Fences & Neighbors: A Blast From The Past

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Robert Reich wrote this for the November 30, 1998 issue of the New Yorker magazine. He posted it to his blog today. It could not be more time appropriate.

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

It used to be that people who owned a lot of things could protect themselves and their things by erecting sturdy houses and, if necessary, putting a lock on the door. Today, it seems, that’s not enough. It’s estimated that three million American households live within gated communities – twenty thousand of them, often equipped with private security guards and electronic surveillance systems. Some years ago, the town of Rosemont, Illinois, erected a beige wrought-iron fence. Rosemont is a suburb of Chicago, with a population of four thousand, and it has one of the largest auxiliary police forces in the United States.

A wall is being erected around the nation, too – an outer perimeter, separating the United States from the Third World. So far, our national wall extends along only sixty-four miles of the nearly two-thousand-mile border with Mexico, but Congress has appropriated funds for lengthening it and also fortifying it.

The urge to erect walls seems to be growing, just as disparities in wealth are widening. Many of the Americans who reside within gates like Rosemont’s have become substantially wealthier during the past several years, whereas a great many Americans who live outside the gates have not. (One man, appropriately named Bill Gates, has a net worth roughly equaling the combined net worth of the least wealthy forty percent of American households.)

On a much larger scale, inhabitants of the planet who reside at latitudes north of the national wall are diverging economically from those who live south of it. The consequence is that at both perimeters – the town wall and the national wall – outsiders are more desperate to get in and insiders are more determined to keep them out. Yet the inconvenient fact is that increasingly, in the modern world, the value of what the insiders own and of the work they do depends on what occurs outside.

Half a world away from Rosemont are places whose currencies, denominated in bahts, ringgits, rupiahs, and won, began toppling more than a year ago, and seem to have come to rest only in the last several weeks at levels far below where they started. This has caused most of these countries’ citizens to become far poorer. An Indonesian who had worked for the equivalent of three dollars and thirty-three cents a day before the rupiah’s decent is now working for about one dollar and twelve cents. Efforts by the International Monetary Fund to build back the “confidence” of global investors in these nations by conditioning loans on the nation’s willingness to raise interest rates and cut their public spending have had the unfortunate side effect of propelling more of their citizens into ever more desperate poverty. After the tremors spread to Russia last summer, and it defaulted on its short-term loans, the worldwide anxiety grew, spreading all the way to Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, with the widest gap between rich and poor. In return for its promise of austerity, Brazil is now set to receive an international line of credit totaling forty-one and a half billion dollars, designed to convince global investors that its currency will not lose its value, and that, therefore, there is no reason for them to take their money and run.

All this commotion has also diminished the economic security of quite a number of people who thought of themselves as safely walled in. …. Recent government data show that in the third quarter of 1998 the profits and investments of Americans companies shrank for the first time since the recession year of 1991. This is largely because their exports to Asia and Latin America have continued to drop, while cheap imports from these regions are undercutting their sales in the United States. In consequence, they have been laying off American workers at a higher pace, and creating new jobs at a slower pace, than at any time in recent years.

We do not know how many residents of Rosemont will lose their jobs or the value of their stock portfolios because of the continuing global crisis. No burglars will climb over the steel barrier now walling off the United States and then scale Rosemont’s beige wrought-iron fence, but some residents of Rosemont will lose a bundle nonetheless.

The major risks of modern live now move through or over walls, sometimes electronically, as with global investments, but occasionally by other means. A lethal influenza virus originating among a few Hong Kong chickens could find its way to Rosemont via a globe-trotting business executive. Drugs are flowing across the border as well, not because the walls are insufficiently think but because the people behind them are eager to buy. Something these is in capitalism that doesn’t love a wall.

So why do we feverishly build more walls when they offer us less and less protection? Perhaps it is because we feel so unprotected of late. Amid all the blather about taking more personal responsibility for this or that, there is a growing fear that random and terrible things can happen to us. Solid walls at least create the illusion of control over what we call our own, and control is something we seem to need more of these days, when almost anyone can be clobbered by a falling baht.


Trump Tax Cut – Wrong!

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You want to know how wrong the Trump tax cut is? Read this, written by someone with the economic chops to know.

