Forecasts and Outcomes

Alan Zendell, August 6, 2022

When historians write about the last few years, “forecasts and outcomes” might well be the tag line. As marketing and government systems, social networks, and statisticians collected mountains of data, and computers crunched them, we experienced a massive change in the way we process information. You almost have to be a meteorologist to understand a weather forecast, dozens of software packages help investors predict stock prices, and we’re fed so much quantitative information during sports events we barely have time to watch the games.

Recently, while I was watching a baseball game on television, a ball was hit over the center fielder’s head. He took off, leapt through the air, and snagged the ball just as he hit the ground. Within seconds, my television screen informed me that the fielder had had less than an eight percent chance of catching the ball, and the route he reflexively took to intercept its path was ninety-seven percent accurate. No one even questions how they know that stuff. People seem to trust everything they read on a computer or TV screen, unless they have a vested interest in believing an election was rigged.

Mathematical forecasting models have become extremely reliable as the amount of data and computer speeds grew, but they’re far from perfect. Last week, my town’s weather forecast predicted rain every day. We never got a drop. The reasons predictions fail fall into two categories: insufficient or inaccurate data and a faulty model. When a model fails, it’s usually not the math that’s in error. Forecasting technology and data modeling have been around forever, and they’ve been vetted and tested countless times.

What goes wrong is that models become obsolete, It can happen quickly, and even when the best minds in the business sound alarms, many people ignore them because they have too much invested in the status quo. A good forecasting model has a database of many years of historical information from which to identify and model trends. If the data are good and the underlying forces that produce the outcomes we track remain constant, predictions improve over time. But if the fundamentals change, the whole basis of the model can be undermined. That’s happened, notably, with climate change. Global warming changed the way energy flows in our atmosphere, making predicted outcomes (weather forecasts) less accurate because the new conditions weren’t included in historical data.

The same is true for economic data, politics, and social trends. The emergence of a political force like Donald Trump is totally unpredictable. An economic dislocation due to a temporary shutdown of the economy because of world-wide health crisis makes accurate forecasting nearly impossible because, nothing like it exists in our historical database.

All this matters a lot right now. Economists use historical trends to predict future GDP rates, inflation, job growth, and unemployment. Even determining when our economy is in recession is based on arbitrary definitions and past trends. Political forecasters spent 2022 predicting the outcomes of the midterm elections, and it’s important, in our sound-bite culture, that we rememeber it’s our votes that control the outcome, no matter what the polls say.

No model or expert could have anticipated how moving most of our manufacturing overeas would result in broken supply chains when COVID struck. No model could have anticipated the political divisions over a president leading an insurrection that threatened the basis of our democracy. Nor could it have predicted how the actions of a reactionary Supreme Court would affect how Americans cast their votes. The result, for forecasters, is chaos.

Seven weeks ago, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline peaked at $5.016, triggering panicked forecasts that inflation would cause a catastrophe for Democrats in November, yet today, the average cost of the same gallon of gas is $4.084, down 18.6% and dropping every week. Despite predictions to the contrary, our economy added nearly a million new jobs in June and July, with modest increases in wage growth. And last week was the biggest shock of all, when Kansas, one of the reddest states in the country voted to preserve abortion rights in its state constitution.

We don’t know whether the Trump or Cheney factions of the Republican Party will dominate, or how independent voters will react in November. The Democrats’ success this week in passing the CHIPS and PACT bills, and reaching an agreement that will allow passing the Inflation Reduction Act in the Senate under reconciliation have thrown yet another monkey wrench into forecaster’s predictions. And there is still a huge unknown that could change everything. If former president Trump were to be indicted either by the state of Georgia or the Department of Justice, how would that affect the November vote count?

The truth is, no one knows. Americans need to do their own thinking for a change. Turn off your damn social media, and if you must let your favorite news channel fill your head with propaganda, at least listen to the other side and decide for yourselves what’s best for our country.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unintended Consequences

Alan Zendell, August 2, 2022

Some people plan everything they do in agonizing detail. Others, like me, play things by ear, trusting that we can adapt to changing conditions as they arise. That’s not to say we never think about outcomes – the key to surviving with minimal planning is always being aware of the worst-case possibilities and taking sufficient precautions to avoid them.

Forty-five years ago, my family took a seven-week-long road trip that required considerable negotiation between me and my wife, who is an inveterate planner. Thus, we agreed to travel off the grid, going from place to place without advance reservations, but we made exceptions, like assuring we had a place to stay at the Grand Canyon. We also tempered our free-spirited attempt to fly blind by purchasing a CB radio, which saved us from calamity – it kept the kids occupied chatting with truckers, and it saved us from disaster when we ran out of gas outside Union Gap, Washington.

One reason I avoid detailed planning is that no matter how much I prepare or how many hours of research I do before making important decisions, the events that have the greatest impact on my life are usually things I couldn’t have anticipated. Even our most carefully planned actions have unintended consequences.

