Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

America Trumped (my “Trolley” article)

March 21, 2018

The wonderful New York State Writers Institute (founded by William Kennedy; headed by Paul Grondahl) has published a very interesting online magazine, The Trolley. (Click here.) I was asked to contribute an article, a follow-up to my blog review of their October symposium on post-truth politics.* The magazine’s inaugural issue focuses mainly on the same general topic.

Since the last election, I’ve been grappling with the really dramatic lurch our civic life has taken into uncharted territory. It has a lot of aspects, and I’ve written a lot trying to unravel them. For this Trolley article, I aimed to draw all these strands together into one big picture, titled America Trumped.

I consider myself a student of history. And we are at an historical hinge point, with huge implications for the future of this country and, indeed, the world. I am not one of those fatalists who believes human beings are at the mercy of forces beyond our control; it’s why I continue to call myself a rational optimist. It is by using our rationality that we can master our situation. That’s how we’ve progressed so enormously since the Stone Age. And in order to master our situation, we must first understand what it is. Such understanding is a key quest in my own life; after half a century at it, I feel I’ve made progress. That’s what I’m trying to share on this blog, and in my Trolley article.

* Find it here; scroll down past a few later posts.


Andrew Cuomo and corruption

March 17, 2018


When first running for governor, Andrew Cuomo actually made tackling Albany corruption a campaign theme — pointedly declaring his candidacy in front of the Tweed courthouse — a literal monument to political corruption. He pledged his administration would be the “most transparent” in state history.

As Times-Union columnist Chris Churchill put it, “Cuomo didn’t just break the promise that helped him get elected. He smashed it like a plate at a Greek wedding and danced on its pieces.”


Joseph Percoco was Cuomo’s longtime right-hand man, and ran his election campaign; Cuomo even likened him to a third brother. Percoco has now been convicted in Federal Court of soliciting and receiving $300,000 in bribes from businessmen, to buy his influence to get them cushy deals with the state.

Throughout, Cuomo’s refrain has been that he had nothing to do with this. So — whose influence was really being bought? Percoco had no direct power over state business. But he could get things done through Cuomo. And Cuomo (famous for micro-managing) says he didn’t know? He’s either lying or stupid. Take your pick.

Also revealed at the trial was Percoco’s breaking the law by continuing to use his government office, even after he’d formally left state employment, to run Cuomo’s political campaign. Right under the Governor’s nose. Cuomo tries to avoid legal complicity by saying he believed Percoco was just doing “transition” work. Which apparently included some 68 days in the office and over 800 phone calls. Cuomo also believes in the Easter Bunny.


The prosecution of Percoco was almost derailed by their star witness, Todd Howe, another Cuomo goon and Percoco’s partner in crime, who’d pled guilty and agreed to testify against him. Copying The Sopranos, Howe and Percoco referred in e-mails to their bribe money as “ziti.” But anything Howe said lacked credibility because of his huge record of lies and frauds.


Highlighting that, while testifying, Howe was actually arrested and jailed for trying to defraud a hotel on its bill by denying he’d ever stayed there. In fact, he’d stayed there while negotiating his plea deal with prosecutors — a deal in which Howe pledged to commit no further crimes.

These two slimeball creeps, Howe and Percoco, were both top henchmen for Andrew Cuomo for many years. What does that tell us about Cuomo?


Coming soon is another Cuomo corruption trial, relating to his “Buffalo Billion,” an economic development program that was a honey pot for his donors. And the trial of former Nanotech Czar Alain Kaloyeros, who’d been the second most powerful figure in New York, working hand-in-glove with Cuomo, also charged with abusing his position to extort bribes from businessmen seeking state contracts. And the re-trials of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, former heads of the State Assembly and Senate, likewise charged with what amounts to extortion and bribery.*

Meantime, the bribes Percoco extorted for himself are only the tip of the iceberg. The real scandal is the legal bribery: Cuomo now has over $30 million in his campaign war-chest, mostly contributed by business people not for civic altruism but because they are buying favorable treatment, tax breaks, subsidies, state contracts, etc. It’s called pay-to-play. They’re able to buy politicians like Cuomo with large sums, getting around contribution limits, through the infamous LLC ( limited liability corporation) loophole — which furthermore allows the bribes — er, “donations” — to be hidden from public scrutiny.

