The Angry Party national convention

July 19, 2016

imagesThis is my 14th GOP convention. Past ones often reminded me why I’m a Republican. Last night made me wonder if I still am.

The repression toward the “Never Trump” delegates is frightening; echoing what’s happening in Turkey right now. All semblance that this is an exercise in democracy is gone. At past conventions, the names of losing candidates were placed in nomination, and cheered. That won’t happen in Istanbul, er, I mean Cleveland. With the party more divided than ever, it’s overcompensating by making itself a monolith of enforced Trump obeisance. This display of authoritarianism is a scary foretaste of what a Trump presidency would be.

The convention’s emotional tone is also frightening: all anger, resentment, and fear. UnknownThe pain of the Benghazi victim’s mother is understandable, but was perverted into a sorry spectacle of vicious accusations and insults. General Michael Flynn’s eyes looked like blowtorches that would burn through steel.

America has problems; overall, I disapprove of Obama’s record; I loathe Hillary. images-1But the convention’s over-the-top rhetoric not only didn’t reinforce my Republicanism, I found myself reacting as though I might have been a left-wing Democrat. My head is spinning.

These Republicans have whipped themselves into such a frenzy of Hillary-hatred that all objectivity is lost – especially toward their own, ahem, flawed candidate. Whose faults of character, honesty, ethics, sense, and all other qualities desirable in a president, are mountains that make hers look like molehills. Not to mention his spitting on principles long dear to Republicans. Again the comparison to Turks whose hero-worship of Erdogan blinds them to his being a monster leading them to perdition.

Unknown-1Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs spoke of his “reality distortion field.” The GOP is in one too. I was gobsmacked by Giuliani mocking Obama’s 2004 speech about there being no white nor black America, but one country. As if Trump is the emollient figure to heal all our divisions. What planet are these people living on?

Yes, America has real problems, but I actually didn’t hear any of them addressed last night. Instead, I saw a crazed fixation on terrorism. Fact: America’s own gun culture kills a thousand times more of us than terrorism. But of course Republicans are ga-ga for guns.

Meantime, I heard not a word about our dire fiscal outlook, on a path toward widening and ultimately ruinous deficits; about obstacles faced by American businesses, especially the small ones so crucial to our economy; about diminished opportunities for less educated Americans. In fairness, last night’s theme was security; tonight’s will be the economy. But don’t bet on any serious discussion. In fact Trump, the business genius, has laid out plans to make our economic problems much worse, with deficits even bigger (by far) and insane trade policies that will screw U.S. consumers while making the whole world (including us) less prosperous.

Unknown-3Americans have always been fundamentally optimistic, positive-thinking people. That’s one of our great national strengths. And conventional wisdom in politics has always said Americans favor positive, upbeat messages over negative, bitter ones (think Reagan vs. Carter and Mondale). The Trump campaign is betting otherwise. They think this is the year of anger.

Yet is America really in such bad shape? The economy is growing, unemployment is relatively low, median wages are rising, the stock market reaches new highs. The great majority enjoys a living standard better than ever, especially considering all the boons of modern technology. Race relations are hugely better than in most of our history. Crime is way down. (And your chances of being a terrorist victim are something like one in a million.)

images-3Time to march with pitchforks and torches? Hardly. I’m angry about some things myself — but not so blinded by anger as to commit the cosmic blunder of handing the presidency to the vilest creep American politics ever vomited up. (What I’m most angry about is Trump.)

Unknown-2Some say Trumpery is a passing madness, and after he loses (big, I hope), the GOP will take some Xanax and recover its senses. I don’t think so. Trumpy voters won’t repent. There’s no reason why what happened in the 2016 primaries won’t be repeated in 2020. Nearly all elected Republicans have drunk the Kool-Aid. Sadly, Doctor Frank says this illness is fatal.

361224938926_1I’ll conclude by paraphrasing Henry Clay, after another national convention: I am a Republican still – very still. And I will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee.

Turkey’s phony “coup” plot

July 17, 2016

Turks are out in the streets, celebrating the supposed triumph of democracy over a supposed military coup attempt. President Obama has naively congratulated them.

UnknownTheir President Erdogan once said, “Democracy is like a train. When you reach your destination, you get off.” For him, it’s been apparent that the destination is personal dictatorship. Can’t those Turks cheering in the streets see that’s where the train’s going?

