Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A different idea about health care

September 22, 2017

As Republicans try one more time to pass a bill to strip millions of their health care, a huge policy crap-shoot without benefit of hearings, public debate, or input from experts, here’s another idea.

We keep hearing that middle class wages have flatlined over a long period. Actually, recent data shows a significant uptick. But anyway, such numbers are misleading because they normally reflect only salaries — and not fringe benefits — which comprise a growing part of total employee compensation. The big one is health insurance.

About 150 million Americans get health insurance through their employers, and its value (i.e., its cost) now averages about $18,000 annually. Combining this with salaries tells us that total earnings have not stagnated, but risen substantially.

This also means Americans effectively spend a growing part of their incomes on health care. It’s even more than that $18,000, what with rising deductibles, co-pays, etc. Of course, health care is something of value, improving quality of life, worth paying for. But paying for health insurance is not quite the same thing. Healthy people get little benefit. Indeed, the whole system is set up for them to subsidize the sick; and Obamacare expanded on that.

Overall, Americans spend a lot more on health care/insurance than other advanced countries, without being healthier. This is fundamentally because it’s not a competitive market. There’s really no shopping around for health services; the end-user isn’t usually the one who’s paying. Obamacare didn’t fix this.

Recently, during a medical appointment with one doctor, another stopped in to “consult,” for a few minutes. He neither examined nor treated me. He billed $405. Because he could. This is why health care costs are out of control.

A NY Times op-ed last November (by Professors Regina Herzlinger, Barak Richman, and Richard Boxer) proposed a simple reform that would have a big impact.

The main reason our system evolved the way it did is because employee health benefits aren’t taxed like regular wages are (which, by the way, makes them even more valuable to workers, enlarging the impact on the “wage stagnation” picture). But, as the Times writers point out, workers have little control over this enormous expenditure made on their behalf; they cannot try to economize or shop around for insurance. If they could, they’d opt for a wide variety of different plans.

So the writers propose that, without losing the nontaxableness, moneys earmarked for health insurance be given to employees, to purchase it themselves. If you spend the whole $18,000, fine; but if you spend less, you get to pocket the savings. (Even if you’re taxed on that part, it’s still a big benefit.) This would give insurance companies a strong incentive to develop a whole array of varied (and often cheaper) options, to compete for those consumer dollars — an incentive almost wholly lacking in the existing system.

It would also make the market for health care itself more like, well, a market. Competition among insurers would in turn exert pressure on providers to likewise innovate to offer more efficient, cost-conscious care. Meantime many more people would choose to use insurance as it was originally conceived, that is, to cover only big expenses, not routine ones. For the latter they would shop around, again mindful of costs. That would have a huge positive impact on the way health care is provided — and billed.

This reform seems like a no-brainer. And a huge vote winner too. Why has no politician latched onto this? Do the insurance companies (who wouldn’t like breaking open their comfy status quo) really have the whole system locked up?

Advertisements

Political extremism and moderation

September 15, 2017

This is a time of extremism. Marchers with torches and swastikas chant “Jews will not replace us,” and the president sees there some “very fine people.” Maybe my own condemnatory blog posts seem extreme. Where today is the space for moderation?

The ancient Greeks deemed moderation in all things a virtue. Yet they valorized some pretty extreme doings — like the Trojan War — perhaps a wee overreaction, that?

American political extremism came to the fore in 1964, with Barry Goldwater labeled an extremist (or extremist-backed) candidate. He pushed back by declaring that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and . . . moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

He had a point; yet this sidestepped the real issue. As an old song said, “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way how you do it.” It’s not whether one’s views on issues are consonant with liberty and justice (and who doesn’t think so?) or are closer to the political center or the fringes. Either can equally inspire zealotry. The moderation to be sought is not moderation of ideas but of approach. It’s the mentality you bring to the political arena.

