A Man and his Kingdom

November 22, 2020

by Steve Stofka

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Richard III offers his kingdom for a horse after his is struck down in battle. Mr. Trump echoes the reverse sentiment, bargaining and plotting to retain his kingdom.  

The White House has archived a Heritage Foundation sampling of election fraud (Heritage Foundation, n.d.) Most of them are for local and state elections because fraud has some degree of potency in smaller elections. In a Presidential race, an attempt at fraud is like pouring a cup of water in a lake. Some of the cases are sad. A son is convicted for submitting a ballot for his mother who has just died. Some vote twice in an election even after being warned not to by election officials. Some cheat to get their friend or their boss elected to city council.

Conspiracy theorists claim that this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” they claim. Christians explained that objects fell to the ground because angels pushed them. They used the same reasoning, evidence of absence, to counter Newton’s claim that it was a force called gravity. Newton’s theory was more predictive, but I dare anyone to show me that angels are not making things fall to the ground.

Why won’t President Trump concede the election? Trump’s efforts have been dismissed by courts, including one state Supreme Court. Some on the right point to the 2000 election and the lawsuits brought by Democrats in the Florida count as a justification for Trump. The 2000 Presidential election was decided by 537 votes out of 6 million in the state. That is a small probability multiplied by the small probability that such a result would matter in the Electoral College. Perhaps 2 in a 1,000,000; it had never happened before in U.S. history. The probabilities indicate that it has never happened before in human history. Are Mr. Trump’s election numbers as close as the 2000 election? Hardly.

Katherine Harris, Florida’s Secretary of State, may have committed fraud in the 2000 election; it makes sense to risk fraud when the vote difference is that narrow. A difference of 10,000 votes – the smallest difference in any of the states that Trump is contesting – is not narrow.

Mr. Trump claims fraud before every contest. When he picked one wrestler in the 1988 WBF wrestling championship that he sponsored, he claimed that the other side was cheating. His guy won despite the cheating. Huzzah! He is a promoter. If accusations of cheating arouse the crowd, let’s do it.

After the 2008 election, Mr. Trump led the “birther” movement, claiming that Mr. Obama had cheated because he was not born in the U.S. Before – not after – the 2016 face off with Ms. Clinton in 2016, he claimed that Democrats were stealing the election (Zeitz, 2016). What works in wrestling works in elections, doesn’t it? Get the crowd’s attention. Play to the 5-year old in each of us.

Supporters of Mr. Trump point to the 1960 Presidential election as evidence for fraud. JFK (this is the anniversary of his assassination) won Illinois’ electoral votes by a slim margin of almost 9,000 votes in Cook County, where the mayor was a supporter of JFK and a family friend (Zeitz, 2016). Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence.

Did Nixon throw the 1968 election? Just before the election, President Johnson called a halt to bombing in South Vietnam to give Vice-President and candidate Humphrey a boost in the polls. The Nixon campaign countered by promising a better deal to the other side if Nixon was elected. Aiding and abetting a foreign enemy? (Kilgore, 2018).

To distinguish this from election fraud, let’s call it election rigging; a campaign conducts a strategy which will help win them the election without altering votes per se. The Watergate scandal in advance of the 1972 election was an attempt by the Nixon campaign to get intel on the other side’s campaign. If Nixon had admitted to it early on, the press might have made a big brouhaha for a few months and it would have blown over. The public might have regarded it as corporate espionage – an attempt to discover the competition’s secrets. Nixon kept it within the American family.

That was not the case in the 1980 election; like the 1968 Nixon campaign, the Reagan campaign sought help from a foreign power, Iran. The Carter Administration had negotiated through Algiers a release of American hostages who had been in captivity for a year. The Reagan camp promised better terms to Iran if they would delay the release of American hostages until after the 1980 election and the swearing in of Ronald Reagan. The drawn-out hostage crisis was one of several key events that cost President Carter re-election, and Reagan handily defeated Carter. Iran released the hostages the day that Reagan took the Presidential oath (U.S. Dept. of State, n.d.). Americans spent an additional 90 days in prison so that Reagan could win an election. Election strategy, not election fraud.

Voting is essential to a democracy. So is free speech. Unless one can control speech as they do in Russia and China, the best offense is to add more speech to dilute authentic opinion. When Mr. Trump claims that more “illegal” votes were added to dilute the votes of true American opinion, he is taking a page out of the playbook that the KGB and Communist Party use.

He has cozied up to Vladimir Putin, to Kim Jong-un, and Xi Jinping, all Communist dictatorships. That is the America that Mr. Trump wants – a private kingdom of his own just like those guys have. He is jealous of their power and their control of the media. He wants his own kingdom for just four more years. How many Republicans will help him achieve his dream?