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. But when I first heard the news, the idea of a military coup in today’s Turkey seemed rather implausible. Far more plausible that the whole thing was orchestrated by Erdogan himself, as a pretext for grabbing more power and ramping up repression of political foes. He’d already gone far toward crushing them, silencing dissent and press freedom. Now this “coup attempt” has prompted a ferocious response, with the immediate arrest of thousands. Could so many have really been so transparently implicated in a huge coup plot?

Hundreds have been killed too. And, reportedly, 2,745 judges unseated, some arrested. Pretty fast work. Tell me the hit list wasn’t prepared beforehand. I’d call this a coup by Erdogan.

Gulen

Gulen

All the alleged “coup plotters” are being linked to the Gulenist movement, headed by Fethullah Gulen, a moderate cleric, democracy advocate, and one-time Erdogan supporter, now in exile in Pennsylvania. Turkey has sought his extradition. God forbid.

I’m reminded of Turkey’s “Ergenekon” affair, a few years back, in which again large numbers of soldiers and others were prosecuted for alleged involvement in a vast underground anti-government conspiracy. The details were murky; and a lot of those charges eventually proved bogus.

Erdogan

Erdogan

In more halcyon times, Erdogan seemed to be doing the right thing, in moving toward a peaceful settlement regarding Turkey’s restive Kurdish regions. But then he threw all that progress away and turned back to violence, exacerbating the conflict as a way to get the country to rally behind him. Faking a coup plot would be another move in this cynical, criminal game.

Democracy is not a train, and not merely a political system either, but a culture; as John Dewey said, a way of life. At its heart is acceptance that other people are equally entitled to a role in society. Given our evolutionary tribalism, that concept is difficult for many folks, and hence it’s constantly under assault. For a long time, it seemed to be nevertheless winning, but lately the war against it has intensified, and too few people grasp what’s at stake.

images-1Democracy can be one bad man from the abyss. We’ve seen this too many times. Putin in Russia. Chavez in Venezuela. Erdogan in Turkey.

Let’s not add “Trump in America.”

Evaluating Obama’s presidency

July 13, 2016

UnknownPresident Obama’s approval ratings have risen as his tenure nears an end. That’s a typical pattern. And there may be anticipatory Obama-nostalgia, given his potential successors. And some always considered him the most wonderful president since FDR, or Lincoln, or Jesus.

I give him points for intellect, integrity, eloquence, and demeanor. In such respects he’s actually a model president, so the admiration is understandable. Alas however, he’s failed in three crucial respects.

images-1First, he promised a new post-partisan politics. But it was all talk and no walk. Obama’s intellect here disserved him, by making him arrogantly contemptuous toward lesser mortals with different views. It started even before he took office. There was never an effort to meet the other side half way, or even a tenth. Instead he was all about demonizing them, imagining he need only point out their errors, and they would just capitulate, or be punished by an enlightened electorate.

It doesn’t work like that. Opponents usually have reasons for their stances. And please don’t quote Mitch McConnell about making Obama a one-term president. For a political party, winning the next election is its raison d’etre, entirely legitimate. And while Republicans did refuse cooperation with Obama, that was only after he’d established a modus operandi of disregarding them.

Obama felt he could, having congressional majorities at first. He didn’t change that when the landscape changed. The result was a political climate so poisonous that Trumpery is a natural upshot. There’s blame all around. But it rings hollow for Obama to complain of partisan enmity by people he’s relentlessly sneered at.

Unknown-1Secondly: Obama fans point to the economic crisis he inherited, and how well we’ve done since. Fair enough. Though really the credit belongs far more to the Fed than the White House. But meantime, Obama’s biggest economic legacy lies in the future, and it’s not good. As ever more people are not working but collecting benefits, deficits and debt will explode. We’re skating along for now only because interest on our borrowings is so low. But at some point unsustainable debt levels will spook the markets, interest costs will balloon, and we’ll be busted.

To head this off, Obama appointed the Simpson-Bowles commission, which came up with a balanced deficit reduction plan. So far so good. But then Obama just ignored the whole thing. Now, his wasted eight years make the problem far tougher. That’s his chief economic legacy.