When President Franklin Roosevelt, fearing that the Nazis would develop an atom bomb first, launched the Manhattan Project, he couldn’t have known that the Germans would abandon their development of the A-bomb in 1943 or that our own use of those weapons to speed the end of World War 2 would trigger the Cold War and the nuclear arms race we live with today. When a progressive-looking Congress passed the Civil Rights and Social Security Acts in the 1960s, their focus was on improving the lives of senior citizens, the poor and the disabled, and removing inequities that had existed since the days of slavery. They didn’t know those laws would trigger a new era of struggle between people who believe in equality and beneficent government, and those who put states’ and individual rights ahead of what is best for the majority of Americans.

We didn’t know that when the Supreme Court issued its initial Roe v Wade decision, it would spark a fifty-year battle among religious conservatives and the politicians who pander to them to reverse it. We didn’t realize that supporting despots like the Shah of Iran would eventually lead to today’s Ayatollahs, or partitioning Korea would lead to the nightmare of today’s North Korea. We didn’t know President Reagan’s massive increase in defense spending would ultimately bankrupt the Soviet Union, or that thirty years later Vladimir Putin’s principal ambition would be to reconstruct it.

When Donald Trump revealed that the divisions in our country were much deeper than we realized, and that the election of Barack Obama had energized the underground movements of White Supremacy and right-wing militias, we began to realize we were at the edge of a precipice. When millions of independents and centrists, upset with progressive extremism, were fooled into believing that Trump’s fantasy of autocracy, guns, and enriching billionaires would make America great, they had no idea he would try to overthrow the government and undermine our Constitution. When Trump championed the mentality that science is fake news, we didn’t know a half million Americans would unnecessarily die of COVID, or our efforts to offset the global climate crisis would be set back for a decade. And when Trump attempted to extort Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky into smearing Hunter Biden, we had no idea he was playing into Putin’s plan undermine the Ukrainian government.

All of that has contributed to the worst pandemic of pessimism in America since the Civil War. Even I, for the first time in my life have felt pessimistic about our future, but I forgot that things don’t always turn out as we fear or expect. What I thought was a dark future now looks streaked with the first rays of dawn. Trump’s base is cracking, and millions of his supporters understand how he betrayed them. The Republican Party has been forced to re-define itself, and more Americans identify as centrists and independents than ever before. I never believed Andrew Yang had a chance of founding an effective center party, but I’m changing my mind.

I never really believed Ukraine had a chance to defeat Russia, but nearly a half-year into Russia’s invasion, it’s clear that Russia has lost far more than it gained, and standing tall against aggression, autocracy, and the threat of nuclear war was the right decision. If we look further, it may turn out that the long-term impact of Putin’s obsession with Ukraine will be to force all of Europe off dependence on fossil fuels decades earlier than they would have otherwise.

Finally, there is the result of the primary election in Kansas, one of the reddest states in the country. Kansas Republicans turned out in unexpectedly huge numbers to defeat a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have outlawed all abortions. It’s never a good idea to disregard the wishes of voters, ignore the Law of Unintended Consequences, or forget that it works both ways.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Overreach

Alan Zendell, July 30, 2022

I’m not one to say I told you so, but in case you either weren’t paying attention or thought I’d made up fake numbers about why gasoline prices have spiked so much, here’s what The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had to say, yesterday. The five largest western oil companies, (make no mistake, they are all international cartels with as much power as many national governments,) reported record profits during the April-June quarter of 2022. Exxon, Chevron, and Shell reported collective profits of $46 billion during the quarter. When you add in anticipated earnings reports from BP and the French cartel, Total Energy, $74 billion in record profits will have been made in three months.

The oil companies have already indicated that most of their record earnings will be used to buy back stock from shareholders, which will greatly increase demand for shares and drive up stock prices, thus further enriching the largest shareholders. There’s nothing overtly illegal about all this, but the ethical and moral issues are mind-boggling. The windfall profits came on the backs of hundreds of millions of consumers, many of whom can barely afford to feed their families because they are captives of an industry that answers to no authority but the gods of profit. Equally repugnant is the decision to enrich shareholders rather than modernize and expand refineries that haven’t been upgraded in decades. And since reinvesting in refineries is off the table, the refineries, too are reaping record profits.

If you wonder why the oil companies get away with this kind of thing whenever there is a supply crunch on energy resources, have a look at who represents the three largest oil producing and refining states: John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; John Cronyn and Ted Cruz of Texas; and James Langford and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. All six are Republicans, and the only things they hate more than reasonable gun control measures are taxes on oil companies and anything that limits their profits. Protecting oil companies, along with pandering to evangelists, anti-abortionists, and gun nuts have been the principal planks of Republican campaign platforms since 2000.

This is really important stuff, especially as the midterm elections approach. As MAGA politics is daily shown to be what it really is, the antithesis of everything that helped make America great, and most Americans continue to suffer under a system in which the rich get richer at their expense, people are starting to wake up. And while the right-wing propaganda machine continues to paint President Biden and the Democrats as incompetent and not knowing how to lead, the team of Biden and Senate Major Leader Chuck Schumer is finally showing its mettle. Classic overreach by Republicans in their attempt to dominate the government by opposing policies and legislation that the vast majority of Americans favor is causing the tide to begin to turn back toward majority rule.

