When all you have is fear, then that's how you live. The president has set today as the day that I.C.E. raids on undocumented immigrants will begin. As policy, this is terrible. As an expression of a governing philosophy, it is unconscionable. But it makes sense when you consider that the president sees no difference between undocumented people and those from immigrant families who serve in Congress. They are both threats, illegitimate, the "other."
I will not go as far as some of the Democrats running for president and say that crossing the border should be decriminalized, or even say that undocumented immigrants who cross the border and don't abide by the laws or skip their hearings or commit crimes should be allowed to stay in this country. After all, Barack Obama's administration deported more people than any other president in our history. What I am saying is that we need laws and procedures to make sure that people who have contributed to this country are treated with some respect, and that their children, whether they are citizens or not, should be given every opportunity to stay in the United States rather than to be sent back to a country that is dysfunctional and/or dangerous.
The key, though, is to reform the immigration system. It is interesting to note that the most hostile, anti-immigrant, xenophobic president we've had in a long time is the one who presides over a border that is in chaos. In large part that's because he is all talk and precious little action, and he has no idea how to garner the public and political support he needs from all segments of the country in order to get Congress to act. This is obviously a shortcoming that spans all issues, but since this is the one that got him elected, you'd think that he'd work more assiduously on it. He seems to think that executive orders and heated racist rhetoric will solve the problem.
It's made it worse.
Therefore, the raids. When in doubt, use the power of the militia. That's the manner in which he's run the country as president. It's made us more rigid, more divided, less compassionate, and decidedly not great.
We talk so much about the differences between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else that sometimes we miss the smaller, but far more potent, differences within the middle class. And when those differences affect young children, the ramifications become far more discriminatory. An article today shows this in glaring fashion.
It concerns prekindergarten programs that cater to lower and middle income residents in states and districts that don't have universal instruction. Wealthier families who can afford all-day prekindergarten can take advantage of what many child psychologists and educators already know; that play-based programs that give children the opportunity to interact with their peers, teachers, and a challenging curriculum are more prepared for kindergarten and further learning. Those families that cannot afford these programs now have other options, including an online program that requires a child to use the program for a short time each day. There's no interaction with other children, but students do get a fun, game-based introduction to letters and numbers.
The verdict? It's better than nothing.
Is that really the standard we want to use for American children? The extent to which American society tolerates the gross inequalities in education is scandalous. Money and property values determine the quality of instruction a child is eligible for, and states have to make other choices about education, health care, elderly care, roads, hospitals and other expenditures that are vital to other citizens. For a family to have to settle for an online experience because they lack $164 dollar per week for the more inclusive and educationally sound experience treats children unequally and sends that child to a school system that might not have the resources that will allow them to catch up.
The Trump Administration will certainly do nothing to bridge this gap, save for relying on the same market forces that have created the problem in the first place. More jobs and higher wages will help, but that should not be the deciding factor in whether any child gets a quality education.
Democrats need to support universal prekindergarten programs, and most of the presidential candidates do, and also need to make sure that all children have access to the technology they need in order to compete. This all starts with closing the income gap and ensuring that all school districts have the personnel and programs they need to serve their communities. That also includes smartphones, though, apparently, that can lead to other problems.
The learning gap is already wide. We don't need the income and technology gaps to make it insurmountable.
Yes, I watched enough of the multi-podium press conferences last week to reaffirm my basic belief that this is no way to pick a candidate. For either party. It just so happens that this go-round belongs to the Democrats and they are making good on Will Rogers' observation that this is not an organized political party.
I am heartened by the television ratings--15 million the first night and 18 million the second night--because they are indicators that more Americans are engaged in the electoral process and, I'm guessing, more than a few Trump supporters are looking to the Democrats in 2020. And given that gerrymandering is here to stay, as it always has been, it's imperative that Democrats come out to vote for their local and state races too. That's why it's critical that the party pick a nominee who can excite the broader electorate.
After this past week, though, I didn't see such a candidate.