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Heritage Foundation. (n.d.). A Sampling of Election Fraud Cases from Across the Country. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/docs/pacei-voterfraudcases.pdf. (Notice that this report by a private foundation has been archived at the White House).

Kilgore, E. (2018, October 16). The Ghosts of the ’68 Election Still Haunt Our Politics. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/1968-election-won-by-nixon-still-haunts-our-politics.html

U.S. Dept. of State. (n.d.). An End to the Crisis. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/short-history/hostageend

Zeitz, J. (2016, October 27). Worried About a Rigged Election? Here’s One Way to Handle It. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/10/donald-trump-2016-rigged-nixon-kennedy-1960-214395

The Armies of the River

November 15, 2020

by Steve Stofka

This is a story about two armies camped on either side of a river running down the center of your screen – and this nation. On the right side are the Conservatives, and further away from the river, toward the right edge are the Regressives. These radicals of the right include the Tea Party and Christian Evangelicals. On the left side of the river sit the Liberals, and further toward the left edge the Progressives. I hear tell that there are a few Socialists in that bunch. While the Conservatives and Liberals fight each other for control of the river, they must tangle with their more extreme brethren on each side.

Both the Regressives and Progressives are convinced that they should have control of the river, but first they must take the shore position from the Conservatives and Liberals. To do that they have to pull the Conservatives and Liberals away from the river, away from the political center.

I’ll begin with the Regressives, who believe that the way forward is a return to an idealized past. They hearken back to the Constitution, written at a time when less than a few thousand people, the legislatures of each state, voted. In a room with 1000 people, one person got to make all the rules. America was founded on aristocratic, not democratic principles.

The popular vote for President was not tallied until 1824 when some states began to allow popular voting for President. 1.2% of the country’s population voted in that election. These were white males who owned property. Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral vote but did not win a majority of electoral votes. The winner, John Quincy Adams, was decided by the House of Representatives. Andrew Jackson championed a loosening of voting restrictions to allow white landless men to vote. That got him enough votes in the mid-Atlantic and southern states to win the next two elections. Such is the course of voting rights.

Christian Evangelicals are strongly regressive as they look to the past and future. Again, I caution that these are broad strokes I am painting here. They profess or imply a belief in the saved and the not saved, a Calvinist theme that has influenced Protestant belief since John Calvin in the 16th century. Jesus Saves is a restatement of that Calvinist theme.

The saved vote Republican. Mr. Trump is not one of the saved but offered the saved a way to grab an advantageous position nearer to the river and control the political agenda. Some of the saved believe he is the flawed messenger of God.

Some Evangelicals think that professing their faith is living their faith. They wear their faith on their sleeves, not in their hearts. A fundamentalist Christian preacher cheered the Trump hotel near the White House as the Grand Central of angelic spirit. The faithful are encouraged to patronize the hotel to support the President. It’s harder to hear the stronger and moderate voices of those who live their faith as a profession of their faith. It is they that the loud voiced Evangelicals on the fringe want to unseat.

The representatives of foreign conglomerates patronize the Trump hotel on visits to Washington to promote their country’s interest. “First Tuesdays” at the hotel bring in $1000 donations to various political campaigns. Meeting planners for the gun association get preferential rates at the hotel. Long ago in the 1990s, Republicans raised their voices in outrage when President Clinton allowed influential donors to sleep a night in the White House. Many of those Republicans were pushed into the river by the Tea Party and Evangelicals who were intent on winning control of the party’s agenda.

As many Republicans saw it, Democrats – and the Mainstream Media – punished Mr. Trump for winning the 2016 election. Former President Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton and the FBI and the deep state conspired to get her elected. Their plans were foiled by the Constitutional machinations of the electoral college.

Here is a Christian Regressive interpretation of the Electoral College. It was created by the Constitutional Convention which was inspired by God himself. They can see God’s hand in Mr. Trump’s 2016 win. Some, including Trump himself, are convinced that he won the popular vote as well. In a black and white world, the facts must line up. If they don’t, change the facts.

God’s inspiration created the Constitution; this implies that God approved slavery, of course, and there in the Bible we can see support for slavery. In the black and white, saved or not saved, conceptual framework of Christian Regressive thinking, slaves became slaves because they were not saved. None of the saved become slaves. A slave may become saved but the saved do not become slaves.

The Progressives think in several colors but share a fundamental belief in change, but not gradual change. They are an experimental bunch, willing to try policies that will affect over 300 million Americans. If it doesn’t work out, they believe that the country can flip a switch and try something else. They dream of a fairer world; they disagree on the path to get there. They interpret the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause to mean that the government’s job is to take care of us; that the sum of each’s welfare is the general welfare.

