May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Prayer

Memorial Day is most certainly an appropriate day of remembrance and gratitude for those who gave their lives for their country. But, it is all too easy to describe the sacrifices of our warriors as having been made to secure our freedom or to protect our way of life. In reality, some of those sacrifices were meaningless, either because they were the product of incompetent military leadership or because they resulted from wars that should never have been fought, that is, incompetent political leadership.

Earlier today, I read a prayer posted on Facebook that adopted a perfectly conventional attitude toward our war dead. We should, I think, both celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice—the usual subject of Memorial Day oratory—and meditate on whether their number should be as great as it is.

I don’t want to distinguish here between “good” and “bad” wars or between “good” and “bad” military encounters. Most of us could agree that at least some military deaths in some circumstances were meaningless and unnecessary.

Such thoughts led me to compose the following prayer. This surely should not be the prayer for Memorial Day, but perhaps it should be a prayer on our lips at some point on this day. My prayer:
Dear God, on this day we dedicate to the memory of those who died in defense of our country and its declared ideals, let us not forget the many whose death resulted from dreams of empire, hubris, or adventurism. Help us to comprehend and repent of errors that have needlessly cost lives, and give us the wisdom and humility to act, as a nation, with love and compassion, informed by the teachings of the Prince of Peace, in whose name we pray. Amen.

May 27, 2017

Smith-Miller

Some of my most treasured childhood toys were Smith-Miller trucks. These large-scale die-cast trucks were not museum-quality scale models, but they were realistic, fun to play with, and practically indestructible. I had four Smith-Miller trucks, all of which were purchased at a small, independent toy store that maintained a somewhat exotic stock. (I don’t recall seeing these toys at any other store.) My favor truck was a hook and ladder fire engine. (See the picture below, which is of an identical truck).


For some reason, I decided to look up Smith-Miller on the Web the other day. I was surprised that Wikipedia had no entry for it. However, I did find a corporate Web site for Smith-Miller, Inc. The site announces “Handmade Scale Toy Trucks in Miniature.”

I was happy to see that Smith-Miller trucks have not disappeared. The story of the company is not simple, however. I haven’t been able to learn much about the early history of Smith-Miller. It went out of business sometime in the 1950s, but it didn’t do it in the usual way. It simply stopped operating, leaving everything in the factory in place. A totally different company operated out of a portion of the toy company factory.

The subsequent history of Smith-Miller is recounted on the About Us/History page of the current company Web site. In 1979, a collector who had managed to track down the remains of the company in Los Angeles in search of parts arranged to buy what was left—lock, stock, and barrel—less the factory building itself. Eventually, that collector, Fred Thompson, sold off existing stock, including trucks that first had to be completed. The resurrected Smith-Miller then began producing trucks from new designs.

Not many kids will likely be finding shiny new Smith-Miller trucks under the Christmas tree. The trucks, which seem even better than the old ones, have an average price of about $1,000. (Currently available trucks can be found here.) It’s nice to know they’re out there though.

May 16, 2017

A Plea to Reporters

I was listening to Here and Now on NPR this afternoon. A reporter was interviewing some Republican woman; I wasn’t paying close attention at the time, so I can’t say who she was. My ears perked up, however, when the interviewee spoke of the “Democrat program” or some such. Although I had an immediate and negative reaction, the interviewer did not. She failed to comment on this phrase and on a similar use of “Democrat” as an adjective later in the interview.

“Democrat,” however, is a noun, not an adjective. In proper English, it is never an adjective. The correct adjective (and the one that should be used in referring to the Democratic Party) is “Democratic.”

Republicans—and by now, this includes virtually all Republican politicians—have taken to referring to the “Democrat Party” because the word “Democratic” has positive associations for most Americans. Republicans want citizens only to have negative feelings about the opposition party, and the use of “Democratic,” they believe, works against that objective.

Republican smear
“Democrat Party” (or “Democrat agenda,” etc.) is a gratuitous smear, and one that reporters should not allow Republicans to get away with. There is no “Democrat Party” in the United States, only a “Democratic Party.”

The reporter should have interrupted the speaker and said something like, “Excuse me. There is no “Democrat Party.” Are you talking about the Democratic Party?” Such an interruption, done repeatedly over the course of an interview should have an effect.