NYTimes.com: The Trump Tax Cut: Even Worse Than You’ve Heard

Climate Change – “The Science Is Settled”

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A global heat wave. Extreme rainstorms. Severe droughts. Rapidly intensifying Gulf Coast storms. The deadliest wildfire in California history. And a presidential administration that’s trying to make the problem worse. David Leanhardt,  NYT’s Op-Ed Columnist

Climate change gets a network’s spotlight

“NBC devoted the full hour of December 30 “Meet the Press” to climate change, featuring an interview with Michael Bloomberg vowing to elevate its role in the White House race.”

“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

— Chuck Todd at the open of today’s show

“Bloomberg said he’ll work to ensure that 2020 Democratic presidential candidates offer strong proposals on climate.”

“I don’t know whether I’m going to run or not, but I will be out there demanding that anybody that’s running has a plan. And I want to hear the plan, and I want everybody to look at it and say whether it’s doable.”
— Bloomberg on “Meet the Press”

To Preserve Democracy – America’s New Year’s Resolution

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America’s New Year’s Resolution: Remove Trump

After his first bizarre year, his apologists told us he was growing into the job and that in his second year he’d be more restrained and respectful of democratic institutions.

Wrong. He’s been worse

Republican members of Congress must join with Democrats to get this task done as quickly as possible. Nothing is more urgent. It must be, in effect, America’s New Year’s resolution

Read on for why …

Trump Isn’t The Only Problem – Part 3

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While much of the country was focused on Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the presidential election two years ago, Republicans in North Carolina were attempting a brazen power grab. After their nominee — the sitting governor — lost re-election in November 2016, Republicans in the state decided to weaken the governor’s office. The state legislature passed two bills stripping the governor of some powers, and the outgoing governor, Pat McCrory, signed them.

eeIn doing so, McCrory and his allies rejected the peaceful transfer of power that is essential to democracy. They instead chose the peaceful transfer of some power.

In 2018, it became clear that this problem extended beyond North Carolina. Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan followed the same strategy. Perhaps the most chilling aspect is that Trump had nothing to do with these power grabs. Most of the leadership of the Republican Party in each state decided that their overriding goal was partisan power.

Click the link above to read the article

Trump Isn’t The Only Prolem – Part 2

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Trump isn’t the problem. In fact he might be the wake-up call. At least that is what Paul Krugman argues:

THE G.O.P. GOES FULL AUTHORITARIAN Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.

The full Krugman post follows:

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form: takeovers or intimidation of the news media, rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters, new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote, corrupted courts.

The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively taken over the bulk of the media; destroyed the independence of the judiciary; rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

As Levitsky and Ziblatt say, the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”

Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

And the G.O.P. has engaged in extreme gerrymandering. Some people have been reassured by the fact that the Democratic landslide in the popular vote for the House did, in fact, translate into a comparable majority in seats held. But you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

There has been a fair amount of reporting on the power grab currently underway in Madison. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

And here’s the thing: As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned the power grab in Wisconsin, the similar grab in Michigan, or even what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule. Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.


Trump Isn’t The Only Problem

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As of late, from an American Democracy point of view, the political system been going down some very bad paths. Robert Reich explains.

10 Steps to Save American Democracy

Trump isn’t the only problem. As Big Money floods our political system, and some in power are intent on making it harder for certain people to vote, we need a movement to save our democracy.

Here are 10 steps:

Number 1: Make voter registration automatic for all eligible voters, using information they’ve already provided the Department of Motor Vehicles or another government agency. This has already been implemented in several states, including Oregon, and it works.  In 2014, over 1 in 5 Americans were eligible to vote but did not register. Automatic registration would automatically change this.

Number 2: Pass a new Voting Rights Act, setting uniform national voting standards and preventing states from engaging in any form of voter suppression, such as voter ID laws, the purging of voter rolls, and inaccessible and inadequate polling places.

Number 3: Implement public financing of elections, in which public funds match small donations – thereby eliminating the advantage of big money.

Number 4: Require public disclosure of the sources of all political donations. Much of that is now secret, so no one is held accountable.

Number 5: End the revolving door between serving in government and lobbying. Too often, members of Congress, their staffs, cabinet members and top White House personnel take lucrative lobbying jobs after leaving government. In turn, lobbyists take important positions in government. This revolving door must stop. It creates conflicts between the public interest and private greed.

