January 5, 2017

Hail to the Chief

This morning, NPR broadcast a short segment on “Hail to the Chief,” the familiar Presidential Anthem. The anthem has been associated with the President of the United States for two centuries. What is not well known is that the anthem has lyrics. The current words to “Hail to  the Chief” are the following:
Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.

Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that's our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!
Herald trumpets
What is scary is the eerie appropriateness of these lyrics to the presidency of Donald Trump. In particular, Trump has called for everyone’s coöperation following a divisive election. (He won’t get it, of course.) And there is the line about making our “grand country grander” following “great” in the previous line.

No doubt, Mr. Trump would love these words were he to hear them. Perhaps President Trump will be introduced by four ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief” sung by a military chorus.

God save the United States of America.

Note. Information for this post was taken from Wikipedia.

January 4, 2017

Why Republicans Want to Kill Obamacare

When acting to “fix” something, it’s always a good idea to ask: What problem are we solving? Doing so forces you to consider ultimate objectives and how the status quo might be manipulated to achieve those objectives more fully.

The Republicans have been hell-bent on repealing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for the better part of eight years. This objective has become an article of faith among Republicans that, seemingly, requires no justification. Republicans never explain what is wrong with the ACA or how repeal will make life better for Americans. Candidate Trump repeatedly pledged to dump the ACA but never, as far as I can tell, suggested why that would be a good thing. The 115th Congress is hardly a day old, and Republicans are already introducing legislation aimed at getting rid of the ACA.

Mike Pence
Mike Pence (photo by Gage Skidmore)
In the noon NPR newscast today, an audio clip was broadcast of Mike Pense explaining, if not what is wrong with the ACA, at least what Republican objectives are in their quest to eliminate it:
My message to members of Congress is that we are going to be in the promise-keeping business, and the first order of business is to keep our promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the kind of health care reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without growing the cost of government.
What do we see here? First, Republicans are going to deliver on their promise to repeal the ACA. But this begs the question. Why was that promise made in the first place? (I suspect the real answer is to stick it to President Obama, whom the Republicans hate with a passion. This begs the question again, and, for now anyway, I don’t want to touch that issue.)

Pence went on to enumerate Republican objectives for their fix. These suggest, at least implicitly, what is seen to be wrong with the ACA. And what are those objectives? They are (1) to lower the cost of insurance and (2) to prevent the cost of government from growing.

Consider the second objective. To put it generously, the Republican Party is the party of limited government. Any program that expands the scope of government, particularly if it costs money, is considered a bad program. (Spending more money on the military, however, is usually acceptable.) No consideration is given to the urgency of a program or whether government is an appropriate or most efficient actor to carry out its objectives. This is a knee-jerk reaction that exposes yet another article faith among members of the GOP. It is not a valid reason to attack the ACA.

What about the cost of insurance? The ACA was intended to decrease the cost of health insurance to make it more generally available. It has done that, allowing millions of people to afford insurance that had previously been unaffordable. Republicans are fond of pointing out that the cost of insurance under the ACA has been rising, but, even with increasing costs, more people have been able to buy health insurance.

The real objective of the ACA isn’t to make health insurance affordable, though Republican concern for corporate health might make that seem like a high-priority objective. The real objective of the ACA is, or should be, to deliver health care to everyone. The problem to be solved is the inability of so many citizens to access health care, largely due to economic circumstances. Health insurance is a means to an end, not the end itself. Pence seems unconcerned with this and with the fact that repealing the ACA has the potential to deny health care to millions of Americans.

Citizens who are not part of the extreme right wing of the GOP need to tell their legislators that the size of government is not a primary concern for them and that they want high-quality health care to be made available to everyone, regardless of income. It is a scandal that the number one cause of personal bankruptcies in this country is unaffortable medical bills.