David Brooks

A recent David Brooks column is illuminating. “Moderates do not see politics as warfare,” he writes. “Instead, national politics is a voyage with a fractious fleet. Moderation is a way of coping with the complexity of the world.” Here, with my own take, are the aspects of moderation Brooks identifies:

“The truth is plural.” When it comes to big public questions, there usually isn’t a single simple answer. Competing viewpoints may each be at least partially right. Hence “creativity is syncretistic” — combining pieces from varied viewpoints to produce a way forward which, while imperfect from the standpoint of any one of them, is pragmatically workable, given all the political and situational constraints. Again — don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (Examples included Simpson-Bowles and, yes, Obamacare.)

“In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high.” The potential for doing harm, particularly by government, exceeds the potential for doing good. Especially given the law of unintended consequences. This suggests restraint when looking to address any problem through politics.

“Truth before justice.” No cause is well served by rejecting or suppressing inconvenient facts. And “partisans tend to justify their own sins by pointing to the other side’s sins.” It’s the “what about” syndrome, as when any derogation of Trump is answered with “what about Hillary this” and “what about Hillary that.” Another refusal to confront truth. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

“Humility is the fundamental virtue.” The world’s complexities defy our understanding. And for all the certainty I feel about some beliefs — evolution, for example — I recognize that people hold opposite beliefs with equal moral certainty. If I think they’re nuts, they think I am, and there’s no intellectual Supreme Court to resolve it. I recall Cromwell saying, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken;” and apply it to myself.

Voltaire

I’d like to add here, “So respect others and their views.” However, I cannot; not when marchers with swastikas chant about Jews. But what I will do yet again is to quote Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is indeed a key principle that is succumbing as American politics polarizes into extremism. There are many reasons why that’s happening. Brooks has elsewhere suggested one: in an age of so much moral uncertainty, some embrace absolutism in an effort to find solid ground. Thus we get the Savonarolas who want to punish and stamp out anyone not embracing their version of truth — as in the recent case of the engineer fired from Google for writing what some read as a politically incorrect memo.

Well, you do not have to respect those you disagree with — like those marching neo-Nazis. You can call them what they are, and condemn their ideas. But what you do have to do is accept their humanity and their right to be who they are. Not fire them from their jobs or jail them — or plow your car into them.

Wage war, if you must, against ideas — not against people. That is the moderation I advocate.

Never forget that if those neo-Nazis can be fired, punished, or repressed, the same principle can be turned around one day and applied to you.

“First they came for the Jews . . . . “

Moving pictures, Myanmar, and Rohingyas

September 12, 2017

My masthead declares me an optimist but a rationalist. Humanity is on an upward path, but nothing is ever simple, it’s strewn with pitfalls. Seeming triumphs often sour.

I keep an imaginary “rogues gallery” — pictures of the world’s worst villains. Whenever I can draw a big black “X” across one of those faces, it gives me great satisfaction. But unfortunately those seem outnumbered by newly added faces.

And alas my gallery of heroes* is much the smaller one. Villainy is far easier than heroism. The latter, of course, requires courage, a willingness to do right at personal risk or cost. That’s rare. (I don’t know how courageous I’d be if really tested.)

But especially rare — and sad — is moving a picture from that gallery to the other.

Aung San Suu Kyi has certainly been heroic. Read my 2012 blog post about her. Myanmar’s (Burma’s) vile military regime long kept her under house arrest. When finally allowing free elections, the generals first stipulated, in the constitution, that no one married to a foreigner could be president. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British. But after her party swept the elections, she installed a placeholder president and created for herself a new position from which to run things.

So nominally at least Aung San Suu Kyi is now, at long last, Myanmar’s leader. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy.

But I say “nominally” because Myanmar’s military was unwilling to cede all power. A familiar story: not only do those in power enrich themselves by it, they dare not relinquish it and expose themselves to comeuppance for their crimes. So Myanmar’s military-written constitution leaves the army with great power, outside civilian control.

The Rohingyas are a despised Muslim minority in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, concentrated in remote Rakhine state. Most Burmese see them as illegal immigrants, despite living there for generations. They’ve been persecuted since the ’80s. Now it’s become a genocidal progrom, the army using insurgent attacks as a pretext for a mass rampage of rape, burning, and killings, apparently aiming to eliminate the Rohingyas from Myanmar. Local Rakhine Buddhists have joined in the violence (and you thought Buddhists were peaceful). At least a couple hundred thousand Rohingyas have fled, under appalling conditions, to nearby Bangladesh.