Democrats, after eighteen months of being stymied by Mitch McConnell, have finally put together a package of legislation that can protect American manufacturing of critical parts and components, like computer chips, take meaningful steps to reduce inflation, and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Let’s not give them too much credit for innovation, however – only a bunch of morons could fail to see the necessity of these measures. But Democrats have finally demonstrated that they know how to govern when the chips are down, and they are taking full advantage of popular backlash to Republican overreach.

The most glaring example is the shocking reversal of Senate Republicans who had previously voted in favor of a bill to help veterans whose health was ruined by exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Out of pure pique and spitefulness, McConnell led his caucus to reject the measure this week, leaving thousands of veterans in the lurch with debilitating and often fatal illnesses. Combined with turning a deaf ear to law enforcement agencies who decry being outgunned by criminals and homicidal lunatics, they are spitting in the faces of much of their traditional base of support.

We are at another critical crossroads in our country, as the CHIPS bill and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, approach final votes in the Senate and House with the strong support of President Biden and large majorities of American voters. It’s been well publicized that the fifty Republican Senators who control half of the Senate represent only 43% of American voters. If you support this new legislation, and you’re tired of being part of a majority being dominated by a spiteful minority, now is the time to speak up.

Since our politicians seem to care more about the next election than serving the people they represent, voters’ voices are the court of last resort.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is America Moving in the Wrong Direction?

Alan Zendell, July 27, 2022

The news and social media tell us the Democrats’ prospects in the November elections look dismal, in large part because President Biden’s approval numbers can’t rise above 40%. The pundits say the primary reason is the economy, which is likely headed for a recession due to out-of-control inflation, which is somehow Biden’s fault. Let’s look at that.

The worst, most noticeable component of inflation is gasoline prices, which, by the way, have dropped from a national average of $5.03 per gallon last month, to $4.31 this week. That’s still an outrageous number, but will the 14% drop improve Biden’s approval rating the way the huge increase triggered by Russia extorting the world energy market hurt it?

Do you know why gas prices rose so much? According to the latest available data, 53.6% of the price of gasoline is the cost of crude oil. When Russia invaded Ukraine, oil cost $91.64 per barrel. At the end of June, it was $114.84, an increase of 25.3%, which should have increased the price of gasoline by 53.6% of 25.3%, or 13.6%. The comparable average prices of gasoline at those times were $3.61 and $5.03 per gallon, an increase of 39.3%, three times what the rise in the price of oil was responsible for. Gasoline taxes didn’t change, and distribution and refining costs rose only moderately. The huge difference between gas and oil price increases resulted from windfall corporate profits and stock buybacks.

That should surprise no one. Since the Arab oil embargo, fifty years ago, the oil companies have exacerbated every supply shortage to reap windfall profits. Each time, after secreting away billions of dollars, just as Congress began questioning the sky-high price of gasoline, it mysteriously dropped, taking the wind out of any threatened investigation.

What about the price of food? Remember when the country was locked down during the first COVID outbreak, and we saw farmers lamenting that they couldn’t feed their herds or tend their crops? Remember the warnings that the prices of everything from grains to produce to beef and pork would be very low in 2020 but would skyrocket when everything had to be replenished in the following years? That’s why food prices are so high.

Then there was China, where the American giants of industry moved their industrial production to increase profits. That included computer chips, critical parts for virtually every major product sold in the United States, clothing – you name it. When China shut down, re-opened, and shut down again it took our wholesale and retail markets with it. That’s why it takes six months for a new couch, a new refrigerator, or a new car to arrive. Our supply chains were screwed. A furniture salesman at Macy’s told me they’ve had to increase prices and extend delivery delays every month in 2022 because demand is so far ahead of supply.

Why is demand so high and the price of real estate rising so fast? Because the Biden administration has performed a miracle of economic recovery in eighteen months. There have been record job growth, record decreases in unemployment, and stronger financial markets than any economist predicted; yet, the polls say two thirds of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction.

Biden’s foreign policy had a dismal start when he fulfilled Trump’s commitment to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan. The optics were terrible. The Afghan army we had invested billions training turned out to be a paper tiger, a terrible intelligence failure for the United States. A suicide bomber killing thirteen of our soldiers made the withdrawal look like an incompetent mess, despite successfully evacuating well over 100,000 military and civilians.

The buck stopped in the White House, as it should have, but since then, Biden has directed a foreign policy that was able to re-inspire confidence in American leadership around the world. NATO was re-united and strengthened, and as a result, the European Union stood firm against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Imagine a world in which Putin’s military was allowed to run rampant over his neighbors, with the threat of nuclear war growing every day.

