Saturday, October 13, 2018

Republican Blatant Lies on Health Care


I view quality health care for all citizens as something very important.  First, if one is a moral person - I can't say Christians because evangelicals continue to prove themselves to be both morally bankrupt and hypocrites nearly daily - the welfare of others, especially children and the elderly ought to concern you.  Secondly, Americans pay the highest costs for health care of any developed nation because we fail to cover preventive care and as a result have people flooding ER's with catastrophic illnesses that could have been either avoided or greatly lessened in magnitude.  These un-reimbursed costs get passed on to everyone else and drive up insurance premiums.  The simple math is that to save money, one needs to spend money on basic and preventive care.  A third reason is that from personal experience when one of my children came down with a rare and very deadly disease, I understand how unexpected medical bills can ruin one financially.  Even with "excellent insurance" all of our savings were wiped out and it took me four years to pay off the balance of the bills.  But for a well paying job, I'd have been forced into bankruptcy.  

Polls indicate that a majority of Americans similarly deem health care and access to health care insurance as important, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions.  Yet what do Republicans want to do?  Gut the Affordable Health Care Act, allow insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions (or charge them exorbitant rates).  Worse yet, to finance the Trump/GOP tax cuts they want to make cuts in Medicaid and Medicare.  But heven forbid that they be honest with voters about their agenda.  Instead, as a column in the New York Times notes, the blatantly lie.  Here are column excerpts:

Republicans no longer bother with deceptive presentations of facts. Instead, they just flat-out lie.
What do they lie about? Lots of things, from crowd sizes to immigrant crime, from steel plants to the Supreme Court. But right now the most intense, coordinated effort at deception involves health care — an issue where Republicans are lying nonstop about both their own position and that of Democrats.
The true Republican position on health care has been clear and consistent for decades: The party hates, just hates, the idea of government action to make essential health care available to all citizens, regardless of income or medical history.
This hatred very much includes hatred of Medicare. Way back in 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that enacting Medicare would destroy American freedom. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that happened. Newt Gingrich shut down the government in an attempt to force Bill Clinton to slash Medicare funding. Paul Ryan proposed ending Medicare as we know it and replacing it with inadequate vouchers to be applied to the purchase of private insurance.
And the hatred obviously extends to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans don’t just hate the subsidies that help people buy insurance; they also hate the regulations that prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Indeed, 20 Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit trying to eliminate protection for pre-existing conditions, and the Trump administration has declined to oppose the suit, in effect endorsing it.
So if you’re a voter who cares about health care, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out where the parties stand. If you believe that Medicare is a bad thing and the government shouldn’t protect people with pre-existing conditions, vote Republican. If you want to defend Medicare and ensure coverage even for those who have health problems, vote Democrat.
But Republicans have a problem here: The policies they hate, and Democrats love, are extremely popular. Medicare has overwhelming support. So does protection for pre-existing conditions, which is even supported by a large majority of Republicans.
Now, you might imagine that Republicans would respond to the manifest unpopularity of their health care position by, you know, actually changing their position. But that would be hopelessly old-fashioned. As I said, what they’ve chosen to do instead is lie, insisting that black is white and up is down. Thus Josh Hawley, as Missouri’s attorney general, is part of that lawsuit against Obamacare’s regulation of insurers; but in his campaign for the Senate, he’s posing as a defender of Americans with pre-existing conditions. Dean Heller, running for re-election to the Senate in Nevada, voted for a bill that would have destroyed Obamacare, including all protection for pre-existing conditions; but he’s misrepresenting himself just like Hawley is. All of which brings me to a remarkable op-ed article on health care in USA Today, which was published under Donald Trump’s name . . . Part of the article claimed that the Trump administration is defending health insurance for Americans with pre-existing conditions, when the reality is that it has tried to destroy that coverage. And what did “Trump” say Democrats would do? Why, that they would “eviscerate” the current Medicare program. Oh, and that they would turn America into Venezuela. Because that’s what has happened to countries that really do have single-payer, like Canada and Denmark.
Why do Republicans think they can get away with such blatant lies? Partly it’s because they expect their Fox-watching followers to believe anything they’re told.
But it’s also because they can still count on enablers in the mainstream news media. After all, why did USA Today approve this piece? Letting Trump express his opinion is one thing; giving him a platform for blatant lies is another. And as fact-checker Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post put it, “Almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.” Even the president of the United States isn’t entitled to his own facts.
So will the G.O.P.’s Big Lie on health care work? We’ll find out in a few weeks.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Catholics Want Vatican to End Anti-Gay Stance

Click image to enlarge.