And where is Suu Kyi in all this? Nowhere.

Before the election, her silence was understandable, even defensible, so the explosive Rohingya issue would not derail the transition to democracy. And even now, she doesn’t really call the shots, governing only on the army’s sufferance. She does not command it. It’s perhaps even conceivable that a clash with the army over its Rohingya atrocities could provoke a coup, ending Myanmar’s new hard-won (quasi) democracy. One can’t be heroic all the time. Maybe she’s acting prudently; “discretion is the better part of valor.”

But “[t]the time for such delicacy is past,” The Economist writes. “Democracy is of little worth if it entails mass displacement and slaughter.”

That’s happened too many times. We say “never again,” but somehow always let it happen again. When the 1994 Rwanda genocide erupted, Bill Clinton worked mightily at the UN — to block any response. It would have been just too hard, messy, and politically hazardous. So is it always.

So it may be for Suu Kyi. But this is her greatest test. The Economist notes that even if lacking legal authority, she “retains immense moral authority.” If her life has true meaning, she must act now. Come what may.

I hate to move pictures. This one would be especially painful.

*When I was a teenager, besotted with politics, that gallery was literal, with framed signed photos of my idols. I cringe recalling some of them now. One, in more mature perspective, certainly belonged in the other gallery . . . . We grow up.

Another day, another disgrace

September 7, 2017

Trump has killed the DACA program — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” — allowing people brought to America before age 16 to stay.

Most of these 800,000 are educated and employed, pay taxes, and contribute to society. They cannot legally work absent DACA. Some have served in our military. A majority have siblings who are U.S. citizens. A quarter have kids who are. They were induced to come forward and register with the government on the promise that the information wouldn’t be used against them. To break that promise, breaking up American families, is indefensibly cruel and base.

Trump claims to love these kids — shedding buckets of crocodile tears for them. He says Congress should fix this. So has he proposed legislation? Of course not. The idea that Congress will, within his 6-month deadline, pass a law it could never pass before (remember the “Dreamer” act?) insults our intelligence. Yet another huge Trump lie.

Trump also claims this is simply about enforcing the law. Obama is condemned for promulgating DACA by executive order. Yet Trump did exactly the same, getting around existing immigration law by executive order, with his Muslim ban. Anyhow his newfound reverence for law is piquant right after he pardoned Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying court orders. But Arpaio was a poster boy for the war on immigrants; especially brown-skinned ones. These actions cater to Trump’s most xenophobic racist fans. America used to be governed toward its highest aspirations; now, the lowest.

I heard Alternative Radio the other night; it’s a left-wing program but helps sharpen my thinking. Thomas Frank was discussing the political landscape. I previously reviewed one of his books quite negatively. But he’s an engaging speaker I enjoyed hearing. And nowadays I’m weirdly sympathetic toward people like him. I particularly relished Frank calling Trump a “mountebank.” A lovely archaic word, and deliciously apt.

My local paper has been filled with anti-Trump reader letters. But one on Tuesday caught my attention — by David Hauber of Troy — who voted for Trump. “I believed that Trump would be good for America,” Hauber writes. “I thought our government needed a shakeup, and that the ‘swamp’ was spiraling out of control. How could we go wrong with a successful businessman* who claimed he would make America great again?”

He found out. “I was wrong,” says Hauber. “Failure to protect Americans, uphold our laws, and understand the difference between facts and lies has made America the laughingstock of the world and endangered us all. This is the opposite of making America great again.”

His final words: “I am sorry.”

It takes a big person to admit they were wrong and apologize (which the mountebank never does). So far it’s been disheartening that so many Trump voters won’t either. But thank you, David Hauber, for a glimmer of hope.

I too regret my last presidential vote (for Libertarian Gary Johnson). I did agonize over it; I didn’t like Clinton’s politics, character, or personality. Yet compared with Trump . . . ! Not a day passes without my reflecting how much better off we’d be if she’d won.

* Successful? At defrauding customers (Trump University) and screwing anyone who invested in, or did work on, his projects.

Good news from Kenya

September 2, 2017

Did you hear the big news from Kenya? Its Supreme Court annulled the president’s re-election. And he accepted it.

