Monthly Archives: December 2019

2019: Ten things to be Thankful For

2019 has been a dark year.  Americans have spent much of the year under the grim shadow cast by mad emperor Trump. Nonetheless, there is much to be thankful for. Here are ten reasons to be grateful.

1.Nancy Pelosi: Twelve months ago, when it was clear that the Democrats had won a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, some pundits suggested that it was time for Nancy Pelosi to move on — someone else should become Speaker of the House.

What a mistake that would have been!  During 2019, Pelosi has been the primary leader of the Democratic Party, effectively leading the House Democrats through the treacherous impeachment landscape — and simultaneously overseeing the passage of more than 400 major pieces of legislation.  At the end of the year House Democrats impeached Donald Trump, setting the stage for a historic 2020 trial.  Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

2. Increased awareness of Global Climate Change.  Because of her vocal leadership on climate change, Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s person of the year (https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2019-greta-thunberg/).  But it wasn’t only Greta that spread the word; all over the world, celebrities and politicians stepped up to make the public aware that climate change is an existential threat.  As a result, 2019 polls indicate that 75 percent of Americans believe that humans fuel climate change and a strong majority regard it as a crisis.  Thank you, Greta Thunberg, Bill McKibben, and the many other climate change leaders.

3. Fire Season has ended.   Because of climate change, California had an extended, deadly fire season.  During the Kincade fire, my community had to evacuate and go without electricity for six days.  Fortunately, most of us escaped the mammoth fire.

We’re thankful that fire season is over.  (And that we have since had normal rainfall.)  And we’re grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our emergency-service providers.

4. The Democratic Presidential Candidates.  So far, Democrats have had 28 politicians announce they would compete for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  At the moment, 15 are still in the competition that begins with the February 3rd Iowa caucuses.

The good news is that these candidates offer a full-spectrum of opinions regarding how to move the United States forward.  The bad news is that it’s not obvious who would offer the best chance of defeating Donald Trump.  Nonetheless, in a year dominated by Trump’s shadow, each of these candidates offered glimmers of hope.

5. The Whistleblower(s).  At the beginning of the year, Democrats believed that the Mueller report — into Russian interference in the 2016 election — would bring to the light the treachery of the Trump campaign.  Instead, the report confused Americans; rather than unite us in recognition of Trump’s perfidy, the Mueller report heightened the polarization. Many Democrats fell into a funk.

Then, in September, we learned that a whistleblower had filed a report with the Director of National Intelligence regarding a bizarre phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.  In this call, Trump offers a bribe to Zelensky — military aid in return for compromising information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.  As a result of the whistleblower’s complaint, House Democrats began an investigation into Trump’s actions that eventually resulted in two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Thanks to the whistleblower and the others who are providing detailed information about Trump’s treachery.  And thanks to the investigative journalists that continue to tell the truth about what goes on in Trump’s White House.

6. Reporters and Aid-workers at the Southern Border.  The heinous Trump Administration “family- separation” policy began in 2018 and has continued to this date.  In January of 2019, the White House admitted that they had separated more children than had previously been reported and they did not have an adequate tracking system in place.  (At the end of the year, whistleblowers reported that almost 70,000 children had been detained.)

Throughout 2019, reporters and aide-workers have been at the border, chronicling the consequences of the family-separation policy and — whenever possible — providing comfort to the children and their families.  Thank you aide-workers who minister to the suffering.  (And thank you to activists everywhere.)

7. The New Democrats in the 2019 House of Representatives.  In January, Democrats welcomed 59 new members to the House — their most diverse class ever.  The most notable of these new congresswomen was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  We can say a lot about AOC but most importantly, she, and her associates  brought a breath of fresh air to the Democratic Party.  Thank you, AOC and associates, for shaking up the Dems.

8. Democracy Advocates.  Even though much of the world has been under the shadow of Donald Trump, and other totalitarian leaders, there have continued to be political actions by advocates for Democracy. In Hong Kong.  Russia.  Iraq.  Even Saudi Arabia.

We’re grateful for all those who stood up for Democracy.  Hold on, in 2020 we’ve got your back.

9. Nature.  In 2019  my family completed our move to the country.  What a blessing!  No matter how dreadful the state of U.S. politics, taking a walk among the Redwoods always cheers me up.

10. Music. In hard times like these, music is my go-to source of comfort: Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash…

2020 brought the wonderful Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary series.  And the stories of how music transformed the impoverished lives of the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and many others.  “Country Music” was a reminder of the rejuvenating power of the music of the American people.  And, a reminder that, even in these dark times, there is more that unites us than divides us.

Donald and Boris

Even though we’re 5000 miles away from London, the results of the December 12th British election sent a chill through left-coast voters.  The ascension of Boris Johnson was painfully reminiscent of the 2016 election of Donald Trump; further evidence that we have entered the buffoon era of geo-politics.  There are two political lessons to learn from the British tragedy.