A new survey indicates that 63% or more of Catholics from the eight countries with the largest Catholic populations want the Catholic Church hierarchy to end the Vatican's continued anti-gay dogma and animus.  The countries surveyed were Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Philippines, United States, France, Spain and Italy. Collectively these countries comprise half of the world’s total population of baptized Catholics.  Among Millennials and younger generations anti-gay stances are a number one factor in the decision to walk away from religion (rank hypocrisy of supposed "Christians" also plays a significant role).  The release of the findings comes less than two weeks before the beginning of the Catholic Church’s Synod on Young People in Rome which, among other things, seeks to find ways to stem the hemorrhaging of younger generations from the Church (my own three Millennial children have all walked away).   Gay Star News looks at the findings and Pope Francis' statement earlier in the year that psychiatric help was appropriate for LGBT youth.  Many saw this as an endorsement of discredited "conversion therapy."  Here are article excerpts:
The majority of practicing Catholics want the Church to be more inclusive of young LGBT people, a survey reveals.
Many Catholics are calling for a more positive approach towards young people. They are also urging the Church to change its teaching on LGBTI in order to be more welcoming of lesbian, gay, bi and trans teens.
YouGov carried the survey for the Equal Future 2018 Campaign.  Equal Future 2018 is an international campaign aiming to convey a positive message of acceptance to LGBT kids. Its goal is to raise awareness around the world of the damage done to children when they perceive that being LGBT would be a misfortune or a disappointment.
These poll findings are a clarion call to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church from its members that it is time to change their approach to LGBT people,’ Campaign Director of Equal Future 2018 Tiernan Brady said.
‘The people of the Catholic Church are leading the way on LGBT issues and it is time the upper management caught up with their flock.’
“The figures clearly show that Catholic people across the globe believe that the current teaching and approach of the hierarchy towards LGBT people is now damaging to children and young people and the clear majority wants the Church to change its approach.”  This is not a call for change from outside the Church, it is from its own people.’
‘The truth is that far too many children and young people grow up thinking that if they or someone they knew turned out to be LGBT it would be bad luck or a disappointment. Most of the damage that comes from learning such attitudes happens to children and young people long before anyone knows if they are LGBT or not,’ Brady continued.
On his way back from Dublin, where the Meeting of Families took place in August, the pope replied to a journalist asking what to do if a child comes out as gay, bi, or trans.
He said that if children comes out as LGBT in their early years, therapy might be a useful solution.  Perceived by some as an eerie reference to conversion therapy, the statement received the criticism of the LGBT community.
My own Catholic upbringing did severe damage to me and it took years of therapy to get over the damage.   The Vatican's position on gays certainly played a role in my children's exodus from the Church.  Historically, lost of membership and the attendant loss of financial revenues are the only things that has caused the Vatican to change.  The question ultimately becomes one of whether the Vatican is willing to have the Catholic Church shrink in size and have an increasingly ignorant and uneducated membership. 

Turkey to US: Audio and Video Recordings Indicate Saudis Killed Khashoggi


Disturbingly, Turkish officials indicate that they have audio and video recordings that indicate that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and then dismembered.  Donald Trump's reaction so far?  A shrug of the shoulders and statements that be would not want to loose $100 billion in arms sales to the dictatorial kingdom.  Sadly, it is further proof that human rights have no importance under the Trump/Pence regime.  Lest we forget, the Trump/Pence regime voted against a UN resolution that condemned nations with death penalties for gay sex.  One can only hope that Republican members of the  Senate will finally  deem that Trump has gone too far and act to impose punishments on Saudi Arabia.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:
The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this month, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.
The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.
“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.
“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
A second person briefed on the recording said men could be heard beating Khashoggi.
The existence of such evidence would explain why Turkish officials were quick to accuse Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi. But Turkish officials are wary of releasing the recordings, fearing they could divulge how the Turks spy on foreign entities in their country, the officials said.
It’s not clear that U.S. officials have seen the footage or listened to the audio, but Turkish officials have described their contents to their American counterparts.
[Jared] Kushner has tried to promote Mohammed to skeptical national security officials, who have long viewed him as an impetuous and ruthless leader who has an overly simplistic view of the complex challenges the United States faces in the Middle East. On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers were frustrated that the White House hadn’t disclosed more information about Khashoggi before and after he disappeared. Some lawmakers said the administration should consider curtailing sales of weapons to the kingdom. “Arms sales are certainly going to be, I think, a huge concern if there is responsibility that is irrefutable,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said of any potential evidence showing a Saudi role in Khashoggi’s suspected killing.
Gardner said that the Trump administration had left senators in the dark about intelligence pointing to Saudi Arabia and demanded that officials give lawmakers a fuller account of what they knew of possible threats to Khashoggi’s safety before he disappeared.
On Wednesday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle wrote to Trump and asked him to impose sanctions against anyone found responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, including Saudi leaders. The lawmakers invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, giving the president 120 days to make a decision.



While Trump dithers and indicates that he wants to look the other way, members of the business community are showing more moral fortitude and are moving to reduce ties to Saudi Arabia.  This also from the Post:
The growing number of Western companies distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia over the alleged killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi is undermining the kingdom’s push to diversify its economy beyond oil and provide more opportunities for its young and often restive population.
By Friday afternoon, nearly a dozen tech, media and entertainment companies had backed out of a Saudi investment conference to be held this month, as dismay over Saudi agents’ alleged murder of Khashoggi spread to companies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to woo.
One firm that was among the recipients of the $27 million the kingdom spent on U.S. lobbying last year announced that it would stop its representation. “We are terminating our relationship,” said Richard Mintz, managing director of the Harbor Group.
The companies and executives backing away from the kingdom, including Uber Technologies, Viacom and at least two prominent tech investors, are the very ones the crown prince has sought to cultivate over the past year as the kingdom attempts to modernize its economy and ensure jobs for its young population.


Let's hope the business community continues to cut ties to the Saudis who, in my view, have never been true allies to America.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

National Coming Out Day: Stigma Against Gay People Can Be Deadly

With my husband in the Windsor Suite of the Greenbrier Resort. 
Today is National Coming Out Day which operates on the concept that one of the most basic forms of activism is to "come out" to family, friends and colleagues and live an authentic life as an openly lesbian or gay person. Stated another way, homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.  I came out roughly 17 years ago and lived through periods when Virginia's sodomy law was still binding law and when same sex couples could not marry. (For the record, I am also the survivor of two serious suicide attempts driven by the adverse consequences of "coming out.")