Africa’s post-colonial history has been mostly a sorry tale of “big men” ruling tyrannically, with massive corruption. Such bad governance has been the key factor keeping most Africans poor. But positive change has been happening in many places.

I wrote recently of The Gambia, whose president lost an election, and was persuaded to go by neighboring countries sending troops to push him. Now Kenya’s story is another unprecedented milestone.

Kenyatta

Kenyan politics is rumbustious and very tribal. The 2007 elections instigated horrible violence. Corruption has been huge. The latest vote was a rematch between President Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first president) and Raila Odinga (son of its first VP). Days before the election, the guy in charge of its computer systems was murdered by torture. Kenyatta had been tipped to win, but his margin exceeded expectations. Odinga cried foul, charging a massive hack of the election system. But, despite some obvious irregularities, a team of international observers gave the election a passing grade.

Odinga. Take your pick

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court upheld Odinga’s challenge and voided the election. Kenyatta blasted the ruling, yet (probably confident of winning the re-vote) said he would accept it. This seems to be a first for Africa.

I hope (but doubt) our own president will be equally accepting when the time comes.

Kenya’s news is especially welcome when democracy is being battered in so many places (including America). Though I realize life is complicated, and good news often sours. I was enthusiastic about Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and even applauded President Morsi’s later ouster. That turned out badly; Egypt is now more repressive than ever. I wrote a blog post titled “Democracy Wins in Thailand;” that proved short-lived too, and Thailand today has a vicious military dictatorship.

But as I keep saying, history never runs in a straight line. And I’ve quoted Martin Luther King that the Universe’s moral arc is long but bends toward justice. That isn’t some inherent cosmic law. Rather, it’s that human beings have intelligence and rationality, whose usage expands as our material circumstances improve, freeing people from desperation, and empowering them with more education and knowledge. This is why, despite setbacks, our future is bright.

Trump pardons Arpaio: America sinks lower

August 28, 2017

After outraging decency with his putrid rant about Charlottesville, welcomed by white supremacist Neo-Nazis, Trump compounded it by pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio was a vicious man, perverting law enforcement and rule of law by illegally targeting and terrorizing people he didn’t like ethnically. Subjecting them to literal and intentional torture during often unauthorized confinement, out in blazing desert sun. Finally voters had enough of this and threw him out. Then he was convicted in federal court for having ignored judicial orders that he stop his illegal tactics. He was awaiting sentence.

And now Trump pardons him. Why? Because Arpaio stands for hostility toward immigrants and brown-skinned people. Trump stands with that.

True, the President has the power to pardon. But this is a flagrant abuse of power, flouting every norm of proper presidential conduct. Our government has developed rules and procedures and criteria for appropriate exercise of the pardon power. Pardons are normally granted only after Justice Department review, not less than five years after conviction, and only where there is some good and valid reason for a pardon, either to advance the cause of justice or the person has proven himself or herself worthy. Trump disregarded all of that. This pardon has no legitimate excuse; the reason for it stinks to high Heaven. The Mayor of Phoenix called it “a slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County,” many of whom suffered from Arpaio’s misdeeds. The pardon sticks Trump’s thumb in the eye of his own government, whose prosecutors had the courage to properly do their jobs by holding to account this lawless creep of a sheriff; and the judges and juries that likewise did their civic duty. Trump’s action, undoing all of theirs, savages the rule of law.

That even 35% of Americans still support such depravity makes me weep for my country. How low can America sink?

Statues and history

August 26, 2017

Trump has attacked removal of “beautiful” monuments to Confederate icons like Stonewall Jackson, Jeff Davis, and Robert E. Lee. Will Washington and Jefferson be next, he said; our culture and history are being “ripped apart.”

He is, of course, such a deep student of culture and history.

Washington and Jefferson did own slaves. Washington freed them at his death; Jefferson agonized in writing about the moral problem. But we honor them not for their slaveholding history, but in spite of it, because their larger meaning to us dwarfs that one facet. Washington won our independence, then led the new nation so as to consolidate our democracy. Jefferson gave voice to its great principles.

