Lies

Alan Zendell, June 5, 2017

We’ve all had to deal with liars in our lives. When it’s our kids, we do everything possible to put a stop to it, because as parents, we know that one of the worst things that can happen to them is getting a reputation for not being believable. We explain to them that lying has consequences. What child has not heard the parable of the boy who cried wolf?

As adults we use honesty and truth as criteria for selecting friends, lovers, life partners. We understand that relationships are built on trust, and the foundation of trust is truth. How often have we heard someone proclaim, “Friends don’t lie to each other?” How many marriages have been broken because of lies?

We’re taught in school that cheating and plagiarizing are grounds for dismissal. What are they but specialized kinds of lying? In law perjury (lying to the court) is a serious crime. Federal law prescribes a punishment for lying that can include imprisonment for up to five years. It seems lies are pretty serious stuff, doesn’t it?

What happens when our president lies? Let’s look at the record. Lyndon Johnson told a real whopper that led to our involvement in Vietnam. His contrition over the events of the next few years resulted in one of the most remarkable mea culpas in American history as he announced that he would not run for re-election on March 31, 1968. Richard Nixon lied about Watergate, and his repeated denials of the truth cost him his presidency. Bill Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky led to the only impeachment of the twentieth century and destroyed his legacy as president. George W. Bush lied about the pretext for invading Iraq, and as it became clear, his job approval rating steadily dropped until it reached 26% during his last year in office.

In today’s world even a president cannot lie with impunity. It always catches up with him. It’s as inevitable as the sun rising.

Donald Trump has not learned that lesson. It’s understandable in a way. He’s lived his entire life valuing money more than truth, and he’s gotten away with it. His instinct for the darker side of human nature has enabled him to manipulate and bully his way through life, virtually without permanent consequences. Given his arrogance and narcissism, is it surprising that he thinks he can run the country the same way?

Ronald Reagan was known as the Teflon President, since none of the scandals in his administration ever stuck to him. That’s probably because people viewed him as honest overall, and he wasn’t above apologizing and taking responsibility for errors. He was actually very good at it. But Trump possesses neither Reagan’s integrity nor his acting skills.

What makes his lies more serious and even helps perpetuates them is that a sizable portion of his base knows that he lies and revels in the fact that he appears to get away with it. It’s part of that populist persona of thumbing his nose at Washington and daring anyone to call him on it. When he said he could shoot someone in mid-town Manhattan and still be elected, 20,000 of his most rabid supporters cheered wildly. After that, why wouldn’t he think the usual rules didn’t apply to him?

No doubt he’ll keep lying until the day his words bring him down. Consider the spectacle of repeatedly seeing and hearing him say climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. We see those videos every time we turn on our TVs. It’s not hearsay, and no one put those words in his mouth. Yet, for the last two days, his spokespeople can’t even respond to the question: “Does the president still believe climate change is a hoax?” This kind of thing has become so much a part of the way he’s viewed in general, people both in our own country and around the world are just shaking their heads.

This cannot go on indefinitely, and it won’t. Despite partisan bickering, our Senators, Representatives, Governors, and Mayors care about the values our country was founded on. They care about our role as international leader, and they care deeply about losing the respect of the rest of the world. Most of all, they know that we can’t just go our own way in a world in which our economy is inextricably tied to the those of every other major nation. When Trump’s antics start affecting jobs, our trade deficit, and our GNP, their embarrassment will evolve into rage, and his days will be numbered.

It’s tragic that our children have to witness this. My grandson asked me what I was doing as I began writing this. I said I was writing about lying, and he asked why. I told him it was because we have a president who lies all the time. He said, “You mean President Trump?”

Sadly, I said, “Yes.”

Four-year-old Nate thought it over, and said, “That’s really bad.”

It certainly is.