Third: the world situation has undeniably deteriorated on Obama’s watch. Queered by Bush’s bungled Mid-East intervention, Obama fell into the opposite mistake of hands-off. Iraq was making progress when he took office, but then he disengaged, and all hell broke loose. It also did in Syria where again his phobia of involvement made things much worse. How many times have we seen this movie? – where a little action at a critical juncture could head off so much agony later.

imagesHis signature moment was drawing a red line on chemical weapons in Syria, then funking it when the line was crossed. Shredding America’s international credibility, making Uncle Sam a monkey’s uncle.

More generally, the Arab Spring was an epochal moment of opportunity, where U.S. engagement might have helped midwife positive outcomes. We’ve done this before, like in post-WWII Europe, where deep and steadfast American involvement helped hugely – to our benefit. The Middle East cried out for this. Obama feared the consequences of acting; but inaction has consequences too.

imagesIt’s no surprise that a villain like Putin, taking Obama’s measure, would push the envelope. Russia’s Ukraine aggression up-ended a crucial norm of international conduct that had prevailed, pretty much, since WWII. Putin basically got away with it, and won. This is terrible for the global future.

All considered, President Obama has been great on style. Pity about the substance.

How to invest in stocks

July 9, 2016

imagesI’ve been investing in stocks for several decades. Here’s what I’ve learned.

In 2000, during the dot-com bubble, I owned AOL stock, going up and up and up. I thought it was crazy, but held on for the ride. Then came AOL’s buyout of Time-Warner. My rule of thumb is that mergers are bad for the acquiring company; the touted benefits rarely materialize. So I told my broker I wanted to sell my AOL stock. He tried to dissuade me, calling this merger the greatest thing ever.

UnknownIt was one of the greatest disasters ever. Turned out the AOL honchos knew their stock was way over-valued, and they were cashing in by using it to buy Time-Warner. The stock then collapsed.

Am I relating this to show how smart I was? Nope; I heeded my broker’s advice and didn’t sell. What is the lesson? I wasn’t so smart. My broker wasn’t either. Neither was Time-Warner. You can’t expect to outsmart the market or beat the market.

Everybody aims to pick stocks that will do better than average. Thousands of people are paid a lot of money for that. But the very fact that so many very smart people are trying is what makes it unachievable – they all cancel each other out.* Since they’re all so smart, with so many analytic tools at their disposal, so much information, computer programs and models, etc., no one can truly outperform the rest – except by mere luck.

Unknown-1That may be a bit overstated. It does happen. A good example is the housing bubble collapse that triggered the 2008 crisis. Most of the Wall Street herd didn’t see it coming, and continued drinking the Kool Aid right to the end. However, a few did see the true situation, and profited thereby. But that was a special case. More normally, if you’re smart enough to see something, a lot of others will be smart enough to see it too.

Now, since YOU surely aren’t smart enough to beat all that firepower in picking stocks, it might instead seem sensible to buy into a mutual fund, which employs hot-shots to do it for you. There are thousands of funds. Which to choose? Well, you can look at their track records and see which has performed best.

But here’s the thing about track records. Suppose all those mutual funds picked stocks by a random dartboard method. The results would form a standard bell-shaped curve – most performances would be middling, a few much above or below the average. If you choose the one that came top — what are the chances it will again be the best next year?

Unknown-2Of course mutual funds don’t use a dartboard method. They use, again, sophisticated analysis, computer models, etc. And because they all do, the results are the same – mostly bunched in the middle, some better, some worse. And remember, you can’t expect to beat the market, at least not consistently. So a mutual fund’s track record is not necessarily more predictive of future results than if they did shoot at dartboards.

Economists call this “reversion to the mean.” In a given year, out of a thousand mutual funds, inevitably one will clock the best performance. Does that indicate its guys are actually smarter than all the other very smart guys at all the other funds? Not likely! More likely it’s just natural random fluctuation around the mean (average) performance. So next year, its results will fall back to the average – “reversion to the mean.”**

Then too there’s “efficient market” theory. This says every piece of information relevant to valuing a stock is already folded into its price. You can’t really know something about a stock, affecting its future prospects, that the market doesn’t know (unless it’s “insider information,” illegal to trade on). Thus again it’s not normally possible to profit from trading stocks by being smarter than the market.

