the tools they needed to restore and maintain order: armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, submachine guns, flashbang grenades, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, sophisticated intelligence gathering equipment which has been coupled with an aggressive style of policing (such as, stop and frisk, and broken windows) and a series of court decisions designed to make their job easier but also erode fundamental civil liberties (such as, exemptions to Miranda and illegal searches, no knock warrants, and seizures of property).

The police have a strong financial incentive (especially in cities without lots of property tax paying citizens) to be aggressive. The desire to militarize themselves means they aggressively seize property and issue tickets to raise money; and lots of arrests – which proves to policy makers in Washington that they are being tough on criminal behavior – also means more dollars and military equipment from a wide range of federal programs.

What we are dealing with is a domestic military force full of people who see themselves as warriors on the battlefield. Whether they are good people with good intentions is of no importance. They and their supporters believe that the police are our last line of defense against a decline into chaos. They are our Warrior Cops.

With nearly 800,000 people with police type powers in departments spread across the country with little public or national oversight, this will not be "fixed" by better training, better police community relations, or getting rid of a few so-called "bad apples." This is a systemic problem.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Trump Is Unfit To Serve But He May Dog Whistle His Way Into The White House

Donald Trump is easily the most unfit person to be the presumptive nominee for president for a major political party in the United States since the two-party system emerged in the mid-1800s.

I could stop there. But I won’t.

Trump is a white supremacist and a xenophobic nativists. In a supposedly post-racial and culturally tolerant society, these two “character flaws” should eliminate you from serious consideration to become president.

However, to many of his supporters who feel like they have been forced to keep silent about issues involving race and ethnicity due to political correctness (Trump, on the other hand, is a godsend because he “tells it like it is”), and Republican Party officeholders such as, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who crave control of the Congress and the White House to advance their reactionary agenda, being a racist and anti-immigrant are not disqualifiers.

A few more things.

Trump also fails to make sense of reality through, for example, the use of logic or the establishment and verification of facts. Nor does he justify his beliefs on the basis of new or existing evidence.

Instead, the Republican Party’s standard-bearer is opposed to the use of reason. His thinking is incoherent rather than logical. Depending on the situation, he just makes up his own facts. And, he does not feel like he needs to justify his beliefs to anyone but himself.

A reader might accuse me of hyperbole. A few minutes of listening to Trump would change your mind. Almost every time he gives a speech or an interview, my jaw drops and I’m left nearly speechless.

Here are a few examples of nearly everything I have just laid out. Let’s talk a little about Trump's use of white identity politics.

The statement, "Make America great again," is really code words to appeal to whites on the basis of their white identity. Lots of white people love Trump for saying it.

But, who are these people? The typical Trump supporter has less than a college education, is male, and earns less than 50,000. Certainly, Trump appeals to them in part because he taps into their economic anxieties and the failure of the political class to solve their problems.

But, Trump also connects to them on the basis of their racial and ethnic anxieties and prejudices. To put this into perspective, we must also take a look at how demographic trends are changing America and the fear this is creating among whites.

The share of the nation’s population that is white is shrinking. The reason is twofold: most immigrants are not white; most children born in the country are not white.

The demographic changes have triggered an existential crisis for many white Americans and driven them toward Trump. His supporters say things like:

“Take American back.”

“This is not the same country I grew up in.”

“This country has gone to hell.”

“This country is going to hell.”

Trump’s race baiting plays to the deep hostility on the part of a significant number of white Americans to the demographic changes that are browning America.

Many Trump supporters also link the idea of being "American" with being white. The presumptive nominee knows this.

Following the horrific murder of 49 people in Orlando, Donald Trump said at a press conference, "The killer was born an Afghan, of Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States." This was not a slip of the tongue or ignorance about where he was born.

Trump knows exactly where Omar Mateen was born. That the media keeps saying Trump is stupid because Mateen was born in Queens NYC like him is just plain silly.

Trump was using his dog whistle, suggesting that because his parents were not American citizens at the time of his birth, that Mateen was an Afghan not an American citizen as the 14th Amendment guarantees anyone born in the United States. (I actually don't think he would even consider the children of naturalized citizens from non-European countries real Americans; he equates being an American with a set of values and racially identity that originates in Europe.)