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Summing up the Paris Accords

Gary Zendell, June 2, 2017

Gary Zendell is a former teacher who is now running his second successful small business. He didn’t have a political bone in his body until Donald Trump announced his candidacy. I know because I raised him. If you want to see how successful his business is, check out his restaurant, IsaBella Bistro, 4015 Avati Drive, San Diego, CA 92117, http://www.isabella-sd.com/

Let me sum up Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Accords for those of you who only watch Fox News.

“It strained those sectors [coal, steel, etc] of our economy.” – Fox News

TRANSLATION – It put pressure on those sectors of our economy to innovate and evolve. If we don’t do it, then who will? We created the micro chip, we made the internet, we made the first great automobile company and the first major airplane manufacturer. All those sectors of our economy were doing okay last I checked.

“…As a result, many coal miners in places like western Pennsylvania lost their jobs.” – Fox News

TRANSLATION – “Steel Town” should be called “Natural Gas Town” now, because that’s what’s feeding their economy. See? They evolved and innovated. As a result, employee earnings are higher than those of the coal companies, the work-related death rate no longer makes where they work “the most dangerous workplace on earth”, and the environment is healing rather than further deteriorating.

“The terms of the Accords were unfair and unequal. They were more stringent for the US than China and India. In fact, China and India were both given a ‘13 year pass’” – Fox News”

TRANSLATION – –and…I’m just using common sense here. China and India are the two largest manufacturing countries in earth. They are also two of the most impoverished countries on earth, so in order to not collapse completely, they needed more time to make the transition. Or better yet, first, we, THE WORLD LEADER AND LARGEST CONSUMER ON EARTH needed to time to develop A DEMAND for alternative energy sources so China and India would have the motivation to supply them, and so they can survive by selling them to us instead of selling us the other stuff that destroys the earth.

Hey Fox and Trump, it’s called BEING SELFISH. When will you learn that we are all in this together? How can you sleep at night with your, “oh well, f–k ‘em” attitudes?

For a man that’s supposed to be a great innovator and businessman, you’d think Trump would recognize that the Paris Accords were ultimately good for business. But that’s not what Trump does. He doesn’t make money by creating viable, long term, stable, respectable things that benefit society as a whole. He puts on a show and then sucks the blood out of things.

Take the Taj Mahal (his version, not the one in India). It looks awesome and exciting and super fun, but almost everyone that walks into the casino leaves without their money feeling a little worse about the world while Trump gets richer. And have you seen the rest of Atlantic City lately? It kind of looks like Manila.

OMG. Did I really waste my time writing all of this?

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Climate Change is NOT a Hoax

Alan Zendell, May 31, 2017

The problem with stirring up a huge, angry and largely uninformed base with political rhetoric and lies is that you have to keep lying to avoid losing them. Oh, they’ll catch on eventually when it’s clear that the results they were promised will never materialize, but that’s a problem for later, and if he’s anything, President Trump is someone who focuses on the daily news cycle.

Perhaps the biggest and most dangerous lie of the 2016 election campaign was Trump’s oft-repeated claim that climate change is a hoax. We know it was a lie for several reasons. First, Trump is not a religious, anti-science creationist. Second, whatever you may think of him, he’s not stupid. But the convincing evidence is that that particular lie meshed so perfectly with Trump’s campaign of pandering to ignorance.

He knew he was lying when he promised to bring all those coal-mining jobs back to Kentucky and West Virginia. Most economists know that while coal may still have a small place in our energy future, it will never compete with natural gas for efficiency and environmental friendliness. And whatever coal we produce in the future will largely be mined by automated machinery and robots, not miners risking lung disease. Mitch McConnell understands that, yet he was one of the senators who urged Trump to perpetuate the lie.

Apparently, the economists in Trump’s White House know it too, so the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords can only mean that with Jared Kushner and his wife laying low for the moment, Steve Bannon is once again on the ascendancy. That may explain how the internal battle in the White House turned out this way, but not why Trump was willing to infuriate the other 190 signatories to the Accords, among whom are counted our closest allies. Is this just Trump doubling down on his tough-guy act? Will he never grow up?

