Sunday
Nov112018

The Meaning of the Midterm Election Results

I’ve read several analyses of the recent midterm election results and I find it difficult to come to any conclusion about the true bigger meaning of what happened last Tuesday. What did happen was that Southern and several rural Middle America states voted Republican in their selection of senators. Democratic congressional candidates won in many previously Republican districts in the West and Midwest, as did governors in the latter states. Those regions where Trump campaigned tended to vote for his candidates and suburban, mostly white, areas, which voted for Trump or Republicans before, switched to supporting Democrats. Those are the facts, but what they mean or portend is unclear.

My best guess is that one thing that went on during the election was that many voters chose the party they supported (regardless of which one they were registered as) based upon their reaction to the president’s rhetoric about immigration, nationalism, women and the media and whether their local candidate supported that rhetoric or not. I also suspect that it was not the substance of what the president said, but the tone he used in expressing it that mattered. In terms of economics, the most important issue that might have undermined some Republican candidates was healthcare, where their party was perceived (I believe correctly) as trying to roll back Obamacare advances, especially the mandated coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. For most of the voters who switched to support a Democrat, my guess is that their personal financial status is now better than before, as are its prospects for the next two years. 

Since the election, President Trump has doubled down on the vituperativeness of his messaging. This appears to be a strategy (or just a personal quality of his) that loses support except among his most ardent devotees. By 2020, it should push the Trump support into a smaller and smaller faction of angry voters who enjoy his way of expressing their anger about issues that bother them. In turn, that should strengthen the anti-Trump forces, who are already in the majority. Only Democratic mistakes will jeopardize their chances of regaining the presidency and more of congress. But of course Democrats are notoriously mistake-prone and quite capable of shooting themselves in the foot.

I firmly believe that equal nastiness is a poor strategy for winning support, since I believe it has been the tone of the president’s message not the substance, that has alienated people. These same people can be alienated by a message that is based on wild accusations and insults—something seen nightly on some liberal media outlets.

I’ve said it before, but what a winning party needs is a set of solid policy positions that addresses the anxiety of the majority of citizens and affirms the values of equality and opportunity while making our basic institutions once more world leaders. Even solidly middle-class Americans fear that they or their children will have a medical catastrophe that wipes out their finances or, even worse, cannot be addressed. A healthcare system that guarantees quality medical care for all is absolutely necessary. The only way that those who grow up in families and neighborhoods from which few college educated people emerge have an equal chance is for all American public education to be upgraded, probably through federal assistance, and public college or post-high school vocational education to be free for all who want it. Our immigration system needs to be fixed so it is orderly, fair and compassionate. A few congressmen working together ought to be able to do this. Some segments of our population, related to race, education, or geographic region, are chronically poor and underserved by our system. We have to make progress in reducing the disparities that characterize our society. A more progressive tax system with fewer loopholes for the rich and corporations would at least provide the funding to do something, although what to do is still a question.

Everyone in the country is going to experience a mounting sense of anxiety each new hurricane or fire season that comes around (and these seasons are getting longer), and more and more of our national and local resources are going to be used to repair the damage from natural disasters. In the short-term we can't stop this from happening, but a long-term plan that addresses both how to respond to climate change and how to slow or stop it will make us all feel as if we’re at least doing everything we can.

These are all concrete areas of needed policy revision that can be addressed to meet the fears and hopes of our citizens. Continual insults, griping about the use of politically incorrect language, celebrating nothing but identity recognition rather than the substance of progress, is not a program that will attract voters nor meet the needs of most Americans. Neither will building walls—either real ones to keep out immigrants or socioeconomic ones to keep those who have the most from having to share with those who have the least—and venting anger at a fictitious war against religion or patriotism or culture solve any of our nation’s problems or make anyone’s life any better. Those who think so will become an increasingly small minority. Those who see positive approaches to our real problems and growth of the qualities that make us a good nation will secure the support of a majority of Americans in the future.

Wednesday
Nov072018

Democrats—Please Don't Blow It

One the one hand, I’m ecstatic. Not only did the Democrats regain the House, but the Democratic candidate in my district, for whom I campaigned, appears to have won a tight race over his 30 year incumbent Republican opponent. And I live in one of the reddest districts in California. But I’m dismayed by the loss of Senate seats and key governor’s races (even though Democrats won more govenorships than they lost). What it means to me is that a significant portion of our citizens still support the pugnacious, anti-immigrant, white-oriented, gun-oriented message of our president. Looking at a map, the divides between north and south and urban and rural have gotten even deeper. Clearly, there are large groups of Americans who don’t share a consensual worldview. Different things are important to each group, and what is true is different for them also. It’s a split that has been growing, and this election shows that it is not narrowing.

Democrats won’t rule Washington. They only control half of congress and the president has vast powers that he can use without their consent. What they do have is an opportunity to show the country what their vision is, what their priorities are, and how they operate when they have gained at least some power. They can easily screw things up. I remember the Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid years under President Obama. Democrats reveled in their control of both houses and made no attempt to construct bipartisan objectives that would enlist the cooperation of their opponents. Admittedly, Republican leaders at the time, such as Mitch McConnell and Tea Party congressmen, vowed to oppose everything Obama put forward, just to make his presidency unsuccessful, but the Democrats in congress used their power to further the distance between them and the Republicans and to drive a wedge between people. 

Most analysts say that the Democrats won the House because of anti-Trump sentiment that has extended now into traditionally Republican suburbia (e.g. my district), and some former Republican strongholds, such as much of Texas. We’ll see how much it reflects increasing participation by young voters and ethnic minority voters when the full results are analyzed. The hopes and aspirations of the latter groups can form the basis for a party platform that is positive and inclusive and strives to reduce the inequality that characterizes our country and, in many instances, falls along ethnic lines. Every young person who wants his or her gay friend to be treated with respect and equality, who wants women to be respected, who would like to enter adulthood in a country that takes care of its infrastructure and protects its environment, should find a resonant voice in the Democrats’ message. Every immigrant who came as a relative or has the dream of bringing his or her aging parents, or struggling sister or brother to the United States to share in the dream he or she is achieving here, should hear such yearnings echoed in protections of our immigration system, which has always had the aim of uniting families as well as increasing our country’s productivity by adding talented people. In almost every case, the children of immigrants outperform their parents in educational attainment and income. They better themselves by being in America. That’s not a system we want to throw away. And finally, those Americans who are living marginally in terms of job and income, who are sick or disabled and frightened of losing their healthcare—or never had enough of it to meet their needs—need to hear that the Democrats are aware of their plight and are going to address their needs and protect them.

What we don’t need from Democrats is a platform that has as its central plank, the vilification of Donald Trump, which seeks every means possible to harass the president and try to impeach him. Speeches proclaiming that the president is a racist are not nearly as helpful as ones that address the evils of racism in our country by proposing justice and educational reforms. Insuring women’s rights through equal pay and healthcare protection is more important than accusing the president of sexism and misogyny.

FOX News stokes the flames of rabid Republican anger, fueled by the president’s toxic messages. I would love to see CNN stop doing the same on the other side. The way to do that is to have political leaders who have constructive, not destructive, things to say to the media and can take center stage. The Democrats, now that they control the House, will have the stage, and it is up to them to use it constructively. Our country needs to come together, not fracture further apart, and this is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.

Saturday
Nov032018

Solving the Border Problem

Turkey is on the border of Syria, a country devastated by civil war. Greece is across the Mediterranean from Syria. Europe is the first landing place for refugees from drought-stricken Africa. European countries have at least attempted to formulate plans with regard to how to deal with the influx of refugees from the world’s trouble spots. Those plans have met with varied success and in many cases, their welcoming first approaches have led to social backlash against massive influxes of immigrants who are viewed by many as threatening European culture. As a result, approaches have changed. Borders are now sealed in some countries, refugees are sent back or, more often, sent to Turkey, where European money is helping to fund settlement camps that don’t have the aim of sending their occupants on to Europe. The situation is far from solved or stable, but it is at least being addressed. 

Our American approach is to do everything possible to keep immigrants from crossing our border illegally and to use our courts to adjudicate, one-by-one, the cases of people who apply for asylum. We have incarcerated some, separated children from parents and are now sending troops to fortify our borders to keep out a caravan of refugees from Honduras and Guatemala who are making their way north through Mexico.

The public focus of our approach has been dominated by the president’s rhetoric on the threat posed by this immigrant “invasion.” His voiced plan centers around stopping people from crossing the border, although our government has been also urging and providing incentives for Mexico to take in the refugees and threatening Honduras for letting them leave.

Much of Central America is a dangerous place to live. In Honduras and El Salvador, gangs, most often related to the drug trade, control the society, extort money and kill citizens at murder rates that are the highest in the world. Even for those not in danger, life is filled with poverty and government corruption. These are massive incentives for people to leave and seek refuge elsewhere. America is the richest nearby country and, in the past, has had a relatively porous border. It’s a natural destination, even if getting there is a long and dangerous journey.

Countries need to be able to control their borders. That doesn’t mean that troops or walls are an adequate method to deal with a refugee crisis that is continent-wide. When Europe was in economic trouble or when wars occurred on European soil, Americans usually formulated plans, quotas and procedures for taking in refugees. These people joined in the building of our society and became Americans themselves. It’s true that the policies were almost always tinged with racial, ethnic and nationality biases, so not every immigrant was equally welcomed. The policies reflected the tenor and beliefs of the times.

Polls have shown that our present policies don’t reflect the beliefs or the attitudes of most Americans, but no one has proposed a policy that does. Those who are most unified and the most vocal—the “keep them out” crowd—have carried the day. The voices of those others have been silent or unfocused. We are sorely in need of proposals for working with Mexico and Central American countries, as well as Canada on how to respond to the civil crises that are causing such dislocations of people. We can’t have an open border, but a well-to-do country with a booming economy and a declining birthrate that means we won’t maintain our workforce with our own children, means that the U.S. should take some of the people who are leaving danger and destitution in their own countries. Such an approach has to be measured and logical, not opening the floodgates to all who want to enter. Canada can also take people because it is similar to the U.S. in its economy and birthrate decline. Together with our neighbors to the South, we can try to work out solutions to the problems within Central American countries and, for the time being, find refugee havens closer to the people’s homes.