Number 6: Ban members of Congress from owning specific shares of stock while they’re in office. Require that they hold their investments in index funds, so they won’t favor particular companies while carrying out their public duties.

Number 7: Require that all candidates running for Congress and the presidency release their tax returns so the American people know of any potential financial conflicts of interests before they’re elected.

Number 8: Eliminate gerrymandered districts by creating independent redistricting commissions. Some states – Arizona, California, Michigan, and Colorado, for example – have established non-partisan commissions to ensure that congressional maps are drawn fairly, without racial or partisan bias. Other states should follow their lead.

Number 9: Make the Electoral College irrelevant. The presidency should be awarded to the candidate who receives the most votes. Period. States should agree to award all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote by joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

10 and finally: Fight for a Supreme Court that will reverse its Citizens United decision, which interpreted the First Amendment to prevent Congress or state governments from limiting political spending.

Follow these 10 steps and begin to make our democracy work again.

It’s About Race & It’s About The Economy

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A Mother Jones article (Novemeber / December 2018), “The Most Important Election of Our  Lives,” argues that Donald Trump’s clock is running out and this is no time for progressives to be timid about sayings so.

The “deplorables” may be forever out of reach to progressives, but does it matter? They always have been. The center right isn’t. and a cool-headed look at the best evidence suggests that most voters who fall into that camp won’t be turned off by a vigorous approach to either progressive values on race or progressive proposals for the economy. Needless to say, this is also the approach most likely to increase progressive turnout, especially among women and people of color who were most distressed by Trump’s victory in the first place.

Race & Immigration – Gallop

Gallup finds that a record high 75% of Americans say immigration is a good thing.

The highlights from this June 2018 report report that: Three-quarters of Americans think immigration is a good thing; 65% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree: 39% say immigration should be kept at present level, 28% say increased.

The Economy – Mother Jones

…Trump’s right-wing economic populism has gotten little traction. Economists overwhelmingly agree Trump’s trade war will hurt the economy, and the public is decidedly tepid about his tariffs; only 16% of Americans think they will help the economy. Last year’s tax cut for corporations and the wealthy has bombed as well. Unpopular from the start, the law is supported by barely more than a third of the voters.



Immigration — An Informed Fact-Based Approach

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From Sonia Nazario, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother,” is a board member of Kids in Need of Defense and a contributing NYT opinion writer.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans will like it. But it would be humane, it would adhere to the rule of law, and it would work.

I’m a Child of Immigrants. And I Have a Plan to Fix Immigration.

The Central Element of The Campaign -Trump’s Ethos

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Selective parts of the David Brooks / Mark Shields PBS interview from Friday October 19. Link to interview

David Brooks:

Well, I mean, I think the major damage Donald Trump is doing to the country is weakening the norms of decency and civility.

And if you don’t have those norms, it’s all dog eat dog. And so I don’t underestimate the harm that gets done.

I just observe that, since the first presidential debate, when he went after Carly Fiorina for the way she looked, and other people, those — the ethos of World Wide — the World Wide Wrestling Federation has been the ethos Donald Trump has played on, on the campaign trail.

And there is some bit of owning the libs, as conservative say, that the desire to offend is part of the fun of the thing. And, sometimes — I totally get Mark’s point. You got to try to maintain some sense of standards of how public officials are supposed to act with integrity.

But, sometimes, I feel manipulated when I do react, because that’s sort of what Donald Trump wants.

Mark Shields:

I want David to trust his own instincts, which are good.


Mark Shields:

No, I mean, but David touched on what I think is the central element of this campaign.

Are we going to have guardrails. Are we going to reestablish guardrails in this country as to what is right, what is wrong? And I think that to a great degree is what this election is about.

But I mean, let’s remind us — our listeners that Gianforte himself publicly apologized for what he did after it happened and accepted the court’s judgment.

Judy Woodruff:

David, health care, the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, was working against Democrats. Now they’re trying to use it to their advantage.

Do you think it’s working?