Most of the educated world understands that this latest example of out-of-control irrational Trumpism is incredibly dangerous. Despite Trump’s dwindling hard-core support, we are not an isolationist country, and the last time I looked most Americans weren’t going out of their way to give the rest of the world the finger. They also weren’t willing to gamble their grandchildren’s future on political opportunism. They’re still not and neither am I.

Reversing decades of meager progress in attempting to slow down and mitigate the effects of climate change is criminally irresponsible. Combined with the way Trump trashed NATO in Brussels, last week, it’s certain that we will pay a heavy price both in terms of prestige and trade. Unless we the people force this to change quickly, Trump’s naivete about how the world works could haunt us for decades. The irony of that is that the people who suffer most will be the workers who lose their jobs because there is no export market for their products. When they ultimately turn on the man who did that to them, the rest of us will derive no satisfaction from seeing him go down. Not that we wouldn’t love to, but we’ll be too busy picking up the pieces and teaching our grandkids how to fasten their breathing masks.

I’ve tried not to let my anger come through on most of the posts on this blog, but I literally cannot find the words to express my fury and concern now. When Stephen Moore, the reactionary economist who has been whispering about the Paris Accords in Trump’s ear since the campaign began finally had to concede that the 43,000 jobs he predicted would return to coal-mining country would actually amount to about 1,300, all he had to say was, “That’s a lot less than 43,000” (http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/31/news/economy/trump-coal-jobs/index.html?iid=hp-toplead-dom).

This action is an outrageous kick in the teeth to the majority of Americans who understand that climate change is the greatest threat to future generations. You know all those immigrants Trump rails about who steal our jobs and want to bring down our democracy? What all those people have in common is a willingness to sacrifice their own comfort for the sake of their children. Perhaps that’s why their children continue to excel, while our own keep slipping backward relative to the rest of the world. Wake up and smell the flowers, Donald, while they’re still there to smell.

The president has the legal right to lead us down this path, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight him on it. There are enough people in Congress who see things the right way to affect this decision, but they need to hear from all of us if we expect them to act.

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Politics, Social Media, and Entropy

Joel Liebesfeld, May 31, 2017

Joel Liebesfeld is a consulting forensic engineer, and a very smart man. He spends his professional life analyzing accidents to determine their cause. Those same skills are equally applicable to politics, to people, and to life in general.

What do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have in common? This is not a trick question, but rather a reflection on a conversation that I recently had with Alan Z. The question we’d been discussing was: how is it that most of the global political arenas and in particular that of the United States, have become so convoluted?  I thought about it for a couple of days and arrived at the following.

When pondering the various scenarios that brought our political system to where it is, I focused on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the numerous pictures of Clinton holding her cell phone during various meetings, the issues surrounding her use of a private server in her home, Trump’s obsession with Twitter, and the seemingly endless White House leaks being routed through social media.  Given all that, it dawned on me that modern day politics have been bastardized by the constant tweaking that alleged secrets go through when they get passed on from one party to another. We all learned this as children when we played “telephone,” wherein a secret was whispered from ear to ear, and even when we attempted to relay the message accurately, it became totally transmuted after only a few repetitions. When information is filtered through social media, we don’t even have the presumption of the intent to transmit it accurately.

In my opinion, it’s far more likely that Clinton lost the election less because of former FBI Director Comey and his late breaking revelations, than the distortions of facts as they passed through various channels and networks while the bottom line truth remained mostly undiscovered. On the other hand, Trump has been repeatedly shooting himself in both feet by all too frequently by releasing self-destructive and unnecessary tweets that certainly do not coincide with what we expect from the President of the United States. And when his tweets continually contradict both his staff and each other, even without being massaged through the social media, the result is growing confusion and frustration.

Defining a problem is the first step in using the scientific method for research.  While considering the definition of this one, I found myself shouting, “Oh, grow-up!”  Many politicians try to convey to millennials and perhaps most of the rest of us that they are really hip or cool with their usage of modern computerized communications. I think the growing sources of streaming channels for data/information, and the data itself  has developed a life of its own. Moreover, the totality of data is accumulating at an accelerating rate to a point where clarity  and the ability to understand most political issues may be a thing of the past.