Finally, I’d ask which president placed the interests of our country first. Exhibit A is January 6, 2021 insurrection, which was entirely orchestrated and executed by Donald Trump. Joe Biden is a president who defends democracy, believes in our Constitution, in basic decency, and in defending us against enemies who seek only domination and the spread of their autocratic forms of government.

In spite of all that I, too, believe we’re headed in the wrong direction, but I wish pollsters would start asking the question properly. Are we moving in the wrong direction because of Biden? Might it be because of our dysfunctional, obstructionist Congress? Might it be because of the MAGA crowd who believe there are never enough guns and never too few restrictions on their use? Could it be the Supreme Court, whose Trump-appointed Justices perjured themselves to secure lifetime seats that control one third of what was supposed to be the nonpolitical branch of our government and now want to move us back to when women had no rights and only heterosexual, white Americans who adhere to some distorted version of Christian values have any say in how the country functions?

Most Americans know the right answer.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s Favorite Pastime

Alan Zendell, July 17. 2022

That’s what baseball used to be called. Growing up ten blocks from Ebbets Field, I was a diehard Dodger fan until I was fourteen. That was in 1957, when the Dodgers broke the hearts of every kid in Brooklyn by moving to Los Angeles. Baseball, like all professional sports, we were told, is a business.

It’s a lesson fans have learned repeatedly since then. Each time we learn it, it’s more of a bitter pill. Sports, like politics, is driven by money. Like politicians, team owners think the fans who keep them awash in dollars will forgive and forget every time they shatter our dreams. Politicians count on voters having short memories, but team owners sometimes learn that fans who shell out big bucks for tickets and overpriced hotdogs remember when they’ve been wronged.

Faced with the prospect of becoming a Yankee fan, my adolescent brain rebelled. Instead, I awaited the arrival of the New York Mets, who rewarded me with 40 wins and 120 losses in their first season, the worst record since 1889. They’d have lost 122, but they were so far behind, they didn’t bother to make up two rained-out games.

In 1967, I moved to Maryland, but like every hopeless romantic, I stuck with the Mets. Two years later, I was really rewarded. 1969 was a magical year for a transplanted New Yorker in Maryland. The Mets beat the heavy favored Orioles in the World Series, the Knicks beat the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA finals, and the football season ended with Joe Namath leading the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.

I tried hard to be an Orioles fan, but although they were a great team, it wasn’t the same. You couldn’t even find a decent bagel in Baltimore in those days. How could the Orioles replace the Mets? Like all spurned romantics, I started over again when I moved to Seattle in 1974. It had taken half a dozen failed attempts, but in 1976, voters finally approved a bond issue to fund construction of the Kingdome, and the Seattle Mariners were born. I was in love again. The Mariners won 64 games in their first season and lost only 98, much better than the Mets had done.

Being a Mariners fan was a struggle, but I had a place to take my sons to watch baseball games. Unfortunately, when we left Seattle to return to Maryland in 1985, we hadn’t yet met the stars that Seattle came to love – Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, (who turned out to be not very lovable,) and Randy Johnson. But I worshipped from afar, staying up well past midnight to follow the Mariners from the Eastern Time Zone.

I knew the Mariners would never desert me, which made it easy to ditch the Orioles when they were sold to the hated Peter Angelos, who proceeded to trash the once-proud franchise and bring eternal suffering to its long-time fans. NFL owners were just as bad. The year before I returned to Maryland, the Baltimore Colts had sneaked out of town under cover of darkness one night, abandoning the most loyal fans in the world. But the Mariners sustained my faith, becoming a competitive team that won a record 116 games in 2001.

Washington, DC had had it’s share of disappointments, losing two teams, both called the Senators when greedy owners moved them to Minneapolis and Dallas. It was easy to relate to Washington fans’ suffering. Thus, when Montreal had to give up its team, and it moved to Washington to become the Nationals in 2005, I was instantly hooked. Would I never learn? The Miami Marlins had continued the tradition of ungrateful owners, going through cycle after cycle of building winning teams, only to sell them off the following year, dashing the hopes of their fans, because – baseball is first and foremost a business. Still, like any new lover, I was committed.

My investment skills had improved. The Nationals won 81 games their first season. The next year they acquired Ryan Zimmerman who will live in our hearts forever. The Nationals’ owners promised to always put their fans first, and they spent the next decade building a winning team. In 2019, we were rewarded with a World Series title. The Mariners struggled that year, but you can’t have everything. In 2020, COVID wreaked havoc with professional sports, but 2021 promised to be a normal season. The Nationals fielded the same aging stars that had won in 2019. They struggled, but we, their adoring fans stuck with them.

When the trading deadline arrived in July, we knew the owners would do the right thing. But then, disaster struck. It was the Miami Marlins all over again. The owners sold out, dumping all our heroes save the young star, Juan Soto. But lovable Soto couldn’t do it alone, and this season, the Nationals have been awful. By June, both the Nationals and the Mariners were sinking fast. It was the most depressing Spring in years. I’m too old for another failed love affair.