And so, reporters and Democratic Party politicians, stop letting Republicans get away with their now institutionalized slur. Better still, politicians can begin referring to the “Republic Party.”

April 30, 2017

Religious Designations

I was intrigued this afternoon by a discussion on the WNYC program On the Media involving the words “Jew” and “Jewish.” The point was made that, in some people’s minds, calling someone “a Jew” is demeaning. (The person asserting this was Jewish and didn’t mind the designation personally.) On the other hand, using “Jew” as an adjective—as in “Jew banker”—nearly always is an insult. It was suggested that politicians tend to use “Jewish” in order to avoid any possible negative implications. For example, a politician is more likely to say that someone “is Jewish,” rather than “is a Jew.”

The designations related to Judaism (or Jewish heritage, etc.) are odd in English. Words related to Christianity are not so problematic. For example, we say someone “is a Christian,” or we might refer to “a Christian banker.” Notice that (1) both the noun and the adjective are the same, and (2) neither phrase has negative connotations. (Well, mostly. For me at least, saying that someone “is a Christian radio commentator” might indeed suggest unsavoriness, but the adjectival form is mostly innocuous.)

Other religious designations operate mostly like “Christian.” Someone can be “a Muslim” or “a Muslim banker.” (“Muslim terrorist” is another matter—see below.) The religion itself is Islam, so usage differs somewhat from the Christian case, where the name of the religion is closely related. Also, we have the word “Islamic,” which we do not normally apply to people, except in cases where they have a formal or institutional relationship to the religion of Islam (e.g., “Islamic professor”).

I’m not sure why “Islam” and “Muslim” are seemingly unrelated. When I was young, I was taught about “Mohammedanism” and “Mohammedans.” These are seventeenth-century words, but “Islam” and “Muslim” seem to be somewhat older.

The related words “Islamism” and “Islamist” have taken on dark meanings in recent years. These have become specialized words related to a particular take on Islam. Mehdi Mozaffari, of Aarhus University, offers this definition of Islamism: “a religious ideology with a holistic interpretation of Islam whose final aim is the conquest of the world by all means.” Thus, we might speak of “an Islamist terrorist.” To speak of “an Islamic terrorist,” as do many Americans, President Trump most notably among them, is an unfair slur on the religion of  Islam.

Words related to Hinduism and Sikhism follow the usual pattern. Perhaps readers know of a religion whose related nouns and adjectives do not follow the usual pattern.

Most Christian denominations have words that follow the normal pattern (think Presbyterians, Methodists, Mormons, etc.) Episcopalians, as in many things, are different. We speak of “an Episcopal church” or “an Episcopal priest,” but an individual member of The Episcopal Church is “an Episcopalian.” Only the ignorant speak of “an Episcopal.” Go figure.

April 28, 2017

The Latest Concession to the Freedom Caucus Would Create Economic Inefficiency

One of the societal problems ameliorated by the Affordable Care Act was that people were discouraged from changing jobs if they had acquired a chronic medical condition that was covered by insurance at their current workplace. The ACA lifted pre-existing-condition limitations on insurance and made it easier to afford insurance not provided through an employer. This obviously helped many individuals, but it also helped the economy, as workers could more easily change jobs to one where their contribution to the economy would be greater.

House Republicans laboring to achieve consensus on a bill to repeal and replace the ACA have hit on a scheme to attract more votes from the Freedom Caucus. The latest proposal would give individual states the ability to tinker with insurance rates and coverage. If this idea finds its way into law, it will introduce a similar inefficiency into the U.S. economy. Workers who might want to change jobs to improve their lot (and that of the economy) would, with this provision, have to ask if moving to another state would cause them to lose vital medical benefits. This could deter worker movement. It could also encourage worker movement into more generous states, most probably those whose governments are not controlled by Republicans.

House Republicans continue their race to the bottom in their devising requirements for a new health care bill. It is to be hoped that, as the leadership tries to satisfy the Freedom Caucus, less radical representatives will realize that doing so will create a backlash that will sweep GOP members from the House in 2018.