Is this a living statement of the effect of entropy? Is this what must occur as human development begins to become integrated with artificial intelligence, resulting in a condition mathematically and philosophically equivalent to chaos? I believe external actors have interfered with both Clinton and Trump, and the migration of rerouted information surrounding them corrupted the effectiveness of both major political parties and thus the American political system.

Meanwhile, the global conditions brought about by North Korea, Iran, Syria, climate change, and ISIS remain  terribly far away from solution, while internally we must still address our own healthcare crisis and growing level of home grown poverty, to name just a few.

Of course, over the long run, entropy always wins. But in the short term concerted effort can allow us to regain control, and that is essential if we are to focus on our real problems. Does anyone remember the outbreak of Ebola?  Think about it.

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Gerrymandering and the “Efficiency Gap”

Alan Zendell, May 29, 2017

National polls have long shown that voters decry Congressional gridlock and ultra-partisanship. Arguably, they were a major part of the general displeasure with Washington which fueled the populist uprising that drove the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Candidates talked about forcing Congress to reach across the aisle to get things done, but that was just a pipe dream. None of the campaign bombast offered any suggestions about how to fix the problem. That’s because the only way to fix it is to place limits on gerrymandering. It would be nice to eliminate it entirely, but that’s an even more unrealistic fantasy.

The Supreme Court has already acknowledged that gerrymandering is a serious problem. Recently, they overruled the way North Carolina drew its Congressional boundaries, finding that they discriminated based on race. That’s an important precedent, but the larger problem in terms of overall numbers is arranging districts lines to favor one political party over another.

The Court will be looking at this issue in the near future. They have already stated that when it can be shown that drawing Congressional lines based on partisanship is extreme, it is unconstitutional, but no one has been able to propose a quantitative method for determining what crosses the line.

It’s one of a class of interesting problems that are always thorns in the sides of mathematicians and statisticians. Anyone can see just by looking at a map that the lines are unreasonable. Some districts are so skewed and misshapen they are a constant source of jokes, but intuitively knowing that something is wrong doesn’t mean the problem has an obvious solution, as any student of geometry can attest. Statistics is rife with problems whose solutions defy intuition.

Most observers accept that gerrymandering will never be entirely eliminated, but it may be possible to develop standards and methods that determine when excesses become illegal. A possible solution is discussed in https://newrepublic.com/article/118534/gerrymandering-efficiency-gap-better-way-measure-gerrymandering, which addresses the concept of partisan symmetry that was raised by Justice Stevens in a 2006 case. As co-author Nicholas Stephanopoulos explained, partisan symmetry requires that partisan votes translate into seats with equal efficiency, and several justices suggested that this approach might find a favorable reaction from the Court in the future.

The article referenced above discusses such an approach based on measuring a concept called the “efficiency gap”. It’s an interesting notion that counts wasted votes; that is, votes in excess of what the winning candidate needed for victory as well as every vote cast for the loser. The idea is that gerrymandering attempts to minimize the wasted votes of the winner while maximizing those of the loser. The question is whether a test can be developed to define when that practice is so extreme, it becomes unconstitutional.

The efficiency gap measures the difference between votes wasted because of packing (creating unnecessarily large majorities) and cracking (causing too many votes to be wasted by losers). The ideal would be “a state with perfect partisan symmetry, [in which] both parties would have the same number of wasted votes.” Stephanopoulos says the efficiency gap represents the winning party’s “undeserved seat share.” It sounds simple and fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The authors studied elections from 1972 to 2012, finding that the efficiency gap peaked in 2012, and that in seven large states it resulted in an unfair swing of more than two legislative seats, and every one of those seats favored the Republican Party. They went on to propose (somewhat arbitrarily) that a reasonable standard for determining when gerrymandering is extreme enough to be unconstitutional is when it produces two or more undeserved seats, and further, that the system in place is “unlikely to fade away” given plausible assumptions concerning future vote swings. Their hope is that lower courts would find this test consistent with the comments made by the Justices in 2006, which would make it easier for the high court to agree.