This isn’t a plan, because I’m not in a position to make one for our country. But our politicians are in such a position and have always been, throughout our country’s history. We can criticize the president for his plan being protective without compassion and not reflecting our country’s values, but criticism is not a solution. We need people from both parties to step up and look at the broader, long-term picture and at least make an attempt to solve it. Our immigration problems are miniscule compared to what Europe and Turkey and some Middle Eastern countries have faced, but we aren’t even trying to work together as a nation to come up with a way to handle them that we can all agree on. It’s time for leadership in this area.

Thursday
Nov012018

Our Moral Code

One of the most remarkable documents I’ve ever come across is the so-called “Jefferson Bible.”  As Brooke Allen has shown in her book on the religious tenets of such founding fathers as Franklin, Washington, Adams, Madison, Hamilton as well as Jefferson, none can be thought of as an orthodox Christian, and most were deists—believers in a higher power which may have created the universe, but not believers in an anthropomorphic god nor in Jesus as his son. In constructing his version of the New Testament, Thomas Jefferson made this clear. His book, eventually titled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was cut and pasted from an actual bible (actually from 4 bibles, since he pasted equivalent passages side by side in 4 languages). Jefferson considered Jesus as an exemplar of "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” But he did not regard Jesus as divine, nor as having produced miracles, including being born from a virgin and being resurrected after death. Accordingly, his cut and paste bible consisted of the first four books of the New Testament, leaving out the miracles and signs of divinity, but including all the rest of Jesus’ sayings and actions. His focus was on the moral lessons involved: “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,”  “love your enemies,”  “blessed are the poor,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” “He that is without sin, cast the first stone,” “if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” These are only a few. 

What is the moral lesson of these words and actions of Jesus? It seems abundantly clear that they are to practice love, not hate, to value peace and those who try to achieve it, to value the poor, to avoid being judgmental, and to be generous, even at your own expense. Jesus put no limit on exercising these beliefs. His message to "turn the other cheek" is prefaced with the sentence, “I tell you not to resist an evil person.” He did not limit his message to converts to his faith or to members of the Jewish faith (which he was), or to anyone. His example of the “good Samaritan” illustrates that someone from outside the mainstream faith (in this case, orthodox Jewish), who acts in a moral manner, is more blessed than one who follows the faith, but doesn’t practice its moral tenets

 Jefferson did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but he believed that he was a moral person who preached a moral code. Jefferson was reputed to have read his version of the bible every night before going to bed.

I’m not a Christian, but I grew up as one. I learned the same moral lessons that Jesus taught as Jefferson did. I was equally impressed, and I always thought that it meant something good about humans that so many of them affirmed these moral teachings as their guide to living. But today I see Christians and non-Christians alike preaching a moral code that is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and I learned to value. Defense is more honorable than trying to love one’s enemies, judgmentalism is not only the tenor of the times, but those who resist judging others are deemed weak and cowardly. Those who preach peace with our neighbors and our enemies are termed traitors. Those in society who are most celebrated are our warriors. The poor are despised and those who ask us for asylum from persecution and poverty are considered invaders, as people who want to take away what we have, despite Jesus’ urging to also give them one’s coat as well as one’s shirt. Being “hard” is considered a virtue. Being loving and kind to even those who are different and who challenge us is considered being soft and weak.

One doesn’t have to be a Christian to see that our society has accepted a new moral code that is diametrically opposed to that offered by Jesus. For a Christian, this may equal hypocrisy, and for the rest of us, it signals a move away from the vision of humanity that some of those who founded this nation, such as Thomas Jefferson, thought was a noble one and a moral code toward which each of us should strive. I’m not a Christian, but I’m not ashamed to affirm the rightness of many of Jesus’ moral teachings and to feel that it is a person’s responsibility to try to live up to them. Other religions have similar teachings and a similar failure to take them seriously, instead favoring hatred, distrust and prejudice over love and understanding. It makes me worried about the moral health of our society.

 

 

 

Monday
Oct292018

When Civil Society Comes Apart

We have a problem in America. It’s a difficult one, the edges of which are blurred. On the one hand, we have a rise in the voice of hate groups that make public their racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices. Their members often turn their anger into violence. These people need to be identified, vilified and stopped. On the other hand, we have the wider public, which is divided along political and cultural lines. People honestly differ in their world-views, and debates from their respective positions are the backbone of a healthy democracy—but such debate is currently filled with hate, and our national reaction to those who don’t agree with us is to criticize their character as much as their beliefs. Such hate-filled discourse also sometimes leads to violence and even when it doesn’t it leads to an unhealthy atmosphere of mutual distrust and an inability to form a shared vision of what our country stands for.

Hate groups are malignant forces within our society, and many of their members are filled with dangerous malevolence. We’ve seen the results of this kind of hate in the last week. These groups are dangerous and their activities and influence, which appear to be spreading, need to be contained. When the larger society condones hateful messages and violent actions, not only do members of these groups become emboldened, but their messages become more appealing to disturbed and disgruntled individuals. There should be no public approval or looking the other way when media, public officials or national figures fail to disavow and distance themselves from hate messages or from figures associated with hate groups, or subtly reinforce pejorative stereotypes or conspiracy theories based on such stereotypes and prejudices. Failure to condemn statements of this type leads to wider acceptance of them and encourages those who make them.

Our president has a responsibility to take the lead in condemning hate groups and hate messages and not promoting conspiracy theories or false information based on prejudiced stereotypes. Unfortunately, he often fails at this task and his failure has given credibility to dangerous attitudes and beliefs that have led to violent acts by unstable individuals who believe them. But if those who oppose him and his supporters do the same by spouting nothing but extreme anger and giving credence to conspiracy-laden accusations, then they are also to blame when no one will speak civilly to each other and when extremists respond to their opponents with violence (remember—a Trump supporter sent bombs, but also a Trump opponent/Sanders supporter opened fire on a group of Republican representatives).

It’s easy to point fingers at the offenders of civil discourse, whether it be public officials or media figures, but it appears to be difficult to do so with civility. In fact, our political and opinion leaders on both sides have made it a badge of honor to say that “the other side” doesn’t deserve civility. Anyone who thinks that the political left or right has a monopoly on such thinking or such conversations is probably listening to only one side. Both sides see the other as lacking in morals, both sides see any attempt to understand or work toward compromise with those who disagree with them as giving in to evil.

The big picture is that our society is disintegrating in front of us, and instead of anyone trying to fix it, we are all spending our time and energy placing blame. There is enough blame to go around. It’s time for people to resist the temptation to hate and to try to find common ground and respect to allow us all to get along. The alternative is a hate-filled, vigilante society in which neighbor fears neighbor and we splinter into irreconcilable subgroups, each one of us self-righteously sure that we are right and our opponents are not just wrong, but deserve to be treated with disrespect and violence.

As I said, anyone who believes this only applies to “the other side” is part of the problem.

 

Thursday
Oct182018

What Democrats Should Be Saying

If Obamacare is repealed, or even gutted so that it no longer guarantees medical insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, many of our most needy and vulnerable citizens will be financially and medically ruined. If we don’t do something to mitigate greenhouse gases, our planet’s warming will reach a point that makes it difficult to reverse. Wildfires, rising sea levels, hurricanes and droughts, not to mention the alteration in plant and animal life will pose life-threatening risks to millions of people. Even on the less massively catastrophic side, stagnation in the incomes of the lower middle class and poor, combined with rising costs of housing, will leave more and more people homeless. Meanwhile, recent test results show that, as a country, our educational system is failing our young people, especially our young people of color, not just in comparison to other countries, but also in comparison to those who went before them here in the United States.

We may have a thriving economy, but it’s not working for everyone. Threats to our citizens, especially those without substantial financial means, abound. At the same time, our country’s foreign policy supports dictators, thugs, wars that wipe out thousands of innocent civilians (e.g. Yemen), and helps to foment continued hostility between Middle Eastern countries.

In the midst of these existential threats, our Democratic Party leaders are involved with trying to outdo a foul-mouthed, insulting president by fighting him back using his own tactics. Politics from the left has turned into an unending series of accusations about the their opponents’ insensitivity, the racist or sexist innuendos contained in their tweets and public statements. Yes, there are warnings about the real dangers that an anti-public healthcare, anti-environment, anti-poor Republican Party poses, but with few exceptions, these are only hysterical warnings, lacking in concrete proposals. 

Medicare-for-All can work. Simple math and common sense prove that even if taxes must be raised to pay for such a program, the money saved by not having to pay huge insurance premiums and massive deductibles or taking bankruptcy because of medical bills that can’t be paid will be a net financial benefit for most Americans, though perhaps not those in the upper 1-10% who already have platinum health insurance and will bear the brunt of the taxes. Obama-era or California-like regulations on carbon emissions as well as international cooperation in addressing global warming through agreements such as the Paris Accords has at least a chance of slowing or stopping global warming. Arguments that the world’s or our country’s economy can’t afford such efforts fly in the face of reality. Already, the solar energy field employs more people than the coal industry in the United States. Both China and several Scandinavian countries have mandated all electric vehicles in the near future. They aren’t afraid that such a change will ruin their economies; they are embracing it.

Our progressive political leaders need to quit squabbling, quit trading insult for insult. Get out of the mud and the irrelevancy. No one cares if Stormy Daniels wins her lawsuit or not, or if Elizabeth Warren is part Native American, or if another insensitive Republican characterizes women inappropriately. Of course we don’t want misogynists, racists or sexual predators to be running our country. But that’s just a bottom line of decency, and the focus on constant accusations about such issues at the expense of concrete proposals for dealing with life-threatening issues, is not providing voting America with ideas they can get behind to really turn our country around. 

It’s not a question of going high or going low, it’s a question of offering a vision of a country that will be of help to every one of its citizens and the world around us in making our future lives livable and something to look forward to, rather than to dread. 

Saturday
Sep292018

Who Wants to Know the Truth About Kavanaugh and Ford?