It’s an outrage to compare them with the likes of Davis and Lee. American heroes they were not — traitors in fact, who made war upon the United States.* They might well have been hanged at war’s end, but for our immense magnanimity, “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

And if Trump wants to talk history, here’s some more of it:

Ever since the Civil War, Southerners have tried to whitewash it as battling for “states’ rights.” Rights to do what? To enslave kidnapped people; torture them and steal their labor with whips; to rape them (a bigger aspect of slavery than is commonly realized). That’s what the war was about.

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens candidly said so at the outset, proclaiming the true purpose to be continuing enslavement of people deemed racially inferior.

Should we keep statues honoring warriors for that evil cause? And make no mistake why those statues were erected. Most went up long after the war — indeed, they were really monuments to a new war — against integration and racial equality. For all their blather about “states’ rights” and “history” most who romanticize the Confederacy and venerate its monuments really have (n-word)s on their minds. The “culture” in question is the culture of white supremacy. Those monuments stand to tell African-Americans, “We honor those who fought to enslave you, and would love to do it again. Be intimidated! Whites rule!”

Trump too, with his tweets about “history and culture” is likewise sending a message. A message to those racist Confederacy lovers, that he’s with them.

America is better than that. Better than its president. Better than those statues.

* Lee was in some ways a noble figure. A true military hero, when the war began, he was actually offered command of both armies. Lee agonized between loyalty to state versus nation. I think he chose wrongly.

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the president they love

August 17, 2017

When white supremacists march with Nazi swastika flags, and one of them, an avowed Hitler flan, intentionally kills and injures counter-demonstrators, the response of the president of the United States should be a no-brainer.

It does not include saying there are “fine people” among the neo-Nazis, defending what they were marching about, and blaming the victim. In a snarling, belligerent rant no less.

It’s suggested that Trump’s veering back and forth reflected some tug-of-war among his lackeys, and he’s calculatingly pandering to his base — at least that small segment that’s racist neo-Nazi. And those knuckleheads, like David Duke, loved it.

But there’s no political calculation here, cunning or otherwise (as if swastikas are a net vote winner in America). Rather, the president is a deranged moral moron without the sense to control his vicious impulses.

Like Trump, white supremacists have no self-awareness. Do they actually somehow imagine that behaving as they do promotes white racial superiority? When instead it screams the opposite: look at this bunch of stupid loser creeps!

And if you really want to advance white superiority, maybe lose the swastikas? Ya think?

Marching with Nazi flags spits on the graves of those who gave their lives fighting the Nazis. So does Trump.

The Nazis too considered themselves a superior race. They showed it by murdering millions they deemed inferior. Is that how superior beings behave? Even if Jews (and blacks) were inferior, even subhuman, shouldn’t superior beings treat them with humane compassion? Even animals deserve as much.

When it’s needful to explain the moral wrong of Nazism it’s a sad day for America.

Postscript, 8/20: Sorrowful as I am at the utter degradation of my beloved country, yet I actually welcome this episode because it is finally, at long last — after the pussygrabbing, Trump University, birtherism, and too many other travesties to count — a moment of moral clarity, drawing a red line between decent people and cretins still sticking with Trump. Between Nazis and anti-Nazis, Trump doesn’t know what side the president of the United States should be on. The Economist has declared Trump unfit to be president (what took them so long?); Republican Sen. Bob Corker said about as much; business leaders are fleeing all association with him. No one with brains and a conscience can defend this vile creep.

Groupthink in the Divided States of America

August 12, 2017

I remember, on Election Night 2008, when the result was declared, a middle-aged black woman in Chicago jumping up and down crying, “God bless America! God bless America!”

Though I didn’t vote for Obama, I was deeply moved by her. Just seeing black Americans then made me empathize with how it must feel – after centuries of abuse, now one of theirs was president.

But the coin had another side, which only gradually grew visible. While blacks could now feel more at home in America, some whites felt less so. While blacks saw the president as kindred, some whites saw him as wholly alien. This metastasized into the “Birther” and Obama-as-Muslim nonsense, embraced by surprisingly large numbers, really as badges of their active dissociation from what Obama represented. J. D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy depicts how large this cultural factor loomed among the working class whites he wrote about.