April 26, 2017

R.I.P. American Health Care Act

President Trump’s second major initiative, his attempt to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare (a.k.a, the American Health Care Act) has crashed and burned. The disaster was even more dramatic than his failure to implement a Muslim travel ban, which, after all, though on life support, is not definitively dead. Alas, Trumpcare may not be definitively dead, either, as Vice President Pence is trying to sweet talk the Freedom Caucus into supporting a nastier bill that the one that went down in flames.

Now, between fights over health care, seems a good time to offer some thoughts on health care in general and on health care legislation.

Is Health Care a Right?


Liberals argue that health care is (or should be) a right. Conservatives contend that people should be held responsible for their own health care and that having it provided through the government breeds dependency and self-indulgence.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that among the “unalienable Rights” to be secured by government are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Without life, however, other rights and privileges are illusory. People who cannot afford health insurance—and even many who can—cannot be guaranteed the medical care required to keep them alive. Regrettably, medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States. Even with insurance, a person can be one accident or one infection away from a totally ruined life. Most people, however responsible, cannot protect themselves from every medical catastrophe. Ruined lives hurt the economy and any sense we might have of being a compassionate society.

Virtually all developed countries save the United States have decided that the right to life entails the right to health care.

How We Organize Health Care


Most people of working age get health insurance through their employers. It is individual employers who determine what sort of coverage is available to their employees at a reasonable cost. Why? There are historical reasons for the system, but they have nothing to do with health insurance being inherently connected to employment. Unemployed need health insurance, too. This senseless system has had unintended consequences, at least as far a public policy is concerned. It has kept people in jobs to maintain their health insurance even when the employee could be more profitably employed elsewhere. The ACA has helped mitigate this problem, but, of course, the GOP wants to get rid of it.

Private health insurance companies; for-profit hospitals, labs, and imaging centers; rapacious pharmaceutical companies, and the whole fee-for-service system all help to drive health care costs higher. This is where the real savings are to be had. These sacred cows need to be taken on. The ACA did not do it, and nothing the Republicans will propose will do it either.

The Republicans Fail


For seven years, the GOP railed against the ACA. Candidate Trump spoke about repeal as soon as he got into office. Undoing Obama’s premier legislative accomplishment had virtually become the defining feature of Republicanism. And yet, when the GOP found itself in control of both houses of Congress, as well as the White House, it was obvious that Republicans had no real plan to effect their number one goal. President Trump had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with something great, but it was clear that he had no idea what that great something should be. Moreover, it quickly became clear that a legislative “victory” on the health care front was more important to him than keeping his promises regarding retaining the parts of the ACA that were universally valued. He therefore farmed out creating legislation to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, someone who didn’t care about Trump’s promises and who hated the ACA, taxes, and federal deficits.

The Ryan bill was created in secret with no Democratic input and minimal input from House Republicans. What emerged was a bill that jettisoned the most important objective of the ACA—substantially decreasing the number of Americans without health insurance—and adopted what seems to be the Republicans favorite, but unacknowledged goal, namely, providing tax cuts for the rich.

Alas, the Ryan bill, the American Health Care Act, was insufficiently meanspirited for the members of the Freedom Caucus, the outgrowth of the Tea Party. The Freedom Caucus simply wanted Obamacare gone. Attempts to mollify these extremists were not very successful and alienated non-crazy Republicans. In the end, the bill was pulled. At first, it seemed as though Trump and Ryan were ready to leave the ACA in place, letting (self-inflicted) wounds heal and giving time to craft a better-thought-out bill. It now appears that the Republicans will try to replace Obamacare sooner, rather than later.

The Danger Ahead


At the outset of the Obama administration, Republican leaders vowed to oppose the new president at every turn. They did so with great success, culminating in the blocking of Obama’s final appointment to the Supreme Court. Democrats tried valiantly—and foolishly, it turned out—to sweeten the ACA to attract Republican votes. Even though the basic outlines of the law were based on the plan implemented by Republicans in Massachusetts, congressional Republicans would not go along. Moreover, they and their allies whipped up opposition to Obamacare by lying about it. People were concerned that it would destroy Medicare, that their fate would be decided by death panels, and so forth. Countering the lies failed to move public opinion among Republican loyalists, and the belief that Obamacare must go became an article of faith disconnected from any objective analysis. Adherents to the faith increasingly elected like-minded people to serve in the Congress.