So you’d expect the entire universe of mutual funds to produce a return simply matching the market average. But actually it doesn’t. All that frenetic activity costs money, and they charge investors a percentage for their services, which makes the net return less than the market average.

imagesI recently read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, concerning all the problems of predictions. Wall Street is a major focus. Silver too notes that a lot of people are highly paid to try, and at the end of the day inevitably fail, to beat the market. Seems crazy. They all know about efficient market theory and that they can’t beat the market; or should know. But if they all actually followed the logical implications, no stock trading would occur at all. Yet having a functioning market serves a quite valuable purpose in the overall economy. The trillions worth of trades dwarfs the amounts “earned” by the investment industry (to essentially achieve nothing) – a small price to pay for having a financial market.

Every prospectus warns, “future results may not replicate the past.” Otherwise investing would be a snap and everyone would be a millionaire. The caveat is true on the largest scale. You’ve been told that in the long run, stocks do such-and-such; the market returns X%. And that may indeed be accurate concerning a very long past time span. But future results may not replicate the past. In fact, the future is quintessentially uncertain. The only certainty is that it will differ from the past.

Nevertheless, over the long term, stocks should provide a return for a simple reason. Their values are ultimately grounded in company earnings. And the typical company typically does earn profits. ***

Unknown-3If you ask people whether it’s a good time to buy stocks when they’ve been going up a lot, they’ll likely answer “yes;” and “no” when stocks have been falling. Those answers are – of course – wrong. In fact, this is really the most common investing mistake. When the market is high, stocks may well be over-valued; in a slump, they may be cheap. But optimism and pessimism are contagious. Many people plow in when stocks are up, while becoming demoralized and sell when they’re down.

A key consideration is the ratio between a company’s stock price and earnings. This P/E ratio for the whole market has, over the long term, averaged around 15 or perhaps somewhat more. If the market’s average P/E is much higher, stocks may be over-valued; and vice versa. Today’s P/E is above trend, at about 25.

If you want to just capture the market’s long-run tendency to produce a return through earnings, there’s a simple option: index funds that just track the performance of an index like the S&P 500. Since there’s no need for hot-shot analysis, fees to investors are typically quite low.

images-1So, how’ve I done, overall? Not bad. But I’ve had quite a few real disasters like AOL along the way. I’ve finally pretty much given up trying to be smart. That’s a sucker’s game.

* Remember that in general, whenever a share of stock is sold, somebody else is buying it.

** This was explained well in Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Drunkard’s Walk.

 *** “Return” is the sum of dividends plus stock price appreciation. Earnings not paid out as dividends accumulate within the company and increase its net worth.

 

Trump’s trade trash talk

July 5, 2016

UnknownIf America is murdered, it will be in the Rustbelt Room, with the trade club. Pounding away with that club is Trump’s only chance of winning.

He exulted in Britain’s Brexit vote as a win for his anti-globalist line. Brits themselves are less celebratory, many already seeing their vote as an own-goal. Americans should not copy their economic suicide.

The Brexit vote spotlights breakdown of the old left-right political divide; now the more salient one is inward-looking versus outward-looking, open versus closed. UnknownThat has great resonance in America too. The Trump phenomenon is divorced from the conventional liberal/conservative dichotomy. The Republican party, long seen as a bastion of right-wing ideologues, has thrown that all overboard in embracing Trump, with his most telling anti-globalist symbol: a wall.

Alas, no important voices are refuting Trump’s trade tirade. Democrats, for most of their history, correctly saw free trade as good for the masses, with protectionism a means for business interests to screw consumers. But then, bent by the special interests of organized labor, they lost the plot. However, they found the snake oil politically saleable.

Unknown-1They never expected to be outflanked on the issue by a GOP candidate. Hillary, having bought the snake oil from the Bernie-ites, to placate them, dare not tell voters it’s poison. She’s reduced to merely mocking Trump’s hypocrisy in having profited from using foreign labor.

But if neither Republicans nor Democrats will expose Trump’s big lie, then I must.

Those good old industrial jobs, where with barely a high school education you could support a middle class family, are history. The main reason is advancing technology. We actually manufacture more than ever, but do it with ever less labor. Today’s economy no longer needs that much low or middle skilled labor.

This – making more with less – creates wealth and is why global living standards have risen dramatically. In the past century, worldwide average real-dollar incomes increased more than five-fold, and billions rose out of poverty.