Let’s ask a question, “If your proposed program were failing, what signs could I look for?” What is the answer? The proposal will work because Progressives are confident that they will. They tug at the centrists who believe in gradual change; Progressives cannot get to their vision quickly enough. Despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, they believe that human nature can change quickly. Legislative change is too slow; frustrated with the legislative process, both the Progressives and Regressives look to the courts to enact their visions and beliefs.

From the fringes of conspiracy believers and devotees of the anarchy that will bring on the promised Apocalypse, Donald Trump has torn open the Republican Party in a rush to command the river. To accomplish that, he relied on the Republican fealty to party, not person. The hordes that follow him are convinced that he will bring a return of traditional American values to this country. How his untraditional and vulgar personality and lifestyle will accomplish that is a mystery to many. Most of the moderates in the party have been brushed aside or are quietly acquiescing to his influence. Only those legislators who are retiring dare speak their true opinion of the man for fear of reprisal.

Is there a person from the utopian fringes in the Progressive wing that could tear open the center of the Democratic Party? Bernie Sanders tried and lost – twice. He, Andrew Yang and AOC are candidates for the role, but they are intelligent, devoted to their principles and vision more than they are to themselves. The successful candidate will be someone like Mr. Trump whose loyalty is to himself, who has little analytical intelligence but lots of people smarts.

For much of the last century, only the Democrats have had a strong enough legislative coalition to bend the course of the river. They did so during the Great Depression and again in the 1960s with the programs of the Great Society, Medicare, and Medicaid among them. In each of the past Presidential elections, Republican candidates struggle to capture 50% of the vote. They have not held a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for more than a hundred years. The changing demographics of the country are threatening to consign them to a minority in the Federal power structure. If they are to bend the river, they must do it with a smash and grab person like Mr. Trump.

Mary Trump made a remark about her uncle that has stuck with me. “Don’t look away.” It’s the kind of caution a park ranger might give someone when encountering a wild animal. He is prowling on the bank of the river. Don’t look away.

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Photo by Gláuber Sampaio on Unsplash

What’s In the Mirror

November 8, 2020

by Steve Stofka

Every hour of the day, Mr. Trump issues a barrage of tweets about massive voter fraud. No evidence. He began his four-year term with the ridiculous claim that he had larger inauguration crowds than former President Obama. The overhead photos clearly showed that not to be the case. He claimed the photos were doctored.

Some families are unfortunate to have a crazy uncle that no one wants to invite for Thanksgiving. Mr. Trump is our crazy uncle President. Chris Christie, his former campaign and transition manager in 2016, has challenged the President to show the evidence.  There is none. There are a few isolated irregularities as always but no evidence of massive voter fraud.

I grew up a few miles from our wonder boy President. In our neighborhood, his whining and sniveling would have earned him a “put on your big boy pants, peckerhead.” He never had big boy pants, because his daddy kept him in diapers, buying him whatever he wanted, covering up for his stupidity and recklessness. 

Where I grew up you learned to fight your own battles. Our daddies didn’t coddle us. We didn’t have an army of lawyers to protect us, or doctors to get us out of the draft. We didn’t have the money to buy women. We had to earn our own way.

During the Cold War years, Americans trained their paranoia on the Communists. They were everywhere in America. At mid-century, people lost their jobs and had their careers cut short in a Republican witch hunt to rout out the Communists. Whenever Republicans want to rouse up their base, they complain of Socialists and Communists trying to take over the country. From the 20th Century playbook the older people are passing on their hate and paranoia to their kids who will carry on the tradition through this century.

Our culture thrives on conflict, and our media and politics profits from turbulence. Like our judicial system, we have an adversarial political system. Competition rather than cooperation is the default strategy. Both sides of an issue try to obscure rather than clarify issues. Our conflicts become our entertainment.

During the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861, congressmen and wealthy families from Washington picnicked at an observation point while young men slaughtered each other. They didn’t have TV then. Their picnic turned to panic when they were caught in the rout and retreat of Union soldiers.

America is a congregation of the world’s refugees. Persecuted or disadvantaged in their home country, many of our ancestors came to America to create a space for themselves. They brought their hopes and their hatreds. The first civil war was the American Revolution, when thousands of colonial citizens fled to Canada to avoid death at the hands of their countrymen.

In the 19th century immigrants from other European nations came streaming in through the ports and borders of America. Thousands of Irish farmers fled during the potato famine in their country at the mid-century. Chinese workers helped build the railroads during and after the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, in 1882, they became the first nationality to be excluded.