Cuomo will likely coast to re-election, using his ill-gotten $30 million kitty to crush any opponent with a barrage of sleazy, smearing TV ads.

Asked to comment after Percoco’s conviction, Cuomo continued insisting, “There was absolutely no suggestion ever made that I had anything to do with anything. Right?”

Wrong. He also said Percoco’s crimes were “a violation of everything my administration stands for.”

Wrong again. They reflect exactly what his administration stands for.

*Their first convictions were reversed based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s egregious ruling in the case of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, defining bribery so narrowly that it’s almost impossible to prove. Yet New York’s finest were so flagrant their corruption may well pass even the McDonnell test.

Democratic presidential prospects

March 11, 2018

I enrolled Democrat to have a presidential primary vote — for a candidate who can beat Trump, and make America great again. Maybe after four years we can still climb out of this stinkhole. But after eight . . . .

Berlusconi — Italy’s Trump

In a recent column, David Brooks worries that we’ll follow Italy’s path. They too had previously elected a businessman-outsider promising to drain their swamp. Instead Berlusconi deepened it, ignoring Italy’s real problems, and degrading its politics with his corruption and shameless lack of decency. In Italy’s latest election, the responsible center was swamped by nutsy parties. Trumpism could similarly spin future American politics into a race to the bottom.

Several factors push that way. We’ve become poisonously, tribalistically partisan. It’s aggravated by the internet. We once thought the greater access to information would be elevating. Instead it’s a flaming cesspool of confirmation bias, falsehood, and incitement. Russia hardly even needs to lift a finger, we’re doing it to ourselves. For all our education (which rarely includes any civics now), voters are ill-equipped to perspicaciously evaluate what they see and hear. Thus we have the political equivalent of Gresham’s Law — “Bad money drives good money out of circulation.”

Trump exacerbates all this. We won’t wake up suddenly with our democracy dead. Instead, it will be the death of a thousand cuts.

You might think it easy to beat the worst president ever. But think again. Around 38% of voters stick with him no matter what. And the electoral college still works in his favor, enabling him to win last time with only 46% of the popular vote. To repeat that in 2020 he only needs to add around one in eight other voters to his 38% base.

Most of those others are solid Democrats, so actually, of the ones truly up for grabs he needs maybe a third. But that’s still a fairly low hurdle, hence Democrats cannot afford to lose many of those swing voters.

This means playing it safe. Democrats can easily blow this by nominating someone who will turn off enough swing voters; a sitting duck for the dirty campaign of lies, insults, and demonization Trump is sure to mount again.

So: no woman. No ethnic. No ideologue. Sorry, this is pragmatic reality. True, we elected a black president, but a lot of whites Democrats need in 2020 will not vote for another one. And while misogyny is not a big factor, it still does exist, and Hillary would have won if she’d had a penis.* We will have a woman president in due course. But achieving that is far less urgent than ridding ourselves of Trump.

Unfortunately, while Republicans have plunged to the dark side, Democrats — instead of grabbing the vacated center ground — have veered sharply left. The activist base was all gaga for Sanders, and still is.

Will he run again? Well, if you were him, why wouldn’t you? Hillary did beat him in the primaries (by getting more votes, not some sort of conspiracy), but with difficulty, and within the Democratic party she was actually a very strong candidate. Who could beat Bernie in primaries next time? Free college, free healthcare, punish Wall Street — the party’s left-wing base eats this stuff up.

Winning the nomination is one thing; winning the country quite another. It’s a ridiculous delusion that if only Bernie had been the nominee in 2016, he’d have defeated Trump. A grumpy overaged Brooklyn Jew who calls himself a socialist? Please.