January 3, 2017

Letter to My Democratic Senator

(Sent via USPS)

January 3, 2017
Senator Bob Casey
RSOB—Russell Senate Office Building,
2 Constitution Avenue, NE
Room 393
Washington DC 20510­3805
Dear Senator Casey:
I had great hopes for our country’s future until the calamity that was the election of Donald Trump. I now view our future with alarm. I write to urge you and fellow Democrats (and perhaps even some fellow Republicans) to do all that you can to avert the tragedy that would result from an all-out Republican program designed to take our nation backward.
Most especially, I urge you and fellow Democrats to do everything possible to expose the inappropriateness of so many Trump appointees that require Senate approval. The President-elect is planning for a cabinet of multimillionaires, each with an axe to grind—whether that be a plan for self-enrichment or an eagerness to destroy the department or public sector over which he or she is to have oversight. (I need hardly provide enumerate particulars here.) I hope that some of the Trump appointees can actually be rejected.
Perhaps most important to consider is the future of the Supreme Court. Republicans must not be allowed to appoint ultraconservative justices who will turn the court into an instrument of reaction for generations to come.
I pray that Democrats have strategists at least as good as those who have worked for the Republicans. Although we are likely to have Donald Trump with us for four years, Republicans are likely to overplay their hand, leading to significant Democratic gains in 2018. Work toward such an outcome.
Best wishes for your difficult task of protecting the Republic, individual freedoms, and the environment.
etc., etc.

Note: My letter to my Republican senator is here.

Letter to My Republican Senator

(Sent via USPS)

January 3, 2017
Senator Pat Toomey
RSOB—Russell Senate Office Building,
2 Constitution Avenue, NE
Room 248
Washington DC 20510­3806
Dear Senator Toomey:
I am one of your constituents, though probably not one of your more enthusiastic fans. I am writing as a new Congress is being seated, a Congress that, along with a totally unqualified new President, has me terrified for the future of the Republic.
I am writing to urge you to put your country ahead of party, though I would suggest that doing so will, in the long run, benefit the Republican Party.
Keep in mind that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes; he is not the choice of the American people. Do not assume that his agenda (or that of the Republican Party to the degree that that is different) is popular. It is likely that a 2017 no-holds-barred bill-passing frenzy will do nothing so much as guarantee a strong Democratic Party backlash and resurgence in 2018.
In particular, let me list some of my concerns and suggestions:
·        Russia is not our friend. Tread carefully here.
·        Donald Trump’s choice of advisors and cabinet members has confirmed the worst fears of many Americans. Too many of the people he has identified oppose government on principle and have vested interests in policies that are opposed to the interests of the American people. Every vote you cast for one of these self-serving nominees will make you complicit in an administration concerned only with advancing the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.
·        Because Republicans refused to coöperate with Democrats, the Affordable Care Act has more faults than necessary. It is better than nothing, however, if not as good as a single-payer approach would have been. It would be wise to fix some of the more obvious faults; it would be foolish to scrap the ACA.
·        We don’t need a trade war. NAFTA benefitted all the parties, as probably would the TPP. No trade agreement is perfect; every trade pact will create winners and losers. Seeking the greatest good for the country as a whole, rather than concentrating on those directly and negatively affected, should always be your approach.
·        Global warming is real. Deal with it.
·        We cannot claim to be a free country if women are not given control over their bodies. Abortion restrictions should be lifted and decisions about women’s health should be left in the hands of doctors and their patients. Planned Parenthood should be supported for its significant contribution to women’s health.
·        Immigrants have never been popular in the U.S., but they have always made significant contributions to American society. Don’t dismiss them or their needs.
·        Tax reform is surely needed, at least in the abstract. Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s interest in tax “reform” is all about benefitting the rich. Don’t be party to that.
Perhaps on a more positive note, I offer this advice:
·        We should spend more money on infrastructure, especially on roads, bridges, passenger rail, and water and sewer systems. Where the money for this comes from is important, however. Interest rates are still historically low. The government can afford to borrow money for infrastructure development now, when doing so is cheap.
·        Let’s be smart about military spending. There is no evidence that more weapons, especially nuclear weapons, are needed. If the F-35 cannot achieve its design goals anytime soon, the program should be scrapped. Use the money for high-speed rail.
·        The VA needs to be improved, but privatization is not the answer. Likewise, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are vital to Americans. Mess with them at your supreme peril.
·        Americans want reasonable restrictions on firearms. Screw the NRA. If Republicans work for the NRA, they are working for the wrong people. The carnage caused by guns in this country must stop.
·        Begin the process of amending the Constitution to allow for direct election of President and Vice President. Doing so will be popular, even if the effort ultimately fails.
·        Work to nullify the effects of the Citizens United decision. An amendment to the Constitution may be necessary. It would be popular.
·        Support banking and consumer protection regulation. We don’t need another financial meltdown, and you don’t want to be responsible for one.
I apologize for such a long letter. It will not be the last you receive from me. Do not bother to reply with a letter telling me why the whole Republican program is beneficial; just keep my advice in mind. I will take any letter that does not respond to what I have actually written to indicate that you have no interest in the views of the people of Pennsylvania.
Very truly yours,
etc., etc.