The newsmakers, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, helped their causes, and the perceived big loser, Joe Biden will still be leading the polls next week. But the format didn't really allow for any expansive discussion and the sheer number of candidates precluded anyone the public isn't familiar with from breaking out.
The exercise was useful as an introduction to the many candidates. I had not seen Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet or Mr. Castro speak on the issues, so it was instructive to be able to hear then weigh in. Bernie Sanders didn't disappoint if you're a Bernie Sanders fan, and Bill de Blasio, well, he's not going to be president.
Joe Biden did not do well in his debate. He didn't really finish his thoughts and didn't point to specific legislation that an average voter could point to as one of his major accomplishments. At times, he seemed disengaged, and he set himself up for a television moment when he said that his time had run out. Harris then delivered a not-unfair story of how she was personally affected by busing, but painting Biden as a segregationist-accommodationist because he had to work with southern Democrats in the 1970s defies reality. If you wanted to get anything done in the Senate until the mid-1980s, you had to go through Democratic racists from the south. From that point forward, they became Republican racists.
What any serious student of history will know is that compromise and trading were the orders of the day during that era, and some of the most consequential legislation ever passed by the Congress came out of the 1960s and 70s, including civil rights laws, Medicare and Medicaid, public television, environmental acts, and many anti-poverty bills that have reshaped the country. To get those done, everybody had to give something up, and that's the fatal flaw in the present legislature; compromise is seen as selling out, so very little gets done. Worse, if a politician does dare to attract attention from the other side of the aisle, then they are deemed a heretic to the cause and publicly burned.
Racists voted for civil rights bills. Richard Nixon, an anti-Semite, signed bills to protect Israel. Liberals who would make today's Progressive Caucus seem like Rockefeller Republicans voted to continue the war in Vietnam. And they all did this in the name of compromise. They got something for their constituents out of their deals, whether it was money for farms, mass transit, or social legislation. If Joe Biden had to work with malodorous types, then that's what he had to do. If Kamala Harris is saying that she won't work with people she disagrees with, then she will be another in a long line of ineffective presidents.
The same goes for those who would shut down the private health care system in favor of a government-run program. Slow down. Most Americans do not want that and it's too big a leap to have any success in 2021. Add a public option to the ACA. Allow people to form cooperatives that cross state lines. The key is access. We can do it incrementally, and we should.
The Democrats need to focus on what Americans need to live more productive lives. It includes health care and tuition and economic equality and accepting people of all stripes and giving Dreamers a path to citizenship. It might not include punishing banks and making the 11 million undocumented people in this country citizens. Or even legal. Or providing them with health insurance. The party, and their candidate, needs to run on what the majority of voters see as what we need to solve our most pressing problems. Getting too far ahead of them in the name of making the Democratic base happy will not win the election. In addition, focusing on the young voters is not a winning strategy. Young voters do not come out to vote in the same numbers as other demographic groups, or in the numbers that the media experts think will come out.
Don't let this election become 1964, 1972 or 1984, where the party out-of-power reached too far to the right or left. The president has a minority of the people behind him and he's never been at 50% approval, much less above it. There are reasons for that. Focus on those.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being told that working, lower and middle class Americans who have worked hard and done right by this country will have to temper their expectations or expect less in Social Security benefits. Or pensions. Or Medicare. This must stop, and we have the power to stop it.
Ever since the Reagan-era adjustment to Social Security, we've seen a long list of proposals that seem to focus on privatizing the system, turning it into a 401(k) retirement program, or simply having it pay out less based on a raised retirement age. Most Americans are living longer, and many are working longer, but the simple truth is that elderly Americans need Social Security to survive, because at some point, you have to stop working, but you still need food and shelter.
What seems to be the main barrier to any meaningful reform is this idea that raising taxes will only hurt the economy. What we've seen over the past 40 years are tax cuts that have blanketed the wealthy with new money and the promise that you too can get wealthy, so why fight against your own self-interest? Usually this is the realm of Republicans, but Democrats too bought into the myth that the stock market and other investments, over time, will enable you to live your golden years in prosperity, and with Social Security as an extra bonus as opposed to a necessity.