Trump would not even need any of his moronic insults, with the word “socialist” a monster albatross hanging around Bernie’s neck. Efforts by lefties to sugar-coat it, as if it merely means government doing stuff like road building and fire-fighting, are dishonest and won’t fly. Call it “democratic socialism,” or “apple pie socialism,” but America won’t buy it.

What America might buy — hopefully, after four years of Trump, will be begging for — is a normal president. A sane, decent, avuncular white male with experience, competence, and understanding of the world, who tells the truth, is not a racist, fraudster or buffoon, and might help unite the country more than divide it. Who reflects America’s foundational principles, values, and ideals.

I have high regard for Kirsten Gillibrand; Kamala Harris is also impressive. But both are penisless. Elizabeth Warren is too, and too far left besides. Oprah lacks a penis and white skin. Cory Booker and Deval Patrick — great guys — have one but not the other. Andrew Cuomo has both and fancies himself presidential timber, but no one else does. (Almost as repellent a character as Trump.) Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy I don’t know much about, but he seems like the kind of plain vanilla candidate needed. And Joe Biden ticks all the boxes. Yes, he’s old. But old beats crazy. I’d be pretty confident of Biden defeatingTrump.

Will Democrats be able to resist the allure of shiny objects, and pragmatic enough to nominate a Murphy or Biden? Or will we follow Italy down the rabbit hole?

*Not one surgically added, of course.

Trump says arm teachers — “problem solved!”

February 24, 2018

Fact: the more guns are around, the more guns get in the wrong hands, the more people get shot by them, and the more also get shot accidentally.

Many Americans keep guns at home, fantasizing that it’s protection. Fact: over a thousand children are killed annually, and thousands more injured, by those guns in the home. Instances of their actually protecting anyone are, in contrast, vanishingly rare.

Teachers with guns thwarting school shootings is likewise a fantasy. Fact: much more often, having more guns firing, in chaotic circumstances, will increase casualties. Much more often, teachers will use those guns wrongly, rather than against school shooters. And much more often, guns will get into the hands of kids, with altogether predictable horrible results. Much more often. These are incontestable facts.

No constitutional rights are absolutes. Freedom of speech does not protect shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Religious freedom does not protect human sacrifice. The right to bear arms doesn’t cover nuclear weapons. Nor should it cover military-style assault weapons whose only purpose is to kill a lot of people fast. Such weapons have no legitimate sports, hunting, or self-protection purpose. They should be banned.

Fact: this will never happen as long as Republicans, beholden to the NRA and gun nuts, remain in power.

Fact: Trump is a deranged ignoramus.

November 3, 2020: problem solved!

Does the Second Amendment cover fake guns?

February 21, 2018

Dodie Horton is a huge Trump fan who felt his election restored America. She’s a pistol-packing gun rights enthusiast, and Louisiana state legislator. Horton was featured on NPR’s program, This American Life.

She’d been approached by some local law enforcement about what they considered a serious problem: fake guns, brought by kids to school, that look like the real thing. So Horton duly introduced legislation criminalizing that. Kids as young as kindergartners could face up to six months in jail for bringing fake guns to school.

There had been the famous case of the seven-year old suspended for chewing a pop-tart into a gun shape. School shootings have made us crazy. What could be crazier than banning pop-tart “guns” — but not military style assault weapons? Well, at least the pop-tart kid wasn’t jailed.

It didn’t seem to Horton that her bill was a crazy overreaction to the fake gun problem (if it is a problem). But she was devastated when her GOP and gun rights pals fiercely turned on her. She pleaded with them: This isn’t gun control! It’s fake gun control! Fake guns aren’t guns!

Nor was she struck by the incongruity of what she was saying. Fake guns? Lock ’em up! Real guns? No problem!

But the gun rights crowd did oppose her bill. Not because it would be loony to jail kids for fake guns — but because of the sacred Second Amendment. They were unmoved by the argument that it refers to “arms” and fake guns aren’t arms.

This American Life interviewed an NRA guy, asking him to explain how Horton’s bill could possibly transgress the “right to keep and bear arms.” After hemming and hawing, he finally said it’s not an actual violation of the Second Amendment, but the “appearance” of one.