Note. My letter to my Democratic senator is here.

December 31, 2016

Web Site Fixed

I noted on 12/22/2016 that I was having trouble with the navigation mechanism on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. That problem has now been fixed. I’m not sure what caused the problem or why the fix I applied was necessary, but I appreciate that the software gods are capricious.

Anyway, I am happy to be ready to enter the new year with a Web site that is working as it should.

Happy New Year to all.

Happy New Year!

December 28, 2016

Winning Is Not Always the Smartest Objective

Every chess player knows that winning is sometimes a foolish objective. When victory is exceedingly unlikely (and probably impossible), the only sensible objective is to avoid a loss. A draw is always more desirable that an outright loss.

Apparently, Donald J. Trump is not a chess player, or, if he is, I doubt he’s a good one. For Mr. Trump, winning is always his objective. He acts as if his personal motto is that articulated by coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” (According to Wikipedia, this quotation was not original with Vince Lombardi.) Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted that the United States is losing in its international relations, and he is going to make the country win consistently.

Unfortunately, winning in foreign affairs is not always the smartest objective.

Both the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) claim to represent all of China. Neither claim is completely credible, but the dispute is a sensitive one. China is represented in the United Nations; Taiwan is not. Despite that Taiwan is a thriving democracy with a vibrant economy, it is generally not recognized as a separate country, though it participates in world affairs almost as though it is. Should hostility every break out between the two Chinas, it is clear which country would win. It is even believed that China would be willing to use nuclear weapons in an open conflict with Taiwan. That would not be good.

President-elect Donald Trump, in seeming conflict with U.S. foreign policy, spoke personally with the President of the Republic of China. There is good reason to believe that Mr. Trump, who has shown great hostility toward China, would favor a formally independent country of Taiwan. However, U.S. policy has been to recognize China, to not recognize Taiwan, but to trade with and sell arms to Taiwan. High-level public contact with the Taiwan president violated longstanding policy and was guaranteed to upset the Chinese government. The status quo regarding the two Chinas is not ideal, but, for the moment, it avoids conflict and allows Taiwan the independence it would not have as part of China. Perhaps, in some distant future, China will develop into a democracy, and unification of Taiwan with China will become either acceptable or unnecessary. For now, everyone is happy enough to forestall conflict.

Can a President Trump accept the status quo, which is likely not a “win” for the U.S. in his mind? In chess terms, the current China situation is a draw; neither side “wins,” though the world wins through the avoidance of overt military conflict. This may not be good enough for the new president. Recognition of Taiwan as an independent country could theoretically be achieved by the new administration without retaliation, possibly military, by China. (By no means, however, could such a newly recognized country claim all of China without igniting conflict.) Such an outcome of a deliberate strategy, however, is almost certain to fail. The up-side of pursuing such a strategy is minor, and the potential for catastrophic failure is monumental. In other words, pursuing a “win,” as Trump, no doubt, is tempted to do, is something between reckless and suicidal. Winning is not the smartest objective.