This was always a false promise, and those who had the money to support, or run as, politicians who would maintain this dream have done very well for themselves. The result has been an expectation that the middle class will just have to make do with less.
Here in New Jersey, we had Governor Chris Christie tell us that public workers were the actual problem, and that our benefits were too generous, but that raising taxes was a non-starter because that would force wealthier residents to leave the state. We now have a Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney, who carried Christie's bucket, refusing to post a millionaire's tax for next year's state budget, insisting instead that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance and pensions.
It's perverse, and it's had a real impact on people's lives. Raises are being wiped away by increasing medical costs, while pensions for both public and private workers are being slashed, cut or canceled.
For Social Security (remember Social Security? This is a post about Social Security), the first action should be for Congress to raise the income limit on the Social Security tax. Right now, all Americans pay Social Security tax up to $132,900 of their income. Obliterate that. Make all Americans pay the tax no matter their income. Why should a high school principal pay the same amount as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, especially when Social Security will mean everything to that worker, but bus fare for the titans of industry?
Or there is this proposal that would not only raise the income level, after a doughnut hole between $132,900 and $400,000 (why?), it would also raise the Social Security tax rate. The payoff, though, is it would increase benefits. The problem is that although it has support in Congress, it doesn't have enough support to overcome the structural obstructionism that is currently in vogue in the legislature. This is reason enough to ask candidates who run for office in 2020 their opinion on this particular bill.
And that's exactly what I will be doing this week. I'll be calling my representative, Tom Malinowski, and the offices of Corey Booker and Robert Menendez, to begin putting pressure on them to support a fix that will put the program on a path to sustainability for the long term. Please try to do the same with your federal representatives.
Serves me right for reading. I come across this article on the automobile industry in my favorite rag and it makes me really stop and think. Not that I think about the auto industry on a regular basis, but here we are at a turning point that has both national and global ramifications.
I had no idea that China was so influential when it comes to car sales in the world. From the article:
China increasingly rules the global auto market and determines its course. In recent years, China’s voracious appetite for vehicles has accounted for almost all of the growth in global sales. Chinese consumers bought 24 million cars last year, far more than any other nation. Americans were a distant second with 17 million cars. General Motors sells far more cars in Asia — 947,000 in the first three months of this year — than it does in the United States.
That's impressive. And it also points out the scary math that I'm sure people think about, but that hasn't been given its due. The United States has about 330 million people and Chin has almost two billion. India has another billion plus. Our birthrate has been dropping for a few years and our chief executive is not fond of growth through immigration. How, then, are we to compete? Tariffs will only go so far and, it seems, will do more harm than good for the workers and suppliers that are making the engines go. Tariffs will also raise prices and cut profit margins. Moreover, young people are moving out of rural and suburban areas into more urban settings, where a car is not a necessity and is even seen as a liability that costs too much, pollutes, and makes life more difficult in a city.
And then, of course, there's the environment.
Except for those Know Nothings who are running the government, the general consensus and facts as we know them clearly show that the climate is warming, and that's having a profound effect on our planet. We love our cars in the United States, and they have done a great deal of good for our growth, our economy, and our national pride. Those days, though, are on their way out. Americans are buying fewer cars and auto manufacturing is done mostly in Mexico. Cars pollute. They need parking lots and roads and gas stations and gas and insurance and money to buy all of those extras, and increasingly that money is going to other places in the economy.
It would be nice if our national policy was not moving in the exact opposite direction that it needs to on cars and energy. A push for electric cars would help. A push for more mass transit systems would help even more. China is not going to go away, or even lose, whatever that means, a trade war. They simply have too many people and too much government that is willing to step in and ensure that their key industries have the leverage they need to succeed.
The United States, though, does have strategies it can follow to ensure its continued economic advance, but they should not include more fossil fuels and larger SUVs and trucks. Many businesses are taking it upon themselves to commit to a greener, cleaner future, and perhaps American ingenuity and creativity will enable us to shift away from the old model and into the new one. The rest of the world sees the danger. We seem to see only threats to our way of life, which in many ways needs a serious upgrade.