I watched or listened to most of the hearing the day Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh were interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. I felt more sympathy for Dr. Ford, who seemed nervous and determined to be truthful and open, and I had a negative reaction to Judge Kavanaugh, who seemed arrogant, entitled, and vengeful in his anger and who seemed to think that the privileged life he was given was something he earned. But I have no idea who was telling the truth about what happened or didn’t happen between them when they were in high school. I would even suggest that anyone who is certain about what happened is allowing their biases to make them irrational. I do believe that an FBI investigation has a chance of finding out more, not necessarily about what took place on the day in question, but about Brett Kavanaugh’s drinking habits in high school and his general behavior toward women. It might shed some light on Dr. Ford’s typical activities that summer and who else she mentioned her assault to over the years. Such an investigation could provide enough witnesses who were at the party to which they referred to make it likely that Kavanaugh did or didn’t do what he’s accused of, but that’s unlikely.

Many people are intensely critical of the Senate. I am too. With a few exceptions, none of the senators appeared interested in learning what happened, but instead were interested in making their own political statements. The only real information came from the prosecutor who asked the questions of Dr. Ford for the Republicans. It seems to me that a senate hearing is not particularly suited to finding out the truth about people’s behavior, especially when you have two witnesses that disagree with each other.

What disturbs me as much as the failure of our elected officials to rise above the politics of the situation, is the reaction of most Americans. Many of them appear to have made up their minds about the truth, and, as I said, I saw nothing in either witness’s testimony that would allow the truth to be ascertained. Most of the criticism of the senators’ behavior is directed at one party’s senators or the others’.  I saw the majority of senators from both sides grandstanding and using the two witnesses as pawns for extravagant political claims. Many people who saw the same thing only faulted the senators from one party or the other. Many people are using this situation as a proxy for larger issues: either the long history of unfair and predatory behavior toward women or the excesses of the Me Too movement that have allowed an accusation to be treated as a verdict.

The failure of our elected officials to rise above the politics of the situation and attempt to find out the truth is a reflection of the failure of their constituents—you and I—to rise above their (our) biases and ask them to determine the truth. If Washington is failing us, it is because we, in our demand to have our officials reflect our biases, are failing our democratic system. If we continue to be “disgusted” and “outraged” at senators and congressmen who don’t reflect our biases, even if they are trying to determine what is true and what is not, we will continue to elect representatives who fail to do their job—because we don’t want them to.

 

Thursday
Jul262018

The False Promise of GDP Growth

Tomorrow we expect to hear that U.S. GDP growth may reach between 3-4%, a dramatic rise over the most recent quarterly rates, which have been in the mid-2% range and reached a recent low of  0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2015. After rapid growth in the 4-5% range during the strong  recovery period of 2013-14, slow GDP growth was thought to be the norm. Now a faster growing GDP is being hailed as signs of a healthy economy, which will profit everyone. 

Not so fast. 

GDP represents the dollar value of all the goods and services produced during a given period. A mystery in the last decade is how GDP growth has become detached from wage growth. One explanation has been that outsourcing of production to workers in other countries has led to more products and profits but less employment here at home. This has certainly been part of the answer. But unemployment in the U.S. (and in much of Europe) is now low—very low in the U.S. and countries such as Germany—but wages have not risen appreciably. The graph below shows this.

Labor’s share of the nonfarm business sector; seasonally adjusted.

          1950’s    1960’s     1970’s   1980’s    1990’s     2000’s       2010’s

 By The New York Times | Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

As labor’s share of the economy dropped, profit's share rose from 2% in 1984 to 16% in 2014. Corporations are making greater profits but labor is not benefitting from them.

As unemployment shrinks, wages are supposed to increase. It’s the law of supply and demand, and in terms of employment and wages, it’s called Phillips’ Curve by economists. So why isn’t it happening and is the reason something that nullifies this longstanding relationship?

We live by a lot of myths in our country, and one of these myths is that small businesses are the backbone of employment in the United States. That may have been true at one time but it no longer is. The graph below shows how the share of U.S. employment by larger companies has been growing steadily since 1985,

 

  Currently, companies with more than 10,000 workers employ more people than those with less than 50 workers. 

 

 

When very large companies—the Googles, Amazons and Microsoft’s of the world—own the job market, the employer is still able to control wages, even when there is low unemployment. 

Our national conversation about the economy and how well off the average American fares within it, is mistaken in at least two major ways: increasing GDP growth signals greater profits but not higher wages, and lower unemployment in a workforce environment that is dominated by a few very large employers is not going to improve wages according to traditional supply and demand principles.

More and more we are an economy skewed toward accumulation and preservation of wealth in a smaller and smaller number of individuals and of capital by a smaller and smaller number of multinational businesses. This makes many of our benchmark measures of the health of the economy misleading for workers although they are accurate for Wall Street and the owners of capital. This is not just an American phenomenon, although many of the iconic companies that signal this development are American owned, though China and some European countries are producing their own versions of them. The movement toward automation and robot workforces will only accentuate this trend.

If workers are interested in improving their own quality of life, based upon wages that reflect the growth of the economy, they will need to pay attention to other measures than GDP or corporate profits. Attention paid directly to wages is the only thing that will move the needle when it comes to workers earning more money.

Wednesday
Jul252018

Trump and Traditional Republican Values

Republicans have always been for limited government and a free market. The ideal Republican Supreme Court Justice does three things: preserves states’ rights over federal government overreach, interprets the constitution according to the exact words and the supposed intention of its writers, protects individual rights from government curtailment. Republicans’ biggest bogeymen are government regulations, government intervention in the free economy, and laws that restrict individual freedom. President Donald Trump has turned these values on their ear.

Instead of a free market, Trump has imposed onerous tariffs on imports from China, Europe, Canada, Mexico and other parts of Asia. When portions of the American economy have been hurt by such tariff’s, such as farmers being unable to sell their products overseas, Trump has offered a $12 billion dollar bailout, based upon a program that was instituted in the 1930’s by FDR to combat the depression. This is not different in philosophy, although it is clumsier, from China’s plan to inject cash into its economy to offset loss of growth by slowing of its exports to the U.S. because of the tariffs. Both are symptoms of what Republicans have always feared: a managed economy.

Big Brother is the ominous threatening presence of a Communist-style dictatorial central government in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Big Brother allows no dissent, and punishes those who criticize or even question the government. Big Brother promotes Newspeak, simplified conversation about complex issues and blatant claims of truth for falsehoods and vice versa (called variously blackwhitegoodthink and doublethink). The horrors of 1984 are what our Bill of Rights and our free press protect us from. But Donald Trump has labeled much of the mainstream press “fake news”, restricted questions and access by reporters or media he dislikes, reportedly demands his cabinet and traveling retinue only watch approved TV channels, and most recently, has threatened the removal of their security clearances from former government officials who have publicly criticized him. These are the acts of Big Brother.

Our Constitution describes a federal system in which states retain the right to manage many of their own affairs without being dictated to by the federal government. This has always been staunchly defended by conservatives and libertarians, who routinely respond to questions—related to abortion to gun control to healthcare— about the determination of which laws should apply or not by saying “let the states decide.” Donald Trump wants to dismantle environmental protections, including pollution standards imposed at the federal level by previous administrations. In fact, he is doing so. But California has its own regulations on these issues in areas such as auto emissions. For 48 years California has written its own regulations and has been issued a waiver allowing its regulations to differ from the federal ones. This has made California the leader in clean air protection. The Trump administration is mandating that California’s right to determine its own regulations, which are stricter than the federal ones will be, should be ended. The Trump era EPA under Scott Pruitt has already ruled that portions of the Clean Air Act related to auto emissions standards do not need to be enforced. Trump’s actions in curtailing California’s right to legislate its own environmental standards, flies in the face of “states’ rights” claims traditionally made by conservative Republicans. Under the guise of de-regulation, Big Brother is extending the reach of the federal government into areas traditionally controlled by individual states. 

Many Republicans of the present day don’t like China, or Mexico, or Canada or the EU. They say they are for free trade, but as long as government tariffs are aimed at those they consider enemies of the U.S., they are willing to support them. The freedom to speak one’s mind and criticize the government without fear of retaliation is at the heart of the American concept of freedom of speech. Republicans have always been as vocal as anyone in defending this freedom. But again, when retribution for speaking out is aimed at those people that conservatives and Republicans disagree with, they go along with it. States’ rights have always been high on the list of Republican and conservative values, but no one on the right trusts or likes liberal California and what they consider its climate-change hysteria. So in this case, the federal government trampling states’ rights is OK. 

The truth is that Donald Trump voices the prejudices of his Republican supporters, while he violates their traditional values. Too many of his supporters have chosen the prejudices over the values and this is allowing the president to move in the direction of a Big Brotherish dictatorial use of power in ways no one in either party would have countenanced in the past.

 

Tuesday
Jul242018

The President Matters

Among Democrats today, the discussion is about how far left the Democratic Party needs to swing to capture the energy and votes of younger and poorer and minority voters. The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, in her New York primary election has been hailed as a sign of things to come. Now Ocasio-Cortez is holding rallies with Bernie Sanders, another Democratic Socialist, to bring out new voters who can topple the Republican domination of our government. Moderate Democrats, such as attendees at the recent Opportunities 2020 convention in Columbus Ohio, fear that ultra-progressive Democrats such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will scare away center-leaning voters and hijack the Party with a message that resonates only with a few supporters who reside amid the already blue districts, while alienating everyone else.

As Tip O’Neill said, “all politics is local,” and that is much truer in an off-year election than in one that elects a president. So far we have seen both moderate and very progressive Democratic candidates win primaries in their districts. While the issues they address may not always be local ones, because they are running for national offices, the attitudes of their constituents may very well be unique to their location.

Personally, I think that Medicare for All, Free Public College Tuition, and some kind of guaranteed jobs program are reasonable and workable ideas, although I can’t imagine any of them being enacted during a Trump presidency and for sure, not by a Republican controlled congress. Support of such programs may serve to provide an indication of how far left a candidate is, but it also is an indication of how far left his or her constituency is. Liberal Democrats, without embracing controversial ideas in districts that are populated mostly by moderates can still advocate for environmental protection, measures to curb climate change, a reasonable and humane immigration policy, the kind of subsidized health care offered under Obamacare, a fairer tax structure, and a rational foreign policy, based on coordination of American interests and efforts with our like-minded traditional allies. Progressive Democrats in progressive-leaning districts can go full-tilt progressive.