Obviously, ending homophobia runs directly counter to the efforts of the Trump/Pence regime and the Republican Party to continue to demonize gays and lesbians and to role back LGBT rights.  These efforts are aimed in part to endear the GOP and Trump/Pence to Christofascists who continue to use the bogeyman of LGBT rights as their number one fundraising scare tactic.   Nowhere in the calculus of this vicious agenda is the very real harm done to real people.  A piece in the New York Times by a licensed physician looks at the documented harm such homophobic efforts cause.  I maintain that these "godly Christian" folk care little about "religious freedom" and instead are focused on inflicting cruelty on those who are different, even if such cruelty drives individuals to suicide.  Here are article highlights which look at the harm being done to individuals and often their families:
I’ve never been sure what to expect when meeting someone who’s just tried to take his own life. But I’ve learned to stop expecting anything.
Yesterday, my patient, a 20-something graduate student, swallowed a jumble of unmarked pills, hoping to die, after his father told him never to come home again. Today, he greeted me with a soft smile, his delirium starting to clear, his heart beating normally again.
“Whoops,” he said.   He’d been a happy kid who aimed to please. He once felt so bad for lying about having done his homework before playing video games, he told me, that he’d grounded himself. Sociable but square, he didn’t drink until he was 21, even though he’d gone to a college with a reputation for partying. Deeply religious, he was gay but desperately wanted not to be.
Now his father’s disavowal pushed him over the edge, capping a string of stigmatizing experiences at home, at school and at church. He’d had enough.
For decades, we’ve known that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals experience a range of social, economic and health disparities — often the result of a culture and of laws and policies that treat them as lesser human beings. They’re more likely to struggle with poverty and social isolation. . . . . L.G.B.T. youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide, and nearly five times as likely to attempt suicide.
Some of these disparities have interpersonal roots: social exclusion, harassment, internalized homophobia. But often they stem from an explicit denial of rights: same-sex marriage bans, employment discrimination, denial of federal benefits.
Sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of prejudice die more than a decade earlier than those in less prejudiced communities.
But civil rights advances and growing public acceptance of L.G.B.T. individuals in recent years are among the more transformative social changes in modern American history. And evidence increasingly suggests this shift has measurably improved health care access and health outcomes for L.G.B.T. populations.
The halting, patchwork nature of L.G.B.T. rights expansions across the country has allowed researchers to study the effects on health and well-being by comparing states that expanded rights to those that failed to introduce protections, or actively curtailed them.
After Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, mental health visits dropped significantly for gay men across the state. Other states that followed suit saw a 7 percent reduction in suicide attempts among L.G.B.T. adolescents. Nationwide, legalization of same-sex marriage is linked to increases in the likelihood that gay men have health insurance and a regular doctor to see.
By contrast, in states that passed same-sex marriage bans in 2004 and 2006, L.G.B.T. individuals experienced a marked rise in mental health problems, including anxiety, alcohol use and mood disorders. (No such increase was found in neighboring states that did not pass bans.)
But it’s more than just marriage. L.G.B.T. individuals who live in states where it’s legal for businesses to deny people service based on their sexual orientation have a higher risk for mental health problems. One study found a 46 percent increase in the proportion of sexual minorities reporting depression, anxiety and other emotional problems in states that passed denial-of-service laws. Again, no increase was observed in states without these laws.
But there’s reason to believe progress in L.G.B.T. health may be imperiled by a political and social environment that is growing less friendly toward sexual minorities. More states are trying to pass “religious liberty” laws that allow for discrimination based on gender and sexual identity. Several federal health surveys will no longer include questions about sexual orientation, making it more difficult for researchers to study disparities. And the Trump administration recently established a new division in the Department of Health and Human Services to defend health professionals who refuse to provide care to people or in situations that conflict with their personal beliefs, which could include the right to treat L.G.B.T. individuals. (L.G.B.T. patients already face discrimination at concerning rates.
I think of my young patient in the hospital bed who had attempted to kill himself. I remember the pain that remained even as the toxins he ingested left his body. And I worry that a new wave of anti-L.G.B.T. rhetoric and policy will mean that he — and people who love like him — will end up feeling more stigmatized, in poorer health, or no longer with us at all.

The People v. the U.S. Senate

Anti-majority Senate Republicans.
The structure of Congress was a pragmatic deal struck by the authors of the U.S. Constitution to induce smaller states to ratify the document and create the United States of America.  The principal carrot for small states was the U.S. Senate which would give small states equal power with large states.  Its very structure was anti-democratic, but it was the sweetener needed to achieve ratification.  Fast forward to today and the imbalance of power in control of legislation and important confirmations is now firmly controlled by a minority of the population that has little acceptance for changing demographics, social norms and/or a fast changing economy.  The recent Kavanaugh confirmation underscored the problem.  The result: some are calling for abolition of the Senate or a major restructuring to end small state obstructionism.  Here are highlights from a piece in The Atlantic:  