In other words, they are so absolutist about gun rights that not even fake guns can be banned from schools — let alone real ones. Maybe I was wrong when I said the Second Amendment obviously doesn’t allow howitzers — or nuclear weapons.

This American Life. You gotta love it.

The dreamers’ nightmare

February 18, 2018

The Senate has failed to rescue the “dreamers” — young people brought here as children, without legal status. A big majority of Americans favor such legislation. And nearly every Senator voted for it.

So why the failure? Because they backed different bills, none of which got the 60 votes needed. So they can tell their constituents, with straight faces, “I voted for the dreamers bill — it’s the other party that blocked it.”

In fact it was Trump. When in September he cancelled the DACA program, with crocodile tears, saying he hoped Congress would fix it, he lied as always. He was taking the dreamers hostage, demanding as ransom funding for his wall (the one Mexico was supposed to pay for), and also a big cut in legal immigration. Backed by a farrago of lies about how the existing system actually works, and scaremongering about crimes by immigrants (who on average actually commit fewer crimes than the native born). Though previously lying that he’d sign whatever dreamers bill Congress passes, now he’ll only sign one including his two poison pills — my way or the highway. His plan got the fewest Senate votes.

Meantime, refugee admissions are way down in the past year; putting into crisis the infrastructure of charities that help them.

The Know-Nothing Party’s flag

It’s now clear that racist hatred of immigrants is the core raison d’etre of today’s Republican party. It’s not the first time we’ve had such a party. The previous one, in the 1850s, was the Know-Nothing Party.

Failure to pass dreamer legislation is emblematic of our galloping democratic dysfunction. Part of it is the Senate’s 60-vote rule (they passed the tax bill using a gimmick to evade it). Sixty votes are required to end debate on a bill. Through most of our history, only very rarely would a bill’s opponents “filibuster” it, forcing the issue of closing debate. But now it routinely applies to every bill, a symptom of today’s hyper-partisan scorched-earth politics.

That’s just one of the problems that saw our democracy already in real trouble even before 2016. But now it’s exploded into a grotesque caricature — with a president who trashes every ideal, principle, and value America used to stand for. A racist, uncouth, incompetent ignoramus; a fraudster rip-off artist; a preening egomaniacal mental case; a prodigious liar; a sex criminal; a Russian stooge; and did I mention racist?

Still, in the latest polls, over 40% of Americans give him a thumbs up. Among Republicans, 89%.

Happy “President’s Day!”

Chris Gibson thinks we can put America right

February 11, 2018

He calls himself an optimist. He believes we’re on the wrong track, but can fix it.

After a 29 year military career, Chris Gibson won a New York congressional seat in 2010 as a Republican; then “term limited” himself in 2016, and became a college professor. Too bad, because the GOP sure needs such good guys.

Now he’s authored a book, Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream. Sounds like every politician’s book. Nevertheless, my wife* and I went to a January 24 luncheon, hosted by the Times-Union newspaper, where its editor Rex Smith interviewed Gibson. I read the book.

Gibson feels the Republican party has strayed from its true conservative principles. (Some of his points echoed my own commentary in that morning’s paper.) He starts with the nation’s founding precepts, discussed with rare erudition and depth. For him the key idea is pursuit of happiness. He doesn’t mean hedonism, but invokes the ancient Greeks’ concept of eudaimonia, a life well lived; and psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, culminating with self-actualization. America was founded on the premise that government’s job is to promote such human flourishing. Really a revolutionary idea at the time.

Here Gibson distinguishes between America’s two chief ideological currents. Traditional conservatism saw government as a facilitator and referee, to enable people to thrive in their own individual ways (exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt and his restraints on corporate power). Liberals and progressives, in contrast, want a more activist government, seeking to achieve outcomes, regulating everything in sight.

But obviously that dividing line has become very muddled. Gibson harshly criticizes modern Republican hostility toward equal rights for sexual nonconformists, as violating true conservative principles. And the religious teachings so many Republicans profess to follow. Gibson’s watchword here is “love,” which seems absent from today’s Republicanism.