A president with a congress dominated by his opposition party is impaired in enacting his or her vision. We saw that with Barack Obama in his second term. Conversely, a president supported by a majority of his party in congress can do a lot of things even his own party members don’t like because he or she controls so much of public opinion and his or her election was proof of support by a majority of voters in that party. We've seen exactly that with Donald Trump.

If the Democratic Party is going to swing left, it needs to do so in a two-step process. First elect as many progressive Democrats as possible in the mid-term elections, then nominate a progressive candidate for president in 2020. The majority of Democratic moderates will support progressive policies and programs if they are the will of the majority of the party and are the policies of an elected president.

If there is a Democratic wave during the midterms it will be one that is fueled by distrust and abhorrence of Donald Trump and of Republican politicians who have failed to put a check on his actions. Those who distrust and abhor Trump include both progressives and moderates. Die-hard Trump loyal Republicans should be most vulnerable. If the country receives a message that people are fed-up with Trump and with weak-kneed Trump followers among the Republican Party, by observing a Blue Wave building in 2018, then the stage is open for new leadership to articulate the message of the Democrats. It will be a national message and one geared toward 2020 and beyond. Enthusiasm for political change can be supercharged by a progressive candidate for president. I happen to believe that going back to politics as usual as a remedy to Donald Trump is a dismal strategy. Even it is successful, it will leave us with the same big-money controlled congress, tax and economic programs stacked against wage-earners and favoring the accumulation of capital by the rich, and with hordes of poor people whose opportunities are limited by their parents’ educational and financial means as well as by the failing institutions of education, health care, and criminal justice that characterize large urban and rural pockets of our country. Medicare for All, Free Public College Tuition, a guaranteed jobs program, and a revised tax structure, as well as some method for driving the influence of big business and wealth out of politics, are among the reasonable answers to these problems. A national election, which includes a presidential election, is the time to bring the progressive wave to the forefront. Right now we need to elect opponents of the current regime.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Our President is a Joke

I don’t like to make personal attacks. In fact, I think that many Democrats and progressives are making themselves look bad by engaging in what Rand Paul recently called “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” I have argued that there are plenty of policy disagreements with the president’s and the Republican Party’s positions to support substantive arguments against them without resorting to personal attacks. But in the last two days President Trump has shown a level of incompetence that is truly frightening for a United States President.

Trump crowed that he didn’t need to prepare for his summit with Vladimir Putin and the highlight of their meeting would be a long talk between just the two of them, accompanied by translators but no advisors. The meeting was immediately followed by a working lunch, which included advisors and then a joint press conference. Days before the summit, a grand jury had indicted 12 members of Russian intelligence for interfering in the 2016 election, based upon evidence presented by the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller’s team. At the same time, President Trump blamed United States “foolishness and stupidity” for our country’s bad relationship with Russia, not mentioning Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, assassinations in the UK and in Russia itself, or meddling in the election.

In their joint press conference, Trump sided with Putin on the issue of the lack of Russian meddling in the election. In response to questions about the indictments and his own opinion as to who he believed, Trump repeated his characterization of the investigation by Mueller as a “witch hunt,” and then launched into an unresponsive and incoherent attack on Hillary Clinton, asking “where are those servers” and ranting about the 33,000 missing emails. He repeatedly claimed that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the election, which was not a question even asked.

Today, the president said that he “accepts our intelligence community’s conclusion” about Russian interference in the election. He added that it may well have been others as well, undermining his own previous statement, since the intelligence community has never accused anyone else of trying to interfere with the election. He also said that he “misspoke” at the summit when he said he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that interfered with the election when he actually intended to say he didn’t  “see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” that interfered in the election. This was more than 24 hours and several interviews and tweets after the summit had ended—a summit he declared as a great success without mentioning that he said the opposite of what he meant on the main topic discussed at the press conference. On Sean Hannity's Fox program following the summit, the president never once mentioned that he had misspoken, nor seemed to disagree with anything he said during the press conference. 

Even putting aside Trump’s fawning over Putin as a wonderful, strong leader and his failure to criticize him on his country’s behavior in Syria or the Ukraine, the president’s behavior during the summit and afterward in response to the criticism of how he behaved shows sheer incompetence in the man leading our country. He clearly was neither prepared for the summit nor for the press conference following it. He fumbled his answers, and tried to save himself with a bald-faced lie afterward. He interpreted questions about the evidence of Russian election meddling as criticism of him and of the legitimacy of his election. Everything he did had the look of a man in over his head in the office he holds. 

 

 

Friday
Jul132018

Preserving Culture in a Chaotic World

We live in a connected world. When a civil war in Syria rages out of control for years, its civilian victims flee to Europe. When corrupt governments and drug cartels run rampant in Central America’s Northern Triangle, those who fear for their lives flee north to Mexico and the United States. When central Africa suffers civil war and/or famine, its residents move north, often to Europe. As China’s economy produces more and more wealthy citizens, they buy up property in America and their children attend private U.S. schools and universities. At the same time that this is happening, birth rates for native populations are falling below the replacement rate across Europe, the UK, North America and some Asian countries, such as Japan, resulting in a need for immigrants to work in those countries’ economies in order to pay for the retirement and health costs of aging native born populations.

The worldwide troubles that have caused dislocation of millions of people are rarely a result of just the internal circumstances of the countries in which those people reside. The Syrian war would not continue without outside support from Western countries, including Europe and the U.S., for rebels, and support for government forces from Iran and Russia. The Central American drug trade is supported by the continued epidemic of drug use in the United States and laws that make the drug business illegal. Western and European efforts to help African nations in need because of war or famine have been ineffective and half-hearted, and are dwarfed by the efforts to use Africa as a source of natural resources or a market for goods. The flow of foreign money into some resource-rich African countries, and into the pockets of government officials, has fueled disputes that have led to coups and to countries, such as Sudan, splitting in two after a prolonged war, in order to divide the resources and the money flowing from them.

The sociopolitical battle that is going on in Europe, the UK and the U.S., is based on the question of acceptance versus rejection of the large numbers of immigrants entering those countries, and, in the eyes of many, changing their cultures. Hungary’s  prime Minister, Victor Orban has stated,  “there is no cultural identity in a population without a stable ethnic composition. The alteration of a country’s ethnic makeup amounts to an alteration of its cultural identity.” During his recent visit to the UK, Donald Trump said, “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture.” The same arguments are made in the U.S., where White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, talking about illegal immigrants to the U.S., said, that they are ““not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.” Hungary’s Orban as well as other right-leaning leaders in Europe and the UK, as well as Christian leaders in the U.S., have also cited what they view as an incompatibility of Islamic religion with Western, Christian values.

Regardless of whether the influx of immigrants is slowed, there are already enough immigrants in European countries and the U.S. to cause us to figure out how to better assimilate them into our culture. Such assimilation is a two-way street, which requires the larger culture to accommodate some of the nuances of the minority one. Multiculturalism is not a monolithic entity and not the same in every country. Many European countries, including the Balkan states and Spain have long histories of Muslim domination and have mixed religious populations that sometimes get along and sometimes fight. America was settled by waves of Europeans, each one mostly rejected by those who were already here, but eventually being assimilated. Learnng about one another is bound to be the key to resolving internal conflicts around immigration and culture. Bigotry and prejudice lead only to hostility.

At the same time as developed countries are resisting the cultural changes that accompany the admittance of large numbers of foreign-born into their borders, their industries and their economies are dependent upon them. Across the U.S. and Europe, less skilled foreign workers work the farms, provide food, domestic, and sanitary services and contribute taxes to pay for health and social security programs. Multiple studies in the U.S. and Europe have shown that immigrants put more money into the economies of these countries than they take out. Even if native-born residents chose to take such jobs, there are not enough of them to do so because of falling birthrates, and less healthy older adults in the native-born population require public services at levels unaffordable without a sufficient number of younger people contributing to the economies.

The United States under Donald Trump and many European countries, such as Hungary, have attempted to solve the dilemma by toughening borders so as not to allow anyone in unless they are invited, and altering priorities for immigration to include only those with sufficient skills, education, or financial means to immediately add to their economies at high levels. The hope is also that such people will also more easily assimilate into the existing and traditional society of a country, as they reap higher benefits from their own contributions to the society. Such policies are being enacted as some of the immediate immigration pressures are lessening, particularly in Europe, where the flood of refugees has reduced to a trickle, as a result of less Syrian turmoil as well as agreements with Turkey and Libya and other non-European refugee destinations, to keep refugees in their countries in return for financial and economic aid. In the U.S., immigration from Mexico, both legal and illegal has become a net loss in recent years, although it has increased from Central America.

Toughening borders and resisting illegal immigration as well as reducing refugee quotas can work at reducing immigration or allowing it to be more a selection process so long as conditions outside of a country do not reach intolerable levels and produce an unmanageable number of asylum seekers. So far, none of the developed countries who are wrestling with the immigration issue have addressed the causes of people leaving their countries—causes to which developed countries often contribute. Within countries that have received immigrants, there has not been enough of  a movement to incorporate them into society to ease tensions between immigrant communities and those who are already resident in a country. While this is in a very large part due to fear and prejudice, it also is a problem no one knows how to solve. Both Germany’s Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister David Cameron have famously stated that multiculturalism, the idea of valuing and preserving the differences between cultures while incorporating them into the overall society without demanding assimilation, “has failed.”

The issue of maintaining a civil society when its members don't all agree on some basic issues and value very different traditions is a difficult one to solve. The fear and prejudice that differentness causes in native populations itself contributes to immigrants being estranged from both the economic and social benefits of a society and leads to the development of subcultures that can be antisocial. In the U.S., immigrant groups, whether legal or illegal, are less prone to crime than are native born Americans, however, this advantage is lost on their native-born children, who, in many cases, grow up in poverty and crime ridden ghetto circumstances. In Europe, immigrants have higher crime rates than native-born residents in most countries. Unemployment and poverty, which themselves contribute to crime, are also higher in European immigrant communities.