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 50–48, with one senator absent and one abstaining. Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted with the solidly Republican majority, which represented just 44 percent of the country’s population. Indeed, when Americans last voted for their senators (over a period of six years), Democrats won the popular vote by more than 8 percent. It’s that disproportionality—and the reality that a majority of the country’s population is represented by just 18 senators—that is driving concerns about the Senate’s ability to function as a representative body in a changing America.
The Senate is embedded within the Constitution as few other institutions are, with a special clause that some believe makes it immune to the standard amendment process. Adding more diverse states is one solution — Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories would likely send Democrats to Capitol Hill if they gained representation, somewhat balancing the chamber.
And both Puerto Rico and D.C. seem agreeable: Last month, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, stepped up his campaign for statehood, while the district’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is a passionate advocate of admitting D.C.
[B]oth those who want abolition and those who want more modest, but nonetheless significant, changes agree: The Senate is increasingly unrepresentative of the American populace.
The Republican Party has an inbuilt advantage in Senate races. Since Democratic voters tend to cluster in cities and their inner suburbs, Republicans are more spread out over large geographic areas. While rural strength in a state like New York or California counts for little in Senate races dominated by large coastal cities, the abundance of sparsely populated, geographically vast states in the West and Midwest is a big help for Republican domination in the chamber. Wyoming, for instance, reliably returns GOP senators despite having about as many people as Albuquerque.
There’s also demography: The states Trump won, which tend to be more Republican in general, are also whiter. In the political world of 2018, that makes them harder to win for Democrats, though the party holds numerous safe seats in heavily white northeastern states in which the GOP is not seriously competitive. The most diverse states are also the largest, and, therefore, the most underrepresented on a per capita basis.
Senate critics also contend that smaller states tend to be more conservative, while larger ones are more likely to back Democrats, though this argument is belied by the nine largest states, which are represented by an even number of Democrats and Republicans. Yet even if partisanship is put aside, those nine account for more than half of the country’s population.
While other countries have disproportionately selected legislatures—Norway intentionally allocates extra voting power to rural areas, for instance, and Canada’s provinces have stark differences in parliamentary representation—the Senate’s extreme imbalance is essentially unique in the global pantheon of representative democracy.
On June 11, 1787, Roger Sherman rose in a Philadelphia room filled with other landowning men and recommended a bicameral legislature for America, with one house apportioned by population and the other apportioned equally among the states. This deal—the Connecticut Compromise, as it would later be known—has organized American legislative governance for nearly two and a half centuries. Sherman’s original proposal was not, of course, designed to boost popular representation.
The Senate would express the interests of the states, conceived of as sovereign entities unto themselves rather than as a wholly cohesive nation. Until the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in the spring of 1913, senators were elected by the legislature of their respective state.
Those who want to eliminate the Senate wholesale argue that the ship has sailed on states as sovereign entities. The federalism, they contend, fundamentally undermines basic democratic due process and the voting rights of actual people.
Daniel Lazare, a journalist who specializes in American politics and has written three books on constitutional issues, argued in Jacobin in 2014 that the Senate is “one of the most cockeyed systems of minority rule in history, one that allows tiny coteries to hold the entire country ransom until their demands are met.”
Senate abolition, no matter its support among left-wing groups, remains a remote prospect in the near term. Constitutional and political hurdles are massive, and despite gaining traction among many in the left-wing commentariat, popular support would likely be more elusive. However, stopgap measures—subdividing large states, for instance, or adding U.S. territories and the District of Columbia to the union—may be more viable and could address some Senate critics’ most immediate concerns.
But calls for radical reform can be useful in themselves. Issues of voting rights and disproportionality generally gain traction when attention is turned toward issues like the relative representativeness of the Senate. Electoral change—including measures to combat voter suppression and gerrymandering, or even more fundamental changes like instituting a proportional voting system for House elections—may become more palatable to the electorate at large as massive systemic changes like Senate abolition are discussed. “It’s always good to have a John the Baptist out there, painting a picture of what could be, but people change their minds relatively slowly,” Beyer says.
But in the near term, Democrats may not need John the Baptist—what they need may be Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and time. To rearrange electoral geography, American history would suggest that time is the most critical.

More Thursday Male Beauty



Ford Motor: Layoffs After Losing $1 Billion to Trump's Trade Tariffs


America continues to caught in multiple trade wars started by narcissistic dimwit who occupies the White House.  And the consequences for average Americans is worsening as Trump's tariffs - which are in effect a tax on goods and materials - take effect.  Many businesses find their cost of doing business soaring.  As reported by Fortune, one such business is Ford Motor Company, America's second larges automaker which is estimated to have lost $billion due to Trump's tariffs and is expected to cut 24,000 jobs.  The only silver lining is that many job losses in America will be in states that voted for Der Trumpenführer.  But it is not just businesses who will pay the price for Trump's tariffs.  As the Washington Examiner reports, the added tax burden from the tariffs will greatly exceed the costs of the Affordable Health Care Act which Republicans called "job killing."  First these highlights from Fortune

Ford is having a bad year in 2018. Its stock is down 29%, and the tariffs imposed by President Trump have reportedly cost the company $1 billion, as the company is in the midst of a reorganization. Now, the company is announcing layoffs.
Jim Hackett, Ford’s CEO, is working to engineer a $25.5 billion restructuring of the automaker, hoping to cut costs and remain competitive, the Wall Street Journal reports. But auto sales are down, and one reason is the trade tariffs that Trump has imposed on metals and other goods. According to Bloomberg, Hackett has said they have already cost the company $1 billion in profit and could do “more damage” if the disputes aren’t resolved quickly.
Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker by sales, is making aggressive job cuts as part of that reorganization, NBC News reported. While the company hasn’t said how many jobs will be lost, a report from Morgan Stanley estimates “a global headcount reduction of approximately 12 percent,” or 24,000 of Ford’s 202,000 workers worldwide.”
The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday that Ford has temporarily halted production of transit vans in Claycomo, Mo. The move is intended to build up Ford’s inventories of the vans, but it will leave 2,000 workers idle between Oct. 22 and Nov. 4.
Despite news of the layoffs, Ford’s stock closed down 3.4% Tuesday.
At a time when automakers are scrambling to prepare for self-driving cars, Ford is also struggling to keep pace with the rest of the industry. September was a bad month for U.S. auto sales—with aggregate sales down 7%—but Ford’s drop off was even more severe. Ford said its sales of its vehicles declined 11.2% last month, with sales of its best-selling F-Series pickup trucks down 9%.
As for the average citizen, the tariffs are wiping out much of any alleged benefits from the Trump/GOP tax cuts that principally benefited the very wealthy. This from the Examiner:


The $67.2 billion estimated 2019 tax burden of the Affordable Care Act prior to those changes is lower than the cost of new trade taxes once a scheduled $30 billion tariff increase takes effect in January. If every currently proposed tariff is enacted, the total trade tax burden will nearly double even the tax burden of the pre-reform ACA — NTUF estimates the net total of proposed and enacted trade taxes to be $132.55 billion. That would offset more than 70 percent of the $188.8 billion in 2019 individual income tax cuts.
American businesses and consumers are slapped by tariffs just as viciously as the target countries. While tariffs make foreign goods less competitive in the American market, it's actually the importer that remits the cost of the tariff to U.S. Customs.
American consumers pay for tariffs as well. Tariff costs paid by an importing business are generally passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Even when a domestic business chooses to change its behavior because of a tariff and avoid foreign goods, there was likely a reason why the domestic business had previously been importing foreign goods over domestic ones. Whether it means higher prices or lower-quality goods, American consumers pay the price.
Artificially higher prices for goods through trade restrictions have ripple effects throughout the economy. Businesses experiencing increased supply costs must make up the loss elsewhere, often through reduced wages or employment.