As the Trump administration was moving toward repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a program that would hurt more Americans than it helped, public opinion began moving in favor of keeping and perhaps improving the ACA. House Republicans failed to notice; their faith remained intact. They acted—and are acting—like Lucy in the strip below. When circumstances change or more information comes to light, old assumptions not explicitly contradicted tend to be retained, however outrageous that may seem.

Peanuts strip from November 18, 1960

As time passes, more Americans are concluding that the ACA may have more virtues than problems. Obamacare, it turns out, actually has helped millions of people. The next time Republicans try their repeal-and-replace trick. public opinion will be even more opposed to what Republican want to do. Rumors suggest that the next bill will be more draconian than the American Health Care Act. These trends almost certainly doom GOP plans, which will put yet another blot on Trump’s already tarnished escutcheon.

If Republicans truly want to change health care in this country, they just may have to work with Democrats. Democrats will not agree to tossing the ACA overboard, but they would certainly be willing to improve it. Unfortunately for Paul Ryan, any bipartisan bill will not lower government spending or give tax breaks to the rich. It might, however, improve President Trump’s reputation.

April 20, 2017

New CMOS in the Works

University of Chicago Press has announced that a new version of The Chicago Manual of Style, the 17th, will be published in September. (You can read the announcement here, though the page will likely change or disappear after publication.) CMOS has been my preferred style guide since I was a University of Chicago undergraduate.

Dust cover of CMOS, 17th. ed.
I always anticipate a new version of CMOS with mixed emotions. On the plus side, I hope that the new volume will offer reasonable resolutions to problems that have cropped up since the current version was released. Such problems could be caused by evolving social conventions, new technologies, or changes in the language. One the negative side, I fear that recommendations I feel are “right” might be thrown overboard.

The aforementioned announcement inspires serious trepidation. Apparently, “e-mail” is to be replaced by “email.” The new form violates normal spelling conventions. Why shouldn’t “email” be pronounced “em-ail” or hyphenated as such over a line break? Will “e-book”—the current rendering advocated by CMOS—become “ebook”? I hope not. In any case, hyphens will be retained in both cases in my own writing.

Additionally, “Internet” is to lose its initial capital. But surely this is a proper name, deserving of capitalization. I wonder if “World Wide Web” is to become “world wide web.” I have already lost license for use of “Web” as a standalone noun and for “Web site,” rather than “website.” Should I give in to common usage or fight a (probably losing) rear-guard action? Frankly, this liberal tends toward conservativism in things grammatical.

I sincerely hope that the 17th edition will not go the way of The Associated Press Stylebook and advocate losing the serial (Oxford) comma. That would be too much to bear.

The other downside of having a new CMOS published, of course, is the necessity of buying one to replace my 16th edition. The new book will cost $70. It is available on-line by subscription—most would write “online”—but apparently not as an e-book (or even an ebook).

I will, of course, get out my credit card and order the new volume, hoping for the best.

April 2, 2017

Let’s Not Whitewash the Flynn Firing

On the whole, mainstream media seem to be doing a good job covering the Trump administration. (Coverage of the presidential campaign is another story, of course.) I am gratified that Trump or his surrogates are. with some frequency, accused of lying. Use of the actual words “lie“ or “lying” is becoming increasingly common. I have been disappointed on one front, however. Stories about General Michael Flynn often identify him as having been fired “for lying to the Vice President,“ or words to that effect. This is bad reporting that overlooks the uncertainty concerning Flynn’s dismissal.

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn
Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn
Defense Intelligence Agency photograph
We don’t know the real reason Flynn was fired. We do know that the administration asserted that it was because he was untruthful in his dealings with Vice President Pence, who proceeded to make false public statements based on Flynn’s representations.

Acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates warned the White House weeks before the Flynn firing that the general could be blackmailed because he had discussed sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador, but he had publicly denied categorically having done so. The real question is not why Flynn was fired but why he was not fired after the Trump team was told that he was compromised. Only after Yates’s damaging information became public was Flynn dismissed. It is possible, though uncertain, that Pence knew the truth when he defended Flynn in a television interview.