With global warming likely to cause increasing natural disasters that, in turn, lead to more armed conflicts and more famine and then to more migration of populations, the idea of developed countries in the Northern part of the world walling themselves off in order to preserve their way of life seems futile in the long run. Central American drug activity is not lessening, as U.S. drug demand continues. The Middle East is not getting more peaceful and instead, Saudi Arabia and Iran are becoming more likely to engage in continuous proxy wars to establish dominance in the region, as they are doing now in Yemen. For the moment, immigration pressures in America and Europe are actually less than in the recent past and there may be enough time to give the world an opportunity to arrive at some possible solutions to this problem. What is required is less incendiary rhetoric and more constructive problem solving. Solving global warming (or at least mitigating it) and raising the standard of living, assisting with the development of infrastructure and legal systems in developing countries, while solving international disputes without engaging in  proxy wars that displace millions of people would ease the pressures that lead to massive illegal immigration (ironically, China seems to be pursuing such a program in Africa by providing resources to strengthen legal systems and infrastructure, although not human rights). Accomplishing these tasks requires international cooperation and leadership—not just among developed countries, but among all countries. It cannot be left to the market forces of international business, as these have accentuated, not helped the problem. Governments need to become involved. Hunkering down behind our walls while not addressing any of these problems will not solve anything.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jul122018

Brett Kavanaugh is a Distraction

No one seriously doubts that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Senate as a Supreme Court Justice. The 2% chance that this won’t happen rests upon Democrats either delaying his confirmation until after the election and winning a majority in the Senate during that election (although the confirmation would need to be delayed until after January of 2019 when the new Senate is sworn in), or something damaging coming out in his background that disqualifies him (most likely a non-right vs. left issue).

The optics of waging a losing battle are not good. They can be, if the issues are sufficiently moral and sufficiently clear-cut. If they are not, then the losers, in this case the Democrats, look like whining fear mongers or, worse yet, chronic sponsors of opposition for the sake of opposition (as were the Republicans during many of the Obama years). 

But what about Roe v. Wade? Isn’t that a sufficiently moral issue to justify outraged opposition, even in a losing fight?  First of all, for many Americans who oppose abortion, the issue is also a moral one, so a woman’s right to choose vs the right of an unborn child to life is a divisive moral issue, not an agreed upon one. Second, Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion on the issue is far from clear. His one ruling on a pertinent case, that would have given an undocumented under age immigrant the right to obtain an abortion, did uphold the government’s right of “refraining from facilitating abortion,” but he did not vote to prohibit the abortion, only to give the government more time to find the girl a sponsor who could stand in for her parents and help her make her decision. He limited the government’s time line to 11 days, so that if no one were found, she still had time to have the abortion. His opinion and the decision of his three-judge panel was overruled by the full court. Although it can be argued that this case signals Kavanaugh’s underlying opposition to abortion, the case has so many extraneous issues attached to it that is not clear, and even some conservative, pro-life groups have objected to his nomination because they see his ruling as confirming the girl’s right to have an abortion. 

But what about the fact that President Trump promised to nominate someone who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?  While the president’s statements may signal his own views on the subject, unfortunately, they would apply to anyone he nominated, so to defeat him on the issue would mean never confirming any of Trump’s nominees—an unlikely scenario, no matter who is in charge of the Senate.

Kavanaugh is also characterized as arguing that a sitting president cannot be indicted, something which Democrats claim was foremost in Donald Trump’s mind when he nominated Kavanaugh. One Democratic Congresswoman has argued that this gives the president a “get out of jail free card,” and other prominent Democrats have said that, at the least, if the issue of a presidential indictment comes up, Kavanaugh should recuse himself if he is on the court. The Washington Post has given this claim two Pinochios. The Post analyzed the 2009 article in which Kavanaugh discussed presidential civil and criminal prosecution. They pointed out that he said that the legal issue was “debatable,” but the bulk of the article, which dealt with the Clinton investigation, of which he was a part, argued that because of the distracting effect of such an investigation on a sitting president’s ability to carry out his or her duties, congress should act to pass a law that would put such cases off, by extending the statute of limitations until after the president is no longer in office. The Post points out that the argument presumes that legal impediments would not prohibit such an indictment, which is why Kavanaugh recommends that congress act. In the same article, Kavanaugh recommends that congress pass a bill requiring Senate confirmations of Supreme Court nominees take place within 180 days of the nomination—which would have eliminated the Merritt Garland fiasco if such a law had been in place.

Brett Kavanaugh’s positions on abortion and on indicting a president are among many issues that the Senate needs to examine in determining his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. They are far from trivial issues, and it is the Senate’s duty to delve into them as deeply as possible. I’m not recommending that Democrats roll over and play dead and confirm Kavanaugh without thorough vetting. But there is also an election to address. Channeling Democratic opposition into the narrow funnel of a tooth and nail fight to stop Kavanaugh, when the fight will be lost, diverts energy, media attention and airspace away from the larger issues that plague this country. Trump administration immigration policies are inhumane and incompetent and have resulted in possibly irreparable damage to many families, both those who are seeking asylum from violence in their home country and those who have lived here for years as productive members of the community and are being deported. The entire structure of environmental protection, from National Park preservation to reduction of air, ground and water pollution is being dismantled, first under the direction of a corrupt crook and now under the direction of his philosophically identical second in command, a former coal industry lobbyist. The provisions of the Affordable Care Act that protect those with preexisting medical conditions and allow insurance companies to insure high-risk clients while being reimbursed through a government program to distribute the costs across the industry are being taken away. The new tax law further protects high-wealth persons and widens economic disparity, while a Republican congress complains about poor people getting too much and tries to reduce benefits in the areas of housing and food stamps. We have a House and Senate that are powerless to oppose the encroachments of the Trump Administration on the lives of those with the least power in our society. It’s a Republican controlled congress. This is what needs to change and this is where Democrats need to direct their energy. Young people and poor and lower middle class people are being trampled upon in our society and we need a government that is responsive to all Americans, not just those with money. That’s the issue, not a Quixotic confirmation fight in the Senate that narrows the problems of our country down to a single divisive moral issue or to questionable issues of personality and philosophy in a Supreme Court nominee.

Monday
Jul092018

Democrats Must Choose a Direction

Two major political fights are on the horizon: First (and it will be first), is the Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice. Second, is the 2018 election.

Unless President Trump nominates someone who is so outside the mainstream that he or she is unacceptable to moderate Republicans as well as Democrats, the president’s nomination will be confirmed. There are opportunities for Democratic Senators to attempt to reveal potentially troubling aspects of the nominee’s judicial philosophy (troubling to their Democratic constituency), that could add fuel to the necessity of electing more Democrats in the future to stop further movement of the court to the right, but that’s about all that can be accomplished. Losing or winning an election has consequences and altering the composition of the Supreme Court is one of them.

The 2018 election is a different kettle of fish. Democrats have a real chance of altering the balance of power in both houses of congress, although doing so is still a long shot. If a conservative Supreme Court means that more decisions will be left up to states, rather than settled on a federal level, then governorships and state legislatures become extremely important in exerting control over decisions that had previously been thought to be within the federal purview (e.g. gerrymandering and perhaps even abortion rights).

The question for Democrats—and it is one that has to be answered right now because the candidates in most states’ general elections have been decided—is whether to try to build a truly progressive constituency that supports progressive candidates who campaign for universal health care, free public college tuition, abortion rights, tax reform, environmental protection and measures to combat climate change, or whether to tailor the Democratic message to often moderate or sometimes conservative views of the local electorate, who supported Republican incumbents in the past.

“Catastrophic liberal hysterics” (I am putting quotations around the phrase, since I think it captures the way much of what is currently being said aloud and in messages I get daily in my inbox—mostly followed by requests for donations—are perceived by a fair share of the public) appeal to the progressive base but probably deter those who are more moderate. Such sentiments, phrased more positively in terms of actions that can be taken to bring about new programs and policies, may serve to recruit young and perhaps minority voters. Realistic proposals, which include Medicare for All, greater taxation of high wealth, amnesty for DACA recipients, higher minimum wages, some version of free public college tuition, reduction of greenhouse gases, a more welcoming refugee program, a more humane immigration program, can become a core of a liberal/progressive movement that energizes young people and the older progressive base of the Democratic Party without totally alienating moderates. The question is whether there is enough time between now and November to bring out young and minority voters to support this agenda. There may be in some states or congressional districts, but not in others. It will be much easier in a presidential election year, when a strong, vibrant, progressive candidate can espouse such views.

Electing anyone, just because he or she is a Democrat, may stem the tide of the Republican/Trump takeover, but it can’t sustain a progressive victory through 2020. Many young progressives are fed up with the Wall Street oriented, ties to deep pocket fundraisers and lobbyists, middle of the road politics of those currently holding the reins of Democratic power in congress. Many progressives, regardless of age, including myself, believe that the ties to corporate power and wealth of our politicians is what is responsible for things rarely changing regardless of which party is in power. Under both parties, the rich have been getting richer and the poor getting poorer. For the Democratic Party to move ahead and change our country, it needs to embrace a more progressive stance, if not before the 2018 election, at least after it and before 2020. 

Tuesday
Jun262018

Why Silencing Contrarians is a Mistake

I recently read an article in the New York Times by a professor of Philosophy, who recommended that Charles Murray, one of the authors of  1994’s The Bell Curve, not be given airtime in the public media or at universities, because the book’s findings are “junk science.”  What Murray claims about his findings, which include the idea that differences found in IQ and achievement between races may be innate, may be objectionable to many, but the data in the book is not “junk science” just because one disagrees with its conclusions.The data it cites are almost entirely from reputable, mainstream sources. The job of those who disagree with its conclusions—and that includes me—is to examine the data and decide why they come to a different conclusion than the authors. The Bell Curve’s message is refutable, both in terms of the data it includes and in light of research carried out since the time it was published, but it is not “junk science,” and the quest to silence its author on this basis is misleading and represents a failure to understand how science works. 

As Thomas Kuhn pointed out more than fifty decades ago, scientific knowledge generally proceeds in small increments. Increasing failures of current theories to predict experimental results finally leads to a “a paradigm shift” to accommodate the errant findings in a new viewpoint of the world. There are almost always positive and negative findings and the determiner of truth in science is primarily consensus. Experimental or observational findings are replicated and anomalous findings are explained until everyone more or less agrees on a common interpretation. If the anomalous findings persist, a change of interpretation may occur. A new theory may emerge. Science tries to unearth facts and explain them using theories. Theories explain experimental and observational facts using the concepts available at the time. Anomalous findings that do not support the current theory are taken seriously by scientists and are not labeled “junk science” simply because they fail to agree with other studies.