David Brooks:

I think a bit. [However] I sort of think, though, just finally, that the norms, as Mark and I have been discussing, what Trump is doing to the culture and the political culture, is actually more of an issue and more of a vulnerability. And I wonder if Democrats would win over more swing voters if they focused on that, because there are a lot of pretty conservative people who think what’s happening to the country is pretty awful.

Judy Woodruff:

David, Mark brought up the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance a minute ago, the Saudi journalist.

We have been hearing about that now for several weeks. I think, just tonight, the Saudi government is saying they’re firing people, asking people to step down. They’re detaining others in all this.

We still don’t have a clear picture of what the Trump administration is going to do. How do you see — can the president walk a middle line here, at the one — on the one hand say, yes, it was a terrible thing, but we don’t want to — we don’t want to in a serious way change our relationship with the Saudis?

David Brooks:

Well, that’s what’s going to happen.

In the Middle East, people understand you go through periods where people have to pretend to be mad at you, and then they go back to normal affairs. And I suspect that’s what the Trump administration is going to do with Saudi Arabia.

To me, the prior problem is that whoever made the decision in Saudi Arabia to do this didn’t worry about Donald Trump, didn’t worry about America. And if the U.S. withdraws its normal role as the enforcer of some sort of international decency, then the people like Putin, the people like those in Saudi Arabia, the people like those in North Korea are just instinctively and almost unconsciously going to think, well, I can get away with this, and so you get actions like that.

So it’s almost the prior withdrawal of American power and standard-setting that seems to me the core problem.

And then, when you look at the Trump administration reaction, this happens every time they align themselves with a bad person, whether it’s Putin or this or another. The bad person does something bad, they try not to react because they like the bad person, and then public opinion drags them into some grudging, meaningless acknowledgement.

And that’s sort of the pattern here.

Judy Woodruff:

Does the administration, Mark, have to take a tough line, or can they get away with trying to walk a middle ground here?

Mark Shields:

I don’t think there is a middle ground.

But, I mean, Judy, Michael Hayden, the former CIA director under President Bush and then President — NSA director as well under President Obama, remained, made, I thought, just a penetrating observation.

He said, President Trump has close personal relations with three heads of state who have on their hands the murder of a citizen in another country, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Putin, and now the Saudi royal family.

And, I mean, I know if you — you’re accused of mudslinging if you quote the president, but I do want to quote the president. Some of his ardent supporters say he shouldn’t be quoted because he doesn’t always mean it.

But he has said that: “Am I supposed to dislike them?” speaking of the Saudis. “I like them very much. They make me rich. They make millions and hundreds of million. I make them — make them — a lot of money with them.”

And this is about his values. And these are now the United States’ values. I mean, that’s what he’s embodying. That’s what he represents. And I just think it’s absolutely terrifying for United States foreign policy and who we are and what we believe in the world.

Judy Woodruff:

Does this have long-lasting consequences, David?

David Brooks:

Well, we will see.

And I guess this is why I’m a little mystified that the Democrats are not going after this issue more, why they’re going after health care and other policy issues.

To me, this is the big issue of the election, that if — frankly, if Donald — if the Republicans keep the House and the Senate, then Donald Trump will feel unleashed. He will feel that this style of politics, this style of foreign policy, this definition of our moral order, has been totally vindicated by the American people.

And so, to me, that’s the core issue. How do we see ourselves as a country? What kind of country do we say? Are we strictly a money country? We sometimes look like that to outsiders. I don’t think that’s true.

But that is pretty much the ethos that Trump is embodying in a quite unembarrassed way.

Judy Woodruff:

Can Democrats do something? They haven’t…

Mark Shields:

Will Democrats do something?

Will — Democrats willing to stand up and say, this is a matter of national strength, national character, national identity, and national values?

I mean, when Pat Robertson becomes the moral theologian of the Republican Party and says, going out to Saudi Arabia for a journalist’s disappearance is not worth risking $100 billion worth of arm sales, does that tell you about moral leadership?

I mean, that’s really what — the proposition that has been presented by this president to the country.

And the Democrats, do they have the courage, the decency and the integrity to stand up? I mean, these are the people running a civil war in Yemen and murdering children by the thousands. And we have been essentially mute and supportive of that enterprise.

Judy Woodruff:

And, on that note, I’ll thank you both.