In any case, it is far from established fact that Flynn was fired for lying to Pence. Media outlets know this and should report accordingly. When Flynn is identified in news reports, I want to hear locutions like “Flynn, who allegedly was fired for lying to Pence” or “Flynn, who was ostensibly fired for lying to Pence,” or “Flynn, who reputedly was fired for lying to Pence.” Perhaps it would be even better to say “Flynn, who was fired weeks after Sally Yates told the Trump administration that he had lied about his communications with the Russian ambassador.”

The public should not be allowed to forget that Flynn was likely sacked not because he lied but because he was caught lying. It is ironic that the administration has lied about Flynn’s lying. Unfortunately, the same personnel policy that ended Flynn’s government career is not being applied to his former boss.

April 1, 2017

National Poetry Month 2017

Once again, National Poetry Month is here. This year’s poster for the celebration is below. (Click on the image for a PDF version.)

I am something of a poet, but I haven’t written much poetry since the 2016 National Poetry Month. In fact, I have written only a single set of haiku, titled “Trump Haiku.” Some of these poems aren’t too bad, but they don’t qualify me as the next Walt Whitman. Here is a sample poem:

Wall

Tremendous idea:
A wall to keep out rapists,
Avocados, too.
The poetry section of my Web site can be found here. If you have any good ideas for new poems, send me e-mail. If you want to read the poetry of others, try this site.



March 29, 2017

A Curve-stitch Design in Nails and Thread

A large section of my Web site is devoted to curve-stitch designs. These designs are created with straight lines that often seem to create curves. In my youth, I drew such designs with pen and ink on paper. Historically, the earliest such designs used string threaded through holes in cardstock, a technique that seemed cumbersome to me and kept me from devising new designs until I figured out how to use the computer for the purpose.

I recently received a request for permission to reproduce one of my designs using nails and thread. This didn’t seem like a very practical idea to me, but I was curious to see what was possible. The design Artur Błaszczyk wanted to use as a model is shown here:


Model for Artur’s construction

As it happens, Artur was quite successful. You can see his construction and read about it on my Web site here.

February 25, 2017

Beginning My Postcard Campaign

Indiana, Pennsylvania, appears to be something of a backwater as far as resistance to the Trump administration is concerned. I have had no opportunity to march in anti-Trump rallies or to demonstrate at the local congressional office. I don’t, however, want to be left out of the effort to rescue the country from the fascist moron who presently resides in the White House.

I write essays here, of course, and I post on Facebook, but my audience is largely a sympathetic one that I have no real need to convert. What I can do is try to influence my representatives in Congress, the people who can disrupt the ill-conceived projects of the president and, at some future time, participate in removing him from office.

From time to time, I have written my senators and representative about one thing or another. But ever since the anthrax scare, delivery of letters is delayed by some mysterious process intended to assure the safety of their recipients. Using the telephone is quicker, but congressional telephones have been tied up lately with angry citizens trying to get through to their legislators. Congressional staffers have been too busy to listen to phone mail messages. No doubt, e-mail messages are sometimes ignored for the same reason.

Having taken in a good deal of advice about how to get the attention of Washington legislators, I have decided that my mechanism of choice will be the postcard. A postcard clearly poses no physical danger, tends to stand out in the usual pile of mail, and is easy to digest, since its message is necessarily brief. Sending a postcard to a regional office, rather than to a Washington one, increases the chance that the message will actually be read by someone in a timely fashion and communicated, if only as a statistic, to its intended recipient.

The other day, I bought 10 postcards at the post office. I was happy to see that postcards now carry “forever” postage. I still have a few postcards from days gone by carrying various amounts of postage. I never seem to have the proper stamps to add so that I can actually use them.

My next step was to gather the address of nearby regional offices of my senators and representative. Using Google, these were easy to find, and I assume this information is readily available for all members of Congress.

Postcard
I created a Microsoft Word template for printing my postcards. Printing addresses and messages on my printer is easier than writing cards by hand. The text is easily edited and easy to read. If necessary, by adjusting the font size, I can cram a good deal of text on a 5½" x 3½" card. There is reason to be concise, however, and not try to say too much. There can be other postcards to communicate additional thoughts. Of course, I sign my missives by hand.