Two Unpopular Candidates:  The British General Election was an awkward “popularity” contest between Boris Johnson, leader of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Labour — the British press characterized it as the “ugly baby contest.”

In this sense, the British contest was a replay of the 2016 U.S.  presidential election that pitted two historically unpopular candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  The final 2016 Gallup election poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/197231/trump-clinton-finish-historically-poor-images.aspx ) found Trump with a 61 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton with a 52 percent unfavorable score.

Donald Trump has remained unpopular.  In December 2019, roughly 52 percent of voters disapprove of his performance in office ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/).  According to the 538  summary, Donald has been in this negative range since April of 2017; during these 33 months he’s been viewed unfavorably by 52 to 57 percent of poll respondents.  Based upon this polling, Trump has been the most unpopular President in recent American history.  This is unlikely to change between now and November 3, 2020.

On election day, how popular will the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate be?  It’s unlikely that any candidate will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  Nonetheless, at the moment, It’s difficult to get a comparable approval rating for the leading Democratic candidates.  (A recent Monmouth University Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_121019/) found that among Democratic voters Elizabeth Warren had the highest net favorability rating (+61) and Michael Bloomberg the lowest (+1).)

According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3651), most of the leading Democratic candidates would beat Trump: “If the general election for president were being held today, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Joe Biden, while 42 percent say they would vote for President Trump. When Trump is matched against other Democratic contenders the race remains in single digits: Bernie Sanders gets 51 percent, while Trump has 43 percent; Elizabeth Warren receives 50 percent and Trump gets 43 percent; Michael Bloomberg gets 48 percent to Trump’s 42 percent; Pete Buttigieg has 48 percent, while Trump receives 43 percent…”

If the only issue was popularity, and the election was held today, Donald Trump would probably lose.  Considering this, it should be noted that over the past 36 months, Trump has made no concerted effort to increase his favorability ratings; Donald has not reached out to those  who did not vote for him in 2016.  Trump’s strategy is to (1) hold his base and (2) drive down the popularity of his competition.  He implements this strategy by either disenfranchising likely Democratic voters or by disparaging his competitors via social media.  (Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine President Zelensky announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden is an example of Trump’s elaborate attempts to influence the popularity of his competitors.)

Simple Message:  In their analysis of why Boris Johnson won, the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/13/five-reasons-the-tories-won-the-election) observed that Johnson, and the Conservative Party, had a simple message, “get Brexit done, repeated over and over again [that] appears to have resonated with a public weary of the lack of resolution over the UK leaving the EU.”  In contrast Corbyn and Labour “had a multiplicity of huge policy offers from mass nationalization to free broadband and compensating women in the 50s for the rise in pension age…”

Corbyn could have helped by taking a strong remain stand but, instead, meekly called for another referendum.  (At a distance of 5000 miles, Corbyn came off as a wimp.)

Johnson won because he was the least ugly baby and he campaigned with a simple message.

In 2016, Donald Trump had two simple messages: “Build the wall” and “Drain the swamp.”  With regards to the latter, Trump successfully painted Hillary Clinton as a member of the Washington elite, part of the swamp, and played to his base’s antipathy towards government.

In 2020, Trump will likely resurrect “Build the wall” as “Finish the wall.”  And he will tout the economy, claim, “You never had it so good!”  But what about “Drain the swamp?”  Will Trump dare to repeat “Drain the swamp,” after presiding over one of the most corrupt administrations in American history?  Perhaps not.  But then again, we’ve learned that Trump has no shame — and that his base will likely swallow whatever lies Donald feeds them.  (Trump tells his base that impeachment demonstrates that “the swamp” is alive and well.)

What is certain is that whomever the Democratic presidential candidate is, Trump will attack them as corrupt.  (We’ve already seen that with his attempt to implicate Joe Biden in a Ukraine scandal.)  Trump will try to drive down the favorability ratings of his opponent by lying about them: Biden as corrupt, Sanders as a crazy socialist, Warren as Pocahontas, Buttigieg as “wink-wink,” etcetera.

What will the Democratic response be?  No doubt one message will be, “We can’t afford four more years of Trump!” And Democrats might find a companion message concerning global climate change:  “Trump fiddles while the planet burns.”  Or Democrats may opt for a simpler message, such as Joe Biden’s promise to “bring us together.”  (In the December 19th Democratic debate, Biden effectively repeated this, “I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that’s the case, we’re dead as a country. We need to be able to reach a consensus.”)

The lesson from the British General Election is that popularity matters — even when both candidates are unpopular — and voters prefer a simple message.