Could this happen in any of the upcoming cases on the Court’s agenda? It’s impossible to predict. There is always a debate between those who favor a strict interpretation of the Constitution and rulings that appear to adapt the words of the Constitution to address issues not foreseen by the founders. Given the role gerrymandering has played in causing our government to become dysfunctional, and the likely importance of next year’s congressional election, the debate ought to be interesting.

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Ryan Needs to Show What He’s Made Of

Alan Zendell, May 26, 2017

Were I to write to House Speaker Paul Ryan, I could say everything I needed to in three words: “Grow a pair!”

But that wouldn’t be nice, and more to the point he might not get it. I used to have a lot of respect for the Speaker. Ask me two years ago, and I’d have said I disagreed with his conservative philosophy but I respected his integrity and intelligence. I’ve watched him closely as Donald Trump’s domination of the Republican became complete. I now wonder if I was wrong on both counts.

The Greg Gianforte incident will ultimately help me decide. Give Ryan credit for speaking out more directly than his Republican colleagues before the votes were counted in Montana. He said there was no circumstance under which violence by a politician against a reporter was acceptable and insisted that Gianforte apologize. That got my attention. It wasn’t the condemnation I wanted to hear, and it stopped short of suggesting that he wasn’t fit to be in Congress, but it leaned in the right direction.

Gianforte won the contested House seat, possibly because seventy percent of the votes had been cast by mail before the incident, and only after he won did he apologize. I listened carefully to the apology. He said he’d made a mistake and regretted an action he couldn’t take back, but he didn’t actually admit assaulting the reporter. That tells me the only thing sincere about the apology was Gianforte’s concern about his upcoming date in criminal court. An explicit public confession probably wouldn’t have impressed the judge much.

Ryan was faced with a dilemma. Would he stand his ground about the assault or would the so-called apology buy Gianforte a pass from the Speaker? Ryan decided, now that the election was over, to welcome Gianforte to the Republican caucus, and even went so far as to say he would bring a fresh approach that would be an asset. Fresh approach? Is Ryan planning hand-to-hand combat with the Democrats?

I think Ryan totally missed the point. The court hasn’t ruled yet, but Gianforte appears guiltier than O. J. Simpson did the day after the crime, and in this case there were several million witnesses. It’s hard to imagine the judge giving him a pass. What if he’s convicted and required to serve time in jail? What will Ryan do then? Perhaps a better question is what would the Speaker do if a sitting member of the House was convicted of assaulting a reporter honestly doing his job?

One might argue that misdemeanor assault isn’t a major crime, not as serious an offense, for example, as sexting with a minor. If the Member served his time, apologized, and behaved properly afterward, should all be forgiven? That would be the Christian thing to do, wouldn’t it? Except that that argument, too, completely misses the point.

Hillary Clinton gets it. In her commencement address at Wellesley College, she reminded everyone that condoning violence against the press in any form has always proved disastrous in the past, a sure step toward the destruction of democracy, and I think she got it exactly right. Given the president’s attempts to discredit the press and the rising tide of aggressively suppressing honest journalists attempting to do the job of keeping the American public informed, Gianforte’s actions take on far more significance than a typical, garden variety misdemeanor. It’s the stuff from which authoritarians have been built all through recorded history. It’s a blatant threat to our Constitution and Paul Ryan, who calls himself a defender of our founding documents needs to say so out loud.

So Mr. Speaker, I hate to be crude, but when the time comes, you need to censure Representative Gianforte and strongly urge him to resign his seat so the people of his district can vote with their eyes fully open. You really need to grow a pair and do the right thing.