My first batch of postcards advised that no money be appropriated for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and no money be appropriated for additional personnel to monitor the border or to round up people not in the country legally. The billions the president intends to spend for these purposes could be better employed on other tasks, such as repairing and improving infrastructure.

I may never know how effective my postcard campaign is, but it seems worth pursuing. Others may wish to join me in this pursuit.

February 8, 2017

Collect for a Troubled Nation

I recently wrote a collect “For a Troubled Nation.” It represents an admittedly liberal Episcopalian’s liturgical response to the advent of the Trump administration. After receiving feedback concerning my first draft from Episcopalian friends on Facebook, I revised the prayer. The current text is:
For a Troubled Nation

God of justice and mercy, who delivered your people from the oppression of Pharaoh, protect us from greed, ignorance, and malevolence in our political leaders, and help us make our nation one of peace, liberty, and justice, in harmony with your creation and exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I have written about this collect on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, where I have argued that such a prayer is needed, even though the Book of Common Prayer contains prayers for government. You can read “Collect for a Troubled Nation” here, and I suggest you do so before offering any criticism. This post is really intended primarily as a pointer to the essay on my Web site.

I consider this prayer a work in progress, so comments are welcome. If you use this prayer in any context, I would appreciate knowing.

February 7, 2017

Trump Haiku

I was on jury duty yesterday. If you have ever been on jury duty, you know that there is lots of down time while waiting to learn if you will be assigned to a jury. During one of these slack periods, I began writing haiku related to Donald Trump and his administration. I wrote more haiku today and added a “Trump Haiku” page on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.

If you want to read my haiku, please follow the link above. Here, I will give you a sample:
                                                        Wall
                                             Tremendous idea:
                                             A wall to keep out rapists,
                                             Avocados, too.
There are eight other poems on my Web site.


January 29, 2017

Random Thoughts on U.S.-Mexican Relations

Thanks to our new President, relations between the United States and the United Mexican States (i.e., Mexico) are exceedingly strained. Donald Trump is solely responsible for this state of affairs. A move toward more friendly relations seems unlikely in the near future.

U.S. and Mexico flags
Mr. Trump has two issues with Mexico. The issues are distinct, but he has, of late, managed to conflate them. First, there is the matter of illegal immigration, the “solution” for which, in the President’s mind, is to build a wall along our southern border. Pledging to build such a wall (and to have the Mexican government pay for it) was Mr. Trump’s signature issue as a presidential candidate. Like all of his proposals, this was simplistic, ill-conceived, and basically stupid. But simple solutions to complicated problems are the stock in trade of political campaigns, and the Republican candidate used them shamelessly and, alas, successfully.

In general, Mr. Trump’s policy proposals derive from his own reality, which is but tenuously related to actual facts. The U.S. is not being overrun by Mexican rapists and drug dealers streaming over the border. Although there have been periods of significant migration from Mexico in times past, the current net migration is or is near zero. Instead, the most significant source of unauthorized migration into the U.S. is the overstaying of visas by persons who have entered the country lawfully. No wall is high enough to deter such activity.

There are several problems with building a Great Wall of America. To begin with, building a wall would be inordinately expensive, and, because it does not address a significant problem, horribly profligate. Serious drug dealers have not been deterred by existing barriers—they have tunneled their way across the border, for example—and, as has been noted, a 50-foot wall will create a run on 51-foot ladders.

President Trump wants to expand greatly the number of officers patrolling the border. This, of course, adds to the cost of the wall itself.

If a wall is to be truly effective, we should take a lesson from the German Democratic Republic (i.e., East Germany). Now that country had a wall! What is needed is a concrete wall, land mines, and machine-gun towers. I doubt Americans will support such a construction—but I thought they wouldn’t vote for Trump, either—and even the Berlin Wall did not last. There is a lesson here.