And the other key factor, leveraging that benefit, is GLOBALIZED FREER TRADE. Freeing up trade enables nations to export more. They get richer, enabling them to import more, which means other nations can export more. Everybody gets richer; a virtuous circle.

imagesThis is the golden egg-laying goose Trump would kill. He assails the NAFTA free trade pact as a terrible deal that cost us jobs. In fact, the alleged U.S. job loss is very debatable . But NAFTA did cause huge job gains in Mexico, which became much more prosperous. Isn’t that something to our benefit? A richer Mexico buys more goods from us, increasing our exports, which creates U.S. jobs.

Anti-trade demagogues don’t mention that. Nor the real elephant in the room: that free trade, and importing cheaper goods from China and other countries, while admittedly entailing some job losses in the short run, saves U.S. consumers literally trillions of dollars. And when we spend those added trillions, that demand for other goods and services requires U.S. businesses to hire more workers to supply it. So in the big picture free trade really adds jobs.

What we need is not more barriers to trade, commerce, and enterprise, but fewer. People losing jobs to globalization won’t be helped by walling off America, but rather if they had more job prospects in a more open, dynamic economy. Ours has become sclerotic. We need to dismantle protections of all kinds enjoyed by special interests, restrictive practices, and roadblocks to open competition.

Slobovian widget

Slobovian widget

Here’s what anti-free-trade protectionists like Trump are really saying: that if Slobovia wants to sell us widgets cheaper than we can make them ourselves, we should refuse. Will that benefit us? Or Slobovia? It will benefit U.S. widget-makers at the expense of everyone else.

So Trump wants to impose tariffs – that is, import taxes – on Chinese goods, to keep them out. He doesn’t tell you this means you’ll pay more for much of what you buy. It won’t be a tax on China. It will be a tax on you. To protect business profits.

This is what some call populism.

Will Hillary play the double women’s card?

July 1, 2016

UnknownThe leftosphere is all aflutter imagining its darling, Elizabeth Warren, may be Hillary’s VP. After all, they say, nobody ever objected to two men on a ticket.

As if Hillary needs to shore up the feminist vote. If she’s not already getting it, against Donald Trump, it’s game over anyway. But while America is ready for a woman president, a female duo would be too in-your-face, too gendery. We’d elect a Thelma, but not a Thelma and Louise.images

We also hear the usual ticket balancing/pandering scenarios. An Hispanic, like one of those cute Castro brothers (no, not Fidel and Raul). Or an African-American like Deval Patrick or Cory Booker. But again, if Hillary hasn’t already got those demographics locked up, it’s hopeless anyhow.

Conventional wisdom meanwhile says she needs to play to the party’s base, all those lefties gaga for Bernie. Hence the Warren flutter. But this is one election where conventional wisdom has proven unwise. It won’t hinge on which party energizes its base more. Allegiances are scrambled. And for every Bernie-ite Hillary gets by pandering leftward,* she stands to lose a sane Republican repulsed by Trump, who might have voted for a palatable alternative.

images-1If Hillary loses, it will be for one reason only: trustworthiness. Yes, it’s brazen chutzpah for mega-crook Trump to be all “crooked Hillary,” but it has enough truth to make the issue a wash, at least in many voters’ minds. If they saw her as just halfway reasonably honest, she’d be crushing him.

At the end of the day in 2008 America elected a black man over a war hero because Obama was viewed as more capable, the safer choice. That is Hillary’s trump card against Trump, the one she should play for all it’s worth. She should play it in her veep pick. No politics-as-usual ticket-balancing ethnic pander. Instead a serious man (yes, man) of gravitas, who voters can see as president, to heighten the contrast against the GOP clown car.

Unknown-1And if she wants to attract bummed-out Republicans, why not go outside the box and take a Republican, like Robert Gates? Let the lefties shriek. It would be a game-changer, altering the view of Hillary as a congenitally divisive politician.

Alas, Hillary has never shown much thinking outside the box. Nor ever heeded my wise counsel.

* Most of whom are in states like NY, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, which Hillary shouldn’t have to worry about.

The Shakers: happiness in an ant colony?

June 27, 2016
Round barn at Hancock Shaker Village

Round barn at Hancock Shaker Village

My humanist group recently toured Hancock Shaker Village, in Massachusetts. The Shakers were a religious sect that set up communes of a sort, preaching equality and, famously, celibacy. They pretty much died out. No surprise.