Devin Nunes' Hometown Newspaper Endorses Nunes' Opponent


Other than Mitch McConnell, few have done more to harm American democracy and worked harder to protect Donald Trump from a full investigation of efforts to collude with Russia than Rep. Devin Nunes.  In fact, one would almost think that Nunes was on the Trump payroll given the bizarre efforts he has undertaken to protect Trump and thwart the House Intelligence Committee's investigation.  Now, facing a tough re-election fight, Nunes finds himself discarded by his hometown newspaper which has endorsed Nunes' opponent.  Never mind that during eight previous elections, the paper had endorsed Nunes.  A piece in Salon looks at this welcomed change in endorsement.  Here are article excerpts:
The Fresno Bee is backing Republican Rep. Devin Nunes' Democratic challenger in California's 22nd congressional district, after endorsing Nunes in eight consecutive elections.
The Bee, which had backed Nunes in every race since 2002, announced Saturday that it was endorsing Democratic challenger Andrew Janz.
The paper touted Janz's promise to hold at least four town halls each year and remain available to constituents. Nunes has come under fire for refusing to participate in an open town hall in his Central Valley district since 2010.
The Bee also noted Nunes' bizarre behavior as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, writing that he seemed more interested in protecting President Donald Trump from the Russia investigation than in his “constitutional obligations as an independent arm of government.”
The key policy reason the paper cited for backing Janz over Nunes, however, was health care.
Nunes voted for a Republican House bill that would have gutted coverage of pre-existing protections under Obamacare and included large cuts to Medicaid.
“In Nunes’ district, 313,000 people were enrolled in Medi-Cal as of January,” the Bee reported. “Of those, 74,000 would have immediately lost coverage, and all would have had their coverage impacted through loss of benefits or access to doctors.” Medi-Cal is the state's version of Medicaid.
Health care has been overshadowed by Trump, Russia and Brett Kavanaugh on the national stage but it remains the single biggest issue in many House and Senate races, with Democrats driving the conversation. . . . . Roughly 63 percent of voters said a candidate's position on pre-existing condition protections are either “very important” or the “single most important factor.”
Republicans are trying to erase their repeal record from memory -- they're scrubbing language from their website, pushing meaningless, toothless resolutions and avoiding constituent and reporter questions on health care. But the trouble for them is that we all remember the damage Republicans have done and continue to do to our health care -- and we're not going to forget it, either."
The polls suggest as much as well. A Fox News poll last month found that half of voters prefer Democrats on health care while just 34 percent said Republicans would do a better job on the issue. Among voters who named health care as their most important issue in a September CNN poll, 75 percent backed Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race, compared to 14 percent who backed her Republican opponent, Rep. Martha McSally. In Tennessee, voters who said health care was their most important issue, 71 percent back former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, compared to 21 percent who support his Republican opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

Saudi Prince Ordered Operation Against Khashoggi

Trump with Mohammed bin Salman.

A standard ploy of dictators is their desire to silence opposition voices through any means, including murder.  Hitler did this, Lenin and Stalin did this, Vladimir is doing this and, so too it appears is crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, a BFF of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner.    Trump, of course, is waging his own war against a free and independent press and at times has incited violence against journalists.  Did Trump directly or indirectly signal to bin Salman that acting against Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was acceptable?  Some are suggesting such was the case, especially in light of Trump's apparent affinity for dictators.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the latest developments which follow on rumors that Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, murdered, dismembered and smuggled out of Turkey.  Here are highlights:
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and then detain him, according to U.S. intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials discussing the plan.
The intelligence, described by U.S. officials familiar with it, is another piece of evidence implicating the Saudi regime in Khashoggi’s disappearance last week after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say that a Saudi security team lay in wait for the journalist and killed him.
Khashoggi was a prominent critic of the Saudi government and Mohammed in particular. Several of Khashoggi’s friends said that over the past four months, senior Saudi officials close to the crown prince had called Khashoggi to offer him protection, and even a high-level job working for the government, if he returned to his home country.
Khashoggi, however, was skeptical of the offers. He told one friend that the Saudi government would never make good on its promises not to harm him.
The intelligence pointing to a plan to detain Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia has fueled speculation by officials and analysts in multiple countries that what transpired at the consulate was a backup plan to capture Khashoggi that may have gone wrong.
A former U.S. intelligence official — who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter — noted that the details of the operation, which involved sending two teams totaling 15 men, in two private aircraft arriving and departing Turkey at different times, bore the hallmarks of a “rendition,” in which someone is extra­legally removed from one country and deposited for interrogation in another.
But Turkish officials have concluded that whatever the intent of the operation, Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Investigators have not found his body, but Turkish officials have released video surveillance footage of Khashoggi entering the consulate on the afternoon of Oct. 2. There is no footage that shows him leaving, they said.
The intelligence about Saudi Arabia’s earlier plans to detain Khashoggi have raised questions about whether the Trump administration should have warned the journalist that he might be in danger.
Intelligence agencies have a “duty to warn” people who might be kidnapped, seriously injured or killed, according to a directive signed in 2015. The obligation applies regardless of whether the person is a U.S. citizen. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the warning process, declined to comment on whether Khashoggi had been contacted.  Administration officials have not commented on the intelligence reports that showed a Saudi plan to lure Khashoggi.
The intelligence poses a political problem for the Trump administration because it implicates Mohammed, who is particularly close to Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.  On Wednesday, Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton spoke by phone with the crown prince, but White House officials said the Saudis provided little information.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have reacted harshly to the disappearance. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators asked Trump to impose sanctions on anyone found responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, including Saudi leaders.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), perhaps the president’s closest ally in the Senate, predicated a “bipartisan tsunami” of action if the Saudis were involved and said that Khashoggi’s death could alter the nature of relations between the two countries.
Kushner’s relationship with Mohammed, known within national security agencies by the initials MBS, has long been the subject of suspicion by some American intelligence officials.  Kushner and Mohammed have had private, one-on-one phone calls that were not always set up through normal channels so the conversations could be memorialized and Kushner could be properly briefed.
As regular readers know, I have a very dim view of Saudi Arabia which I view as anything  but an ally to America.  Indeed, Saudi Arabia is the largest financier of Islamic extremism across the globe.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Silver Lining to Brett Kavanaugh's Confirmation