Candidate Trump received the cheers of his multitudes by declaring that Mexico would pay for a wall—no need to think too deeply whether a wall is necessary if someone else is going to foot the bill. Of course, it was never clear why Mexico, which is hardly a rich country, would be willing to make such a generous gesture. The candidate never explained how Mexico would be enticed to fork over the billions of pesos needed for a wall, particularly in light of its president’s refusal to consider the matter. In fact, though, Trump never explained the mechanisms he planed to employ to achieve any of the exulted goals he so glibly proclaimed. Perhaps he never really expected to win the election and would never be called upon to fulfill his promises. Perhaps he thought—his first week in office suggests this—that everything could be effected with the stroke of a pen. Actual government experience really would have been helpful.

Mr. Trump’s other Mexican problem is the balance of payments. We buy more from Mexico than Mexico buys from us. Trump, in his simplistic, real-estate-mogul mind, sees this as a problem and blames NAFTA for it, If NAFTA were fairer, Mexico wouldn’t be “stealing” American jobs and profiting handsomely from it. The reality is complex, however, and both the U.S. and Mexico have benefited from NAFTA. Jobs have been lost; other jobs have been created; and consumers have enjoyed lower prices. Our two economies are not inextricably intertwined. This not only produces economic efficiencies, but it also discourages conflicts (or at least it does when countries are governed by rational leaders).

The President has floated the idea of financing the wall by slapping a 20% tariff on goods from Mexico. This would kill two birds with one stone—the wall would be paid for, and Mexico would pay the bill, improving the balance-of-trade in the process. Except, of course, that the American consumer would pay the bill, not the Mexican government, and would likely be none too happy about it. One of the dead birds would be the goose that lays the golden egg.

No doubt, NAFTA could be “fairer” or “better” for the U.S. Such agreements are complicated and never perfect. It is unlikely that there is a silver bullet that would satisfy President Trump short of some sort of coercion of our neighbor to the south. A better plan would be to encourage development in Mexico—perhaps a loosing proposition in the short run—so that more Mexicans could buy American goods and services. This would also keep Mexicans in Mexico. Some undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. might even want to return home.

In reality, many of the border-crossers these days come from Central America, where economic conditions are worse than in Mexico and where life is often threatened by violence. Investment in Central America could benefit the U.S. in a multitude of ways. But, in the meantime, we should allow refugees from Central American violence to resettle in the U.S. To Mr. Trump, however, such people are merely potential terrorists.

Unfortunately, President Trump cannot drop the demented idea of building the Great Wall of American without losing face, and nothing is more important to Donald Trump than protecting his adulation-hungry ego. And the thought of spending money in foreign countries for long-term benefit is anathema to an America-first President Trump.

So here we are. God only knows where President Trump will take us.

January 20, 2017

This is no dream; this is really happening!

Rosemary’s Baby poster
Poster for Rosemary’s Baby
Donald Trump’s becoming President of the United States seems, on some level, unreal. It was not supposed to happen. It reminds me of the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby. As Mia Farrow’s Rosemary Woodhouse is being raped by Satan, she wakes from her chemically induced stupor and, horrified, declares, “This is no dream; this is really happening!” And thus it is with the inauguration of Mr. Trump, which occurs at noon today.

January 20, 2017, will surely be “a date which will live in infamy.” One can only imagine the horrors that will follow, but we will experience them soon enough.

It has been difficult to decide how to mark this day. In one sense, I would like to be in Washington, D.C., protesting the inauguration, but I am here in Pennsylvania in front of my computer. It will be calmer here.

Robert Reich, who is becoming something of a resistance leader, advises Americans not going to Washington to boycott the event—don’t watch it or listen to it. Trump, after all, hates low ratings. I plan to take Reich’s advice, if only to keep my blood pressure down. Rachel Maddow can tell me tonight what happened.

I haven’t scheduled my entire day, but I plan to go to the Y to get some exercise. I usually listen to NPR while I’m on the treadmill, but today I’ll listen to Pandora instead. I’ll try to catch up on my reading and housecleaning while thinking thoughts unrelated to civic affairs. I hope to finish watching D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance on DVD.

I am not hopeful concerning our nation’s future and have no faith in Mr. Trump’s pledge to bring the country together. The best I can do on Inauguration Day is to offer this prayer from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this Commonwealth, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
God save the United States of America.

Inverted American flag

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.
Sincerely,
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.