The media can't bring themselves to acknowledge just how deeply racists and nativist Trump's campaign really is and will be of little help. On the other hand, many of his hardcore supporters understand where their candidate is coming from. This is why they plan to vote for him and he might just succeed.

Can you hear that whistle?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Facing The Crushing Weight Of Having To Share The Nation, Some Would Cling To The Past And Vote For Donald Trump

Political pundits on the left and the right have opined quite a bit over the last few months about why Donald Trump has so easily and effectively captured the hearts and minds – and votes – of so many Republican primary and caucus participants.

Trump is well on his way to securing the delegates he will need to win the Republican nomination. The so-called Republican “establishment” is aghast at the thought of Donald Trump winning the party’s nomination, and even worse to some, the possibility that he may actually win the presidency and become the leader of their political party.

Several “High Priests” of the right-wing punditry class, such as Washington Post columnist and Libertarian, George Will, have been vocal critics of Donald Trump for a number of years. Back in 2012, during an appearance on ABC news program, This Week, Will criticized then Republican Party presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for hosting a fundraising event with Trump.
“I do not understand the cost benefit here,” Will said. “The costs are clear. The benefit — what voter is going to vote for him because he is seen with Donald Trump? The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me. Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics.”
More recently, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “He [Trump] is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12.” Brooks has been railing against Trump both in print and in interviews on radio and television.


To say that many conservative intellectuals and pundits, the ruling class business wing of the Republican Party, and the party’s elected officials are in “fear and trembling” mood about a potential Trump candidacy or worst case scenario, presidency, is an understatement. They are rightfully concerned that a Trump candidacy will divide the Republican Party (the riled-up base versus the “establishment”), hand the Presidency to the Democrats in November, and make it hard for some Republicans in Congress facing tough reelection bids to hold onto their seats.

It seems like the “establishment” is experiencing an existential crisis of epic proportions.

Indeed, they are! The white working-class base of the Republican Party loves them some Donald Trump and they are mad as hell at the establishment, and rightfully so.

So, what is the basis of the white working class love affair with “The Donald?” There are a lot of potential explanations being thrown around from people on both the left and the right.
In my view, part of the reason why Republicans have a full-scale rebellion going on among the base is because of broken promises. They have been selling to their base for years the idea that free-trade/privatization/marketization/deregulation/tax cuts for the wealthy economics would lift all boats. Neo-Liberalism has finally been exposed as nothing but an economic theory designed to transfer wealth upward to the richest Americans. Now the base seems to be in the mood for an authoritarian/militaristic/trade-protectionist/nativist/racist/dog-whistling leader who will build them their wall, bring back their manufacturing jobs from abroad, kick out the foreigners, and make them feel good about themselves again.

It seems like the white working class is trading one fantasy for another! But, why are so many people susceptible to such toxic political and economic priorities? I believe that the white working class has turned to Trump and other extremist politicians in the Republican Party and the media (e.g., Fox News) to help them escape the crushing weight of what they perceive is a new reality they are not ready to accept.

White working-class Trump supporters believe the nation is in decline – the signs of this decline to them range from the outsourcing of jobs to places like Mexico and competition for work from “illegal foreigners” to a general belief that the “system” now puts the needs and interests of undeserving racial and ethnic minorities ahead of white people.

The world they believe they now face is unfamiliar, confusing, and unnerving.

In his dense but intellectually rewarding tome, Being and Nothing, Existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, gives us a way to think about what many working-class white Americans must be feeling. Sartre invites us to imagine standing alone in the park. In the park by ourselves, everything seems to fall into place around our point of view. Everything I see presents itself to me. But, then I notice someone else in the park moving closer and closer to me. Their presence is disorienting and unsettling to me. I begin to realize that this person is also arranging their own universe around themselves. As Sartre describes it, the green grass starts to turn toward the other person and I’m no longer the center of the universe. Indeed, some of my universe drains off of me into the other person's universe. I am now an object in their universe as they are now an object in mine.

Working-class white America is being forced to share the universe and they are kicking and screaming about it.

Trump and his supporters like to wear hats at his rallies that say “Make America Great Again.” If you are a white American, you might imagine that was a time when the universe was reserved for hard-working people like them, folks who had good–paying jobs that allowed you to afford a house in the suburbs with green lawns, weekend barbecues, low crime rates, great schools, neighbors that went to church with you every Sunday, shared your small-town values, and looked just like you.

