Monthly Archives: March 2018

Transparency and my vote

Even though I consider myself a journalist, I refuse to let that deprive me of the privileges of citizenship. So, when an issue clearly has one answer – gun control, for example – I’ll make my support known. Also, I vote.

Living abroad as I do, I vote by mail. Today, I shipped my ballot to Illinois ahead of the March 20 primary. Following the notion that “transparency is the new objectivity”, here’s who got my vote.

I pulled the Democratic ballot (you pick one party’s ballot in the primary) and chose for the following candidates:

  • Daniel Biss & Litesa Wallace for governor and lt. governor
  • Nancy Rotering for attorney general
  • Brian Deters for 18th Congressional District representative
Voting in downstate Illinois as I do, all of the other races either had one candidate or no candidates on the Democratic ballot.

Don’t be too comfortable with every part of the Russia investigation

While I want the Mueller investigation to continue – and I sure want to know if the Trump campaign directly colluded with the Russian government to hack the DNC and Podesta – I’m not comfortable with every aspect of it.

First off, the recent subpoena against Sam Nunberg seemed awfully broad – both in terms of the time period covered and the number of people involved – especially for someone who left the campaign pretty early on.

Secondly, from this Washington Post article outlining the possible state of the investigation, there are a couple of facets from the possible legal case that should be unsettling. Apparently, there could be charges of “conspiracy to defraud the United States”. Which can be interpreted this way:

In the 1910 case Haas v. Henkel, the Supreme Court interpreted the provision broadly to include ‘any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful function of any department of government.’ Notably, there is no requirement that the government be cheated out of money or property.

Wow. Interpreted broadly, almost any form of direct protest against a federal agency becomes a crime.

Also, there’s the crime, which some Trump associates have already pleaded guilty to, of lying to federal officials. Perjury is a crime, of course. And that’s sensible. A duly constituted court of law can’t function without some incentive to make people tell the truth. But federal law enforcement officers are not the court. People might have all sort of reasons they don’t want their personal lives picked over by federal officials. It’s on the federal officials to find a way to build a case without being overly invasive.

Again, I’m no fan of Trump, and I want the investigation to continue. But we should be cautious about overly empowering federal law enforcement. You would think this would have been a lesson Democrats would have learned during the Clinton administration.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, there’s no evidence yet that anything Mueller comes up with will be persuasive politically to Republicans or Trump’s supporters. And that is key to this whole effort to understand what happened in 2016. If we can’t agree on a shared set of facts and a set of values for what’s acceptable in our republic, we have years of political poison ahead of us.

Medicare (Extra) for All

This is a couple weeks old, but still worth a look. Apparently the mainstream policy wonks of the Democratic party are embracing a version of single-payer – finally.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 7.55.45 PM

Under the plan, dubbed Medicare Extra (because Bernie Sander’s Medicare-for-All shall not be named, it seems), Americans would have guaranteed health insurance, getting them needed medical care without the fear of bankruptcy. Oh, and it would be the US finally catching up with the rest of the developed world.

Waldman says the Republican party is to “blame” for the plan. By fighting the Affordable Care Act so much – which, except for the Medicaid expansion, was always a conservative/GOP plan, anyway – they forced the Democrats to embrace more radical health care reform.

For my part, I blame the Democrats for not seeing the policy and political logic of embracing a single-payer plan a long time ago. They could have at least embraced the public option when the ACA was being crafted, which would have tested the popularity of widespread Medicare coverage. Why did we have to waste so much energy and put so many people through health insurance insecurity to get to this point?

But of course, maybe that’s precisely what we had to do. Maybe it took that kind of pain to get Democratic politicians and the public to embrace the idea of universal coverage. It’s hard to say. Either way, it’s time to celebrate the release of this plan as a small moral victory.

Trump and stability

While Trump has always been erratic – adjusting his message to suit his audience and mood and reflecting the last person he talked to – I’ve begun to worry about his stability more and more.

With Hicks leaving, Kushner on the ropes, Mueller progressing, and ongoing tension with his staff and cabinet secretaries, he will feel isolated. Reportedly he is planning to replace his National Security Advisor. Among the choices – again, reportedly – is Josh Bolton, who has advocated for nuclear war with North Korea. We can’t count on him to keep his own counsel. We are in dangerous times.