In the Middle East, given Mr. Trump’s statements, his cabinet/ambassador choices, and his Twitter complaint about the recent U.N. Security Council resolution deploring Israeli settlements on the West Bank, there is a danger that the new president will want to pursue a “win” in Palestine. Such a “win” would see Israel progressively gobbling up land on which Palestinians would like to build an independent country. This land grab would naturally include all of Jerusalem, which the President-elect wants to see become the site of the U.S. embassy in Israel. Such moves, as Secretary of State John Kerry argued today, make a two-state resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict increasingly unlikely. Alas, we may have already passed the point of no return in Palestine with respect to a two-state solution. If, however, Palestinians can see neither two independent states in their future nor a single democratic, secular state, they (and surrounding states for their own reasons) may conclude that a final go-for-broke attack on Israel as the only reasonable path forward. That would not be a happy development and would be a win for no one.

Donald J. Trump has lived in a world where there are winners and losers, and his objective is always to be the winner. He believes that his mode of operation has served him well (though others might argue the point). World diplomacy is a more nuanced universe, however, than the commercial one in which Mr. Trump is used to operating. Wins are not always possible and are sometimes foolhardy. Draws, and even minor losses, have to be tolerated. Diplomatic success is not something that has to be maximized each quarter. In the diplomatic world, one has to take the long view. Unfortunately, the President-elect seems to have a very short attention span. His “winning” strategy may result in losses beyond his imaginings.

Mr. Trump needs a new motto: “Winning isn’t everything; sometimes it’s not the smartest thing.”

Chess pieces

Correction, 12/28/2016. In the original text, I indicated that Secretary Kerry’s speech today took place at the U.N. The speech actually was delivered in Washington, which the current text of my essay reflects.

December 27, 2016

When Was America Great?

I am still working to fix the navigation on my Web site. In the process, I am discovering files I had completely forgotten about. One of this files is shown below. I apparently created this graphic last July, but I don’t think I did anything with it. As we get closer to having Donald Trump as President of the United States, however, what I wrote half a year ago seems important to think about. You can click on the graphic for a larger image. Feel free to use this image elsewhere.

When was America great?

December 24, 2016

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I wrote the poem below in 2002 and added it to my Web site, along with a description of its origin. Posting this is a more-or-less annual tradition here. The poem is really about the frantic Christmas shopping season. In posting this on Christmas Eve, I pray that you are finished with shopping, wrapping, etc., and still have enough energy to enjoy the actual Christmas celebration.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
by Lionel Deimel

The jingle bells are back,
Ringing jingle-jangle ding-dong-ding
On the street corners and at the mall,
Where the giant Damoclean snowflakes
Hang menacingly from the store ceilings
Over the heads of the make-up consultants,
Displaying their perfect faces, Santa Claus hats,
And belligerent helpfulness.

The colored outdoor lights are back,
Contending with high-pressure, sodium streetlamps
To banish night and veil the pallid twinkle of the stars,
Letting the phosphor-white icicles,
Dripping electrically from the eaves,
Highlight the unnatural landscape
Of rotund, glow-from-within snowmen
And teams of gene-damaged reindeer.

The entertainments are back—
The last-minute, Oscar-hopeful blockbusters
Playing beside cheap trifles luring the momentarily vulnerable;
Pick-up-choir, stumbling-through-the-notes Messiahs
Competing with earnest Amahls and Peanuts Specials;
The cute-but-clumsy, tiny ballerinas tripping through Nutcrackers
Sorely in need of crowd control;
And the latest made-for-TV, hanky-wrenching, feel-good melodrama.

The emotions are back,
With love-thy-neighbor, brotherhood-of-man yearnings
Schizophrenically vying with loathing for the driver ahead,
As we pursue our private quests
For perfect love-showing, obligation-meeting, or indifference-disguising gifts,
Our anticipating the giving-terror, receiving-embarrassment,
The disappointing joy, and the exhilarating letdown assuring us at last
That Christmas is upon us.