Unlike some sects (notably the Amish), the Shakers loved new technology and were often clever in applying it; they were efficiency freaks. They lived dormitory-style, men and women separate. Unknown-1However, during the work day, they inter-mingled, though no touching was allowed. They ate together – but there was no talking either. A family joining the sect would be separated.

The attempt to write sexuality out of human life has many antecedents. At least the Shakers did not go as far as Russia’s Skoptsy, a religious sect whose answer for controlling sexuality was castration. But sex being dirty is a big theme in many religious contexts. imagesIt’s partly down to the abominable story of Adam and Eve, who were “pure,” and didn’t know from sex, until they “sinned” and started doing it – staining not only themselves but all their descendants, until Jesus got himself tortured to death to expiate the “sin.” Yet not even that sanitized sex for future generations.

With the Shakers, it may really have been rooted in their founder Ann Lee’s bad experience with marriage and procreation. She was not the only 18th century woman who felt that way, and that women would be better off free of it all. But that notion was very politically incorrect – better to cloak celibacy in a mantle of religious justification. So the Shakers were told celibacy enabled them to get closer to God. Or something like that.

Anyhow, one can see why women might buy into this. Less so for men. And indeed, over time, more men than women abandoned Shakerdom, which became mostly female.

But not only was celibacy a fundamental denial of human nature; so was the equality fetish. As our tour guide explained, that would be attractive to people who were not being treated equally in the outside world. However, the thirst for status is deeply rooted in the human psyche (by evolution – higher status meant more mating opportunities, so genes for status-seeking proliferated). And Shakerdom was down on the whole idea of self-actualization. Everything you did was supposed to be for the good of the community, and to please God – not yourself.

Unknown-2It all sounded to me like living in an ant colony. So why would people do that voluntarily? Only at gunpoint did people join communes in Soviet Russia or China. And even there sex was allowed.

It helps to remember that the concept of happiness is a modern invention. People in earlier times did not think that way. The point of life was not to be happy, but just to get through it. That was a hard enough challenge. (And entering a Shaker commune freed you of worry over your next meal.)

Of course people always craved pleasure and shunned suffering. Only a robot wouldn’t. But what differed was how they thought about it. Indeed, actually, that they didn’t. Unknown-3Many today seem to obsessively measure their happiness temperature. Doing so would never have occurred to our 18th century forebears. Moreover, like the Shakers, most people were brainwashed into the paradigm that whatever they did was to please not themselves but God. Even the most rapacious would strive to rationalize that he was pleasing God. Fear of Hell was very real.

Hancock Shaker Village was enjoyable to visit. But I was glad to return to modern life.

How Trump got rich*

June 22, 2016

imagesWhat some never seem to grasp about capitalism, market economics, free enterprise, is that profits come, mostly, not by exploitation or at people’s expense but by making them better off.

Steve Jobs epitomized this. Not a nice person; but he got rich by providing great products, that we buy because they confer more value than the money paid. He didn’t extract wealth, he created it, not just for himself but for us all.

UnknownDonald Trump is a different animal. A predator, not a creator. His billions were made mainly at others’ expense. His casinos, hotels and resorts were basically schemes to get money from investors, which he siphoned off. The businesses were not well run or profitable, partly because Trump looted them, by paying himself exorbitant salaries, consulting fees, rent for use of his helicopter, etc. Thus he walked away with the money and investors lost their shirts. (Now he’s pulling the same scam to make money on his presidential campaign, routing contributors’ cash to himself and his family’s businesses.)

He meanwhile screws his suppliers and contractors on all his construction too, never paying them the amounts owed, forcing them into costly litigation trying to collect. Over three decades Trump was involved in an astonishing 3500 lawsuits.

Unknown-1And, of course, he also used multiple bankruptcies to shirk debts. When a business goes bankrupt, owners are not personally on the hook; so again, Trump walks away with pockets full, leaving others holding the bag. Many were the victims financially ruined. All perfectly legal, he insists. What a disgrace.

Then there was the mis-named Trump University. Supposedly to teach the real estate game. However (unlike Steve Jobs), Trump’s aim was never to provide value for money, but instead to fraudulently extract it from naïve schnooks. He promised lessons from his “hand-picked” experts. A big fat lie. Trump University was staffed by high-pressure salesmen whose real job was to squeeze ever-escalating sums, reaching $35,000, from suckers for the next set of promised higher level seminars.