Expanding industrial businesses in America needed workers at dirt cheap wages. America opened the door to Europeans from north and south. They carried with them their hopes of a better life and decades or centuries of prejudices they had been taught since childhood.

One of those was a German young man fleeing obligatory military service. He was Donald Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump (Frost, 2018). His son and grandson, our President, would disavow their German heritage in later years. Like his grandfather, Donald Trump evaded military service when his daddy paid a doctor to falsify medical records. Some traditions are important in the Trump family.

After World War I, America closed its borders to all but a few European nations. Antipathy to Germans ran high after the war. Returning servicemen still clung to their belief that the only good German was a dead German. Still, the nation was not among the excluded countries in the immigration act of 1924.

In 1965, a new immigration act reopened borders; now refugees from Asia and Latin American countries came to America. Like the Europeans, they brought their peculiar prejudices and a centuries long history of slaughter and civil war.

This country is founded on hope, prejudice, and tolerance. People of other nations have despised their neighbors because of religion, culture, ancestry, and history. America is the melting pot of that ugliness brought here by people from around the world. The torch held aloft at the top of the Statue of Liberty burns bright with the starshine of our ideals and the burnt cinders of our hatreds. People in other countries look to America and the millions of guns stashed in homes throughout our country; they wonder how is anyone still alive in America? If we can tolerate each other, there is hope for the rest of the world.

We are a tolerant people, civilized savages in a nation of laws. We go to church on Sunday and throw rocks at 6-year old Ruby Bridges, a black girl walking to school (Hilbert College, n.d.). That was sixty years ago this coming week. We pour out our sympathies and open our pocketbooks to help those whose lives have been torn apart by disasters around the world. We swear on our bibles, then tuck them away, pick up our torches and light Vietnamese children on fire. Love, charity and the darkness within.

Mr. Trump tapped into the power of our hatred and will continue to be a force in American politics. With millions of Americans following his Twitter feed, he delights in the conspiracies that feed the flames of righteous anger and justified hatred. As Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us.  

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Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

Frost, N. (2018, July 13). The Trump Family’s Immigrant Story. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/donald-trump-father-mother-ancestry

Hilbert College. (n.d.). Social Justice Activists: Ruby Bridges. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://www.hilbert.edu/social-justice-activists/ruby-bridges

Connect America

November 1, 2020

by Steve Stofka

Listening to a talk show “Rambling with Gambling” when I was a kid, I was surprised to learn that city people – that was my family – paid for a small part of the telephone service that country people had. Why was this? I asked my mom. She explained that it cost the telephone company less to supply service to city folks. We helped the country folks, so they did not have to pay such high rates.

Well, what do they do for us, I asked? She thought for a moment. We spend less on milk, she said. No matter what the weather is, the farmers must wake up early every morning to milk the cows so that we can have fresh milk every day. If they were to charge for all that extra effort, we would pay a lot more for our milk. The dairy farmers help pay for our milk and we help pay for their telephone service, she explained.

Community was an interconnected web of people sharing their advantages and disadvantages so that everyone’s circumstances were a little more equal. If a classmate did not understand fractions and we did, we should help them. We shouldn’t call them stupid.

Everyone’s brain is wired a little bit differently. Some ideas “take” easier in one person’s brain than another. It’s like a telephone circuit. A teacher might show a math idea and it goes in one kid’s brain, easily makes all the right connections, and finds a permanent place. In another person’s brain, that idea loses the connection or gets a busy signal, and the idea doesn’t take hold the first time. That person might need to be shown the idea in a different way. That’s why some people have a knack for certain professions.

Well, I always get it the first time, I said. Well, no you don’t, my mother said. When we “get” something, it seems new so we think that this must be the first time we’ve heard it. Then we get impatient when we must show something more than once to someone else.

I can look back with amusement at the simplistic view of humanity that I had as a child, but I want to believe that there is a sense of cooperation, tolerance, and rationality in people.

In Donald Trump’s America, there is less of that. Cooperation is composed of temporary transactional alliances with others in a battle with our neighbors. Tolerance is weakness. Rationality makes one’s actions predictable to the enemy. Donald Trump justifies his irrational, flip-flop style of decision making as gamesmanship. Rationality makes law and order possible. Without it, despotism rules.

I heard a BBC reporter describe Donald Trump’s style of politics as “pugilistic.” I would call it demeaning, and a danger to democracy. Those with experience and rational planning have left the administration. They include Jim Mattis, who has devoted his life to national service and shares a belief in the American ideal and America’s leadership role in the global community. He could not be party to Donald Trump’s trampling on the Constitution and the ideals embodied in the American flag.