As a licensed attorney of many years and as a gay American who saw his legal rights legitimized by Supreme Court rulings such Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down Virginia's sodomy laws) and Obergefell v. Hodges (which legalized same sex marriage), I understand that the Supreme Court is very important and truly impacts lives, often tremendously so.  Now, with Brett Kavanaugh on the Court after a shame FBI investigation that was constricted by the Trump/Pence regime, both Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court are damaged goods.  Many conservative justice 5-4 rulings will automatically be deemed  illegitimate and, as a piece in New York Magazine argues, will be positioned for future decisions over ruling them.  Thus, while Trump and his Vichy Republicans may have "won" in the short term, like Nazi era laws, rulings of this Supreme Court will likely be rolled back and reversed in the future.  The other current unknown is how much the Kavanaugh debacle will motivate minorities and Millennials to vote in November.  If Millennials turn out, it may be the first victory in defeating Trump and the GOP.  Here are column excerpts:

The bloody Kavanaugh fight was not the beginning, middle, or the end of this bitter fight. It was just the latest battle in a culture war that pits one of America’s two major political parties against the nation’s women. The Republican war against women began well before Donald Trump ran for president — at least as far back as 1992, when, in the aftermath of the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas debacle, the likes of Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Phyllis Schlafly jawboned the GOP into adopting a misogynistic religious-right policy agenda at the Republican National Convention in Houston. The perhaps inevitable byproduct, a quarter-century later, was Trump, who as a candidate was fully embraced by his party despite having mocked a female primary rival for her looks, ridiculed a network news anchor for her presumed menstrual bleeding, and bragged on tape about his serial sexual assaults. No one should be surprised that, once elected, Trump would nominate a likely sex offender to the Supreme Court, where Kavanaugh will help fulfill the long-held GOP dream of rolling back Roe v. Wade, among other egregious ideological goals that will chip away at the rights of all Americans except white men. Right up to the moment that narcissistic moral fraud Susan Collins gave her foreordained oration sealing Kavanaugh’s confirmation, many of those in opposition were holding out hope against hope that a silver bullet would yet emerge to doom his ascent: . . . . To me such hopes underestimated the gravity of the Republican Party’s misogynist mission. Let’s face it: even if someone had unearthed a crystal-clear photo or video of Kavanaugh exposing himself to Ramirez, the Senators of the “grab ’em by the pussy” party, Collins included, would still have voted to confirm him.
Had the FBI actually conducted a thorough investigation of Kavanaugh turning up still further evidence to back up Ford’s testimony, Trump would have attacked it too, dismissing the agency and its findings as a hoax much as he has every federal law-enforcement investigation of the apparently bottomless illegalities committed by the Trump campaign and administration.
So let’s stop pretending that there is another GOP than the Trump GOP. Let’s stop declaring that Trump is suddenly sounding “presidential” just because he waits a few days before publicly trashing Blasey Ford. Let’s stop maintaining the fiction that Collins, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Bob Corker, and their fellow Vichy Republicans, including Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, are not onboard with what’s going on.
When Collins says that she believes that the perpetrator of the attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford was someone other than the man she elevated to the Supreme Court, she sounds like O.J. in search of the real killer of Nicole Brown Simpson. As we try to look forward after this sordid episode — no easy task — we can perhaps take a little comfort in the fact that Trump didn’t yank Kavanaugh for an alternative nominee like Amy Coney Barrett, who is just as far to the right, if not more so, and who would have been carrying far less baggage (if any) to her seat on the Court. Kavanaugh has been delegitimized to a clear majority of America over the past month. . . .
 No less delegitimized is the Supreme Court, whose already eroded image as a sanctuary of nonpartisan justice has now reached a nadir where Judge Judy may by default be the new gold standard of unbiased American jurisprudence. With such diminished moral authority, and with an unceasing run of 5–4 verdicts likely in major cases to come, the Court’s voyage to the right may well be buffeted by civic and political unrest that, as in other eras of American disunion, ultimately vacates those rulings out of sync with the majority of the nation’s citizens.

How will the Kavanaugh nomination affect the midterms, which are in less than four weeks?  It would be foolhardy to guess. Certainly the failure of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee to come up with a coherent strategy for questioning Kavanaugh hardly fills one with hope about the party’s management of the midterms. When you read simultaneous post-Kavanaugh columns in the Times headlined “Get Angry, and Get Involved” and “Liberals, This Is War,” you feel further frissons of anxiety. Such columns are right on, but they are preaching to a choir that is already registered to vote and will. The turnout the Democrats need for a blue wave — from voters under 30 and minorities — tend to skip non-presidential elections and don’t read newspaper op-ed columns.

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Trump and Republicans Mirror Nero on Climate Change