We need leaders who will realize this and enact policies that will help us get there.
I went to an interesting event yesterday. Some of my high school classmates, and those of other classes, honored a teacher who had dies recently by collecting money and dedicating a bench to his memory and legacy. It was a wonderful affair, attended by about 20 people and followed by some reminiscing at a nearby establishment.
Which led me to thinking that people should do this much more for their teachers, and I am and am not saying this just because I'm a teacher. I am saying it because I know how much time, energy, care, and dedication teachers devote to their craft and their students. I'm not saying it just because I'm a teacher because I think it should be regular practice to thank and to honor anyone who's done something that's impacted your life. We say thank you to service members, and rightly so.
It's time for everyone to thank their teachers.
You don't have to fund a bench, or anything physical, but it would be a nice gesture. So would establishing a scholarship or naming a room, area or award for them. Be creative and make it a lasting gesture. More than that, though, write your teachers letters or send them private messages on social media. You don't have to make it public, just heartfelt.
I'll let you in on something that's perhaps a secret: Teachers adore, love, and live for hearing from their students. We see you at your most vulnerable ages, and at those times when you might be awkward, unsure of yourself, embarrassed, afraid to speak out or sure that we might not like you. I can say with certainty that we want to see and hear about how much you've grown, how you've overcome that obstacle, how you discovered a truth because of what you did in our class, or just how you're living your life.
Honestly, we do.
And don't fret about that time in class when you, you know, and you think that's how we define you. We don't. We saw you as the future and we ant to hear from you in the present.
Pick one of your teachers. Let them know how you're doing. Thank them for any contribution they made to your life. You will make somebody happy.
Be honest; you thought that maybe this presidency and the direction of the country couldn't get more offensive or obnoxious or dangerous. And yet, here we are.
The administration is beating the war drums over Iran, and what did you expect? I've always thought that anyone who would give John Bolton any responsibility over foreign affairs truly knew nothing about how to conduct foreign affairs. He served as a recess appointment under George W. Bush and managed to alienate almost every one of our allies. But now he's a major spokesperson for an executive who clearly doesn't know what his advisers are doing. After all, any president who is quoted as saying he doesn't want to go to war has clearly allowed events to get ahead of him. But then, when you don't know policy, you're beholden to the most reactionary of your staff. In fact, the president said yesterday that he wanted some assurance that the Iranians were not going to be able to build a nuclear weapon any time soon. We had that assurance in the treaty with Iran that the president took us out of. I really wish I was making this up.
As for China, the president actually caught a bit of a break this past week because it was President Xi who upended the trade negotiations, perhaps gambling that he could snooker Trump and be seen as the more sober-minded executive/dictator. Normally, that's not a bad bet, but this time it backfired and now Xi has to either backtrack or double-down on his mistake. He seems to have chosen the latter. This gives President Trump something he's rarely had; the moral high ground, and he's using it to threaten, and then restrain himself, on new tariffs that would seriously hurt the American economy. Luckily for us, Trump thinks that the stock market is the only number that matters economically, and when the market dove last week, he got cold feet. We will likely still see the tariffs and higher prices and lower profits over the next few months. So much winning.
The worst, though, are the new reactionary, destructive laws concerning reproductive choice and health care passed in Republican controlled states. The most noxious is, of course, the Alabama law that not only would ban abortion, but would also criminalize doctors who perform them and not make exceptions for women who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Missouri followed suit with a fetal heartbeat law that would allow require rape and incest victims to carry their fetuses to term.
Normally, I would say that these law would go nowhere because of controlling court decisions, but we are in a new universe where conservative justices might decide that we have no right to privacy and strike down Roe, Loving and Griswold in one fell swoop. In sum, they could rule that states can pass whatever laws they want in the name of states rights. Many conservatives say that the Roe decision is the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott. These people never mention Plessy v. Ferguson as a terrible decision because it would allow states to treat anyone they don't see as normal as a second-class citizen. Forget separate but equal; we're looking at separate and deport, marginalize, and jail.