Now the worm has turned. The alien black president has been replaced by one those same whites see as theirs. Never mind that he’s a New York billionaire. After their eight-year Obama-trauma, they’ve latched onto Trump as their guy, seeing him as speaking for them, and they ain’t gonna let go of that. Even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.

A recent “special report” in The Economist, “The Power of Groupthink,” analyzes the phenomenon. Trump’s first months in office have been such a travesty that many are puzzled why his support has not eroded all that much. It’s partly down to what I’ve written already. His supporters’ emotive commitment lets Trump get away with a lot, to change his mind, lie outrageously, behave boorishly, and even to promote policies that actually harm them.

As The Economist elucidates, their stance is not tied to specific policies, nor even realities. Again, it’s mainly cultural, the sense that they, through him, are back on top, or at least no longer being thrown under the bus (even if they are). It’s the old line: “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

And it’s important to understand that facts are not much in the picture. The Economist estimates that only about a fifth of Americans are politically engaged and paying close attention; about equally split between pro-Democrat and pro-Republican partisan zealots. “For the rest, political issues are little more than ‘a sideshow in the great circus of life,’” says The Economist, quoting Robert Dahl in 1961.

It’s still true. Most people see political issues “through a glass darkly.” Of course they often have bedrock viewpoints on issues like abortion, guns, gays, and God. But the day-to-day chatter of news reports is just a blurry background buzz.

That applies to the Russia stuff. Most voters just don’t seem to care, failing to understand the powerful reasons why they should. And if Trump says it’s fake news, many accept that, taking his word over that of the news media. Not because he’s actually more credible; they just choose to.

It’s very different now than in the past when so many Americans sat down en masse to watch the evening news. When LBJ lost Walter Cronkhite on Vietnam, he lost America. And I remember seeing John Chancellor open with, “President Nixon stunned the nation today . . . .” Within weeks, Nixon was gone. Now those days are gone.

No such voices of authority today can nail Trump on his lies and make it stick.* And Chancellor’s assumption of “the nation” reacting collectively, as one, also has become quaint. Now everyone can choose their own truth. And as for what I called bedrock views, voters don’t act like calculating machines. Most, The Economist says, have only hazy ideas of what candidates and even parties really stand for. Rather than picking those “that best fit their own political views, they are deciding on some other criteria.” Some actually first pick the candidate they feel most comfortable with, and then associate that candidate (often incorrectly) with policies they notionally favor. And even bedrock can shift. The Economist notes that in 2011, white evangelicals were the most likely group to say personal morality is important in a president. Along comes Trump, and they’re the least likely to say that now. Similar political expedience has reversed past Republican antipathy toward Russia.

The Economist used the word “groupthink” and this too is a key factor. Bill Bishop’s 2008 book, The Big Sort, showed how America is becoming increasingly segregated politically, with people clustering in like-minded communities. Of course, political dividing lines are to a considerable extent socio-economic (and thusly geographic), with upscale urban professionals seeing things very differently from Vance’s rural working class. And there is some tendency, at least among those who take their politics seriously, to gravitate to locales where they feel at home. But for the less engaged majority, The Economist sees a different factor operating: “Most voters make political choices based largely on what people like them are doing.” If most guys in your local bar are talking Trump, you ain’t gonna be for Hillary. Many voters are political Zeligs who, chameleonlike, take on the prevailing political colors of their surrounding communities, fitting in with their peers.

The human tendency to fall in line with what others around you say is well documented. In experiments (e.g., featuring a “which line is longer?” question), people will even give what they know is a wrong answer if surrounded by others giving that answer.

Remember the “culture wars?” They never ended; indeed intensified. Today’s bitter divisions are as much cultural as political, between two worlds that see each other in apocalyptic terms and don’t even agree on what reality is. One can even imagine the country splitting up. Yet, once more, only about a fifth of Americans take things so seriously, and the rest go about their lives as normal human beings. That would be reassuring, except for this: it’s because America is the kind of country it is that most people can live their lives as normal humans without having to concern themselves greatly about politics. Yet that very character of America is itself a product of our political ethos (somewhat unique in global history), and it’s actually endangered. Maybe we can no longer indulge in the luxury of political disengagement.