 

 

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Listen Up, Rust Belt

Alan Zendell, May 23, 2017

Of all the constituencies that made up Donald Trump’s base, the one I found most perplexing was the so-called white working class Rust Belt. While at some level I couldn’t imagine why any woman would have voted for Trump after he bragged about his lack of respect for them publicly, Hillary Clinton’s lack of appeal to women wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

But the Rust Belt? It still makes no sense to me. Donald Trump should have been anathema to the stereotypical hard hat workers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, regardless of Clinton inexplicably taking them for granted and virtually ignoring them. Trump has never supported working people or labor unions and has an abysmal record treating his own employees. And his sudden anger over free trade agreements doesn’t square either with his previous positions or his vaunted international business deals. For all the talk about stopping corporations from shipping jobs overseas, check the labels on the products marketed under his name.

In spite of all that, those understandably disgruntled workers who felt left behind by the sluggishly improving economy bought into all of candidate Trump’s promises. You  remember – quality affordable health care for everyone, tax cuts for working class Americans, and oh yes – jobs, jobs, jobs. He repeated that last one in Saudi Arabia last Saturday, after inking a $110 billion arms deal, but an economic analyst on CBS’ Face the Nation said the number of new American jobs attributable to that deal amounted to forty five (45) while it was expected to create at least five hundred (500) jobs in Saudi Arabia. Were you listening, Rust Belt?

He talked about draining the swamp, but look at the mess he’s made of Washington so far. Rather than rid the capital of influence peddlers, he tried his hand at doing some peddling of his own, inappropriately attempting to get at least three high-ranking officials to quit trying to find evidence that his people collaborated with the Russians. And this week, while he was basking in the love showered on him by the Saudi royal family and the Prime Minister of Israel, his staff gave us a peek at his proposed budget.

Pay attention, Rust Belt, I’ll keep it simple. The budget cuts nearly a trillion dollars (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from Medicaid and food stamps while placing the burden for funding increases in those programs squarely on the shoulders of the states. In addition he’s giving the states sweeping authority to cut benefits further at their own discretion, which may be the only alternative to large increases in state taxes. Combined with the administration’s plans for health care, which with the new cuts in Medicaid could leave an additional 30 million people without coverage, try to picture how this will affect people who have lost their jobs and employer-related health insurance. The huge cuts all reduce the safety nets that are in place to protect their families from disaster.

And if that’s not bad enough, they want to slash Social Security SSI subsistence and health care benefits for the disabled. That means your brothers and sisters who were hurt on the job and exhausted their workers compensation benefits, your parents who were paralyzed in accidents, disabled veterans, severely retarded and learning-disabled children – I could go on, but you get it. Suffice to say that the cuts in all the programs designed to support Americans most in need total over $1.3 trillion.

And for those of you with families who are struggling to get by hoping for one of those promised jobs, consider the huge proposed cuts in public education. Education Secretary Betsy Devos brags that this will be largest change in education choices in our history, unless you don’t happen to have the discretionary income to pull your kids out of public school. And remember Meals on Wheels? You may have to say goodbye to them, too.

Trump’s tax proposal includes huge benefits for the wealthy. The reduction in the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6% to 35% (a $4,600,000 tax cut on every $100 million of reported income) explains why they need to slash over a trillion dollars from programs the poorest Americans depend on. The tax plan includes eliminating the estate tax, which compared to current law, would benefit only estates valued at more than $5,000,000, killing the tax on investment income, and removing the Alternative Minimum Tax. Guess what all those changes have in common and who would benefit most from them?

As for middle income Americans, the administration wants to eliminate most itemized deductions, which for you means your real estate taxes and your state and local income taxes, that are all likely to rise as federal welfare and Medicaid funding dry up. And where are all those jobs Trump promised? Have you heard a whisper about that $3 trillion infrastructure bill? You’re not likely to any time soon.

But the budget proposal does keep one promise. It asks for $1.5 billion to pay for the border wall, just what workers in the Rust Belt need to keep their families safe.

So please, pay attention. The Trump budget and tax proposals can be summed up in a single word: BETRAYAL.

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