If you still don't believe that this administration and the religious fanatics who support it are a danger to free thought, equal protection, and democratic values, then you need to realign your thinking. Just make sure you're registered and that you vote.
I love it when the media runs stories about huge multinational corporations that do not pay any income tax. Why? Because it inevitably leads to...crickets. Oh, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats will make angry speeches, but they disappear after a few days. Then the corporations fight back and say that they're paying what the law says they should pay. And then they write out no check and continue to plow their profits into overseas factories and their stock price.
Ain't Capitalism grand?
In fact, this is a national disgrace and there should be protests in the streets whenever any company pays zero tax. And the tax laws should be written so that huge multinational corporations should always have to pay taxes every year, and not just income taxes.
Corporations should have to pay a percentage of their profits to support public education, the environment, and infrastructure. They should offer much larger pay packages to all of their employees that include affordable health insurance, and larger 401(k) matches when an employee opens an account. Executive pay should be adjusted and cut so it doesn't dwarf the salaries paid to the workers who actually create, deliver, support and innovate.
But that doesn't happen, and it won't with the current gang of Republicans and most of the Democrats we have currently serving in the Congress, because they are bought and paid for. And so is the president. After all, this is man so terrified of releasing his tax return, because he knows it will show something ugly and/or illegal about his business practices, he will go to any lengths to grovel at the feet of the ultra-conservative wing of the party and select only the most anti-government cabinet members and Supreme Court justices to protect him in case the Democrats sue or subpoena his files.
The worst part, though, is that we are at a point in our history where wealth and money and excess and things and things to hold the things we have too much of which makes Marie Kondo a celebrity and box office numbers and player salaries and companies that are worth a billion dollars but are really worth very little are part of of our national culture. Our national conversation. Our national, and personal, aspiration. This creates the false assumption that we can all be wealthy and that the capitalist system works because free markets work.
This is why we don't march in the street when a new tax law creates a scenario where corporations pay nothing but middle class homeowners have to pay more. Because we believe we are next to hit the jackpot. And we're not a little scared that if we do march, we will be fired.
It's time for the tide to turn and for some fairness in the system. Think about that next time you're in the voting booth.
I think I'm rather glad that there's nobody in the conservative movement who/s doing what Phyllis Schlafly did in the 1960s and 1970s. After all, why would we need a person who says that women should stay home, take care of their families and be obedient to their husband, while at the same time jetting around the country (and not being with her family), running for Congress, and joining conservative organizations? Please don't misunderstand me; I'm saying that we need activists of all genders and orientations to carry forward positive, useful messages that will bring encouraging change to this country. Mrs. Schlafly preached one message and lived quite another, all the while attempting to scare people into thinking that the Equal Rights Amendment, which she can take credit for defeating, would require unisex bathrooms, women forced into the labor market, and gay marriage. Then again, she was right, but for the wrong reasons.
With the conservatives back in charge of most of the government, it's their time to talk about what they rue as the breakdown, or dormancy, of the family. But of course, this argument comes down to how you define the American family. If your idea is of a man and woman and children and perhaps a pet or two with the man working and the women staying home full or part time, then yes, we have a family system in decline.
But if you define a family differently, with, say same sex couples, unmarried couples, single parents or many adults living, working and being responsible for each other and offspring, then the issue looks different.
And if you also see the decline in the family as a result of changes in the economy, then it looks even more different. Part of the conservative lament is that women have entered the work force, which raised incomes and family spending power, which led to rising prices and the cost of family-related services and thus the decline of purchasing power. This then necessitated both men and women to work more hours to keep up which resulted in children being kept in child care for longer days, more family stress, and pressure on career couples to work harder just to keep up.
At the lower end of the income scale, the problem seems to stem from the fact that there are fewer jobs for men that would allow them to make a decent living, which is scaring off the available women who are deciding (deciding!) that they might be better off having a child and not getting married because, well, the man might be more trouble than he's worth. And since single women are at the very bottom of the income scale in this country, they have to run faster just to keep up.