The Nationals’ owners forgot their promise to the fans, and most of us who supported them for seventeen years will never forgive them. The Washington Post reported today that they may trade Soto next month. If they do, I want the owners to know I’m done. I’ve learned my lesson. If Soto goes, it’ll be like 1957. I’ll never spend another dime enriching the greedy bastards again.

But wait! Remember those fast-sinking Mariners? They just won fourteen straight games, and they are virtually atop the American League Wildcard playoff race. Hope springs eternal. My love has been vindicated.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Politics

Alan Zendell, July 16, 2022

It’s often been said of how diplomacy works that the only thing worse is having none at all; in that event, all international disputes could erupt into armed conflicts. Every nation, including the United States postures high ideals in public while negotiating differences entirely based on pragmatism. Sometimes, pragmatism and idealism overlap, as in the case of NATO and the European Union coming together to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression – at least for now. That example illustrates the difficulty diplomacy always faces, as the self-interests of the nations united for a common purpose often conflict for entirely justifiable reasons.

A similar interplay of national interests and diplomacy was out front for the world to see this week when President Biden visited the Middle East. Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid put on an admirable and almost convincing show of unity, despite strongly disagreeing on two critical points: the American diplomatic stance on a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and when the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be justified.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia was fraught with even more important divisions, as Biden had previously criticized what he believes are the Kingdom’s human rights violations, specifically the alleged involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On the other hand, it’s clear that Biden needs the Kingdom’s cooperation in increasing the supply of oil and its support for renewing the Iran nuclear deal which even the U. S. Senate has not committed to doing. It’s much like the old saw about making sausage.

Complaints about the reality of how diplomacy works also apply to politics. Politics is a dirty, messy business that most of us hate, but where would we be without it? Current divisions in our country and the gridlock in our Congress make us wonder if politics will ever be able to resolve our internal differences. It would be naïve to assume politics will solve our problems. If that were true there would never have been a Civil War, and the differences between ultra-capitalists and progressives would not have resulted in the Great Depression.

The situation is not helped by Donald Trump and his allies who openly promote divisiveness, white supremacy, and a disingenuous brand of Christian evangelism. It is not helped by a Supreme Court that has the lost the confidence of a large majority of Americans or of extremist politicians who put their own greed and lust for power ahead of what is best for the country. It’s easy to blame Republicans for allowing Trump to dominate their party and to accuse the other fifteen 2016 presidential candidates of letting their personal self-interest prevent them from uniting against what they all knew might destroy their party and their country, but Democrats must share the blame, along with social media giants like Facebook who put their own interests ahead of responsibly managing their content. For that matter, millions of Americans who prefer swallowing whole what they read on the Internet to thinking for themselves have landed us where we are today.

Where we are today is not a pretty place. The Republican Party is waging a self-destructive civil war while Democrats seem unable to get out of their own way. The only thing that unites them is their terror of losing control of both houses of Congress next November. They posture that possibility as an existential fight for the future of the country, yet they behave no better than their opponents. They lambast Trump for raising hundreds of millions of dollars by lying to his supporters as they decry the frighteningly successful efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to stack the courts with extremist right-wing judges. But what have they done in response?

Rather than mount an effective, unified campaign to re-educate voters, they relentlessly beg for money, equally as shamelessly as Trump. They don’t realize that the fastest way to alienate their own supporters is to reward them for donating to their cause by continuously asking for more while showing no evidence that they have any idea how to use the money they raise effectively. If, like me, you have ever donated money to a Democrat running for office, you’re bombarded hourly by fundraising emails from something called DGA, which I assumed was the Democratic Governor’s Association. But there’s also a PAC called DGA, and neither group goes out of its way to disassociate itself from the other. I checked the website Open Secrets, which reports that as of three weeks ago, not a single penny was donated to any candidate running for office by the DGA PAC.

From here, it all smells like rotting fish. My advice is that if you want to support a particular candidate financially, ignore these ambiguous pleas and send your money directly to that candidate. It’s a sad fact that our politics is entirely driven by money. Make sure yours goes where you intended it to.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Elections – the Foundation of Our Democracy

Alan Zendell, July 14, 2022

Today was the final day of early primary voting in Maryland, which made me think about how fragile our democracy is. You have to be registered as either a Democrat or a Republican in Maryland to vote in a partisan primary. I would register as an Independent if that weren’t the case, but this year, since our moderate Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, is term-limited, I voted in the Democratic primary because of all the candidates from both parties, Tom Perez seems the most qualified to me.

Perhaps more to the point, the Trump wing of the Republican Party has made no secret of its intention to gerrymander and rig elections any way they can. Maryland is gerrymandered as well, but by the Democrat-dominated legislature. In the past twenty years, my county has been sliced and diced, with neighborhoods bouncing from one district to another like ping pong balls. I hate that, but at least our legislature doesn’t try to prevent people from voting and has never passed laws that would enable any partisan body to nullify votes by the opposition. That’s especially important in national elections, specifically those for president and U. S. Senators, where the counts are statewide rather than by district.