Cooperation, tolerance, and rationality are ideas that find a permanent home in the minds of some more easily than others. At 74, Donald Trump is unlikely to make the new neural connections that nurture those ideas. He loses his train of thought more frequently, so he prefers rallies where his words are written out for him on a teleprompter. After an impromptu jab at his political enemies, he can recover his sense of continuity. When he doesn’t have cue cards, he relies on favorite phrases and superlatives to convey the sense that he remembers what he is talking about.

Donald Trump may fancy himself as an innovative disruptor, but he is little more than an angry child, an anarchist who rips all the wires out of the switchboard. A hundred years ago, the telephone connected Americans. Almost thirty years ago, the internet connected the global community. We need a President who can connect and implement the ideas of cooperation, tolerance, and rationality that have distinguished America. Joe Biden’s Presidency can be the switchboard that Connects America.

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Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

Not So Free Speech

October 25, 2020

By Steve Stofka

In doing some research on lobbying for an Environmental Economics class, I learned that the environment is the third area of concern after money and health (CFRP: Top Issues, n.d.). Lobbying is a tug of war, a battle of interests. It is a messy but essential component of a democratic society with a guarantee of free speech. Affected businesses complain that they are overburdened. Environmental groups complain that progress is too slow. Elected representatives depend on the controversy for campaign contributions.

Would we achieve more effective solutions if we abandoned lobbying, free speech, democracy and appointed a king? Yes, but for how long? We hope to make decisions today that have a positive impact on our children and grandchildren. That task is made more difficult when we are constrained by legislation and judicial precedent crafted by past generations with different concerns.

There is a conflict of interests not only between the regulators and regulated, but within each of those parties. Agency employees may be loyal to their agency more than the law, to their own careers, job satisfaction or ideology. Political appointees who head an agency may have an opposite philosophy to the career employees who work at the agency. Mr. Trump has a habit of putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.

The regulated include businesses who put the immediate interests of their executives above the long-term interests of either their customers or their stockholders if company practices incur long-term environmental liabilities.

Legislators reach consensus by using vague language then delegate its interpretation to an executive agency and the courts. The U.S. has adopted a judicial model of regulation which encourages both sides to obscure rather than clarify the underlying issues. This process tends to exaggerate the differences over scientific and economic issues rather than generate a consensus position that the agency can accept as reliable. The deliberate vagueness of the law’s text refutes the claim of some Supreme Court justices that they can reach an objective interpretation of a law by using a “textualist” approach.

The drafting of agency regulations invites lobbying. Rules may be published in obscure bulletins where they get the attention not of the general public but lobbyists, private industry affected by the regulations and environmental groups targeted toward those issues.

In every year, the pharmaceutical industry outspends all other industry groups by a large margin. Included in the price for prescription drugs that you and I pay is a lobbying fee so that the pharmaceutical industry can protect the profits they make from their customers.

In 2018, the oil and gas industry alone spent $125M tax deductible dollars lobbying Congress on various issues (CFRP:Industries, n.d) That same year, two of the top environmental groups, the National Resource Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, collected almost $400M (Charity Navigator, n.d.), most of which was not deductible by ordinary folks after changes in the 2017 tax law. Some economists have suggested that lobbying expenses be excluded as business deductions. The government has an obligation to respect free speech; it does not have to subsidize that speech.

Lobbying for the development of alternative energy sources has not only increased their share of energy but focused attention and investment on cleaner sources of carbon-based fuels for power plants. Long resistant to wind and solar power, Texans have adopted wind turbines with enthusiasm. Drill, baby, drill, and set the foundations for those turbines. Attitudes can change.

Many clamor for a property right when there is money to be made but want no responsibility when a mess must be cleaned up. Under an 1872 mining law, the government still leases mining claims for 19th century prices. After the land had been dug up and desecrated by leaching fields, owners of smaller mines claimed bankruptcy and abandoned the properties. Mining locations are included in Superfund sites, toxic areas that are expensive to restore. To this day, large mining companies like BHP and Anglo-American lobby Congress for legislation that will reduce their long-term liability for site restoration.

In this country, private companies and individuals direct much of the production and resource use. Lobbying is ineffective but essential in a democracy. It works to the good, for the bad, and yes, it is ugly.

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Notes:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Center for Responsive Politics (CFRP). (n.d.). Top Issues. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/top-issues?cycle=2018 The top three environmental issues had a combined number of 3419 Lobbyists: Energy & Superfund – 1571, Natural Resources – 1068, Clean Air and Water – 780.