Many of those in the media and in politics claim that  findings that do not support the concept of man-made global warming are examples of “junk science.” The nearly unanimous agreement among climate scientists that global warming exists and is man-made is often cited as “scientific proof” that it is real. In California, a serious proposal was made to make questioning the scientific validity of global warming a criminal offense. The consensus among the majority of the world’s climate scientists is real, but not because the findings are either clear-cut or incontrovertible and they certainly are complex. The causal relationship between C02 concentrations and atmospheric temperatures has been very difficult to establish and predictions of rising atmospheric temperatures made in the 1980s and early 90s overestimated the increase, a finding which is only now being explained by discovering how deep oceanic heating may have reduced atmospheric heating. The relationships are complex and the scientific findings are varied, although the scientific consensus that the phenomenon is real has not wavered. But anomalous findings need explanation and those who bring them up are not resorting to “junk science” and should not be told to be quiet.

Real science can lead to anomalous results that don’t agree with accepted wisdom. Public perception of the state of science is usually a simplification. Unfortunately, once a scientific finding enters the political arena or the mainstream media, it is further simplified but opinions of lay people become hardened around what they perceive are the facts. The media and many partisan advocates have taken simplistic viewpoints with regard to complex issues and, in this age in which we approach many topics with our preconceptions on one sleeve and our moral self-righteousness on the other, have argued for “shutting down” voices that oppose the received wisdom. If we disagree with the voices who challenge our viewpoint, then we can argue against them, citing the reasons we prefer our own view instead of theirs. With science, this will probably be an argument about facts or the implications of facts. With social questions this may be about facts, but may just as well be about morals and ethics related to such facts.  Whatever the debate, it can be worth having and is better than closing our minds and not listening because we don’t like what is being said.  The world is a complicated place and very little of what we know about it is cut and dried or exists separate from our perceptions and opinions. 

 

Monday
Jun252018

I’m Tired of Self-Righteous Intolerance

Our modern times make us witness to a lot of ugliness. Much of it is enacted in the guise of self-righteousness. The president and his supporters claimed that “the law is the law” and it is their duty to uphold it, even when it resulted in cruelty and harm to children and parents because it led to separating families. They said they were doing what was necessary to protect our border and “a country that cannot control its borders doesn’t deserve to be called a country.” The evangelical right claimed victory when the Supreme Court ruled that a merchant can refuse service to a customer if by serving them, he or she violates his religiously based moral precepts. 

Liberals and progressives have been appalled by the president’s immigration policy and the Supreme Court’s enshrinement of what they consider religious bigotry over the rights of gay people (and who knows who else if the principle is extended further). Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a restaurant because, according to the restaurant’s owner, “people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.” Liberals cheered and conservatives were appalled by the restaurant owner’s decision. Soon after the Huckabee Sanders episode a woman in San Francisco was videotaped threatening to call the police on an 8 year old who was selling water without a permit in front of her apartment house. The video went viral and viewers, who noted that the woman, who was identified, was white and the child biracial, objected, including making death threats toward the woman for her “bigotry and intolerance.” This morning I read an article in the New York Times by a philosopher who argued that “The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience.” He provided examples of three people, two of them university professors, who espoused right-wing opinions he said were not supported by facts and who should not be allowed to speak in the national media.

Separating families, refusing service to customers because their behavior or lifestyle outside your establishment violated your moral standards, death threats, deeming some opinions so ignorant that those who espouse them shouldn’t be allowed to speak? The family separation does the most harm, but otherwise, I see all of these instances as symptoms of the same disease that has affected our country. We have wrapped our hatred in the clothing of self-righteousness and decided that our moral convictions allow us to treat other people in ways we would never want to be treated ourselves (and ways that, usually, our own moral codes forbid). We can employ a double standard with regard to a decent response to what we disagree with because we think that we have morality on our side. We can suspend our treatment of other people as valuable human beings because in our opinion, their behavior or their ideas have made them less than human and not deserving of being respected as human beings. We engage in name-calling, sick jokes, say “there’s a special place in hell” for those who disagree with us, or that the child of someone we hate “should be put in a cage with pedophiles.” We use our moral indignation as an excuse to behave without moral reservations when speaking or acting against those with whom we disagree. 

Both sides of the political debates going on in our country act similarly. Ultimately we in the United States, in the world, comprise a community. Our survival depends upon following rules of decency that we apply to our own behavior, first and foremost. We’ve seen what happens when communities give in to between-group hatred, to mob mentality, to the license of the majority to walk all over the rights of the minority. We’ve seen what happens when we start treating each other as less than human. Such behavior is always viewed as moral by those who engage in it. We’ve got to find a way to see and value each other as human beings and to behave accordingly. 

Thursday
Jun212018

Hungary’s Fugitive Slave Law

A few years ago, on an extended visit to a number of European countries and such picturesque cities as Paris, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Venice and Salzburg, I was surprised to find that my favorite city was Budapest, Hungary. It had intriguing geography, with two very different centers (Buda and Pest) in one city, the Danube running between them; it had  old castles and palaces (one of them turned into the hotel in which my wife and I stayed), wide shopping streets and a beautiful park and lake in the center of the city. I could see why it was called the “Paris of Eastern Europe.” What I enjoyed most of all were the many sidewalk cafes, filled with students studying and talking and drinking coffee or beer, the classic and elegant historic coffee houses where the rich of the city used to gather and probably still do, and the quirky “ruin pubs,” which were partially destroyed buildings unrepaired and turned into multi-floor drinking establishments. I searched, unsuccessfully, for the birth place of John Von Neumann, one of my intellectual heroes. What a place to study or teach, I thought to myself!  I imagined the city being alive with avante garde ideas and intellectual fervor.

Hungarian-born American investor, political activist and philanthropist George Soros, also must have seen his native Budapest in the same way. Until last month, the city was the home of his Open Societies Foundations as well as the Central European University, a graduate university focusing on social sciences, which he founded. The university’s future is still in doubt, as the government of  Prime Minister Viktor Orban has passed legislation that would make its current structure and policies illegal, despite the university being listed among the world’s top 100 in the social sciences. In May of this year, Soros, a target of the Orban government, as well as of American conservatives and Republicans because of his support of progressive politics, announced that he is moving his Open Societies Foundations from Budapest because of “an increasingly repressive political and legal environment” in Hungary. For the time being the embattled Central European University will stay.

What repression was Soros talking about? The idyllic Budapest I encountered a few years ago was shattered by an influx of refugees from the war-torn Middle East and famines devastated Africa, who, beginning in 2015, traversed the country on their way to other European destinations, such as Germany or the Netherlands. To be truthful, most of them were only passing through Hungary, partly because it’s so-so economy did not offer the employment or public assistance options available in more thriving European destinations. Nevertheless, Hungary made worldwide headlines with scenes of refugees stranded in Budapest train stations, with the pictures of the fences it erected between it and Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia to keep refugees from crossing into its borders, and with videos of its immigration authorities chasing and beating refugees who had managed to get in.

Victor Orban, the leader of the right-wing, populist Fidesz Party has been prime minister of Hungary since 2010. Orban and his party seized on the fear generated by the wave of refugees and intensified a campaign to demonize migrants, particularly if they are Muslim or non-white. His arguments are ethnic/racial, such as his words, “For a country to be strong, demographic decline must be out of the question. At this point in time, this is Hungary’s Achilles heel. A country which is in demographic decline – and, to put it bluntly, is not even able to sustain itself biologically – may well find that it is no longer needed. A country like that will disappear. Only those communities survive in the world which are at least able to sustain themselves biologically; and let’s be honest with ourselves, Hungary today is not yet such a country.” On another occasion, he said, “there is no cultural identity in a population without a stable ethnic composition. The alteration of a country’s ethnic makeup amounts to an alteration of its cultural identity.” His arguments are also religious: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.” 

Despite plummeting numbers of refugees entering his country—in September of 2015, a total of 138,396 illegal immigrants crossed into Hungary (mostly on their way elsewhere) and by September of 2016 the number had dropped to 152—Orban has kept up his drumbeat of anti-Muslim immigrant rhetoric. Notably, this anti-immigrant campaign has not been directed toward all groups and the number of immigrants into Hungary remains just below average for EU countries. They even had a program called the Hungarian Investment Immigration Program that lured people into the country with a promise of one-month qualification as a permanent resident and a fast-track to citizenship for an investment of $300,000. The program ended in 2017, when the government declared that its economy no longer needed it. However, it flourished during the same time that refugees were being turned away, and despite the prime minister’s claim that maintaining White European ethnicity was a priority, the program also tried to attract Asians, particularly Chinese, who could afford the investment. It was clear that the Orban government just didn’t want Muslims in its country.

Now, the Orban government has capped its anti-immigration program with the most onerous ruling yet. Yesterday, the Hungarian parliament passed a set of laws—which they named the “Stop Soros” bill—that makes it illegal for anyone to help migrants legalize their status in Hungary by providing information about the asylum process or offering them financial assistance. The penalty for violating the law is a 12-month jail term. Another measure would change the Hungarian Constitution to make it illegal to “settle foreign populations” in Hungary, a move made to thwart efforts by other EU countries to force Hungary to take some of the refugees that have settled elsewhere in Europe. These laws, particularly the first one, are reminiscent of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law in the United States, which made it illegal to assist a runaway slave, with a fine of $1,000 for violating the law. That law, now regarded as one of the worst laws our country has ever passed, also made it clear that slaves were not citizens and had no rights to a trial by jury in an American court, a decision made even more clear seven years later by the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision. 

So far, the EU has not objected to the violation of free speech or free expression inherent in Hungary’s new law.

Hungarians are not worse people than other Europeans. I loved the friendliness that met me when I visited Budapest. We mustn’t make the mistake we often make about Germans under Hitler, of saying that there is something different about a population that takes prejudice, fear and hatred toward an ethnic, religious or racial group to a malignant extreme. Enough social psychological experiments by the likes of Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo should have taught us that we are all capable of such behavior. All it takes is our fear being activated, something to push us into an Us vs Them state of mind, authority figures who tell us that the ethical thing to do is to follow orders and obey the laws no matter what, and a few demagogues to drum up hateful fervor amongst us.