Some of the proposals in the article I linked to would allow families to borrow from their Social Security by taking paid leave now and having to work longer in their 60s to make up for the amount they borrowed. After all, it's revenue neutral for the federal government. Of course, the federal government under the GOP had no problem slashing the corporate tax rate by 15% and giving the wealthy huge tax cuts ever since 1981, both of which resulted in trillion dollar debts to the federal budget.
But helping families get 12 weeks of paid leave? Sorry--must be revenue neutral.
And of course, let's not get started about families headed by gay couples or LGBTQ Americans who love their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, theyfriends, biological children, adopted children, foster children, and pets. We know that conservatives might pay some lip service to these arrangements, but beneath the surface, social and religious conservatives are hoping that Brett Kavanaugh will undo the abominations of a fellow Republican, Anthony Kennedy, who actually understood differences and accepted them as American, pure and simple.
The problems associated with the family are, to a great extent, related to the enormous income inequality that's been foisted on the American Republic since the election of Ronald Reagan. If incomes don't stagnate, then families and workers have a chance at earning real money and could cover the costs of services they need to function effectively as a family. If the government would recognize the dire need we have today for subsidized child care, paid family leave, and government programs that actually supported people who need the services, then we could have families that wouldn't be stressed about missing work or school to take care of their needs. Having to borrow from Social Security to pay for child care is an unnecessary burden that wealthier people do not have to carry. And it's also a cruel joke on people who will likely need their Social Security at an earlier age than wealthy people.
I want strong families. I want healthy, well-educated children to have an opportunity to succeed in this country. I want people to be able to spend time with their loved ones, share experiences and contribute to the country. Let's elect people who will share in this desire.
I'm actually glad that the Mueller Report found no credible evidence of direct cooperation between the Russians attempt to infect the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. It would be terrible, shocking and dispiriting to know that an American presidential candidate was working with an enemy to undermine our democratic institutions.
Then there's the rest of the report. The disgraceful, dispiriting, venal, vile attempt by the president to stop the investigation, intimidate witnesses, subvert the investigative process, and otherwise use his office as a blunt instrument to bludgeon those who would question his utterly questionable behavior is proof positive that when it comes to draining the swamp, Donald Trump is an utter failure. In fact, Trump has brought so many mosquitoes into the swamp that Washington could run out of blood by the end of the year.
What saved the country, and indeed his presidency, were the actions of many of the president's subordinates who refused to carry out his orders, stalled, quit, or in some ways redirected the president's anger to other concerns. They are not heroes, but they do qualify as capable public servants who knew the constitution and our democratic processes better than the president.
And, as is usual, most of them no longer work in the Trump White House because they defied his destructive instincts. The ones that are left, including Attorney General William Barr, seem to be more committed to the president than the workings of their offices and their responsibilities to the constitution.
What's worse is that the president believed he had to undermine the free press, questions people's loyalty to the country, and pay fealty to his most ardent supporters by making himself out to be the victim of some misbegotten prosecutorial overreach. What we now know is that the press is alive and vital, proving that it was the president and his press secretary who did not have their facts straight. And those former underlings who had their loyalty questioned or who were fired and/or testified against the president turned out to be the ones with the correct stories.
The president might not have cooperated with the Russian attempt to subvert the 2016 election, but he did absolutely nothing to stop it and everything to goad them and Julian Assange to feed the press stories that would not only hurt Hillary Clinton, but would denigrate our intelligence services and law enforcement agencies. He expressly denied that it was even the Russians who were the main actors, despite the CIA conclusion to the contrary. He tried to get his Attorney General to stop the investigation, and fired James Comey, thinking the whole problem would go away.
Tell me where, in all that heavy traffic, he made that tricky u-turn back to being completely exonerated. There might not have been collusion, but there was active ignorance. No crime, but plenty of attempts at breaking the law. And the president blew lots of hot air, but that only fed the fire. he has set a terrible example for the country and has made it clear that he is only interested in appealing to the minority of people who voted for him in 2016. We deserve better and I hope we get that in 2020.