Center for Responsive Politics (CFRP). (n.d.). Industries. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/industries?cycle=2018

Charity Navigator. (n.d.). Your Guide to Intelligent Giving: National Resources Defense Council. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.charitynavigator.org//index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4207&fromlistid=435  $182M in revenue in 2018.

Charity Navigator. (n.d.). Your Guide to Intelligent Giving: Environmental Defense Fund. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.charitynavigator.org//index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3671&fromlistid=435 $207M in revenue in 2018.

Note: some passages excerpted from comments I posted on a private discussion board

America Thirsts

October 18, 2020

By Steve Stofka

“America First” was a rallying cry of the 2016 Trump campaign but the isolationist sentiment and the name go deep into our country’s past. It is more fundamentalist than conservative, gathering its supporters from the far right. An America First Committee formed in 1940 as an opposition movement to America’s involvement in World War 2. After Pearl Harbor, it was disbanded, but an America First Party fielded a fundamentalist candidate in the 1944 election.

Was Mr. Trump the first to adopt the slogan for an election campaign? No. Both Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding used the phrase a century ago. The journalist and 2000 Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan ran under the banner of the Reform Party. Known for his isolationist stance even when he worked in the Nixon administration, he famously – or infamously – cost Al Gore the election in the 2000 election. Because of his placement on the ballot next to Al Gore’s name, many voters who had voted Democratic incorrectly marked Buchanan on their ticket.

Russia and China would prefer that America stay out of world affairs. Our intelligence agencies have confirmed that Russia is actively working to re-elect Trump. When pulled the U.S. out of the Iran treaty, that left Vladimir Putin holding the major foreign influence in that country.

While China has had its difficulties with Mr. Trump’s erratic trade policies, they prefer someone who pays more attention to his poll numbers and the daily fluctuations in the stock market. Both countries needed an American president with little experience of international politics; someone who does not read his intelligence briefing book; someone who uses a large sharpie to sign his name because he doesn’t write much but his name. While Mr. Trump stumps around on the stage of American politics, Russia and China gain more influence daily. He has become America’s vulnerable spot in global affairs.

Mr. Trump’s business philosophy is not isolationist; he owes hundreds of millions to Deutsche Bank. He owns a golf resort in Scotland and has tried to build a hotel in Russia. This week he joked – I think it was a joke – that he might have to leave the country if he loses the election. He might do so to avoid the many legal proceedings against him for election fraud, financial fraud, and securities fraud. Perhaps he will build a golf course or a hotel in Russia, where Mr. Putin will protect him from extradition.

Americans thirst as they line up at early voting polling places. They thirst for someone less headstrong, someone more mannered and less combative, someone who reads, someone who prepares, someone who takes the job of President seriously. Americans thirst.

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Notes:

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dirty Laundry

October 11, 2020

By Steve Stofka

On Friday, the New York Times released more of Donald Trump‘s tax records (Craig, Mcintire & Buettner, 2020). They reveal a money laundering scheme that Mr. Trump used to fund his 2016 campaign. In the closing months of the campaign, few Republican donors wanted to bankroll his bid for the Presidency, and he was short of funds.

The train to Vegas. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid tried to put together a project for a commuter train from California to Las Vegas. When the entire project was done, residents of the L.A. area would be able to take a train to Las Vegas instead of making the arduous drive via the I-10 and I-15 freeways. Anyone who has driven this route on a Friday can swear that it evokes Chris Rea’s song The Road to Hell.

By the time the project funding was put together five years later, Republicans controlled the House and several of their leaders rejected the idea. One was Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and later Mr. Trump’s Attorney General; the other was Paul Ryan, the head of the House Budget Committee. They insisted that the project be built using American products; it couldn’t be done. Germany, Japan and China have become the global leaders in train manufacturing.  

Vegas real estate tycoons, including Mr. Trump and his Vegas partner Phil Ruffin, would have benefitted greatly from the train traffic. The likelihood of such a project would be revitalized if Mr. Trump were President. Out came the checkbooks and the big Republican “whales” from Vegas, including Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, contributed to the Trump campaign. His partner, Phil Ruffin, routed money through a shell company to Mr. Trump who used it to fund his campaign.

Although a court would have to decide, some of the campaign contributions were probably illegal. If Mr. Trump is elected again this year, he will shield himself from any prosecution and he would probably help protect others from adverse legal proceedings.

On Saturday, the newspaper was releasing still more evidence that Mr. Trump has used the Presidency to rescue his failing company from a heavy debt load. His hotels were already struggling before the Covid virus swept the world this year. Each new revelation indicates that Mr. Trump has built a house of cards like the Ponzi scheme built by Bernie Madoff, the former head of NASDAQ.