Myth has it that as large areas of the ancient the City of Rome burned in a major fire, Emperor Nero played his fiddle as his subjects suffered.  Fast forward to today and we see Donald Trump and much of the Republican Party doing the equivalent as one dire study after another indicates that the world is headed towards a climate Armageddon if policies are not quickly changed.  Instead of ramping up to face the coming disaster, Trump is loosening regulations to INCREASE the release of carbon into the air and allowing increased pollution.  Meanwhile, his lunatic evangelical base blames disasters on gays and abortion rather than the failed policies of their favored leaders.  The latest report on climate change suggests that the window of opportunity to take corrective action is closing.  Instead of acting on the crisis, Trump continues his Nero imitation while spreading hate and division across America.  An editorial in the New York Times looks at the frightening scenario.  Here are highlights:
When a cautious, science-based and largely apolitical group like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world must utterly transform its energy systems in the next decade or risk ecological and social disaster, attention must be paid.
The panel, created in 1988, synthesizes the findings of leading climate scientists, an undertaking for which it received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. It is not in the habit of lecturing governments. But its latest report, issued near Seoul on Monday, is very different. One United Nations official described it as “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen” — an alarm aimed directly at world leaders. “Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments,” said Jim Skea, a co-chairman of the panel and a professor at Imperial College, London. “It’s now their responsibility … to decide whether they can act on it.”
Unfortunately, no alarm seems loud enough to penetrate the walls of the White House or the cranium of its principal occupant. President Trump had nothing substantive to say about the report, preferring, his staff said, to focus on celebrating the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Having already announced that he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, having also rolled back a suite of Obama-era efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Trump thus reaffirmed his sorry role as an outlier in the global struggle against climate change — a struggle few believe can be won without the enthusiastic participation of the United States.
The report, written by 91 scientists from 40 countries, came about at the request of several small island nations that took part in the Paris talks . . . . Fearing that their countries might someday be lost to rising seas, they asked the intergovernmental panel for further study of a lower threshold, 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius). The panel’s report concluded that the stricter threshold should become the new target. The alternative is catastrophe — mass die-offs of coral reefs, widespread drought, famine and wildfires, and potentially conflict over land, food and fresh water.
The panel said a mammoth effort is needed, beginning now and carrying through the century, to decarbonize global energy systems. The next 10 years are absolutely crucial: Emissions will have to be on a sharp downward path by 2030 for any hope of success. Greenhouse gases must be cut nearly in half from 2010 levels. Renewable energy sources must increase from about 20 percent of the electricity mix today to as much as 67 percent. The use of coal would need to be phased out, vanishing almost entirely by midcentury.
As an early piece in the Times noted, Trump is pandering to mining interest in Appalachia and certain western states to the detriment of the nation as a whole:  
Trump, who has questioned the accepted scientific consensus on climate change, continues to praise “clean beautiful coal” and has directed his Environmental Protection Agency to reverse major strides undertaken by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. This is unbelievably reckless. In addition to undermining the fight against climate change, the president's efforts to prop up the dirtiest of all fuels will also exact a significant toll on public health, on the hearts and lungs of ordinary Americans.
The E.P.A.’s bedrock mission is to protect public health and welfare. Its basic tools are 50 years of federal clean air and water laws meant to limit Americans’ exposure to environmental poisons and pollutants.
The latest example is a proposal his agency [EPA] sent to the White House for review and approval that would, in broadest terms, greatly devalue the public health benefits of reducing air pollution. The proposal is specifically aimed at a 2011 finding by the Obama administration that when the agency devises rules to control a particular pollutant — mercury, in this case — it must take into account not only the compliance costs to industry but the additional health benefits that arise from the reduction in other harmful gases like soot and smog that occur as a side effect. Though the health benefits of controlling mercury alone were quite small, and the costs to industry large, those costs were outweighed by savings to the country in annual health costs and lost workdays when the co-benefits were factored in. [T]he Trump administration’s laughably weak replacement plan would cause (by the Trump E.P.A.’s own calculations) as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, as well as 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory disease and billions of dollars in new health care costs, mainly from an increase in fine particulate matter linked to heart and lung disease. What we are dealing with here, in other words, is a bit of a shell game — hard to follow, costly to the public, satisfying to those who are running it. We are also dealing with people who won’t let inconvenient forecasts about death and disease deter them from their appointed goal of satisfying Mr. Trump’s pro-coal agenda, and who also seem eager to keep such forecasts hidden.