There are smaller movements that mirror Hungary’s approach to immigrants in nearly every country in Europe and certainly in the United States, where anti-immigration fever is rampant. Victor Orban has praised President Trump on numerous occasions, hailing his victory in 2016 as signaling the “end to liberal non-democracy in America.” Trump has returned Orban’s praise and in a telephone conversation with him days before  Orban’s government passed the “Stop Soros bill,” the U.S. president encouraged the Hungarian P.M. to “strongly defend” Hungary’s border. Orban did just that.

Immigration has caused fear and drastic behaviors on the part of many countries. Hungary’s reaction is one example and the U.S. “zero-tolerance” policy that separated children from parents is another. We are in danger of losing our humanity because of fear and prejudice. We can’t afford to let ourselves go down the road Hungary seems to be following. We need to stand up for helping our less fortunate brothers and sisters in the world who are fleeing dangerous or unliveable situations, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin, and not succumb to bigotry and selfishness, clothed in the guise of nationalism and religious or ethnic self-righteousness.

 

Wednesday
Jun202018

Why “the law is the law” is the Wrong Answer

In April of this year, the Trump administration, speaking through Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy for dealing with those who cross our borders illegally. The tolerance that was being eliminated was that which allowed parents and their children to be put in detention facilities, but remain together while their case was waiting to be heard by a judge. Because of the backlog of cases, many families were held indefinitely, which was ruled illegal by a federal judge and so they were often released to await trial. Many never showed up and disappeared into the world of illegal immigrants. This earned the program the name of “catch and release” by the Trump administration. Back in October of 2017, the Trump administration began experimenting with a policy of arresting and jailing parents and then declaring their children “unaccompanied alien children” and separating them from their parents and putting them in detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services. This became the official program in April after Attorney General Sessions’ announcement.

The laws governing the legal status of parents and children did not change. Parents who entered the country illegally have always been subject to prosecution and jail while their cases are awaiting trial, even if their defense is that they are seeking asylum. (If they present themselves as seeking asylum but have not entered the U.S., they are not subject to prosecution – this latter situation is called “affirmative asylum seeking” and when an asylum request is made after being caught in the U.S. illegally, it is called “defensive asylum seeking.")  What has changed is that prior to the Trump program, parents accompanied by their own minor children were not jailed unless they were also guilty of another crime or presented a threat to national security.

Clearly, what has changed has been the policy that determines how families are treated, not the law which governs this procedure. The law allows considerable variability in how it is applied. Zero-tolerance is one variation. Family detention centers is another variation, which was in effect in previous administrations.

Throughout history we have had numerous examples of laws that could produce harm if applied without thought to their humanitarian consequences. The  Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 fined anyone $1000  if they aided a runaway slave and also refused slaves the right of a jury trial. Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws segregated blacks from whites, prosecuted Blacks as vagrants if the refused to sign onerous work contracts with White landowners, and kept Blacks and Whites from marrying. Under Public Law 503, 127,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in detention camps during WWII, many of them losing their possessions, because of the belief that they might be more loyal to the country of their ancestors than to the U.S. As late as 1967, fifteen states still had laws preventing marriage between people of different races, all of them overturned that year by a Supreme Court decision.  In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that “Sodomy Laws,” which made homosexuality and some sexual practices even between married heterosexual couples illegal were unconstitutional. Such laws were still on the books in fourteen states at the time.

Many of the egregious laws mentioned above were applied differently or not at all by different states and municipalities. In virtually all cases, “zero-tolerance” policies would now be seen as inhumane, based upon prejudice and, looking back, can be seen as robbing people of their fundamental rights.

It’s not a fundamental right to enter a country illegally. It is a fundamental right to protect one’s children, for children to remain with their parents unless it is impossible to do so, and to have one’s day in court without undergoing cruel and unusual circumstances while awaiting that court date. The situations in the countries from which the majority of the families crossing our border are fleeing are horrendous and life threatening to the children. The so-called “northern triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from which the majority of these families are fleeing, have soaring homicide rates, rampant drug gang violence, dysfunctional legal and law enforcement systems and unemployment rates from 30-65%. The source of many of their ills is the lucrative drug trade in the U.S. 

Parents are doing what they believe they must do to try to give their children a chance at a better life. A zero-tolerance arrest policy that separates families is inhumane. It is based on the kind of prejudice that claims, as our president has, that we are becoming “infested” (a word normally used for insect and animal pests) with immigrants, or that prompted an administration supporter on CNN to refer to illegal immigrants as “invaders.”  By implementing this policy, the U.S. has abdicated any moral leadership in the world that it could still claim. It has put property rights above human rights. It values territory over people. There is no denying this, and our country should be ashamed of itself for allowing this to happen. Laws are meant to make us all feel safer. The implementation of laws using policies that make some of us feel safer while removing the safety of maintaining a family from others—whether they are legal U.S. residents or not— is not right. When we see other countries doing such things we object. We need to stop doing it ourselves.

 

Note: At the time of this writing, President Trump is considering an executive order to change this policy. I hope he signs it and we can leave this period of national disgrace behind. 

Saturday
Jun162018

Trump’s Threat to the Liberal World Order

The mantra of the liberal media, particularly the intellectual and scholarly media (New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria) and particularly when articles are written by former government officials or diplomats, claim that president Donald Trump is destroying the “liberal world order,” crafted and shaped by the United States for the last 70 years. Trump has broken trade alliances, disputed the principle of free trade in favor of aggressive tariffs, failed to assert demands for human rights in other nations that violate them, and praised dictatorial leaders, such as Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who disregard human rights in their own countries. He is scaring our allies in South Korea and Japan by stopping military exercises designed to deter North Korea and voiced support for eventually removing troops from South Korea. In the past, he has criticized the usefulness of NATO, and threatened to reduce American involvement if European countries didn’t pay more for their own defense.

All of the complaints against President Trump are true. The destruction of free trade between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, the development of a trade war with those countries as well as Europe and China, the uncritical support of Erdoğan, are all egregious foreign policy moves in my opinion. Trump’s willingness to talk to Putin and Kim, his reduction of the U.S. military presence as it pertains to North Korea in an effort to make peace, and his chiding of European countries for taking a “free ride” on the coattails of the American Defense budget when it comes to their own defense are perfectly legitimate positions, as far as I am concerned, even if they do violate some people’s view of what the American-maintained liberal world order should look like. The jeopardizing of our alliances and the initiation of a trade war between the U.S. and nearly all of our trading partners, as well as Trump’s professed admiration for dictators, as well as the disorganized and amateurish, on-the-fly nature of his foreign policy are aspects of the Trump presidency that I see as downright dangerous.

But what about his undermining of the liberal world order? The idea behind such an order is that America, relatively untouched by WWII, at first the only nuclear power, and left with a military presence in Europe and Japan, as well as the resources to rebuild parts of war-torn Europe and support the rebirth of Japan, became the protector of Western values. America pursued a deliberate policy of using its military and economic might to protect and foster democracies, democratic institutions and the maintenance of capitalism and free trade as the economic system that dominated the world. Under the umbrella of this policy, nuclear weapons were never again used, democracies didn’t go to war against each other and the world’s economy grew at an impressive rate while underdeveloped regions of the world slowly worked their way up from destitution.

The liberal world order is a nice picture, but the reality is a little different. The association of the theme of liberal democracy with the idea of a world order created the Cold War mentality, in which the danger of Communism in any form became America’s first priority for virtually the entire last half of the 20thcentury. Using the idea that any defense against Communism or its twin, Socialism, was a defense of  “freedom,” the U.S., using covert operations and economic pressure, toppled several democratically elected governments in South and Central America because they endorsed leftist ideologies. This pattern has persisted, at least in terms of whom we support and our economic policies, and probably our covert intelligence operations, right up to the present in places such as Venezuela and Honduras. The strait-laced blindness of American anti-Communism forced Cuba to align with Russia, then become a purveyor of its system to other South and Central American countries as well as Africa, while the U.S. stood by and failed to reach out to a regime that could have been our friend and was no more dictatorial than regimes we supported in El Salvador or Chile.

America’s protection of human rights failed miserably in our lack of criticism or economic penalties for countries such as South Africa during its Apartheid era or Israel in its treatment of Palestinians, and even America's support for Saddam Hussein against Iran in their war, because these countries were considered vital to America either economically or strategically. In this century, we have continued this practice with regard to Saudi Arabia and the Ukraine, and, of course, Israel.

The upwardly rising economic progress of the world, in terms of its march toward an ever higher Global World Product (GWP), has for decades concealed the widening gap between the economic elites of the world and the rest of humanity, which appears most stark in the most successful capitalistic countries, such as the U.S. Thomas Piketty has chronicled the rise of income inequality as a consequence of the capitalistic system and the lack of countervailing forces to distribute wealth more equitably. Meanwhile, China, for some reason out of the field of vision of Western economists for decades, has developed an alternative model that fuses partial capitalism with tight undemocratic government control over both its economy and its people and vaulted the Chinese economy into competition with the U.S. and exported its model to much of the developing world.

While the liberal world order was a nice idea, and may have been necessary when Stalin threatened Europe after WWII (though it actually did little to stop him), and it produced a economically recovered Western Europe that was probably instrumental in convincing Mikhael Gorbachev to dismantle the Soviet Union and turn toward greater freedom and capitalism, it was also a massive hypocrisy concealing the rise of Western corporate power, and supporting dictatorships when it was useful to do so, neglecting, except as sources of raw materials and a market for goods, Africa and other developing regions (regions that are now falling under the economic influence of China), and pushing us into wars such as Vietnam and Iraq. 

Is the liberal world order worth preserving? I’m not sure that it is capable of being preserved in the light of China’s ascendance. If its ideals always determined America’s actions, it might be a useful model, but the basic idea that one country’s military might and wealth are the source of freedom and prosperity for the rest of the world seems a flawed one when one steps back and thinks about it. I can’t believe that Donald Trump’s model of an economically belligerent superpower is a viable alternative, and in fact it seems to be based upon the same flawed idea that America is exceptional enough to determine the way the rest of the world works. Trump’s vision is more pragmatic and less ideological, but equally oriented around power as the determiner of right.