Of course, if you are a black person in America, there is no mythic past, that is, a time when American was great. In the past, there was slavery, segregation, lynchings, rapes, disenfranchisement, ghettos, cross-burnings, Klu Klux Klan, convict leasing system, share-cropping, and police and mob violence.

Human existence has always been about "transcendence" or "going beyond." That requires imagination. Working-class white Americans that follow Trump believe the opposite: they think the nation is in decline and are incapable of imagining what comes next. But, America can't backwards. The only way is forward.

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Real Good Reason To Not Vote A Businessman Into The White House

Many Americans (okay, mostly white Americans who vote Republican) say we need a President who will run the country like a business - I think this is because most of them don't understand how the economy really works.

I recently read an article, "Masters of the Universe but Slaves of the Market: Bankers and the Great Financial Meltdown" by Stephen Bell and Andrew Hindmoor, in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, and I think I'm finally beginning to wrap my mind around how starting in the 1980s, the privileging of the financial sector over the real economy almost collapsed global capitalism if it hadn't been for government intervention to save Capitalists from themselves.

Capitalists unleashed is dangerous for America!

One of the most popular explanations of the banking crises of 2007-08 (you would have heard this one a lot if you watched Fox News during the crisis), was due to imprudent mortgage lending to black and brown people because of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 which encouraged banks and other lending institutions to meet the credit needs of communities they operate in.

But, according to Bell and Hindmoor, banks and financiers (with the cooperation of political elites in both the Democratic and Republican Party) created the greatest financial crisis in the history of capitalism all because they pushed for and got the liberalization and deregulation of financial markets they wanted under the wide-spread, but false assumption, that markets are self-regulating and that banks that make poor decisions would be disciplined by the market.

What they didn't count on was how competitive market pressures and the insatiable pursuit of profit opportunities by bankers and financiers would create the kind of systemic risk that could topple the entire global financial system (specifically, in order to get ever-higher return-on-equity, they engaged in highly risky leveraged-trading activities and created exotic/complex financial instruments that neither they nor the so-called regulators fully understood).

By the time the sub-prime mortgage security market collapsed (IMF estimates the declared loses to be $500 billion) in 2008, panic set in about the value of other securitized assets (which tended to have AAA bond ratings due to a rigged bond rating system) because they really didn't understand what they had created, could not control what was happening as the crises unfolded, and simply wanted out before they went insolvent due to the loss of value of securitized assets on their balance sheets and low capital buffers due to so much leveraging.

They got the neo-liberal system they wanted, but rather than become "Maters of the Universe, they became slaves of the market they created.

So, yeah, let's put Trump in control and deregulate the economy and unleash privatization and marketization even more and see where that will land us.

My guess is that it'll land most of us in the poor house.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Restoring White America's Greatness Donald Trump's Way

Donald Trump is a megalomaniac and a demagogue, but he is also a highly skilled and very effective propagandist.

Trump is also a racist and a xenophobe.

Although not in words, but certainly in spirit, Donald Trump’s run for the Republican nomination for President of the United States reminds me of the days when much of white America openly approved of white supremacists, ultra-nationalists, xenophobes, and misogynists, having total control over the nation’s key political, economic and cultural institutions.

There was a time when white supremacists such as Mississippi Senators, Theodore G. Bilbo and James Eastland, slithered across the floors of Congress for decades and did everything in their power to block any legislative efforts designed to secure for black people the same civil and political rights guaranteed to white Americans by the U.S. Constitution.

Bilbo, Eastland and other leading public officials of that era who were cut from the same cloth – primarily, though not exclusively, from the South – stood on the floor of the Senate and  frequently referred to black people as criminals, sexual deviants, lazy and shiftless, and even went so far as to advocate for the use of violence, including murder in the form of lynchings, to keep black people in their place and maintain white supremacy.

Trump is no Bilbo or Eastland. His rhetoric is coded, much more nuanced, not the kind of over-the-top race-baiting favored by Senators elected from a part of the country steeped in violence and racism. But, the message is clear: Trump reminds white America that they (people of color) are criminals, sexual deviants, lazy, shiftless, illegitimate, and looking for handouts, whereas, we (hardworking white Americans) always play by a set of rules that once made America great, and that we can reclaim America's greatness, but only if we take our country back.