Capitalism Has Failed

In the seventies, I was privileged to hear the British economist E.F. Schumacher — author of “Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered” — speak in Palo Alto. Schumacher observed that we were all living in the new age of dinosaurs, where our economy is ruled by giant corporations that roam the earth crushing everything in their path.  Schumacher cautioned his audience to be prepared for the day when corporations collapsed. That’s where we are now: giant corporations are beginning to disintegrate.  Capitalism has failed and the end times have come for mega corporations.  Donald Trump is a harbinger of the death throes of capitalism.

Even though the holidays are just around the corner, December 2019 has been unusually depressing.  Every day we receive new warnings that the environment is in perilous straits (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/10/arctic-sea-ice-cover-falls-to-alarming-low-as-temperatures-rise). There are riots throughout the world.  And, of course, there’s the omnipresent news about mad emperor Trump.

These aren’t isolated events.  Global Climate Change is the result of unfettered capitalism; corporations pillaging the planet.  Social unrest is most often the result of economic injustice produced by the unequal distribution of income and capital that are the byproducts of the dominant economic system.  And, as Robert Reich notes (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/08/donald-trump-citizens-united-anti-democracy-decade?), Donald Trump is the logical consequence of unfettered capitalism.

Rather than dismiss Trump as a pathological politician, it’s necessary to see him as the extreme symptom of unfettered capitalism.  It’s important to defeat Trump in 2020, but even more important to address cancerous capitalism that threatens the soul of democracy as well as the well-being of the planet.

There’s a lot to say about Donald Trump, but we can begin by recognizing that he’s the consummate capitalist.  In all circumstances, Trump places his own interests above other ethical (and legal) considerations.  (Donald favors the crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare that characterize capitalism in 2019.)  Trump is resolutely committed to the maxim: “the ends justify the means.”  (This explains his astonishing willingness to lie, as well as his predilection for self-dealing.)  And Trump typifies the paternalism that permeates giant corporations.

The fact that Trump is the consummate capitalist shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  It explains his appeal to his base. UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild’s epoch study, “Strangers in Their Own Land,” explicates the strange hold that Trump has over his followers — the cult-like aura that’s been created.  Hochschild had lengthy talks with a broad spectrum of southern voters living in some of the most polluted areas of Louisiana.  The interviewees in “Strangers in their own land” blamed government for their lack of success.  Their sole hope for salvation was big business — capitalism.  Hochschild observed that her interviewees “identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent.” In other words, Trump supporters identify with Donald and believe he will provide their salvation.

Of course, this is a position taken out of desperation.  Trump voters cling to a “leader” who steadfastly represents the capitalist interests that are destroying their lives.  It’s collective insanity.

I’m traveling down this sad road to make a point to Democratic voters: when you consider which candidate to support in the upcoming presidential primaries, it’s not sufficient to stop with the notion of who can beat Trump.  Most of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump —  a recent Quinnipiac poll found that all the major candidates beat Trump by 4 to 9 points.  Since Trump is an extreme symptom of America’s dysfunctional economic order, the key question to ask is: which candidate is best prepared to change unfettered capitalism?

Seven candidates have qualified for the December 19th Democratic debate: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg who hasn’t qualified for the debate, are billionaires; they have progressive policies on many issues but not on fundamental reform of corporations.  Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are self-identified “moderates;” none of them advocate elemental reform of corporations.  (Nor does Andrew Yang, although he leans in that direction.)

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have a lot to say about corporate reform.  Senator Sanders has a long record speaking against giant corporations and monopolies.  “Corporate America doesn’t give one damn about workers.”  He favors measures to increase corporate accountability, to shift the wealth of the economy back into the hands of the workers who create it.  For example, he would, “Give workers an ownership stake in the companies they work for.”  If he became President, there’s no doubt that Bernie Sanders would work for drastic reform of corporations.

Nonetheless, the most expansive corporate-reform proposals has been developed by Elizabeth Warren. “We need courage to take on corporate monopoly giants… big, structural change.”  Senator Warren has a lot to say about the problem of unfettered capitalism.  In her position paper, “Empowering Workers through Accountable Capitalism” (https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/accountable-capitalism/?) Warren has four key proposals:

“1. Require very large American corporations to obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, not just shareholders.  2. Empower workers at big American corporations to elect no less than 40% of the company’s board member. 3. Remove bad financial incentives by restricting directors and senior executives at big corporations from selling company shares.  And, 4. Ensure corporate political spending reflects the interests of workers: Big American corporations must receive the approval of at least 75% of their shareholders and 75% of their directors before engaging in any political expenditures.”

Capitalism has failed.  We’re entering the end times for giant corporations.  Nonetheless, in 2020, Donald Trump will run as the champion of corporate interests (monopolies, bailouts, corporate welfare, and “pay to play” political influence).

It’s essential to both defeat Trump and to elect a Democratic president who will advocate significant corporate reform.