If Mr. Trump loses the election, he will face a legal and financial reckoning that he has delayed for the four years of his Presidency. His erratic and belligerent behavior may be partly in desperation. His former attorney, Michael Cohen, commented that if Mr. Trump were still his client, he would recommend that Mr. Trump resign the Presidency before his term is out, then arrange for Mr. Pence, his Vice-President, to issue him a pardon for any pending Federal crimes.

Mr. Trump is the first presidential candidate to “self-fund” his campaign and be successful. Surely, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have learned a lesson. Are we a better country if a person can buy the Presidency? I think not.

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Notes:

Photo by Sahand Hoseini on Unsplash

Craig, S., Mcintire, M., & Buettner, R. (2020, October 09). Trump’s Taxes Show He Engineered a Sudden Windfall in 2016. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/09/us/donald-trump-taxes-las-vegas.html

An Explosion of Events

October 4, 2020

by Steve Stofka

This has been a week of surprises. Sunday night, the NY Times released the details of President Trump’s tax documents which he has sought to keep hidden under the pretense that an IRS audit prevents him from doing so. We learned that Mr. Trump’s wealth is a ruse, like that of Bernie Madoff. We discovered the reason for the IRS audit: a $72 million refund that Mr. Trump was paid in 2009 under a dubious interpretation of rules in the Recovery Act following the 2008 financial crisis.

The report contains many instances of rule bending if not outright fraud. It serves as an example of why Republicans have repeatedly cut funding for the IRS. With fewer people, the IRS is unable to monitor the shenanigans of Mr. Trump and his accountants.

The last two decades have seen the largest accounting scandals, and most of them happened while Republicans controlled the majority if not all of the federal government. Enron, Tyco and Health South in the early 2000s were just the prelude to the 2008 financial crisis. The Enron scandal exposed the misdeeds of one of the largest accounting firms in the world, Arthur Anderson, who was forced to surrender their license in 2002. During these past twenty years, Republicans have consistently fought to undermine the mission of all government monitoring, to bend the rules in favor of large industry. Mr. Trump called us working stiffs suckers for paying taxes.

On Tuesday’s debate between both Presidential candidates, Mr. Trump’s interruptions broke debate protocol and the rules he had agreed to. That’s not a surprise. He is a notorious cheater at golf and has a motor mouth. He is an entertainer, not a statesman or a gentleman. The surprise was that Mr. Biden met the verbal assault without fluster. Afflicted with stuttering since he was a child, Mr. Biden has learned to speak with deliberation, a common strategy taught to stutterers. Kids around the country, watch Mr. Biden. This is how you stand up to bullies.

The announcement late Thursday night that Mr. Trump had tested positive for Covid surprised those of us who wondered how the disease had not caught up to the President, who has played the tough guy and pooh-poohed caution. Mr. Trump has several comorbidities, his physician said, without being specific. A lack of prudence might be one of them. Several hours later, Mr. Trump was taken to Walter Reed hospital out of “an abundance of caution.” With a month left before the election, Mr. Trump had a busy election schedule, which is up in the air for the next two weeks, at least. More on that at the end of this post.

The surprise in Friday’s monthly hiring report was the weak job recovery. The employment population ratio is 56.6%, significantly down from 61% in February, before Covid. In February, 1.5 people working supported each person not working, including children. Now it is 1.3 people supporting each person not working.

The growing debt of the Federal government has relieved some of the burden on workers, because, in times of crisis, the rest of the world wants to buy U.S. Treasuries. State and local governments are squeezed. Governments laid off 216,000 workers in September. Who will they turn to except the Federal government? Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell balks at aid to the states, particularly the “blue” states.

In the past weeks, airlines and other industries have been announcing permanent layoffs. Older people may be taking early retirement. The four industries that have not suffered during this crisis are utilities, consumer staples, technology and health care. The effect of tech on the stock market has been dramatic. The SP500, weighted by market cap, is up 7% since January. An evenly weighted SP500 index is down 17%. That reflects a general economic misery.  

The week was still not done. On Saturday, we learned that the President had known earlier that he had Covid. He met with prominent Republicans and did not tell them he had the disease. Former NJ governor and campaign advisor Chris Christie has now tested positive for the disease. Mr. Christie is younger but is obese, the chief co-morbidity leading to death. Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s White House advisor, has also tested positive. The White House is doing a trace of all people who came into contact with Mr. Trump. He hates his enemies, but he doesn’t spare his friends either.

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Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

Equal Rights

September 27, 2020

by Steve Stofka

Justice Ginsburg’s passing helps us focus on a principle that she fought for during her long career – equal rights. The right to life and liberty are stated plainly in the Declaration of Independence but they were not inserted in the Constitution. The Declaration is a statement of intent; the Constitution is the binding law of the land. Why were the words left out?