I have feared that the very real attempts to interfere with voting rights would make people think their votes mattered even less than in the past. Whether or not that’s true, it was chilling to arrive at my polling place to find a total of thirteen people present. One was campaigning outside for a state assembly candidate who was a friend of hers, eleven were election workers, and I was the thirteenth. At 9:30 in the morning, I was the only voter who was present, but that wasn’t the only disturbing thing.

I absolutely do not believe in The Big Lie. Too many responsible researchers and judges have ruled that there is little or no election fraud in this country for me to doubt that our recent elections have counted votes fairly. But I am deeply troubled by Maryland’s lack of election security which could result in a problem in coming elections, as people who care more about winning than the Constitution seem to be gaining precedence – not here, thankfully, but in a frightening number of red states. Anyone who knows my name, my street address, and the month and day (not the year) of my birth could enter any polling station and steal my vote, because Maryland does not require proof of identification. Even the poll workers I spoke to are appalled by that.

I was also troubled by the number of people who were running unopposed, which included the sheriff, my state senator, my county council person, the county prosecutor, and the clerk of the circuit court. I refuse to cast a vote for anyone who runs unopposed.

I could have voted by mail, but I missed the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot. My wife voted by mail, however, and has repeatedly chastised me for being so irresponsible. To her credit, she spent hours researching candidates; I did not, but she generously shared her findings with me. Where we disagree most is in school board elections. I have my own system based on years of experience tutoring high school students in math and physics. I vote for any candidate with an Asian surname or anyone who is an immigrant from a third world country, since they are the parents who demand the most from their own children in school.

Frivolity aside, we are all going to have to take the midterm elections seriously this year, no matter where we live. Americans have shown a dangerous tendency toward intellectual laziness in recent years, as social media platforms, especially Facebook, have been less than responsible in controlling their content. I am horrified at the number of people who believe everything they read on the internet or who swallow everything they are fed by radical fake news media at both ends of the spectrum.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of Americans died in the attempt to rid themselves of the tyranny of the English king. Ninety years later, we experienced far worse carnage as the issue of slavery tore our country apart. And a mere eighty years ago, millions of Americans gave their lives or their health and well-being to defeat the wave of fascism that was overwhelming Europe and Asia.

Until recently, most of us believed that couldn’t happen here, but you’d have to be comatose not to notice that we were wrong. Until this year, I believed that the theocracy described by Margaret Atwood in her novel A Handmaid’s Tale, in which women are reduced to virtual slaves with no rights at all, was not only fiction, but ridiculous. To my horror, I’ve changed my mind. If we don’t wake up and think for ourselves, and rid ourselves of legislators and Congress men and women who have lost sight of what America was intended to be, Atwood’s Gilead could well be our future.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Presidents

Alan Zendell, June 30, 2022

This is about two men. One has dedicated his life to serving his country. The other has dedicated his life to serving himself. If they hadn’t both been presidents of the United States, we probably wouldn’t have noticed and it wouldn’t matter. But given their responsibilities to defend our Constitution, the people they swore to govern, and the half of the world that looks to us for leadership, it matters very much.

Joseph Robinette Biden is a good man. He’s imperfect, like the rest of us, but he wears who he is proudly, with no need to pretend to be anything else, despite the fact that not hiding his flaws exposes him to charges of weakness. Weak he is not, though at 79 (he’s six months older than I am, so I understand) he doesn’t possess the energy or vitality he once had. He has lived through traumas that are unimaginable to most of us, but because of his faith and values, his problems never made him less of a man. Even in the toxic political atmosphere of today, some of his most bitter opponents, people like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, respect him and consider him a friend. People who underestimate his strength and dedication do so at their peril.

Donald John Trump is a greed- and power-driven narcissist. I know no one, even among his supporters who would describe him as a good man. Most people who have done business with him, worked for him, or loaned him money will never do so again. The list of people he has libeled, stabbed in the back, or bankrupted because they got in his way grows every day. He believes he is exempt from laws, rules, and every standard of conduct, ethics, and decent behavior. All his life, he has demonstrated that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants, no matter who he hurts or what he destroys.

When I want to be sure I’ve sized someone up properly, my gut tells me to study the people who choose him or her as a life partner. Look at who Trump’s wives were; then look at Jill Biden.

Let’s compare their records. Biden is as experienced and knowledgeable a politician as there is in this country. There are things he could have done better in his early career – trusting his speechwriter not to plagiarize and allowing Republican Senators to savage Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing as Supreme Justice being the two low points. But overall he has acted with skill and integrity and earned the respect of almost everyone he worked with, including the leaders of our allies. Apparently, he impressed Vladimir Putin as well. Why else would he have gone to such trouble to support Trump’s election twice?

Trump is a businessman who has been very successful at erecting buildings with his name on them. Beyond that, his record is abysmal. He has been sued countless times by contractors, family members, and business associates. Every major bank in North America has severed ties with him, and more than a dozen women have publicly accused him of sexual abuse, allegations he made extremely credible by his own public statements about his treatment of women. As president, everything he did was in his own interest, surely not in the interest of the half million people who died unnecessarily from the first wave of COVID; surely not in the interest of our democracy.