By the way, this danger is partly a consequence of Congress allowing an imperial presidency to grow. The office has become vested with far too much authority and power. It might have to step up. But for that to happen, the Republicans in Congress would have to choose country over party, and that is cold comfort.

Only half-jokingly, I wonder if Fox & Friends could calm him down…

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 7.16.38 AM

Pocket change

I’m taking some time today to try to wrap my mind around the financial connections between Trump world – Jared Kushner, etc. – and Russian financiers. The stories are convoluted and detailed, with a fair amount of guesswork as to what the actual connections are. (Let’s see what Mueller puts together. Another indictment Friday coming up?)

But here’s one takeaway: Reading these stories, you realize that the savings you’ve worked your entire life to build up is at best a rounding error to these people – if not just a cute, insignificant bit of pocket change. (And I say that as someone who is doing well by US standards and spectacularly by global standards.)

How do we fool ourselves into thinking these people can relate to us or represent us?

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 6.26.47 PM

How about Democrats embrace popular policies?

I’ve found the best way to understand American politics is by assuming that the Republicans are ruthless and the Democrats are inept. There’s more evidence here:

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 8.08.35 PM

While Republicans have made great electoral hay for decades by pushing an extremist gun agenda, the Democrats have consistently offered a milquetoast, muddled response. And here’s the rub: the polls consistently support stronger gun control.

This is low-hanging fruit. Take a popular issue and run with it. Make it into an issue upon which people VOTE.

Yes, I make it sound easy, but how could you do much worse than this:

And yes, I know there have been some recent election wins. But there’s a deep, deep hole to climb out of. And nothing is guaranteed in the midterms

In many ways this reminds me of the Medicare-for-All issue. Mainstream Democrats, Pres. Obama, and Hillary Clinton just couldn’t get themselves behind any version of it, even though it is reasonably popular – without any mainstream effort behind it at all.

Now, we can have a policy argument about gun control and Medicare-for-All. I’m convinced they’re desirable and feasible. You might disagree. Compromises on policy can be reached.

But politically, these issues can WIN. But one has to choose to try.

P.S. For the record, I don’t much care whether Democrats, in and of themselves, win anything. If a Republican embraced sound, humane policies, sure, I’d vote for a Republican. But, jeez. Trump? You make it so hard, GOP.


Gun control for Mr. Spock

On my Facebook page, in response to this post, my friend, Scott, makes an excellent point:

Ultimately, this is just another permutation of the externalization of costs (in terms of health and fiscal expenditures) by the domestic arms manufactures, retailers and rabid consumers.

When debating guns, you encounter all kinds of people. Some come across as very emotional – FREEDOM! Pry it from my cold, dead hands! – while others strike a pose of the hyper-rationalist. Gee, these very, very logical people say, if we could just discuss this whole issue *rationally*, then we’d sort it out, easy peasy.

I have all sorts of problems with this pose, but let me meet it on its own ground for a moment.

On cold, rational, microeconomic grounds, what we have here is a huge pollution problem. Some people – in this case, gun manufacturers and gun nuts – are privatizing the gains of gun sales and ownership – cash profits and psychological benefits –
while socializing the losses – cash outlays for improved security and the horror of watching children get shot to bits at schools over and over.

Classic economics would tell you this is a problem. You can’t properly price a produce or service – or social system, really – unless people bear the full costs. Gun manufacturers and gun nuts are not bearing the full costs right now. Instead, they are dumping mass gun violence pollution on all of us.

So, how do we address this? There are a variety of ways. My preferred route is to enact strict gun control like I’ve laid out elsewhere. But a tidy, economic, freedom-loving solution is to force gun manufacturers and gun nuts to fully bear the costs of their interests. Private citizens or the government could sue every link in the gun chain to recover damages. Or we could tax manufacturers for those costs. Or we could make gun-buyers purchase comprehensive insurance policies to cover all of those costs.

Bottom line, no need to get emotional about it. If you’re a hyper-rationalist and can just ignore the real human consequences of gun violence, okay. But for goodness sake, carry your philosophy and stance through to its logical conclusion. Make the gun manufacturers and guy-buyers pay.

P.S. While not exactly hyper-rationalist, this plan should also satisfy people who are very concerned with that good, old-fashioned conservative value of personal responsibility. Unless, of course, they don’t actually mean it.