He worries about the nation’s fiscal future — a subject I’ve harped on for years. In brief, government cannot keep spending way more than it collects in taxes. We borrow the difference, and can borrow a lot, yet the limits will be sorely tested in years ahead as deficits continue growing; while interest costs eat us alive. The recent tax legislation, even if boosting growth, will add to debt. Fiscal responsibility is another bygone traditional Republican conservative principle. The whole nation now ignores the debt issue — sleepwalking over a cliff.

A further problem Gibson sees is legislative abdication in favor of executive and bureaucratic fiat. Successive Republican and Democratic administrations are each denounced by their opponents as abusing power in imposing policies undemocratically. Gibson says this undermines legitimacy and divides the country; whereas issues being instead resolved through legislative give-and-take stitches the country together.

Gibson is pretty good on diagnosis; less so on remedies. It’s the usual wish list: campaign finance, gerrymandering and lobbying reform; term limits; motherhood; and apple-pie. And a balanced budget amendment — oh, please. As if the nation could, like Ulysses, chain itself to the mast to resist the siren song of spending. (The latest congressional budget (busting) deal shows the two parties can happily work together to waive such limits and raid the Treasury.)

Gibson also feels the Republican party is redeemable, and can be hauled back to its traditional principles — which he even imagines can unite the country. More fantasy. My old GOP is now the White People’s Party; a zombie that’s undergone demonic possession. There’s no exorcist in sight. (Gibson never even mentions race or immigration.)

And Gibson stresses that citizens must insist that their elected officials act responsibly. When 38% back Trump no matter what, and American political life has become a partisan tribal bash-fest. How do we cure this? Nobody has a good answer.

It’s often lamented that only half of Americans vote; even less in non-presidential elections. Republicans cynically work to make voting harder (mainly for Democrats). That truly stinks. But will more people voting cure our political ills? Non-voters tend to be the least informed and engaged citizens. Their participation will not elevate our politics.

Gibson also decries moral decay — too much materialism; not enough communitarianism and religious faith; with reinvigorating the institution of marriage being vital for raising the kind of good citizens he envisions. He wants to reverse our sociological history. (And strengthen untrue beliefs.)

Further, he sees a need for real leadership (his emphasis) that can rally the nation to do what’s needed. Yet elsewhere he says a strong man is not the answer. “The man on horseback” myth I’ve written about. Trump said, “I alone can fix it,” and Gibson thinks Americans are wrongly attracted to such authoritarianism because we’ve lost confidence in our ability to tackle problems democratically.

But the book’s conclusion says that “historically the American people follow leaders who inspire the best in us and who treat people with dignity and respect. Americans believe in founding principles and our own exceptional way of life and ultimately will not give that up for authoritarian approaches.”

I would have said exactly the same thing myself . . . until “grab them by the pussy.” Too many Americans no longer seem to understand, let alone honor, the nation’s founding principles, ideals, and values, that Gibson is so eloquent about. Without a populace being invested in those ideas, they cannot endure.

Am I too cynically harsh? As I said at the start, the GOP desperately needs people like Gibson. If the party had more of them, I would not have left it.

* When I asked her about coming, her “yes” actually surprised me; but she’s a remarkable person full of surprises.


America’s democratic voting threatened

February 6, 2018

Trump’s “election fraud” commission was aimed at justifying Republican efforts to keep Democrats from voting. The commission’s ignominious demise doesn’t end those efforts, to craft voter ID requirements surgically targeting the kinds of ID poor, minority, and elderly voters (mostly Democrats) are least likely to have. But this is only part of what’s happening. Here are three further flashpoints:

1. The Constitution requires a decennial census, the next in 2020. The Trump administration is severely underfunding census preparation, presaging a fiasco. Why would Republicans deliberately sabotage the census? Because it’s used to apportion congressional seats and electoral votes among states, and for legislative districting within them. A fully accurate census would count more poor and minority citizens, especially the growing Hispanic population.* That would reduce Republican electoral mojo. Better for them if the census fails. Of course, that prevents fair apportionment.