Trump allowed the most deadly, first wave of COVID to get out of control because he feared that letting people know the truth would hurt his chances of re-election. I know first hand that he knew a vaccine was less than a year away, and he hoped Americans would think that was worth the 500,000 deaths that resulted because he fought against quarantines, shutdowns, masks, and social distancing – at least until he caught it, and then all the stops were pulled out to save his sorry ass. Biden inherited that mess and used every resource available to the government to get hundreds of millions of doses out to the rest of us, way out front of every other nation.

Trump did everything possible to take health insurance away from more than 20 million Americans, and would have succeeded except for the conscience of John McCain. Biden has done everything possible, working against an obstructionist Senate under the control of Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema, to retain and expand health coverage to millions more Americans. Trump attempted to dismantle NATO and attacked our allies with an imbecilic trade war, whose aftereffects are part of the broken supply chains and coming food shortages we’ll face. Biden has strengthened NATO and rebuilt our relationships with our allies, just in time to prevent a complete disaster when Russia invaded Ukraine. Our NATO allies have not been shy in heaping praise on him – despite knowing that if Trump-dominated Republicans take control again, they will not be able to look to us for anything, much less leadership.

Trump, ever pandering to the evangelist wing of the Republican Party and their extremist allies, assured his three Supreme Court nominees that it was okay to lie about their intentions during their confirmation hearings. Thus, everything related to our presumed right to privacy – abortion, sexual preference, the choice of who to marry, and our right to free and fair elections, in other words, the basis of our democracy is on the verge of being destroyed by a reckless Court dominated by extremists and perjurers. Biden has expressed his outrage, but even when Trump stands trial for attempting to overthrow the government, his life-long record of destroying everything he touches will remain as his legacy. As of today, that legacy includes a decision by that same corrupted Court that will prevent the government from containing carbon emissions, because religious fanatics who reject science insisted on it.

The story is to be continued. This week Biden held NATO together almost single-handedly, making a commitment to support Ukraine to the bitter end, even if that risks provoking a madman to launch his nukes. A terrifying but absolutely correct decision Trump would never have made. Does anyone doubt he’d have traded Ukraine for a building with his name on it in Moscow?

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Supreme Court + Hypocrisy = Religious Tyranny

Alan Zendell, June 25, 2022

No one was surprised when the Supreme Court issued its ruling overturning Roe v. Wade Friday. Despite all the hand wringing and despair on the part of three-fourths of our country, we knew this was coming and the opponents of the decision had been planning their responses for weeks, perhaps since Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as a Justice. If you were surprised to learn that she and Trump’s other two nominees, Bret Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, lied about Roe during their confirmation hearings, I’d have to ask which planet you’ve been living on since Trump told us truth and facts are just irrelevant nuisances. Apparently, the three new Justices care as much about the integrity of the Court and whether Americans have confidence in it as much as Trump respects the Constitution.

But all that kind of misses the point. States whose majority populations haven’t been gerrymandered into impotent silence will pass new laws that codify a woman’s right to control her own body, and we need have no fear of the Supreme Court overturning them because the Court just told us it’s none of their business. Henceforth, abortion rights are to be determined by the states. And Democrats who were expecting to lose the House and possibly the Senate in November are now as happy as clams, as we say in Maryland, though I know no one who can tell when a clam is happy. They’re happy because nearly eighty percent of Americans are unhappy about the demise of Roe. That should be worth a couple dozen seats in Congress.

The real point is hypocrisy – of the Supreme Court, of the Evangelist movement, and of right-wing politicians in general. How many times have we heard that the United States is a Christian nation? That’s a crucial question, because the right-wing extremists, who with Mitch McConnell’s help have been stacking lower courts with judges who agree with them, would have every American live according to Christian orthodoxy, whatever that actually is.

The truth is, we’re not a Christian nation. Justice Alito, who wrote the decision killing Roe claimed that all decisions must be based on a literal reading of the Constitution. But the Constitution as it was originally drafted makes no mention of Christianity or any other religion. The First Amendment, however, guarantees every American the right to worship or not as he or she pleases. The Amendment also declares that there shall be a separation of church and state; that is, our laws shall not be governed by religious doctrine of any kind. Yet, today’s decision was clearly an attempt to set legal precedents based on the religious beliefs of the Justices and of the evangelist portion of the Republican Party. It’s pure hypocrisy.

Today’s decision is also about power. Mitch McConnell is as responsible for this travesty, this disastrously wrong reading of the Constitution as anyone. McConnell doesn’t give a damn about abortion rights or Christianity. His only interest is in power, and he’s known for decades that his key to power was pandering to the religious right. As a result, the Supreme Court now represents the tyranny of a religious minority over the vast majority of Americans.