*Perhaps they’ve given up. Last night discussants on “Washington Week” mentioned Trump’s claim to have refurbished the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and its being untrue, but without further comment. Previously such a presidential whopper would have been a Big Deal. Now it’s the New Normal.

 

Venezuela’s tragedy: be careful how you vote

August 8, 2017

Chavez & his mentor

It began in 1992 when paratrooper Hugo Chavez tried a military coup. He failed and was jailed, but vowed he wasn’t done. Released, in 1999 he won a democratic election as president.

Be careful how you vote.

Chavez strutted as an adversary of “U.S. imperialism” and avatar of “21st century socialism,” earning adoration from a Hollywood claque and the usual left-wing moral morons, bedazzled by the word “socialism” into excusing all manner of anti-democratic repression.

Chavez did enjoy much genuine support among poorer Venezuelans, whom he basically bought off by distributing the country’s oil wealth — while he crippled that very industry by nationalizing it and stuffing its ranks with political types, and wrecking the rest of Venezuela’s once-rich economy with an insane farrago of anti-market, statist policies.

Dwindling oil revenues could not sustain the game, the rich got poorer, and so, ultimately, did the poor too. Chavez died of cancer at 58 in 2013 before the mierda fully hit the fan. His chosen successor, former bus driver Nicolas Maduro, narrowly won a 2013 presidential election.

Maduro

Be careful how you vote. Though Maduro’s win was almost surely fraudulent, he couldn’t have pulled that off without votes from nearly half the electorate.

Then Venezuela really went off the rails, the economy collapsing in structural disarray, producing nothing, inflation exploding, people unable to get food or medicine. Instead of reversing the economic idiocies causing this, Maduro doubled down, and blamed the troubles on supposed U.S.-inspired sabotage. But few fell for this nonsense, his political support also collapsed, and the opposition won big in 2015 congressional elections. Only more fraud and manipulation denied them a decisive two-thirds majority. Maduro’s policy was now to intimidate, emasculate, and simply disregard the congress.

Meantime, the opposition also gathered more than enough signatures to force a presidential recall vote, pursuant to the Chavez-promulgated constitution. That too the regime quite simply disregarded, refusing to hold the vote.

All this plays out against a background of increasing repression (opponents jailed; forget a free press) and rising violence as protests by an increasingly desperate citizenry escalate, and the regime responds brutally. Its intransigence made negotiation efforts useless. President Maduro, who cannot win a fair vote, has now moved to seal Venezuela into a Cuban-style dictatorship by convening an all-powerful “constituent assembly” of handpicked stooges to supplant the congress and rewrite the constitution. That assembly’s “election” was — of course — another farcical fraud. (Even the company that ran it said so.)

Ortega

One of the assembly’s first acts was to fire Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a former regime stalwart, with at least a vestige of integrity that couldn’t stomach Maduro’s extreme illegal power grab, which she condemned.

And where, in all this, you might wonder, is the army? Why doesn’t it step in to protect the constitution, congress, and democracy? Because the army is part of the regime, long since packed with loyalists. Its guns are what really keep Maduro in power. It’s the army brass, not the people, he needs to keep happy. And this is not about ideology. The “socialist” and “anti-imperialist” rhetoric continues, but that’s just a fig-leaf cover for the reality. The regime, and its army, are a gang of thugs ruling Venezuela exactly as Al Capone ruled Chicago, and for the same purpose — their own criminal enrichment.

As ordinary Venezuelans sink into an abyss of deprivation, the regime and its army feed off their flesh and suck their blood. Having destroyed the normal economy, so that not even food can be purchased normally, the army has been tasked with bringing in and selling food — profiting hugely. It’s grubby fingers are in many other businesses too. Further, while the currency has become virtually worthless, they maintain an inflated official exchange rate, at around 1,000 times the Bolivar’s actual value. Why? Only insiders can exchange Bolivars for Dollars at that phony rate, plundering the state to enrich themselves. That’s why they won’t give up power. And because if they do, they’d expect punishment for their crimes.

Here is your “21st century socialism.”

What is the sad lesson of Venezuela? Be careful how you vote.