2. Another voter suppression tactic is to simply throw voters off the rolls. Ohio has adopted the nation’s most stringent scheme, purging people who have not voted lately. Hundreds of thousands of registrations have been voided — two-thirds Democrats. That would clearly violate the Help America Vote Act (adopted after the 2000 Florida mess), which says non-voting is not a permissible basis for canceling someone’s registration. Except that Ohio first sends a postcard asking for address confirmation; voters who don’t reply are purged. Will that suffice to evade HAVA? The Supreme Court will decide.

3. Russian disinformation and other skullduggery threw the 2016 election to Trump. They also tried to hack voting systems — apparently failing. But given their success on the outcome anyway, they will surely try again in 2018 and 2020, stepping up their game. Vote hacking is a particularly acute concern; among all state and local election systems, there are bound to be vulnerabilities that sophisticated, determined hackers (especially with government resources) can defeat.**

Trump, of course, is deranged regarding his 2016 “great victory,” refusing to acknowledge Russia’s role. Putin didn’t expect Trump to win; his real aim was, and continues to be, messing up our democracy. He doesn’t want it to stand as an attractive contrast to his authoritarian kleptocracy. Russia’s own elections, of course, are a sham (Putin won’t even allow his leading opponent on the ballot). He wants our elections to look just as bad, another symptom of a supposedly degenerate West, versus Russia’s cultural “moral strength.” (And many Russians do see things this way; talk about shit-hole countries!)

Please think how big a threat this is, to America’s character and way of life. A bigger threat, actually, than WWII’s Nazis or Japanese, or even the Cold War’s Soviets. None of them could really have destroyed America. But if trust in our democracy falls apart, our country is as good as destroyed. Many Americans already think the system is rigged and big money buys elections. If we can’t even trust the counting, we’re sunk.

And what is the Trump administration doing about this existential threat? Denying it even exists. Indeed, helping it along, with its own efforts to undermine free and fair voting.

* There’s also a proposal to ask census respondents to state their immigration status — obviously aimed at reducing the Hispanic count.

**A novel, Shelley’s Heart, featured a presidential election stolen by computer chicanery. Surprisingly, it was published back in 1995.

Believing six impossible things before breakfast

February 2, 2018


The House Intelligence Committee voted for releasing the memo by its Chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, attacking the FBI and Department of Justice — but voted against allowing release of a rebuttal by its Democratic members.*

Trump will clear the Nunes memo’s release, against the strong objections of his own FBI and Department of Justice, who say the memo gives a false and misleading picture, and improperly spills classified information and threatens national security. Even Republican Senate Intelligence Committee members opposed this.

“This is my credibility number”

The Nunes memo charges bias and conspiracy within the FBI and DOJ to undermine the Trump administration. Trump today tweeted that those agencies “have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” Even though the heads of both agencies are Trump appointees. (And former FBI head Comey was also a Republican — whose actions regarding the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation likely threw the election to Trump).

House Speaker Ryan defends Nunes’s actions as a proper exercise of Congressional oversight. Nunes is a Trump toady whose smearing the FBI and DOJ is really an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation. They’re preparing Republican partisans to disbelieve whatever Mueller comes up with. The regime’s media mouthpiece, Fox Fake News, parrots this party line. All their outrage is directed against the investigators — not the Russian subversion they’re investigating!**

And what does the Nunes memo say? Reportedly, it merely alleges the FBI was politically motivated and unjustified when it secured a FISA warrant for surveillance of Trump campaign operative Carter Page, who had Russia connections. That’s it. (The warrant was obviously amply justified.) And Republicans are still banging on that Mueller’s investigation is supposedly corrupt merely because a former staffer, who was in fact fired for it, sent private messages opposing Trump’s candidacy. Does this discredit Mueller? They’re discrediting only themselves. Their charges of bias and conspiracy are ludicrous.

And who’s “politicizing the sacred investigative process?” It’s uncanny how Trump’s attacks always apply more to himself.