Unknown-2Trump claims that students’ course evaluations show they were satisfied customers. The evidence reveals they were browbeaten by instructors into signing dishonestly positive evaluations.

He says the judge in the Trump University fraud trial can’t be fair because he’s Mexican. (Actually, Indiana-born; maybe Trump wants a birth certificate.) How racist can you get? And wasn’t Trump also claiming, “Hispanics love me?” Which is it?

images-1Now this so-called “successful businessman” wants to run America with his same methods. Ignorant fools supporting the slimeball creep might be fathomable. Republican bigwigs doing so betray their party and country.

* Besides inheriting a bundle from his dad.

 

Brits: Don’t Brexit!

June 18, 2016

Britain votes June 23 on leaving the European Union (“Brexit”). Don’t do it!

UnknownThis is a big deal. Prime Minister David Cameron called the vote to placate eurosceptic members of his Conservative party, and lance the boil. But more top Tories than expected have plumped for leaving, including London’s clownish ex-Mayor Boris Johnson, angling for Cameron’s job.

The opposition Labour party notionally supports staying. Unknown-1But after decisively losing the last election with a left-wing platform, Labour picked a new leader, the ridiculous Jeremy Corbyn – a veritable caricature of a loony lefty – whose pro-EU stance is lukewarm at best.

So the “remain” campaign is anemic while Brexiteers are energized. It’s easier to enthuse people for change than for the boring status quo. And while older voters back Brexit, younger ones don’t, but they’re less likely to vote. So Brexit could win.

This would be disastrous. Eurosceptics actually have some fair points; the EU has a big democratic deficit, with a penchant for intrusive, nitpicking regulations decreed by Brussels bureaucrats. Nevertheless, Brexit would be economically suicidal. And coming on top of the still simmering Euro crisis, it could contribute to the whole European integration project unraveling. For all its flaws, that integration has been a good thing, making Europe more prosperous and peaceful, with freer trade and freer movement of people. Its failure would be a sad reversion to dismal older paradigms. It would weaken Europe as a U.S. ally and counterweight to a bullying Russia. And even if the EU survives, it would be a worse EU without Britain’s good influence.

Unknown-2Further, Brits would in effect be voting to break up their own country. Only recently Scotland rejected an independence referendum; but the Scottish National Party has since strengthened, and Scotland being very pro-EU, Brexit would prompt calls for a fresh independence vote, which they’d likely win.

Brexitism reflects a baleful phenomenon afflicting much of the West nowadays: bloody-minded voters lashing out against what they see as a rotten status quo. There is indeed much to reform in the status quo, but unfortunately these kinds of populist responses tend to be exactly the wrong medicine, bound to make things worse. Such politics exploit voters’ unsophisticated knee-jerk emotions. We see it with the rise of misguided movements throughout Europe, like Spain’s “Podemos,” the “Alternative for Germany,” France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party; Poland recently elected a really nasty populist government, which many Poles are already rueing.

images-1Of course the biggest manifestation is Donald Trump, exactly that sort of candidate, attracting voters who simply don’t know any better.

Conventional pols do a poor job combating the nonsense. It’s easier to coddle it than to cogently explain why it’s wrong. Like Hillary, who does know better, going populist on trade. It’s Yeats’s old story: the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Yet it’s hard to see quite where all this voter stroppiness is coming from. For all the hand-wringing about middle class angst, Western societies are not actually in bad shape. Most of those voting trumpily live very comfortable lives compared to the not-so-distant past. How easily we forget what “the good old days” were really like.

A big part of happiness is a sense of gratitude for one’s blessings. Too many spoiled people have lost this.

Only the good

June 17, 2016
Jo Cox

Jo Cox

Only the likes of Jo Cox, British member of parliament, human rights worker, advocate for immigrants and refugees.

Never the likes of a Robert Mugabe.

Only 49 people innocently partying at an Orlando night spot.

Never people at a KKK rally.

Only peacemakers like Yitzhak Rabin.

Never monsters like Bashar Assad.

Always the Bhuttos. Never the Musharrafs.

Only the Sadats. Never the al-Sisis.

Always the Boris Nemtsovs. Never the Vladimir Putins.

Only the JFKs, RFKs, MLKs. Never the Erdogans, Maduros, Nkurunzizas.

Why? Hating the bad is characteristic of rationality. Hating the good, of irrationality.


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