Within societies there is some person or governing body that confers property rights. Those rights can be temporary – the access to the Nile River granted by the Pharaoh. They can be permanent – the grant of an entire country by a Spanish king. Property rights are a foundational issue in our daily lives.

Our country was founded on the principle that some human beings were property and one human being could be granted the property right to another human being. Our Civil War was fought after the Supreme Court affirmed the property rights of slave holders in the Federal territories recently won in the war with Mexico. This was the court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision.

A governing body that grants property rights can take them away. Indian tribes learned that treaties are not contracts in white man law. For most of the 19th century, treaties were convenient shams – pretenses of principle. Whenever white people wanted gold, silver or grazing land, a treaty was “negotiable.”

Doesn’t the 5th Amendment give us a right to life and liberty? It states that no one should be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The 14th Amendment, Section 1 repeats that language, but it doesn’t grant any of us a right to those things. It says that if granted a right to those, the government should not take them away without a formal process. The Amendment permits the government to make laws that deprive us of rights.

Compare the language of the 5th Amendment with that of the 1st Amendment, which doesn’t allow the state to make any law abridging free speech.

In the 1972 Roe v. Wade case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the state of Texas had an “interest” in protecting the “potentiality of human life,” but that a woman had a “right to privacy” inherent in the 14th Amendment (Oyez, n.d.). Justice Ginsburg faulted the court for its weak rationale. The all male Supreme could not reason that women have an equal protection under the law. No state interferes in the private relationship between a doctor and a male patient; therefore, they cannot do it with female patients. That autonomy is a “privilege” which no state may abridge, according to Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. Because of its flawed privacy rationale, a minority of people, mostly Christian groups, have chipped away at the decision.

Why did our country’s founders not specifically recognize a person’s property right to their own body? First, that would have negated the rights of slaveholders. Secondly, the state needs to take control of the bodies of men during times of war. To rephrase General Patton, it needs puppets it can throw into the cannon fire.

Just as men are fighting machines for the state in times of war, women are breeding machines for the state during their fertile years. In the 18th century when the Constitution was written, that was the case. It was assumed that more people maintained the vitality of society and the state. Ten years after the Constitution was written, economist Thomas Malthus’ raised a question that shocked Britain and caused many to shun him. What if more people were bad for society, and destabilizing to the state?

The diminutive Justice Ginsburg broke many doors slammed in her face by the legal profession. Throughout her career, she fought for the most fundamental right that any person can have – to stand equally under the law, be they man or woman. A tempered character, she was not one who rests in peace. She was a determined fighter who will rest only when this country finally acknowledges that most basic right of any human being.

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Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Oyez. (n.d.). Roe v. Wade. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18

A Light Passes

September 20, 2020

by Steve Stofka

Have we had enough yet? Almost 200,000 Americans have died from Covid, millions of Americans are out of jobs, hundreds of thousands of small family businesses have closed, millions of families are about to lose their homes, thousands of acres in western lands on fire, thousands more left homeless by Hurricane Sally and now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. The nation wishes her two children and four grandchildren their condolences for her passing. At least half of the nation grieves for the political battle that is to come.

The day before Justice Ginsburg died, the National Constitution Center awarded her the 2020 Liberty Medal. Jeffrey Rosen, the host, spoke with two lawyers who have argued cases before the court and clerked for RBG. https://constitutioncenter.org/debate/podcasts

She was a pioneer in legal justice for human beings, regardless of the roles that society assigned them based on their sex. She helped to steer the Supreme Court to prejudicial practices against women by first encouraging her male colleagues to review practices that put men at a disadvantage.

She often wrote the opinion for the liberal justices on the court but had the respect of one of the court’s most conservative justices, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Her reasoning was sound; her principles were consistent; her loyalty to fair treatment under the law steered her through many an argument to a clear conclusion.

I have no doubt that the conservative Federalist Society already has a waiting list of Supreme Court replacements for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump to consider. Will they delay this appointment in the hopes that it will bring out more Republican voters? If Trump loses the election, McConnell can bring the appointment of a new Justice before the Senate in December or January. If Republicans lose the majority in the Senate, he will have to make the appointment in December because the new Senators take their seats on January 3rd, 2021.

As I write this on Friday night, McConnell has just announced that he will seek a quick nomination. The gloves are off. It’s about to get bloody. In further updates, Republican Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney have said that they don’t think a nomination is appropriate just before an election. Whether McConnell has enough votes to proceed with the nomination, some Republican Senators may want the vote anyway to show their allegiance to Trump just before the election.

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Photo by Juskteez Vu on Unsplash