To knowingly twist the truth to degrade public confidence in these agencies, undermining rule of law and investigation of foreign meddling in our election — in order to inoculate Trump against likely charges of obstruction of justice — itself constitutes obstruction of justice. Trump’s complicity in Nunes’s criminality compounds his own offenses.*** These actions furthermore border upon treason. The Russians by themselves could not damage America more.

Trump on Thursday delightedly quoted Senator Orrin Hatch that he’s the greatest president in American history. Including Washington and Lincoln? Yes, said Hatch, according to Trump, who apparently believes this. “Why sometimes,” Alice said, “I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” She must have been a Republican. (Hatch denies Trump’s tale.)

* Reminds me of my report, as an administrative law judge, recommending against the Public Service Commission’s plan for the Shoreham nuclear power plant. The Commission (unprecedentedly) tried to stop my report being made public. But one Commissioner appended it to his dissenting opinion.

** The White House has meantime ignored the law in refusing to implement the sanctions on Russia that the Republican-controlled congress almost unanimously enacted.

** It is a perfect example of the common law crime of misprision.

Trump’s wall of caca, and DACA

January 30, 2018

First he lied that Mexico would pay for it. Now he wants $25 billion from U.S. taxpayers as a down-payment on his border wall.

The other night on TV I saw a row of different prototype wall segments. Here’s my sequence of thoughts:

While some Mexicans may try it unaided, illicit border crossing is not generally a DIY project. Most utilize “coyotes” who guide them, charging thousands of dollars. Making it a serious business. If you were in that business, how would you overcome a wall?

Forget tunneling — too big a project. But how about a cherrypicker — like power companies use to hoist up workers for tree-trimming? Could easily be modified to also lower migrants down on the other side. Of course this would be done under cover of darkness. How hard would it be? (A high-tech wall might have sensors to detect such activity; but birds would probably screw them up.)

Or how about a mini-helicopter — or simple small airplane? Flights would take only minutes; landing in the desert, and taking off again, would be a snap.

Or how about this cheap low-tech solution: a ladder. Lightweight, foldable, re-usable. How hard would that be?

That was about twelve seconds of thought. Is Trump capable of twelve consecutive seconds of thought? Will we spend $25 billion for something that can be foiled by a ladder? Or is this all just a cynical pander to his racist supporters for whom a wall is a powerful symbol — but who haven’t the brains to think of a ladder? (Itself a powerful symbol.)

DACA is the program allowing people brought here as children, unlawfully — the “dreamers” — to stay. Most are students or employed, contributing members of society. Polls show overwhelming majorities (even among Trump voters) think it would be cruel and dumb to end DACA.

In September, when Trump cancelled DACA and said he hoped Congress would restore it, I called that a lie* — the 1,578th of the 2,140 in his first presidential year (literally, according to a Washington Post compilation). Trump and the Grand Old White Folks Party are holding the dreamers as hostages. Democrats should not have played their game by linking DACA to the government shutdown. In the end they were forced to vote to end the shutdown merely in exchange for a worthless promise of DACA action, on which Trump predictably reneged. Now he offers DACA only for a further price: $25 billion for his wall, and a huge change in immigration policy, limiting family reunification only to spouses and underage children, which would ultimately cut legal immigration almost in half. This is the aim of racist Republican immigrant-haters.

These are terrible ideas; our economy actually needs more immigrants. These Trump immigration proposals should not, and never could, pass on their own. Democrats should refuse bundling them with DACA, and answer: if you’re sincere about DACA, then let’s vote on a DACA bill alone, which would pass; otherwise, DACA’s demise will be your criminal responsibility.

I believe in legislative compromise, and Heaven knows we suffer from a dearth of it. But Trump’s proposal isn’t honorable compromise, it’s extortion and blackmail. The ransom demanded for release of the dreamer hostages is way too high.

* Trump hates DACA for two reasons. First, it was Obama’s doing, and spite against Obama is a chief animus of his presidency. Second, most beneficiaries are (like Obama) brown-skinned.