I don’t know the answer as to what alternative we should seek, except that it should involve more American humility, more genuine concern for human welfare, such as the welfare of refugees and immigrants, greater equality of wealth, more concern for the environment and protection against global warming, less threat of war, and more effort by the developed world to help the developing world without concern about whether they become ours or China’s satellite country. I don’t have a model for this, but I think I’ve heard enough about the demise of the liberal world order. It may have been time for its descent, Trump or no Trump, and we should stop paying obeisance to it.

Friday
Jun152018

Islands in the Sun and the Rising Tide that May Engulf Them

“How much can Democrats count on suburban liberals?” was the question columnist Thomas Edsall asked in a recent New York Times article. Edsall referenced a book by Ryan Enos, a Harvard social scientist, in which he described a study he conducted in the liberal, mostly White, Boston suburbs. Enos planted 2 confederate Hispanic people at 9 commuter train stations in the suburbs and had the plants speak to each other in Spanish. They appeared daily for several days at the time of certain trains. Afterward Enos asked the White commuters their attitudes toward illegal immigration and toward making English the official state language. Compared to a control subjects who took trains from the same stations at a slightly different time each day, those who had observed the Hispanic people speaking Spanish became less open to allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and more in favor of a law making English the official state language. Enos summarized his results by concluding that, “The good liberal people catching trains in the Boston suburbs became exclusionary. Exposure to two young Spanish speakers for just a few minutes, or less, for just three days had driven them toward anti-immigration policies associated with their political opponents.”

Edsall goes on to cite research by Enos and others that demonstrates or suggests that liberal values of diversity and inclusion may be held more by White people who have little acquaintance with other races and ethnicities, or at least not in their neighborhoods, and that those values begin to disappear when they are actually faced with those who look different or speak another language. Additionally, Edsall cited research showing that such exclusionary attitudes can become stronger if they are stoked by politicians who support them. 

This is a troubling set of findings and a troubling suggestion. It means that as diversity begins to extend into the living spaces of White Americans, they become less welcoming to it and may become more prone to gravitating toward prejudicial and discriminatory viewpoints. A similar phenomenon can be observed in Europe in the reaction of White Europeans to the influx of African and Middle Eastern refugees into their countries. Attitudes went from welcoming before the refugees arrived, to hostile after they moved in to stay. A saving grace may be that Enos suggests that the result is not linear. According to him, “The relationship between the proportion of an out-group in an area and group-based bias is curvilinear: it becomes greater as the out-group proportion increases until reaching a tipping point and then starting to decrease. This means that when a group makes up a large portion of a place — for concreteness, say 40 percent — each additional person above 40 percent actually decreases group-based bias.”

People are protective of what they have and their protectiveness is brought out when their fear of losing their safety or their privileged position is aroused. In our country, a number of things other than language and ethnicity are associated with ethnic and racial differences. The ethnicities and races in this country differ in terms of wealth, income, education and crime rates, all of which are interconnected and all of which may work against integration of people from diverse ethnic or racial backgrounds. People can live in proximity, but rarely cross paths or socialize with one another. Housing and education patterns may reinforce and maintain racial and ethnic separation, while further solidifying prejudicial stereotypes among different groups.

Orange County, California, home of California’s “Riviera” or ”Gold Coast,” is a sun-drenched paradise in the eyes of many who live within its boundaries or who visit its beaches, resorts and theme parks such as Disneyland and Knott’s. Less than an hour south of Los Angeles, it has a population of over 3 million people. It has a very diverse population and is one of the so-called “majority-minority” areas of the country that reflect our changing demographics: 41.1% are non-Hispanic Whites, 34.35% are Hispanic or Latino, 20.4% are Asian, only 2.1% are Black and 2.1% are mixed or other races/ethnicities. But the diverse population is not spread evenly across the county. Spread of Hispanic and Asian members of the population centers around some “islands,” but, from those centers, spreads out gradually toward all areas of the county. Coincident with the changing demographics, the once firmly Republican Orange County has been changing over the years. In 1990, the Republican voter registrations were 22% greater than Democrats.’ In 2015, that difference was 9%. In 2016, it had dropped to 5.3% and today it is 4%.

When I began to write this essay, I was convinced that most of Orange County remained “islands” of cities that were either predominately White, or Hispanic or mixed White/Asian and that the integration of the county was an illusion. After combing census figures throughout the county, I found that my first impression was only partially true. Newport Beach, the richest city in the county is 80% White, and other “Riviera” cities such as Laguna Beach and San Clement are near that. Santa Ana, the poorest city, is nearly 80% Hispanic. The largest percentage of Asians is in Westminster, which is 48% Asian – mostly Vietnamese. The rest of the cities were a mixture, but there is a striking split between those cities in northern and southern Orange County. While Asians are present in percentage above the national figure of 5.7% in most of the cities in the county, they are well below the state figure of 14.8 % in virtually all of the southern cities, except Irvine, where over 40% of the population is Asian, the largest percentage of any race/ethnicity, and Aliso Viejo where Asians are at about the same percentage as the rest of the state. Likewise, percentages of Hispanics are near or just below the national average of 17.8% in most of the southern O.C. cities, except San Juan Capistrano and nowhere near the state figure of 38.9%. 

In northern Orange County, the picture is different. In the majority of the cities, both Hispanic and Asian citizens are strongly represented at percentages similar to the state average for Hispanics and higher than the rest of the state for Asians. Non-Hispanic Whites are less than 50% of the population in all but Huntington Beach and Yorba Linda. Throughout the county, Blacks, who aren’t concentrated in any one area, are represented by tiny numbers relative to their state or U.S. percentages. 

Incomes, house prices and political party registrations follow the demographics. In Newport Beach, Republican registrations outnumber Democratic registrations about 2.5 to 1. In San Clemente, they are double those of Democrats. But in Laguna Beach, an expensive city with the highest percentage of White residents in the county (84%), Democrats outnumber Republicans by a slim margin and the Democrats are notoriously progressive. Overwhelmingly Hispanic Santa Ana has 3 times as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Anaheim, home of Disneyland, and a city where Hispanics are more than 50% of the population, Buena Park, where non-Hispanic Whites are only a quarter of the population and fewer than either Hispanics or Asians, Fullerton, where Whites are a third of the population, Garden Grove, with only a fifth of the population White and non-Hispanic, and Tustin, with less than 30% White, are other cities in the county where Democratic registrations outnumber Republican registrations. Irvine, with an even split between Whites and Asians, but markedly few Hispanics, is decidedly Democratic, an exception for southern county cities.

There are a few northern O.C. cities where Republicans retain a slim lead over Democrats, despite the changing demographics. These include Westminster, where the Asian population is primarily Vietnamese, who remain loyal to the Republican Party, which they consider sided with them (the South) during the Vietnam War, and Costa Mesa, where the White population is just over 50% and there are few Asians. 

Income, house prices, poverty rates and the likelihood of having health insurance follow the demographics, with the higher the percentage of non-Hispanic White members of a city’s population associated with higher incomes, higher house prices, lower poverty rates and fewer people without insurance (over a quarter of Santa Ana residents are without health insurance‑more than double the national average and triple the California average). Irvine, where the Asian population is mostly Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, is an interesting case in point. Education rates in terms of percentage of residents with college degrees are higher than any other O.C. city (Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are next closest), but household and per capita income are lower than in cities with less educated but more White populations.

Edsall’s article and Enos’s research raise the fear that as non-White populations spread into liberal Democratic White enclaves, the White residents will move to the right in terms of their politics, or at least in terms of their views on immigration. Orange County shows a different pattern. As non-White populations increase, there is a general movement toward the Democratic party. In Orange County, the non-Whites are virtually all from recent immigrant backgrounds, given the absence of Black residents in the county. We don’t know if it is simply that non-Whites are more likely to vote Democratic or if the Whites in those areas are changing their politics. Enos would predict that this might happen as the percentage of non-Whites passes that of Whites, but in Orange County, most Whites were at one time conservative Republicans and that is different than starting out as a liberal Democrat, so we just don’t know.

We do know some other things from studying Orange County. Non-Hispanic White people still make more money and have more wealth in terms of the price of their houses. Those southern O.C. cities that have remained mostly White (and, with the exception of Laguna Beach, mostly Republican) are actually integrating Hispanics at lower numbers than not just the rest of the county, but lower than the rest of the state, and in many instances lower than the rest of the country. They are remaining “islands” in some sense. In fact, they are very protective of their real estate. When a federal judge ordered O.C. cities to plan shelters to accommodate some of its great numbers of homeless people, the northern cities, which had already accommodated hundreds of homeless in new shelter facilities, responded by adding 700 more, with Anaheim and Santa Ana taking the lead. In contrast, the southern cities, which had accommodated only 100 homeless up to the point of the court order, claimed that they were unable to build even a single new shelter facility. This was not just a Democrat-Republican difference, as Irvine, solidly Democratic (and with Asians being the largest group in their population), led the opposition to homeless shelters among the southern O.C. cities.

New, often times foreign born Americans, can affect the politics of an area when they are in large numbers. In Orange County and many other places, this means a swing toward the Democratic Party. But people with high incomes and pricey houses (which characterizes southern Orange County), generally are resistant, not just to Democratic politics, but also to an influx of immigrants and to accommodating those who are less fortunate than they are, such as the homeless. In Orange County, local zoning and housing regulations limit growth and many residents, particularly of more affluent communities, strongly favor such regulations. The spread of non-White immigrant groups into previously all White communities is limited by both attitudinal factors and economic ones. In Orange County, as in other population centers on the West Coast, low-income residents are being priced out of the housing market. House prices are 4 times higher in Newport Beach than in Santa Ana, but rents are only 1.5 times lower in Santa Ana and they are climbing out of reach of local residents. Gentrification (which is already happening in the downtown area) may soon drive low-income Hispanic residents in Santa Ana elsewhere. Although rents in Newport Beach are only 1.5 times higher than those in Santa Ana, per capita income in Newport Beach is 5 times higher than in Santa Ana, so low-income Santa Ana residents cannot afford to rent, even in their own city.

For those who value a diverse population, who don’t want ethnicity or race to determine how much one earns, one’s educational opportunities, or where someone can live, there are many factors working against achieving an outcome that mirrors those values. Hopefully, as non-White immigrant citizens become more politically aware and active, they will vote for policies that aim toward implementing these values. And hopefully, White people who say they value diversity, will not back away from it when it arrives at their front door.