The Suffocation of American Democracy

Der Trumpenführer and McConnell

Der Führer and von Hindenburg 
America stands less than a month from the midterm elections where either (i) Democrats enjoy a blue wave and retake one - and hopefully both - houses of Congress, or (ii) Republicans maintain control and the nation lurches down a road in some ways similar to what transpired in the 1920's and 1930's.  True, there will be differences, but the overall effect is that American democracy as it has known for close to 100 years will be dying.  Among the figures destroying American democracy are, of course Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer and his chief co-conspirator, Mike Pence.  Aiding and abetting the effort are Mitch McConnell - who one hopes history will treat very cruelly - Devin Nunes, and a host of Vichy Republicans.  A piece in the New York Review of Books looks at both the parallels with the 1930's dictatorships as well as modern day dictatorships which utilize democratic fictions to veil their contempt of democratic, constitutional governance.  The piece deserves a full read and will leave one feeling fearful if they are true American patriots.  Here are highlights: 
As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.
In the 1920s, the US pursued isolationism in foreign policy and rejected participation in international organizations like the League of Nations. America First was America alone, except for financial agreements like the Dawes and Young Plans aimed at ensuring that our “free-loading” former allies could pay back their war loans. At the same time, high tariffs crippled international trade, making the repayment of those loans especially difficult. The country witnessed an increase in income disparity and a concentration of wealth at the top, and both Congress and the courts eschewed regulations to protect against the self-inflicted calamities of free enterprise run amok. The government also adopted a highly restrictionist immigration policy aimed at preserving the hegemony of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants against an influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants.
Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference . . . . unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states — in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.
[Trump’s] naive and narcissistic confidence in his own powers of personal diplomacy and his faith in a handshake with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un recall the hapless Neville Chamberlain (a man in every other regard different from Trump). Fortunately the US is so embedded in the international order it created after 1945, and the Republican Party and its business supporters are sufficiently alarmed over the threat to free trade, that Trump has not yet completed his agenda of withdrawal, though he has made astounding progress in a very short time.
A second aspect of the interwar period with all too many similarities to our current situation is the waning of the Weimar Republic. Paul von Hindenburg, elected president of Germany in 1925, was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril. Instead of defending it, Hindenburg became its gravedigger . . . 
Hindenburg and the old right ultimately made their deal with Hitler and installed him as chancellor. Thinking that they could ultimately control Hitler while enjoying the benefits of his popular support, the conservatives were initially gratified by the fulfillment of their agenda: . . . . the Nazis then proceeded far beyond the goals they shared with their conservative allies, who were powerless to hinder them in any significant way.
If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.
Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality, they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base: huge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for).
Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump. The combination of Trump’s abasement before Putin in Helsinki, the shameful separation of families at the border in complete disregard of US asylum law (to say nothing of basic humanitarian principles and the GOP’s relentless claim to be the defender of “family values”), and most recently Michael Cohen’s implication of Trump in criminal violations of campaign finance laws has not shaken the fealty of the Republican old guard, so there is little indication that even an explosive and incriminating report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will rupture the alliance.
But the potential impact of the Mueller report does suggest yet another eerie similarity to the interwar period—how the toxic divisions in domestic politics led to the complete inversion of previous political orientations. Both Mussolini and Hitler came to power in no small part because the fascist-conservative alliances on the right faced division and disarray on the left.
But the Nazi dictatorship, war, and genocide following the collapse of Weimar democracy are not proving very useful for understanding the direction in which we are moving today. I would argue that current trends reflect a significant divergence from the dictatorships of the 1930s.
The fascist movements of that time prided themselves on being overtly antidemocratic, and those that came to power in Italy and Germany boasted that their regimes were totalitarian.
Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.
Total control of the press and other media is likewise unnecessary, since a flood of managed and fake news so pollutes the flow of information that facts and truth become irrelevant as shapers of public opinion. Once-independent judiciaries are gradually dismantled through selective purging and the appointment of politically reliable loyalists. Crony capitalism opens the way to a symbiosis of corruption and self-enrichment between political and business leaders. Xenophobic nationalism (and in many cases explicitly anti-immigrant white nationalism) as well as the prioritization of “law and order” over individual rights are also crucial to these regimes in mobilizing the popular support of their bases and stigmatizing their enemies.
Trump has shown unabashed admiration for these authoritarian leaders and great affinity for the major tenets of illiberal democracy. But others have paved the way in important respects. Republicans begin with a systemic advantage in electing senators and representatives, because the Democratic Party’s constituency has become heavily concentrated in big states and big cities. . . . . fifty senators from the twenty-five least populous states—twenty-nine of them Republicans—represent just over 16 percent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators—enough to block conviction on impeachment charges—represent states with a total of 21 percent of the American population. With gerrymandering and voter suppression enhancing even more the systemic Republican advantage, it is estimated that the Democrats will have to win by 7 to 11 points (a margin only obtainable in rare “wave” elections) in the 2018 elections to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives.
In the five presidential elections of the twenty-first century, Democrats have won the popular vote four times. Two of these four (2000 and 2016) nonetheless produced Republican presidents, since the Electoral College reflects the same weighting toward small, more often Republican states as the Senate. Given the Supreme Court’s undermining of central provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder), its refusal to take up current flagrant gerrymandering cases (Gill v. Whitford for Wisconsin; Benisek v. Lamone for Maryland), and its recent approval of the Ohio law purging its voting rolls (Husted v. Randolph Institute), it must be feared that the Court will in the future open the floodgates for even more egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Trump’s personal flaws and his tactic of appealing to a narrow base while energizing Democrats and alienating independents may lead to precisely that rare wave election needed to provide a congressional check on the administration as well as the capture of enough state governorships and legislatures to begin reversing current trends in gerrymandering and voter suppression. The elections of 2018 and 2020 will be vital in testing how far the electoral system has deteriorated.
Alongside the erosion of an independent judiciary as a check on executive power, other hallmarks of illiberal democracy are the neutralization of a free press and the steady diminution of basic human rights. On these issues, often described as the guardrails of democracy against authoritarian encroachment, the Trump administration either has won or seems poised to win significant gains for illiberalism. Upon his appointment as chancellor, Hitler immediately created a new Ministry of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels, who remained one of his closest political advisers.
In Trump’s presidency, those functions have effectively been privatized in the form of Fox News and Sean Hannity. Fox faithfully trumpets the “alternative facts” of the Trump version of events, and in turn Trump frequently finds inspiration for his tweets and fantasy-filled statements from his daily monitoring of Fox commentators and his late-night phone calls with Hannity. The result is the creation of a “Trump bubble” for his base to inhabit that is unrecognizable to viewers of PBS, CNN, and MSNBC and readers of The Washington Post and The New York Times. . . . A free press does not have to be repressed when it can be rendered irrelevant and even exploited for political gain.
The very first legislation decreed by Hitler under the Enabling Act of 1933 (which suspended the legislative powers of the Reichstag) authorized the government to dismiss civil servants for suspected political unreliability and “non-Aryan” ancestry. Inequality before the law and legal discrimination were core features of the Nazi regime from the beginning. It likewise intruded into people’s private choices about sexuality and reproduction. Persecution of male homosexuality was drastically intensified, resulting in the deaths of some 10,000 gay men and the incarceration and even castration of many thousands more. Some 300,000–400,000 Germans deemed carriers of hereditary defects were forcibly sterilized; some 150,000 mentally and physically handicapped Germans considered “unworthy of life” were murdered.
Nothing remotely so horrific is on the illiberal agenda, but the curtailment of many rights and protections Americans now enjoy is likely. Presumably marriage equality will survive, given the sea change in American public opinion on that issue. But the right of businesses and individuals to discriminate against gays is likely to be broadly protected as a “sincerely held religious belief.” Chief Justice John Roberts’s favorite target, affirmative action, is likely to disappear under his slogan that to end racial discrimination, one must end all forms of racial discrimination. And a woman’s right to abortion will probably disappear in red states, either through an outright overturning of Roe v. Wade or more likely through narrower rulings that fail to find any “undue burden” in draconian restrictions that in practice make abortion unavailable. And equal protection of voting rights is likely to be eroded in red states through ever more insidiously designed voter suppression laws and gerrymandering once the Supreme Court makes clear that it will not intervene to curb such measures.
Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism, but regardless of how the Trump presidency concludes, this is a story unlikely to have a happy ending.