It’s difficult to know people’s true feelings about religion. Some researchers believe that as many as seven out of every eight Americans, in the privacy of their own minds, do not believe in a supreme being or place any value in religion, though they would never admit that publicly – in other words, most people lie when asked about their religious beliefs. But even if we take them at face value, the number of people who claim to attend church services was pegged at about 47% in 2021. Assuming that number is accurate, it still tells us very little about their beliefs and practices.

As one example, how many Catholics do you know who attend church either regularly or occasionally who completely disregard church doctrine about birth control, abortion, or divorce? And what about other religions? According to the Pew Research Center, the positions on abortion of the major religions in 2016 were  (touch to expand):

I’m with the Democrats on this one. If the Court wants abortion rights to be legislated in unambiguous terms, it’s up to Democrats and everyone who believes in democracy to make their case to voters at election time. If Americans care about a woman’s right to control her own health and body, the solution is really simple. The tyranny of the Supreme Court’s decision has made it the most pressing issue of 2022, tied in its urgency with voting rights. Marching in the streets makes for nice videos on the evening news, but the way to fix this is to vote for people with their heads on straight to be state legislators and members of Congress.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Monday Night Massacre That Wasn’t

Alan Zendell, June 23, 2022

It might have happened on January 3, 2021. When Bret Kavanaugh was being vetted for his Supreme Court seat, it was widely reported that he believed Richard Nixon was improperly driven from office in 1974. Kavanaugh said Nixon should have fought on and the Supreme Court would have kept him in office. I have no idea whether that influenced Donald Trump, but given his total lack of respect for our Constitution and his frightening mixture of arrogance and ignorance, Trump didn’t need a nudge from Kavanaugh to attempt a coup.

In Nixon’s case there were a number of critical pivot points, but the “smoking gun” was the letter written by former CIA agent and Nixon campaign security chief, James McCord to Judge John Sirica. The letter blew the Watergate cover-up out of the water, but the thing that turned the tide in public opinion was the Saturday Night Massacre.

Nixon had been forced to appoint Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to run the Watergate investigation, but when Cox’s rulings placed the president in jeopardy, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckleshaus, both resigned in protest a mere ten days before Nixon’s impeachment hearing was to begin. The Saturday Night Massacre was the final nail in Nixon’s political coffin.

Thursday’s hearing by the Special House Committee to Investigate the January 6, 2021 coup attempt made it crystal clear that Donald Trump faced a similar decision on January 3rd, three days before the assault on the Capitol. His Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Deputy, Richard Donaghue, and former Assistant AG Steven Engel gave riveting testimony that Trump tried to replace Rosen with an incompetent stooge, Jeffrey Clark, whose only qualification was being willing to do anything Trump asked. If appointed, he intended to make the Justice Department a political tool of the president. As a result, Rosen, Donaghue, and Engel threatened to quit and take all of DOJ leadership with them. With Nixon’s ghost casting a shadow over the Oval Office, Trump knew a Monday Night Massacre would end his political career. Instead, he decided to overthrow the government of the United States. Because even among Trump’s supporters there were people of integrity, he failed, at least for now.

That Trump is guilty of felonies that would put you or me in prison for the rest of our lives is indisputable. And as Carl Bernstein said on CNN, Trump’s crimes were far worse than Nixon’s. Tuesday’s hearing featured sworn testimony from conservative Republican election officials in Arizona and Georgia, all of whom had supported Trump’s re-election. But when he tried to pressure and intimidate them into ignoring the will of their states’ voters, their commitment to their oaths to defend the Constitution won out. Trump’s demands, unsupported accusations, and threats were all delivered on live television or publicly monitored phone calls and social media posts. They were as blatant as his comment in 2015 that he could murder someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York and still be elected.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffelsperger, and Georgia Election Chief Gabriel Sterling made a compelling case that Trump himself was the driver of the Big Lie and the illegal attempt to overturn to 2020 election. Combined with Thursday’s testimony, a clear picture of Trump’s complicity as well as that of his lawyer Rudy Guiliani and several extremist members of the House of Representatives was drawn. If Watergate looked like a parody of The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, what can we say about Trump’s coup?

In terms of facts and constitutional law, Trump never stood a chance. But except for the courage and integrity of a number of Republican state officials and DOJ lawyers, the coup might still might have succeeded. Americans should feel like they dodged a very deadly bullet. Regardless of the political consequences, Trump must be indicted and tried for his crimes, and his Congressional collaborators must be removed from the House and take up residence in prison cells.

Adam Kinzinger, (R-IL,) who conducted Thursday’s testimony, warned that the scariest part of all this is that while the hearings may end the careers of Trump and the worst of his crew, our country is still in crisis. Trumpism is a disease, and Trump was patient zero. But it took so long to get him, the disease has taken root in a number of red state assemblies. And that doesn’t even address the chilling nature of the Trump-dominated Supreme Court, which today took us back to the days of gunfights in the OK Corral.

It’s our country, not theirs. It’s up to all of us to take it back in November, which reminds me. Kinzinger sounded very tough about continuing the fight — I hope he’s giving up his seat in the House with his sights set on something bigger, like 2024.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment