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I thought I’d take issue with the list of so-called accomplishments posted on Twitter by US Vice-President Mike Pence. Here they are, in case you missed them:

2017-12-28-PenceAccomplishments

Let’s take a look them, and whether or not they are something that the Trump/Pence administration accomplished, or whether or not they would have been distinguishable from another Republican president.

1) Put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court

It’s true that President Trump put a conservative on the Supreme Court. However, this was a gift delivered to him by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell when we refused, for nearly a year, to give President Obama’s Supreme Court pick a confirmation vote in the Senate.

McConnell could get away with this because the Republicans had a majority before Trump was elected and therefore could (unethically) delay the vote until a new President was sworn in later that year, rolling the dice that it could be a Republican rather than a Democrat. His gamble worked, and a Republican candidate won. Obama’s pick was withdrawn by the new President.

President Trump then was given a list of candidates, provided to him by conservative groups. He then submitted the candidate and in a more-or-less partisan vote, the Senate approved him because Republicans still control the Senate. All the Trump/Pence administration had to do was say “Okay, we’ll take this guy” and that’s what they did.

Thus, rather than crediting the Presidency with this victory, we should be giving it to Senator Mitch McConnell. There is no differentiating factor between Trump/Pence and another, generic Republican candidate. Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Jeb Bush, etc. would have picked the same candidate, or someone ideologically similar.

Of course, McConnell’s lack of foresight has set up precedent for when control of the Senate swings to Democrats. If that happens, and a Supreme Court justice steps down or dies, and it’s the final year of a presidency, then the Democratic Speaker of the House can reasonably say “We don’t nominate Supreme Court judges in the final year of a presidency.”

It’s utter nonsense… but that’s how the political game will be played from here on. Supreme Court judges will start planning their retirement based upon their political leanings, and political trends in the nation. That’s not how it is supposed to work, the judiciary is supposed to be non-political.

2) Repealed the Obamacare Individual Mandate

The Republicans earlier this year tried and failed to repeal Obamacare. But they succeeded in repealing the individual mandate (you have to buy health insurance or pay a tax) by including it as part of the Trump Tax Cut.

Obamacare isn’t that complicated:

  • Insurers have to accept you even if you have a pre-existing condition
    .
  • They can only charge the highest premium of 3x the lowest premium
    .
  • But that means that they can’t spread out their risk. Insurance have to spread it out over young and old, healthy and sick. Otherwise, if only sick people bought health insurance, then everyone would be using it. Health insurance is only useful when you need it, and sick/old people are the ones who would use it the most.
    .
  • To prevent forcing insurance companies to take on more risk, the Individual Mandate says you have to either have health insurance, or pay a penalty (a tax). This tax is cheaper than what health insurance would be, but still. This means that young and healthy people who don’t think they need health insurance can’t opt-out of the system, they still have to buy health insurance but that means the risk is spread out

By repealing the unpopular part of Obamacare (the individual mandate), the Republicans are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are keeping the popular parts (no denying coverage, can’t charge too much more than the lowest premiums, kids can stay on parents plan until they are 26). But all of the good parts require that the bad parts go along with it. It is a fantasy that health insurance companies will not increase premiums, they have to in order to cover their risk. They will not be able to spread out the likelihood of people not getting sick (the young and healthy) and will face increased probability of people making claims (older and sicker). This necessarily means costs will rise.

This so-called accomplishment isn’t much to brag about without a replacement system to keep costs in check.

3) 1.7 million new jobs, and lowest unemployment rate in decades

All politicians love to boast about the economy while they’ve been in office, and President Trump is no different. Even though nobody can point to any policies he’s enacted that has influenced the economy (other than the magical thinking of optimism about the economy), jobs have increased according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the question is not whether or not jobs have increased, the question is are they increasing at a better rate than when Obama (or Bush) was president?

Here’s a chart of the numbers when Bush was president (in red), Obama (in blue), and Trump (in orange). In the chart below (P) means Preliminary but I have taken them as Actual numbers:

2017-12-28-BlsJobsReportYou can see that the Pence is correct, 1.7 million new jobs have been created from Feb December. But is that better than under Obama? Here’s the chart again with the last 4 years of the Obama presidency, and removing both January (which Trump was not president for) and December (whose numbers have not come in):

2017-12-28-BlsJobsReportLastFourYears

You can see that the numbers under Trump are actually worse than any of the years under Obama.

Here’s an exact year-by-year comparison, along with month-by-month breakdown of whether it’s doing better under Trump vs. Obama. If more jobs were created under Trump for the equivalent time period, the number is in orange. If more were under Obama, the number is in blue.

2017-12-28-BlsJobsReportYearByYear

You can see that most of the time, more jobs were created under Obama than under Trump.

So while Vice-President Mike Pence is correct when he says 1.7 million new jobs were created under the current administration, it lags behind the previous four years. 2016 started slowing down, and 2017 has slowed down even more other than October and November.

4) ISIS on the run

This appears to be referring to the Wikipedia article on territorial claims of ISIL. In 2014, the group controlled up to 110,000 km2 of territory, whereas by October 2017 they controlled about 10,000 km2 of territory in Iraq and Syria, plus whatever they controlled elsewhere (no more than 7000 km2, and at least 75-90% of that has been lost). So, according to various estimates, their territory has decreased.

Yet claiming that they are on the run is irresponsible.

  • In 2003, President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq just as an insurgency was getting underway that would last years.
  • The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban, yet is still there 16 years later still fighting the Taliban.
  • In 2014, President Obama dismissed ISIS as the “JV team”. And the past couple of years, ISIS has inspired
  • There have been numerous ISIS-directed or ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks this year in western countries and in the middle east

In other words, when terrorist organizations have been defeated, they always disperse-regroup-attack. They look for territory where the central government is weak, or even friendly, and then set up shop from which to conduct future attacks. There are several places in the world where they can move to.

It’s too premature to celebrate the defeat of ISIS because they can always lie low or morph into yet another organization.

5) Largest tax cut in American history

I’ve already written on my blog why the tax cut passed by the Republican congress isn’t as beneficial to the average American (it will lead to cuts in spending, higher inflation, and instead is a gift to the wealthy donor class that doesn’t rely upon spending the way that the general public does). This is a victory for tax-cut puritans, but not for sensible people.

It’s difficult to control for things like individual tax rate reductions, adjustments to brackets, eliminations of some deductions while new allowances are created for others, etc. Thus, the claim that it’s “the largest tax cut in American history” is difficult to verify. It doesn’t appear to be the largest tax cut in terms of rates for individuals, but instead touts the cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, and then the cuts in individual rates thrown in on top of that makes it the biggest tax cut ever.

I went and did some research on the Trump vs Reagan tax cuts and found an analysis on PBS called How the GOP tax overhaul compares to the Reagan-era tax bills. The writer compares the current tax reductions with the tax cut of 1981 by the Reagan administration, and the tax reform by Reagan’s administration in 1987. The 1981 tax cuts were basically just a tax cut with no offsets for additional income, while the 1987 tax cut was revenue neutral – it reduced some rates and raised others; it added some deductions and remove many others.

It then compares the Trump tax cuts to the previous Reagan ones, let me quote:

If the 1986 tax bill was a model of how to do fiscal reform and the 1981 tax cut was a model of how not to do it, the 2017 process emulates the less worthy of the two precedents. … Instead of aiming for revenue neutrality, as the 1986 reform did, current proposals will expand the government’s budget deficit over the next decade, at a time when an aging population will place a growing fiscal burden.

To be sure, the current proposals do not get everything wrong. Reducing the U.S. corporate income tax rate would be good policy, provided the lost revenue could be paid for by eliminating business loopholes that the economy would function better without anyway, such as the corporate interest deduction and the favored treatment of carried interest. But the legislation cuts the corporate tax rate too much and limits these deductions too little to come anywhere near meeting the criterion of revenue neutrality.

The last bolded piece pairs well with another bullet point from the article:

The claim is that reduced tax rates will stimulate GDP so much that overall receipts will stay the same or even rise. When one hears these claims today, one might not guess that the argument, which was made by Presidents Reagan and Bush as well as by their political advisors, has been rejected by many mainstream economists, including the economic advisers to those two presidents. More importantly, when the tax cuts went ahead anyway, the theory failed miserably: Both times, budget deficits increased sharply.

Back in April of this year, the president and some of his advisers were making the claim that the tax cuts would grow the economy and therefore they would pay for themselves. Lately, however, supporters of the cut (like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) have backed off that claim, saying “nobody knows if they will pay for themselves as that’s in the future”.

They’ve put in these caveats so that when the deficit does increase, they can say they never said the tax cuts would pay for themselves, as they seem to be heeding the advice of economists. But if tax receipts do go up, they can claim clairvoyance (“See? We told you it would be a good thing!”). It’s a good position to be in, if you can sell it.

But the reality is that these tax cuts will cause additional fiscal strain, and the “biggest tax cut in American history” is being passed for the sake of cutting taxes regardless of the long term outlook, and not for actual tax reform. In other words, the vice-president’s boast is, once again, nothing to boast about if we’re talking about doing things in the interest of the American public.

If we’re talking about doing things that benefit a narrow slice of special interests, then by all means, yes – this is quite the accomplishment.

I just don’t think it’s something to be proud of.

 

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Another one of the changes I’ve done so far in 2017 is try to improve my understanding of foreign affairs. I’ve always been interested in politics, and I understand that blogs and web articles aren’t always the best place to read it since people are frequently biased. The reason I did this is because while some Americans don’t care about expert opinions anymore, this American still does.

So here’s what I did:

First, I get daily emails from Foreign Affairs today.

At first I only wanted to read the free articles or so, but I discovered that I wanted more. I signed up for a subscription which only cost $50/year, and each day I get an article or two in my email inbox. When something sounds interesting, I click the link and read it.

Second, I read the magazine they send me.

Foreign Affairs originally consisted of a magazine and not online articles, and a lot of what appears in their magazine is duplicated from the articles they send me. But, the magazine comes with the $50 annual subscription. It comes once every two months, and it’s typically filled with about 20-30 articles. I read them all.

What I do is every couple of days, I read one, two, or three articles. Then I go back to the front of the magazine with a pen and put a checkmark next to the subject so I can tell which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t. I try to make it through all of them before the next issue rolls around.

So far, with the latest two magazines, I’ve been successful.

2017-12-23-ForeignAffairsMagazine

Third, I listen to The President’s Inbox podcast

I like listening to podcasts, and one I started listening to this year is The President’s Inbox, which is a roundup of opinions of the international and domestic issues facing the US president. They put out a new article once every couple of weeks, and I think I’ve listened to almost all of them since I started listening to it this past spring.

I find these podcasts informative, it tells me things that I never would have learned otherwise and gives me insights that I previously never would have had.

Heck, even the wife listened to a podcast one time.

2017-12-23-ThePresidentsInbox

So, those are the changes I made this year. I even thought about joining the US Council on Foreign Relations which is made up of a group of influential people in the US. People like former military leaders, think tank leaders, politicians, newspaper editors, etc. The only problem is you can’t just join. There’s an entry fee (fine) but you also have to be recommended by three or four other members.

I browsed through the list of 1000 people and the number of people I know is … zero. No, scratch that, I know that my Congressman is a member. Maybe I could ask him to recommend me.

But I don’t know anyone else, so that’s a problem I have to solve. I’ll leave that for 2018.

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[Really? Another blog post about politics?]

I’ve written previously about how tax cuts don’t lead to economic prosperity the way that some politicians think they do. And yet here we are, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a tax “reform” package that has mostly tax cuts, and the Republican-controlled Senate is trying to do the same thing. Various analyses of these two tax packages mostly conclude the following:

  • The average person on the street will see little benefit, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, up to maybe a couple of thousand dollars for people making ~$150,000/year
  • The people at the very top, in the top 0.1%, will see big savings in the many tens, or even hundreds, of thousands
  • Corporations will save lots and lots of money
  • In 10 years, most people will see their taxes go up
  • The federal deficit will increase as a result of these tax cuts

Given all these negatives, we have to ask the question: Why are Republicans trying so hard to pass these tax cuts?

Way back in 2015 when President Trump was campaigning, and then all throughout 2016 and the first part of 2017, one of his mantras was “Drain the swamp!” There are various interpretations of what this means, but basically it’s about preventing lobbyists and special interests from buying politicians’ votes, and instead acting in the interest of the average American citizen. During the debates, then-candidate Trump would say he would do this all the time. When he needed a favor, he’d call up a politician and promise a campaign donation. Some people (erroneously) thought that a President Trump would curtail this if he got elected.

And so to answer the question of why Republicans are trying so hard to pass these tax cuts, the answer is simple: it’s not because it benefits the average citizen, but because politicians are trying to please their donors. For you see, it’s wealthy donors that are pushing for tax reform (that is, tax cuts). They are wealthy, and want to see their taxes reduced even though they are doing just fine. They are pressuring lawmakers with the threat of withholding campaign contributions. Whether they truly believe that it would help economic growth (most economists don’t think so), or they are trying to starve the government of funding and thereby force cuts to services (resulting in average citizens paying more), it’s not in the interest of the average American citizen to get a tax cut. After all, they barely get anything.

Maybe if the 0.1% does indeed re-invest the money, there could be a trickle down effect. But for a tax cut to be stimulative, it has to expand the consumer class. A few hundred dollars for most consumers who will have to pay for services they didn’t normally pay for does not expand the consumer class, since it doesn’t expand domestic demand.

The swamp is doing just fine; they will be the ones to benefit most from these tax cuts. Like most of President Trump’s promises during the campaign, this one appears to be as fictitious as the rest of them.

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Here we are, another day with another piece of evidence that President Trump is a… sub-par President.

I could point to any number of things, but today I’m going to pick on his response to the allegations of child molestation of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Or rather, his lack of response.

The background to the latest example

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or not following US politics, Roy Moore is the former judge in Alabama who had a monument of the Ten Commandments placed outside his courthouse. He was eventually told to take it down (you can’t put a symbol establishing preferences for one religion over another in the United States federal building, it is unconstitutional because the the US constitution prohibits favoritism on the basis of religion). He eventually lost his position as a judge and got kicked off the bench.

But that wasn’t the end of his career. For you see, after Alabama’s Senator Jeff Sessions left his seat to become the Attorney General of the United States under President Trump, the governor of Alabama appointed someone else (Luthor Strange) to fill the vacant Senate seat until the next election which would be held on Dec 12. Luthor Strange was the incumbent, but he had to win a Republican primary first, and then win in the general election to officially take the Senate Seat. And that’s where Roy Moore comes in. Moore ran against Strange in the primary and won. So, he’s now the Republican candidate to become the senator of Alabama in a special election on Dec 12, squaring off against a former prosecutor running for the Democrats, Doug Jones.

Roy Moore was all positioned to win the election because Alabama elects Republicans. However, a couple of weeks ago, numerous reports of Moore committing sexual assault 35-40 years ago against underage girls began to surface. This happened while he was in his 30’s and was the District Attorney. Allegedly, he was well-known for dating teenage girls, was banned from a shopping mall for hanging out around there (as well as high-schools), and allegedly groped not just one girl, but so far six (!) have come forward. One was as young as 14 years old when the incident occurred. Moore has tried hard to deny the allegations as fake news, except that one of the women has his signature in her high school yearbook.

My view of Roy Moore is that he is an extremist (his political views are to the far right) and he is endorsed by far right publications. I never wanted him to win anything. Yet now I am disgusted by the reports of child molestation. That should disqualify him from office; and while I understand that these allegations are unproven, there are six different women and this shows a consistent pattern of abuse. It’s not fake news, it’s sexual abuse.

The background to the background of the latest example

That’s what gives these allegations authenticity, these types of abuse are never just an isolated pattern, instead they come up over and over again. I can think of countless examples of this over the years:

What’s in common here is that this behavior (unsurprisingly) was going down for decades and was overlooked, but now that it’s come to light, the perpetrators are paying the price. Not necessarily with legal trouble, but at least with career trouble and massive hits to their reputation.

It’s a big problem in politics, too

Hollywood is not the only place where this has gone down. But at least in Hollywood, actors are paying for their sins.

When it comes to politics, many powerful men have almost managed to squelch allegations of sexual assault. Fortunately, they failed:

  • Just this past year, the popular mayor of Seattle Ed Murray, who is openly gay, was positioned to be easily re-elected. However, reports started surfacing this year that back in the 1980’s when he was a youth worker (also in his 30’s, the same as Roy Moore), he committed sexual assault against troubled youth. Murray denied the allegations and that they were politically motivated, but more and more reports kept coming forward. Eventually the political pressure was too heavy and Murray stepped down, and did he did not run for re-election.
    .
  • For me, the coup-de-grace is Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You won’t remember this, but I sure do. Strauss-Kahn is the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and he was based in New York City. A few years ago, the state of New York was trying to prosecute him for the rape of a maid (an immigrant) in a hotel. They were set to take him to court when a couple of days before the trial began, it fell apart and never proceeded. I never found out what happened, but my guess is that he did it and paid off the woman so she would drop her claims and refuse to testify.That wasn’t the end of his career, though. He started to move up in the circles but a year or two later, he was busted again for taking part in a prostitution ring, and was known for having wild sex parties. He never was convicted of anything (he admitted he had a strong sex drive) but that seems to be the end of his career. For now, I guess.
    .
  • Where this hits closer to home for me is that way back in 1993, while I was still living in Canada, my parents were involved in the Reform Party. The Reform Party was a right-wing party based in western Canada that was effectively a protest party. The local candidate was Terry Lewis, and he was a Christian. My parents supported him. He ran (and lost) in 1993, and ran again (and lost again) in 1997.Several years later, he was convicted of sexual assault which he committed against a teen boy in the 1970’s, again while he was a youth worker (in his 30’s, just like Roy Moore). He was convicted of a second case a few years ago.When my parents found out about this the first time, they were angry and disgusted that he did these acts. I give my parents credit, they never would have supported Lewis had they known that this was in his background.

So you see, sexual assault by men in positions of power, whether it is in Hollywood or in politics, is common. And it’s also serial, they rarely do it only one time. That’s what I think gives reports against Roy Moore credibility – that there’s so many.

The famous counter-example

But serially abusing men don’t always get their comeuppance, and the most obvious example is Donald Trump. In 2016, at least eight different women came forward and alleged that he sexually assaulted or groped them. At the time, candidate Trump said all eight of them were lying, a claim he still makes today. He was also caught on audiotape making “locker room talk” about women, but dismissed it as nothing more than men making off-the-cuff remarks about their sexual prowess (and that it was not at all a reflection of his character and his views towards women, relative to his own position of power).

President Trump got away with it; and unlike my parents who turned on Lewis even though they agreed with his politics, Trump’s supporters did not turn on him because they agreed with his politics, and they still haven’t. Likewise, Roy Moore’s supporters have not turned on him because they agree with his politics. Apparently, to Moore’s supporters, you can be a child molester so long as you espouse the right political and religious beliefs. If you do that, you get a free pass and anything wrong you do is dismissed as fake news.

When I was on a jury earlier this year, the case was about sexual assault. During the jury selection process, the lawyers are allowed to ask the potential jurors questions in order to kick them out of the jury pool in order for their client to get a fair trial (or the prosecutor get rid of any lunatics). I forget which lawyer asked it, but he asked the women in the audience how many of them had ever been a victim of sexual assault. Many raised their hands, and I tried to do a quick count. I estimated that somewhere between 20-25% of the women in the room had raised their hands. Some even spoke about their experiences.

So as you can see, this country has a problem with sexual assault committed by men, and many women don’t bring their stories forward out of fear, shame, and the feeling of powerlessness. Being accused of lying, and of participating in fake news, doesn’t help and makes the problem worse because it scares victims into staying silent. Furthermore, seeing the perpetrators (like then-candidate Trump) get away with it is even worse because it sends a social signal that it’s possible to get away with it under certain circumstances. People watch for these social signals, and if Roy Moore gets away with it, then others will figure out that you can get away with anything if you subscribe to extreme politics but indicate you’re on the side of a certain group.

Thought Bubble

Before, I continue, let me go to the thought bubble. I’ve listened to the radio about why Moore’s supporters haven’t abandoned him. Some think the accusations are fake news, others will vote for him even if the allegations are true because they won’t vote for a Democrat, but the one that makes me roll my eyes the most are because Christians have the concept of forgiveness. You may have committed some evil acts, but forgiveness is available to you. Redemption is a common biblical theme.

I get that, and it’s a great concept. However, it’s entirely dependent upon your coming clean, confessing, and repenting. In other words, you must admit your guilt and promise to turn around, and actually turn around.

Roy Moore has not gotten past that first step – he hasn’t admitted what he has done, so I can’t see how forgiveness should be extended to him. Indeed, by refusing to admit what he has done (allegedly), he is making the situation even worse by indicating to future victims that their stories will not be believed.

Thanks Thought Bubble.

Finally getting back to the hypocrisy

With all that in mind, let’s turn our attention back to President Trump. When the news broke about Moore’s allegations, President Trump was silent. He didn’t say anything. No urges about showing caution, no threats that these better not be true, just a simple “I haven’t studied it, we’ll have to see what happens.” He was exercising caution, a character trait President Trump doesn’t actually have.

Yet in the past week, Senator Al Franken, a Democrat out of Minnesota (the same Al Franken known for playing Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live) had his own sexual assault allegations makes the news. During a USO comedy tour back in 2006 before he was a Senator, he took a picture with his hands on the boobs of a female colleague while she was asleep (she was wearing body armor underneath military fatigue). Franken apologized for an unfunny joke and called for an Ethics Panel investigation into his own behavior.

While Franken is not the biggest thorn in Trump’s side, he’s been very vocal about sexual assault. And now this image has been circulating on social media. Like clockwork, President Trump rage-tweeted about Franken, calling his behavior inappropriate. “And what about the (non-existent) even worse images in photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7!?!?”

Seriously?

The sheer size and scope of the hypocrisy of this tweet floors me. This is a man who committed sexual assault against numerous women, calls them all liars, and propagates the problem forward by sending signals to others they will not be believed even if they do come forward. He said nothing to the allegations of sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, even though other Republican leaders have condemned the behavior (for their own political reasons, of course) [2].

But the reason that President Trump condemns Franken is not because he is actually disgusted by Franken. Instead, it’s because he knows where his bread is buttered. Donald Trump always courts the extreme right-wing base of the Republican party. He eggs them on all the time, and exploits their support. That’s why he wouldn’t condemn David Duke (the alleged leader of the KKK), why he wouldn’t condemn neo-Nazis, and why he wouldn’t say anything about gun control even after the Las Vegas, Texas, and California mass shootings which have occurred in the past few weeks. It’s because there are too many far-right extremists that are part of that voting bloc, and he needs to shore them up regardless of whether or not they are harming the country.

I know that not everyone who supports Trump is far-right, or an extremist. But many, many do and President Trump is pandering to them.

So, the President condemns Franken because Franken is a Democrat; he doesn’t condemn Moore because Moore’s politics are extreme but align with Trump’s base.

That is the reason why President Trump does what he does.

He is not showing any type of moral leadership, but instead is exploiting divisions in the country to firm up his support [2].

And I predict he’ll do this over and over. When a white male commits a mass shooting, President Trump will be silent because gun control is a pet issue for many in his base and he won’t risk alienating them. But if a Muslim rents a truck and drives over people in New York, he’ll be tweeting about it within minutes, about how we need extreme vetting, because many in his base don’t like or trust Muslims anyhow [3].

And on and on it goes. And will continue to go until he either loses the next election, or is impeached (probably because of his dealings with Russia, although I think that is a long shot, perhaps 20% chance of success). The hypocrisy of calling out one set of behaviors when it is politically advantageous, and not calling out another – even when the other he is not calling out causes more harm – is not going to stop.

And I think that is damaging the country.


 

Update three days after I wrote this post

And just like that, we’re seeing the behavior of how politics overrides personal ethic.

1. The most disappointing example is Franklin Graham, the son of American evangelist Billy Graham and the person in charge of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charitable organization that runs Operation Christmas child. My wife and I have donated to this organization in the past, so it’s such a depressing example of how leaders in the church should know better, but don’t.

Franklin Graham posted this on Twitter in response to the coverage of Roy Moore:

Did you notice the “What about-ism?” This happens when you say “This guy is bad, but what about this other person who is bad?” This is a diversion tactic that you engage in when you can’t defend something or someone, so you try to shift the discussion over to something else which you can personally attack. It is a tacit admission that you lost that battle, so you try to engage in something you can win.

What-about-ism is used by the Trump administration all the time, and the media falls for it. They get into a discussion about other things, chasing the rabbit trail. But it’s a ruse, a canard. Regardless of whether or not that other thing is bad, we are discussing this thing right now.

Franklin Graham ought to know better. Yes, other politicians in Washington are bad, but right now we’re discussing Roy Moore and his sexual assaulting of underage girls. Don’t try to change the discussion just because you’re a conservative Republican and you think Roy Moore will support the policies you want him to support. I thought Franklin Graham ought to show some leadership by showing he has some skin in the game, and would denounce someone who has shown immoral behavior. I guess I was wrong about that.

2. Unsurprisingly, President Trump has endorsed Roy Moore. From The Hill:

President Trump on Tuesday appeared to throw his support behind Roy Moore (R) despite the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Alabama Senate candidate.

We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

The president slammed the record of Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, saying “it’s terrible on crime, it’s terrible on the border, it’s terrible on the military.”

Trump declined to say whether he believes the accusations against Moore, but stressed that the former judge has denied them. “He denies it. He totally denies it,” Trump said, noting the alleged incidents took place about 40 years ago. “Roy Moore denies it — that’s all I can say.”

As I explained above, it’s not surprising that President Trump would employ this tactic, he only speaks to his base and pushes policies for his extreme base. Roy Moore is part of it, and there’s no way Trump will abandon him no matter how bad Moore is, because…

3. The Hill also reports that Moore and his Democratic opponent are in a statistical dead heat, with Moore still slight ahead:

According to the Raycom News Network poll, 45 percent of respondents believe some or all of the allegations against Moore, while 34 percent said they don’t believe any of the accusations.

Twenty-one percent said they believe some or all of the allegations, but that it won’t change their vote.

Did you see that? 1 out of 5 voters believe the allegations of sexual assault are true, but still will vote for Moore anyway (I haven’t checked to see if those are all Moore voters, or split, or all Jones voters). This underscores my disgust that all you have to do is subscribe to extreme beliefs and signal to your extreme base that you’re on their side, and they’ll give you carte blanche to do anything you want so long as you vote their way when in power. Your moral character means nothing (and that’s what irks me about Franklin Graham, he should know better).

This sends a bad signal to everyone else who might be so inclined to abandon politicians who do grossly immoral things. If Side A (Republicans) won’t do it, or won’t do it in enough numbers to matter, than what motivation do Democrats have to abandon, say, Al Franken? It amounts to a unilateral disarmament. Votes can do the game theory, and abandoning their guy but knowing the other side won’t abandon theirs means that you either accept the other guy, or you stick by your own no matter how bad he is.

I know national politics is a blood sport, but this is starting to feel really slimy.


Addendum

[1] Some leaders in the Republican party have said they believe the women, and that Moore should drop out. I think they are saying this because it’s politically expedient. The Republicans are establishment Republicans, and Moore is an extremist outside that. They want Moore to drop out because they don’t want the problem that Moore would have brought to the party in power, even outside of these allegations.

Yet, because of my disgust of Moore, I have to align myself with Republican Congressional leadership, even if I understand that they’re only doing it because it aligns with their own best interests, and not because they are showing any moral leadership.

[2] This goes to what Nassim Taleb describes as having skin-in-the-game. If you don’t have skin-in-the-game, your opinion shouldn’t be taken seriously. For example, during the financial crisis, maybe Wall Street managers were criticized for taking on excessive risk and destabilizing the system, yet still profiting handsomely. They had no downside, only upside. They had no skin-in-the-game.

When President Trump refuses to criticize Ray Moore, it’s because he knows he might alienate his base if he does, even though charges of child molestation are serious. When he does criticize Al Franken (even though he himself has done far worse things), it’s because his base is fully on-board with him criticizing Democrats and there’s no downside for him. Democrats won’t vote for him, and he can shore up support within his base.

Thus, President Trump has demonstrated he has no skin-in-the-game when it comes to showing moral leadership, he only panders to his base.

It’s when you do things for which you might suffer adverse consequences that you should be taken seriously.

[3] The message coming out of the White House is that the reason the President has criticized Franken is because he admitted it, whereas neither President Trump nor Roy Moore admitted to these allegations.

Moore hasn’t admitted it because it would probably be political suicide. President Trump… probably can’t remember that he did it, or does remember but has convinced himself that it was perfectly okay.

But in either case, it sends a bad signal: rather than admitting when you’ve done wrong, deny it forever. Even if it results in long-term damage to real victims of sexual assault.

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Tax cuts, growth, and wealth

The allure of economic growth

I was listening to NPR on the way home from work, and they were talking about tax reform. Now that Trump and the Democrats have cut a deal on protecting DACA people (those people who were illegally brought to the United States by their parents), the president is moving on to tax reform.

Oh, boy, here we go again.

President Trump is trying to drop the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. The idea is that because big corporations are holding so much overseas because of the high tax rate, they’ll be incentivized to bring it back if they only lose 15% instead of 35%. And when they bring all that money back, they’ll invest it into the economy and create more jobs, or at least increase the wages of their workers.

Tax cuts for corporations aren’t that popular among Democrats, but I guess the idea is that since Trump gave the Democrats protection for DACA recipients (including no building or funding of a giant [idiotic] wall on the border), they’ll reciprocate and give him some tax cuts which are always popular with Democrats.


But will it even work?

I wrote about how tax cuts don’t deliver the intended returns people think they do compared to a tax cut. TL;DR: they don’t expand the consumer class. Yet in the interviews with various officials in government leadership, people have asked how a drop in revenue in taxes from corporations and also people (you don’t get tax cuts from Republicans unless they go to wealthy people) will not increase the federal budget deficit.

And once again, the myth of economic growth comes into play. “We can afford tax cuts because it’ll grow the economy, from 2% to 3%. The tax cuts will pay for themselves; growth covers a multitude of sins. And if we can grow from 2% to 4%, wow! It’ll cover every sin!”

The problem, of course, is tax cuts don’t deliver the economic growth promised. To get that kind of growth, productivity would have to increase by 50%. Furthermore, in the past, when the corporate tax rate was temporarily lowered, companies didn’t bring back the money and use it to expand their businesses (thereby boosting productivity), they use it to pay dividends to their investors, or buy back stock (which decreases supply of the stock in the market, thereby boosting demand and increasing its price). In neither case are they increasing production, but instead giving money back to the shareholders.

 
How it affects me, and how it can affect others

As someone who has a good chunk of money in stocks and receives money in dividends, this is good for me. But I am under no illusion that this will increase the economy. Instead, it will increase the deficit and in order to maintain services, the government will have to borrow more money, which will cause the Federal Reserve to print more money, which will lead to inflation. Inflation helps the wealthy, particularly those owning real estate, but it degrades the buying power of the working and middle class if wages don’t keep pace with inflation.

The counter-argument is “Lots of Americans own homes! Inflation will help drive up their personal wealth!”

To which I say “Poppycock!”

Your home going up in value only helps you if want to sell it, otherwise it just increases your property taxes. And if you sell, it only helps you if you move to someplace cheaper and pocket the money. Most adults have to move into bigger places as their family expands, and it just costs more to maintain a bigger place. It only helps you if you want to downsize, and most people only downsize as they get older and their family moves out. But by that time they are spending more on healthcare costs.

Furthermore, growth in real estate isn’t that big a deal for most people. Unless you live in a city that has high rates of property appreciation like Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and a handful of other urban areas, real estate as an investment is a pretty lousy one. It returns perhaps 0.2% per year after inflation. But inflation does erode your buying power if wages aren’t keeping up.

But wait! Wages will go up thanks to inflation!

This is also incorrect. Wages go up when there is a shortage of workers. And where is there a shortage of workers? In places where companies need them, and that’s in cities. And it’s mostly in cities that have high real estate costs like Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and a handful of other urban areas. These are the places where wages are keeping place with inflation, or even exceeding them. But it’s also what’s driving up the price of real estate.

What compounds this problem is that the working and lower middle classes cannot afford the price of real estate so they have to move out from the cities – the ones where all the growth is taking place – to more rural or smaller urban areas. They then start overwhelming those markets with additional labor. Yet there isn’t enough demand for these additional workers. The result of more supply (labor) than demand (open job vacancies) is downward pressure on wages. That is, people leaving the high-cost cities can’t make as much in lower cost areas either, because there’s not enough demand for their skills and employers don’t need to pay as much because there’s so much to choose from.

So, growth doesn’t cover a multitude of sins. It goes towards those who are already doing pretty well, and leaves out the ones who weren’t. And the ones that weren’t are the very ones that voted for Trump, and his tax cut policy will hurt them more than it will help them. The whole point behind tax cuts is that it motivates wealthy people to save and invest more, but they’re already saving a large chunk of their income – around 30%. If they aren’t investing now, a few more percentage points won’t increase that. And if companies simply return their overseas money back to investors in the way of dividends and stock buybacks, this doesn’t increase productivity either. While companies can certainly choose to do this, as an economic policy it doesn’t make sense.


Now what?

Growth covers a multitude of sins if it is spread out evenly throughout the economy and expands the consumer class. Tax cuts don’t do this. Instead, it makes far more sense for the government to invest in education and job training for workers to boost their productivity in order to do more with less.

This is doubly impacted by the United States’s current administration is on the warpath to reduce immigration. The US’s population growth rate isn’t enough to sustain constant economic expansion. Even if you did boost productivity, you need someone to buy the products you produce. Without enough domestic consumption, you need to export to the rest of the world with economies where the consumer base is expanding. This is primarily China and other emerging economies.

I’m going to cut this blog post short because it gets more complicated from here. The pursuing of growth is a noble goal, but it’s inefficient and won’t deliver the results that the Trump administration and the rest of the Republican leadership is hoping for.

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The wife and I the other day went down to Mt. St Helen’s. This is about a 3-hour drive from where we live.

The city of Seattle is heavily Democratic (capital D). Yet once you get out of the city and drive in any direction for an hour, the political orientation changes. There are lots of Trump supporters.

Along the way down, we saw a big billboard (privately owned, I think) that said “Higher taxes create jobs how?” The unstated argument is that raising taxes is bad for the economy and doesn’t create jobs, and lower taxes is a good idea and creates prosperity.

So I thought I’d take a stab at answering this question.

First of all, nobody who wants higher taxes wants them at 100%

So let’s throw that away. Everyone knows that if the tax rate is too high, the economy stops because no one will work.

Second, it’s a matter of who is being targeted with the higher taxes

In any economy, there is the poor, the working class, the professional class, and the rich. We’re not just talking about the 1% who have incomes starting over $450,000, but the highest sliver of that whose incomes are over $5 million per year. That’s usually who is being targeted for higher taxes although typically it applies to earners over $450,000.

Third, it has to do with increasing consumer spending

The United States’ economy, and most western economies, is built upon consumer spending. Someone has to sell stuff, and someone has to buy the stuff that’s being made. If I build 10,000 widgets, but nobody buys them, that’s bad. It puts no more money in my pocket, and if nobody can afford my widgets, then they can’t take advantage of my widgets’ awesomeness.

The theory behind tax increases

The idea being tax increases is that you take some money from the wealthy and give it to the poor, working class, and professional class. This could be in the form of a direct transfer payment, but usually it’s in the form of services. So, a government might take the additional revenue from taxes and spend it on improving public transit, or on roads, or on daycare, or on health care.

The result is that a poor, working class, or professional class person that normally would have spent an extra $5 on a subway ride, or $1000/month on day care, has extra money in their pocket. They decide to spend it on something else, be it goods that are necessary (household items) or luxury goods (mid-to-upper end vehicles).

The net result is that because people are spending less on one area because the government is subsidizing it, they get to spend more on another area. That means the people that sell stuff have more customers to buy their stuff.

The theory behind tax cuts

Tax cuts have to go to the wealthiest people. The belief is that a wealthy person will take the money they receive in tax cuts and invest it to start new business and generate more wealth for everyone – new jobs, new innovation, new spending on business.

A poor, working class, or professional person doesn’t get enough back in taxes to be able to invest it. For the poor and working class, any new additional income is likely to be spent on consumer goods and services. For a professional person, the money will either be spent, saved, or invested in the markets depending their financial situation. This is similar to a tax increase on the rich in that both are intended to be stimulative. But in these cases, the tax cut money has not gone to creating more wealth in the economy by starting a new business.

No, only a wealthy person who gets a big tax cut can take it and invest directly in the economy. For you see, a wealthy person already has all (or nearly all) of their needs and luxury items. This is because of the decreasing utility of money. All of us need a certain amount of money to buy food, shelter, transportation, cat food, and other requirements. Then we all buy some luxury items. But eventually that tapers off and additional money doesn’t make us happier, that is, we don’t spend it. But given enough additional money, and then maybe a wealthy person decides to take a risk and start a business to grow the economy. It takes a certain amount of money to get started, running a business isn’t cheap. It’s difficult and requires a cushion.

That’s why you have to give tax cuts to the rich if you want them to grow the economy.

Which one is better?

Economists have measured both of these. Both are intended to stimulate the economy. A tax cut does put additional money into everyone’s pocket, and they spend it – but not equally.

The poor and working class spend their extra money. The professional class frequently does, and the wealthy sometimes do, but sometimes they save it. If someone wants to save their extra money, that’s fine. It’s a smart thing to do, Americans don’t save enough. But from macro-economic perspective, it’s bad. Our economy is built on consumer spending, not consumer saving.

If the government now suffers a reduction in revenue, it either has to cut services or run deficits. If it cuts services, then the poor and working class who were using them now have to use the small bit of money from tax cuts to spend on those cut services whose fees have increased. They have no additional money. So the government has to run a deficit and sells bonds in order to finance itself, but as the deficit grows, it can increase inflation. That, too, can erode the buying power of consumers whose incomes have to grow fast enough to keep up with inflation. In 2017, that’s happening for the professional class, but not the poor and working class.

So, if you compare the two:

  • A tax increase on the wealthy that results in the government providing more services for the middle class gives us more consumers who can spend money. Because of the marginal utility of money, the wealthy don’t experience a noticeable degradation of their lifestyle
  • A tax cut on the wealthy does not necessarily result in the wealthy creating more jobs. Much of the time, they save it which is good for them but not for the economy as a whole. The middle class does notice a degradation of their lifestyle as they now have to spend more money on services that they previously didn’t have to spend on

Therefore, as long as it is done right and the rates are not too high, a tax increase on the wealthy does more to stimulate the economy than a tax cut for the wealthy.

And that’s how I would answer the billboard’s question.

 

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I had a surprising experience the other day.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about politics, no doubt due to my alarm about the current US administration. But I also want to be non-partisan, as I’ve written on numerous blog posts.

I’d heard that a lot of US political appointee positions had not been filled, so on a whim I decided to see if the US ambassadorship to France is currently open. It is.

I joke to people that my goal is to become the US ambassador to France (it could be any country, but I picked France). Even though I’m not qualified for this, let’s just assume that somehow I get the job. I then plan to serve out my term, and then since I hold dual citizenship, apply to become the Canadian ambassador to France. When they ask me for my relevant job experience, I can answer “Was previously the ambassador for France.”

I checked out the current ambassador to France’s resume as of course they would have relevant experience, and she does. I also saw that she’s on the Council of Foreign Relations. I hadn’t heard of this before but it did sort of ring a bell. It turns out to be a non-partisan group of fairly famous people who are a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. whose focus is US foreign affairs. I went through the site, browsed its contents, subscribed to the daily newsletter, and subscribed to the podcast. I also started looking through the membership, as for some reason I have this idea in my head that I want to join the US Council of Foreign Relations. After all, I’ve always had an interest in geopolitics.

I started going through the membership list of the CFR, and it’s big. I recognize a large chunk of the names, but none of them are people who I know personally (e.g., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former head of the Democratic National Convention; Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State). But then I recognized one name on the list for whom I did have a quasi-relationship – my member of Congress.

My congressman has a common name and I wondered if it was him. I went to his webpage and browsed his bio but I didn’t see his membership on the CFR. So, I filled out the “Contact Me” page (it has a lot of screening on it, they make sure you’re in his district before he’ll respond) and I asked him “Are you the same guy that’s on the membership of the CFR?” I left my contact information and basically forgot about it, not really expecting a response.

A few days later, I got a phone call from an unknown number. I let it go to voice mail because I get so much unsolicited spam on my cell phone now (some idiot organization or two clearly leaked my phone number). I was surprised to see they left a message (so few spammers do), and I was even more surprised to hear it was a staff member of my congressman!

He did, indeed, confirm that my congressman was the same person listed on the CFR! So I was right, I kind of figured he was. But I was suitably impressed that he took the time to get back to me on this rather obscure question.

I wonder if anyone’s every asked him that before?

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I’ve loosely been tracking the trial of Bill Cosby – the TV star from the 1980’s and 1990’s. He’s had a whole stack of sexual harassment allegations spanning multiple decades, and his accusers have accused him of giving them drugs and engaging in unwanted sexual acts with them. There’s not just one or two women accusing him of this, but dozens.

Cosby’s on trial, but because so many of the cases are so old, he can’t be prosecuted for them due to the statute of limitations (or so I’ve heard). Instead, he’s being tried for one incident that occurred in 2004.

The prosecution brought multiple witnesses, whereas the defense wrapped up their case in a few minutes, only bringing in one witness (a police detective). They went to closing arguments, and the jury went into deliberations. That was last Monday or Tuesday (it’s the following Sunday as I write this).

There’s still no verdict, and the jury has asked to review lots of the evidence presented at trial.

I’ve read some commentary by so-called jury experts who say that it’s not indicative of it being either good or bad (for Cosby). But in my view, I think it’s bad news for the prosecution and good news for Cosby.

Now, personally, I think Bill Cosby is guilty. I know he has a wholesome image, but he’s had dozens of accusers come forward and say more or less the same thing. Why he would ever feel the need to give these women drugs – relaxants – to get them to agree to have sex with him is beyond me. He’s a rich and famous celebrity, I would think he wouldn’t have had that much difficulty in finding willing participants. And the circumstances of the story being told is suspicious.

I think he did it.

But I don’t think he’ll be convicted.

For you see, a couple of months ago I was on a jury, and it was a sexual assault case. In the case, it resulted in a guilty verdict. But I feel like the case was really obvious that the guy did it. There was evidence that was too strong to ignore.

In this case, there are a bunch of complicating factors:

First, it comes down to he said, she said

This is unfair, but this ultimately comes down to a he said, she said debate, and which one has more credibility. There isn’t any physical evidence, so the jury has to decide which one they want to believe. Both agree that there was a sexual encounter, and both agree that there was relaxant drugs involved. But one says it was consensual while the other says it wasn’t.

Secondthe prosecution has to prove that Cosby is guilty; the defense doesn’t have to prove he is innocent

This is a high bar to clear in a case like this where there is no physical evidence. As a jury, you can’t just say “Well, she said it so it must be true.” The jury has to find that Cosby is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This doesn’t mean that there can be zero doubt, but rather that a reasonable person would find the defendant guilty given the evidence and that alternative explanations are simply implausible.

Third, I suspect that the jury does not know that much about Cosby or the other allegations against him

When I was on the jury, there is a pre-trial process where the lawyers will weed out any juror who they think should not be on the jury. This includes people who have heard about the case on the news, and you are given strict instructions to not read about the case in any way, shape, or form; or to discuss it with anyone in any detail. When you go home for the evening, you can’t discuss what case it is or even what it’s about.

During the trial I was on, we were only given the facts of the case in isolation. I had heard that Cosby had numerous sexual complaints against him, but this probably didn’t come into the trial because it’s not part of this particular case. I say that because the defendant in the case I was on had a long criminal history. That didn’t come up during the trial since it was outside of the context of the case, and I’m sure the defense lawyer argued that it shouldn’t be part of the evidence the prosecution could bring up (and he succeeded).

Cosby’s lawyer would have argued the same thing (if he didn’t, he’s a bad lawyer and there’s no way Cosby would have gotten a bad one). That means that the trial jury would most likely be made up of people who weren’t that familiar with Bill Cosby (celebrities are not universally known) and were unfamiliar with all the other complaints against him. Or, if they did know about Cosby, would have been instructed to put all of their biases aside. But anyone familiar with Cosby’s other sexual misconduct allegations would probably have been excluded from the trial jury.


So with that out of the way, why do I think Cosby will not get convicted?

Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is hard to define, but it can be attained with the word of a credible witness. That’s the one thing this entire case likely rests on. Is Cosby’s accuser credible?

There will be some on the jury who think she is, but some who don’t. The reason the jury is asking to review her testimony is because they are trying to see if there were any inconsistencies in it. Did all the facts line up? Do they contradict at any point? Because if they do, that will undermine her credibility. There are going to be some on the jury that don’t think her testimony is credible enough to secure guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I say that because it’s what happened in my jury room. I’d say between 1/2 to 2/3 of us believe the defendant was guilty, even though the accuser had some minor gaps in the testimony. But the jurors who were unsure were not that willing to find a guilty verdict because they knew the implications, and believed that there was room for reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt differs from person to person.

In the trial I was on, there was physical evidence on the victim, and there was security footage that caught the two on camera about a half hour after the incident took place. And, there was testimony from friends of the victim. But, the friends’ testimony was not enough to convince the jury, only the physical evidence on the victim and the video camera footage. Had it not been for that, I don’t think we could have gotten a unanimous verdict.

And that’s what I think is happening here. I think that 1/2 to 2/3 of the jurors think Cosby is guilty, and the rest do not – at least not beyond a reasonable doubt. Those jurors will want more than he said it was consensual, she says it was not, in order to say guilty unless they find the accuser credible.

There will be an internal debate going – why would she make it up? The defense argued that it is grandstanding, or trying to get revenge after a consensual sexual encounter, or something like that. And some jurors will hold out that possibility even though it’s not that plausible. It’s true that some men will be falsely accused of sexual assault, but it happens far less than they actually commit sexual assault, and far less than they are accused of it but are acquitted.

So I think that the jury will probably come back as a hung jury, or return a verdict of not guilty, and that’s why it has taken so long. The jury I was on took about 5 hours, and this one is now at least four days (maybe three). They will review the testimony, but you can take notes during the trial and everyone can discuss it. You can bring your own personal experience into the trial, too.

But I think Cosby is, unfortunately, going to get away with it.

Update – June 20, 2017: I found out on CNN today that the result was a mistrial, just like I predicted.

 

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Last month, I wrote that for the first time ever, I was angry at the US government for their restrictive travel ban. The ban was overturned by various federal courts in the days following, so that crisis has been averted.

But in the weeks since then, I have been amused at the number of leaks coming out the White House. These are not related to national security, but rather, about the personalities in the White House and how things are in disarray.

One of my favorites is the Twitter account RoguePOTUSstaff. This is a Twitter account run by a handful of low-to-mid-level employees in the White House that are unhappy with the administration’s incompetence. In it, they talk about the inner workings of the Oval Office, and how personality clashes and chaos is reigning over there. We get to hear about how Trump and Bannon are raging egomaniacs who have their own view on things that are out of touch with reality.

RoguePOTUSstaff is populated mostly by Republicans unhappy with the state of things. They are passive-aggressive and their intent is to #resist the current administration by leaking how incompetent they are.

Another source of leaks is the intelligence community. When Trump’s NSA advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign, the White House tried to deflect the issue by saying the real outrage is that the phone calls by Flynn were leaked. Indeed, we’ve been seeing leak after leak by the intelligence community and it is distracting the Trump administration. That’s what happens when you go to war with your nation’s spies; they get back at you in all sorts of ways. It’s surprising to me that Trump couldn’t predict this when he took Russia’s word for it that they didn’t hack the election over the word of 17 different intelligence agencies.

However, the big reason I am enjoying this schadenfreude is because during the election campaign, President Trump reveled in the difficulties his opponent had with her political opponents (Russia) leaking her own team’s sensitive emails. Trump couldn’t say enough good words about Wikileaks. My criticism back then was that we had to take the foreign interference seriously because while Trump was benefitting from it at the time, eventually the shoe would be on the other foot and he would be negatively impacted when the leakers turned on him. He ignored this sage advice at his own peril. It never occurred to him (or his supporters) that he, too, could suffer the wrath of the leakers.

And now they have turned on him. That was fast.

So, to see a little bit of poetic justice being done fills me with warm fuzzies.

I know that’s not being mature.

But I am enjoying it nonetheless.

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If you’ve been following the news the past couple of days, one of the big headlines is that the United States’ intelligence agencies asserted that the Russian government interfered in the recent Presidential election, and that they attempted to tilt it in Trump’s favor.

Donald Trump shot back, casting doubt on the agencies’ competency – “These are the same ones that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”, meaning that since they had no credibility in the past, why should we believe them now? He also said that hacking is too hard to verify after the fact.

Well, for one thing, those two things aren’t the same. For another, it’s quite obvious that the Russian government was involved in the attacks; hacking can be hard to verify but not always. Sometimes the trail is clear, and it is in this case.

The underlying accusation is this:

  1. Trump has been friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the past 12 months, far friendlier than any past President

  2. Putin is a lifelong intelligence agent, and knows how to manipulate Trump. He did it during the campaign, and is still doing it

  3. Trump fell for Putin’s manipulations, mistaking Putin’s praise as genuine statements of admirations (Trump does this – he praises those whom praise him first, and attacks those who insult him)

  4. Putin only praises Trump in order to manipulate Trump into reversing US foreign policy. This will give Putin and Russia a free hand to operate within their sphere of influence, since there is no other power strong enough to stand up to Russia

  5. Trump pushes back on this because, first, he doesn’t believe (or want to believe) that he could be manipulated.

    Second, by consenting that Russia did hack the election, it undermines his victory – the only reason he won is because a foreign power interfered on his behalf, and he wouldn’t have done it on his own. This undercuts the Trump brand of winning.

That’s roughly the argument for why the hacking matters, and why Trump doesn’t believe it.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Instead, I want to look at Trump’s statement after the intelligence briefing on Friday, Jan 6, 2016.

Leading up to it, Trump was fighting with the intel agencies, a fight I think is a terrible idea. Even as media pressure began to swirl, Trump said things like this:

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He issued denial after denial that Russia was involved in any capacity.

But after the briefing, he said this in a statement:

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations, including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines”

CNN went on to say :

“Trump also tried to defuse controversy over his criticism of the intelligence community and continued refusal to accept Moscow’s actions, calling the Friday meeting "constructive" and offering praise for the senior intel officials. He said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.”

 

I think there’s a clear concession from Donald Trump:

  • He used to say Russia wasn’t involved. And now after seeing the evidence he still can’t say they were. But he did mention them in conjunction with China hacking (which is true), other countries (also true), and other groups of people (still true) as trying to break into the US’s cyber infrastructure.

    By mentioning Russia alongside others who are also known to hack the US, he is effectively conceding “Okay, you’re right” to the US intel agencies.

  • He concedes that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, but he also buffers that by saying that it didn’t affect the election… which implies that his victory is not undermined, and therefore cannot be delegitimized. It also doesn’t undercut his brand.

    In other words “Yes, they may have been hacked, but I still won fair and square.”

  • He called for a plan to be done in 90 days to combat hacking. Why do this if it wasn’t a big problem?

  • He didn’t make this statement on Twitter. That’s key; Trump uses Twitter to drum up support for his followers as an unfiltered source straight from The Donald. He would never use the mainstream media to issue a message that undercuts his brand

The words are coded, but still clear. Trump lost this fight, but still is good at manipulating the media, and Twitter, to come out ahead. Look at what he said after the report was leaked to NBC news right after he was briefed on the matter:

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I can’t tell if Trump is being genuine or not. If he is, that is why it is a bad idea to pick fights with intelligence agencies. They don’t fight back directly, they do it passive-aggressively. The leak documents to reporters who whip up the public and distract you from your message as you spend time having to deflect from media circuses.

Yet Trump is not that naïve (I’m pretty sure he isn’t). If he didn’t know that’s how the game is played, he does now. He went to Twitter to distract from his concession, and instead tried to flip it as fake outrage that the report even leaked at all.

Trump is good at that – using Twitter to distract others in order to cover weaknesses. That’s why he started ranting about the new Celebrity Apprentice with Arnold Schwarzenegger having lower ratings. People would chase that instead of his concession.

Then, look at how he uses his concession (a loss) into a weapon against his opponents, the Democrats:

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His side was strong, the other side was weak. Yet, even in spite of that, he makes this misleading Tweet:

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That’s not what the intelligence agencies said, they didn’t say that the hacking had no effect, they said they don’t know how much it affected it – from no effect whatsoever to giving the election to Trump (in such a close election, especially in 3 mid-western states, small things matter).

So while Trump is saying there was no effect on the outcome, the intelligence agencies are saying “We can’t measure it because it requires asking people whether or not the revelations from the hack affected their votes – switching to Trump, or staying home and not voting for Hillary, or voting third party. And even if we asked people, they may not tell the truth. And even if they think they are telling the truth, they may be confused by their own motivations.”

Thus, while I don’t agree with anything Trump has said recently about hacking, and not trusting the intelligence agencies, and I am not comfortable with his cozy relationship with Russia, there is no doubt that he is fantastic at public relations and turning weakness into strength.

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Okay, so now it has been a week and a half since Donald Trump won the presidency. I accepted it a while ago (about 72 hours after), and now I’m ready to move on. The 2016 election is done.


First, I don’t have that much sympathy for the protestors

I get that people are upset about the election, it was stunning to me, too. So, there’s some lash out. While some protested, in the following week, a lot of charities like Planned Parenthood raised record amounts of donations.

But I think those will fade away as people start to come to acceptance of what just happened.

The time to come out and organize against the election of Donald Trump was during the campaign. The campaign is now finished, your side (and mine) lost. The next goal are the 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 elections.

Yet I see these protests as drumming up sympathy for Donald Trump. He hasn’t even done anything yet and people are organizing against them. That’s not going to pull the far-right (who always vote conservative) and the middle-ground centrists (who flip/flop) onto your side. If anything, it will drive a wedge against the Democratic party and prevent people from flipping sides next time.

I think that if these protests don’t fade away, they will generate a backlash effect where people will vote for Trump again just to spite the protestors.

Remember, I’m tired of people crying wolf, and people are still crying wolf!

Speaking of which, I am tired of the 2016 campaign and I’m not in favoring of the Electoral College changing their votes

Donald Trump is one of those uncommon situations where he lost the popular vote (currently trailing by 1.6 million votes) but won enough states individually to take the Electoral College.

There is a movement afoot for the Electoral College in states that Trump won to instead vote for Hillary. This extends the 2016 election even more.

I’m against this. It’s done.

First, this is the way the situation is set up and we all understood it. It’s not like we didn’t know this could happen. If you want to get rid of the Electoral College, then you should do it when your party has power, not because your side lost. We all had fair warning that this is how it worked.

Second, the Electoral College prevents highly-concentrated votes from getting too much power. Yes, Trump won without winning the popular vote. But if the popular vote wins, then it gives too much power to New York and California while not enough to North Dakota and Mississippi. You may say “Yeah, well, so what? The majority says this is what we want and so the most votes means your team gets its way!”

Except that Constitution is set up explicitly to prevent exactly that. It tries to ensure that one section doesn’t get too much power. So, New York and California would have a lot of voting power without the Electoral College, because the more rural states are losing a lot of their affluent people to the coasts, causing an economic Matthew-Effect. Yet there are still people left behind who live in those states that didn’t leave.

In order to counterbalance this, the framers of the Constitution try to prevent one side taking too much power, and the Electoral College means that you have to be aware of all the US states, even ones that proportionally have “too much” power. In reality, they are a smaller economic bloc and have much less sway in public opinion, but their political power makes up for that gap. The whole point of the US Constitution is the separation of powers and setting up a system of checks and balances. The writers were influenced by the Enlightenment and the need to constrain the power of governments, but also of the majority.

It’s fine to complain about the Electoral College when it goes against you. But you’re certainly thankful for it when the system works in your favor, and one day it just might.

Third, my day-to-day life is going on as before

I currently pay attention to who Trump is putting in his Cabinet. I was holding my breath when I saw some undesirables get nominated, but some of the potential ones look interesting.

For example, I see the possibility of Mitt Romney being nominated for Secretary of State. That’s hopeful, because even though I was for Obama in 2012, I thought Mitt Romney was capable of being President. He’d be fifth in line to the Presidency (after the VP, Speaker of the House, and longest-serving Senator).

But for the most part, I get up, go to work, come home, make food, and go to bed (and talk to the wife, and bug my cats, of course). I still have plenty of things to do during the day and they didn’t change at all the day or week after the election.

I understand that there are some people who’s live may change for the worse after Trump assume the Presidency in January; with massive increases in deficit spending and repeals in public health care, that will be potentially bad for some. There may even be a recession brought on by some of Trump’s tax policy (i.e., putting 35-45% tariffs on imports from China or Mexico).

But I will deal with that when the time comes. For now, I am watching, and going about my life. I have more important things to worry about.

Fourth, about the “party of science”…

A year ago, I wrote a book review about Sapiens, a book I loved. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post:

The fact is that we don’t care about other people’s plights as much as our own absent of some underlying influence…

This is so because we humans are innately inward-focused, that’s how natural selection designed us (accounting for natural selection, kin selection, and reciprocal altruism).

The fact is that we don’t care about other people’s plights as much as our own absent of some underlying influence… That’s not the way it should be, but it is the way our species works.

And I didn’t say it in the blog post, but the book also says that natural selection didn’t make other species altruistic, and humans are no exception.

I say this because I see people on Facebook posting memes (with some of my own paraphrasing):

So you say voted for Trump but you’re not a racist.

But he said racist things, so that’s obviously not a deal breaker for you.

The sentiment is that while people voted Trump out of their own self-interest due economic concerns, they should have seen that Trump’s racism was a disqualifying factor and they should have instead acted against their own (perceived, real or not) self-interest by voting against him.

During the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton said she believed in science, that is, she accepted the reality of human-caused climate change. And her followers cheered.

Yet the science says that people act in their own self-interests most of the time, and now we are surprised that they did not?

Come on, now. That’s not how people act in real life.

To be sure, people do act against their own self-interest, but their motivations are complex. Shaming people into doing it doesn’t work.

And remember, I’m saying this as a guy who voted for Hillary Clinton and got others to vote for her, too.

* * * * * * * * *

So that’s what I’m thinking right now.

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It has now been over a week since Trump beat Clinton in the 2016 election, and my views, while still fuzzy, are getting clearer.

And the main thing I am is this – disillusioned.

What do I mean by that?

First, I am disillusioned with pollsters and Big Data.

I followed this election really closely by tracking RealClearPolitics and 538.com. RealClearPolitics had a running average of several polls, and so did 538. Even on the day of the election, 538 gave Clinton a 71% chance of winning the election:

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At no point during the campaign was Trump winning except in July when he temporarily spiked during the Republican National Convention. He briefly closed the gap after Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment and Sept 11 fainting spell due to pneumonia, but he never led.

 

image

 

Then, on Nov 8, he won.

That’s why it hit me like a sack of potatoes, I was expecting a Clinton victory because this came out of no where.

All of the big data models, simulations, polling… all worthless! None of them foresaw a Trump victory.

538’s forecast was better than most, it gave Trump a 29% chance of winning, and it was the most optimistic. The others gave Clinton a 80-99% chance of victory.

But you know who did forecast it?

Michael Moore, back a few months ago in his article 5 reasons why Donald Trump will win. And all of his reasons were right!

You know who else?

Alan Lichtman, a professor at American University who uses 13 keys in a True/False fashion to make a prediction about who will take or keep the White House, and it has nothing to do with polls. He ignores them because he says they aren’t predictive of anything.

I read through his 13 questions, and only two of them have something to do with the candidates themselves. The rest are all easily answerable based upon the previous 4 years.

Now, I heard both of these predictions during the campaign because I said “These are not based upon data, they are projecting their beliefs onto the campaign and they may be right or may be wrong, but it will be by accident.” Anyone can fit data to a curve.

But all the Big Data we had proved to be wrong, and conjecture and insight turned out to be right!

When I realized that, I became disgusted with data analysis. Whenever anyone says “data-backed evidence” or “evidence-based decisions”, I snort and roll my eyes. “Evidence-based data” said Hillary would win. Look how that turned out.

What a con.

Second, I am disillusioned with the media

The media did everything in their power to discredit Donald Trump. For nearly every newspaper in the country, to economists, to websites, to late night comedians, they all attacked and criticized and jumped on the Trump Bandwagon-of-Doom (except Fox News and some far-right websites).

They threw everything they had at him… and missed it completely.

Even this week, Donald Trump has:

  • Walked back his statements about building a wall along the Mexico border
  • Walked back his statements about repealing all of Obamacare
  • Walked back some of his possible nominations to key cabinet posts (i.e., basically firing Chris Christie)
  • Hired Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, a well-connected insider that people seem to like

Yet do we hear any of that on late night comedy? No! We hear rant after rant after rant of him hiring Steve Bannon, the former chief of right-wing Breitbart News.

Now, it’s starting to look to me that Donald Trump may not be an ideologue, he just may be an opportunist that jumps on a movement only to abandon it later. As a businessman (of questionable skill, it turns out), that’s what you have to do.

I know nothing of Steve Bannon, but he may be the same. After all, he’s in the entertainment industry. I have no idea.

It’s entirely possible that Bannon is a crazy person… but the press and late night comedy has burned all of their credibility in trying to shoot down Trump and completely missed the people who supported him; they whiffed on any of the critical insight necessary to foresee a Trump victory.

This is heightened more because…

Third, I am disillusioned with my friends on Facebook

I wrote a few months ago that if you have 100 friends on Facebook with opinions on politics, maybe 2 of them have opinions worth listening to. I am probably not one of those two.

Nearly everyone on my Facebook feed was anti-Trump (which tells you something of the circles I run in). Well, maybe closer to 80%.

Yet these people shouted “Racist! Xenophobe!” at Trump… but said the same thing about Mitt Romney in 2012. And John McCain in 2008. And George Bush for 8 years.

So when Donald Trump came along who really did espouse racist rhetoric, it didn’t work because they had exhausted their credibility on people who didn’t show those signs, such that now when we had people do show it, we don’t believe them.

That goes hand-in-hand with my above disillusionment with the media.

These same people who cried “Xenophobe!” during the campaign are shouting it now at Steve Bannon. Did you really learn nothing at all? This is covered in this blog post over at the excellent blog Slate Star Codex: You are still crying wolf.

The first 24-48 hours I was sympathetic to people who were worried about Trump’s extremism. But that’s because I was similarly distraught. But now… I am rolling my eyes because I don’t trust my left-wing friends to be able to tell the difference between true prejudice and showmanship.

Ugh.

And neither can I.

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Leading up to the election

So.

It’s now been almost a week since Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States.

I’ll be honest. I voted for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t really like Clinton that much when she was a Senator, but I don’t have a good reason for it. But while she was Secretary of State, I came to like, admire, and respect her. When she announced her candidacy, I was like “Yeah, she’s actually a hard worker and pretty good at what she does.” When the email scandal broke, I couldn’t have cared less.

For nearly the entire campaign, I thought Clinton was going to win. There were periods when I was really nervous, like when the polls showed her odds of winning were down to 55% in mid-to-late September, and right after the Republican convention in July. But even right up until election day, I thought Clinton was going to win. I knew it would be close, and I knew (thought) that Clinton would have a hard time governing due to Republican obstruction in the House and possibly the Senate.

 

Worrying trends

One thing was nagging me – was there too much time left on the clock?

Back in September, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers nearly beat the Calgary Stampeders, the best team in the league. The Bombers scored a touchdown late in the game with 20 seconds to go to take the lead. That was fantastic, but one thing concerned me – had they left too much time on the clock? It turns out they did because Calgary got the ball back, two long passes later put themselves in field goal position and won the game on the last play.

When Trump’s Access Hollywood tapes became public, it was October 9. His numbers plummeted, giving Clinton almost a 10 point lead. I figured “Whew, hopefully that sinks him.” But I wondered, was there still too much time left on the clock? Was there time for Trump to recover, the story to fall out of the headlines, and another scandal to take its place?

That turned out to be true because in late October the FBI made an announcement, and then I got worried. Then I read on 538 that it was possible Clinton’s Blue Firewall had been breached in New Hampshire. That portended a set of bad signs.

But, I figured her Blue Firewall could carry her to just over 270 votes in the Electoral College, and she would be come the 45th President of the United States.

But then reality sets in

That didn’t happen.

I left work and Hillary Clinton had a slight lead. I came home and checked an hour later and she was slightly behind. As time passed, I checked my Facebook feed over and over again, and checked various websites over and over again looking for different results. It was clear that she was going to lose this election!

And when reality set in later that night, it hit me like a ton of bricks – Donald Trump won.

I was shocked, stunned, flabbergasted. How could this be? My stomach tightened up and I started stressing out. I only slept a couple of hours that night, tossing and turning the whole time. “How could this be? Now what will happen?” I freaked out about public education funding; health care for the uninsured; environmental protection; marriage rights for the LGBT community; and the list went on.

I got up the next morning (earlier than normal because I wasn’t sleeping), and had only a single piece of toast. I wasn’t hungry. I went to work that day, but was distracted. I couldn’t focus. I ended up taking a half-day of sick leave because I knew I wasn’t being effective at my job. I came home and moped.

I felt terrible.

But then, I forced myself to start reading a lot of post-mortem articles. Writers were assuring me not to panic. I listened to a couple of podcasts, talking about the Trump phenomenon and what it meant, and what it didn’t mean. And the reality that Trump lost the popular vote (by what is currently 700,000 votes) meant that his mandate is tenuous. It’s hard to do unpopular things if the country is not behind you, particularly if you didn’t get more votes than your opponent.

And then I started feeling better. Much better.

 

But the bad part still persists

My initial aversion to Trump is explained in my other blog post about his wall proposal. My fear was that his campaign’s xenophobic rhetoric would cause racist behavior to go up because when people of a higher social class act that way, it signals to others that it’s okay to do that.

According to Time, racist threats have increased since the election of Donald Trump. This was entirely predictable, as I pointed out. What I was afraid would happen has happened, and it both disgusts and saddens me. Even though Trump and his supporters may say that’s not what he wanted, he is responsible for legitimizing it.

Donald Trump did go on 60 Minutes and tell his supporters to stop harassing minorities. And that’s great. But I fear that it will be difficult to undo.

 

My own experiences

As a white guy, I’ve never had anyone say anything racist towards me; that wouldn’t make sense. However, I was bullied constantly in school, from 7th grade up until 12th. I was probably bullied even earlier than that, I just can’t recall it that clearly anymore (other than a handful of incidents). When you’re bullied, your ability to fight back depends upon your ability to build coalitions of allies; if you’re not popular (like I wasn’t), you can’t fight back. You have to sit there and take it. You can’t tell an authority because if you do, word gets around that you are a tattle-tale and then you get ostracized even more. You literally have no way to fight back against a bully who has no restraints against them.

So I understand what it’s like to be harassed, I hate bullies, and that’s part of why I was anti-Trump – I perceive him to be a bully.

Yet even my harassment is nothing compared to what it’s like to be ganged up on by roving gangs of testosterone-fueled young males, either by being a minority or a woman. That’s not something I would have wished upon anyone, and I feel like Donald Trump unleashed it.

While he is walking it back, it will not be as easy as it was to unleash it.

 

Conclusion

Even though I am feeling better, I still feel somber because of what I’ve explained above.

But, now what’s done is done, and I have no choice but to accept Trump as the next President of the United States. It’s been said that we all have to hope for his success.

I completely agree with those words.

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This past week I learned something. Me and the wife went to Normandy, France. We took a D-Day tour (the wife has posted pix of it on Facebook, I don’t have any).

I always thought that the Allied landing was all the countries’ personnel working together in one massive group and storming the beach together. I got this perception from all the movies I’ve seen of it (well one movie- Saving Private Ryan).

But it turns out that’s not entirely accurate. There were five different beaches they landed on (spread out over 50 miles), and they were separated into the respective nations. The U.K. landed on Gold and Sword beaches, Canada landed on Juno beach, and the US landed on Omaha (the Saving Private Ryan one) and Utah beaches.

They were all supposed to meet up but nearly all of them were delayed due to weather and other factors.

Hooray for history, whoo!

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I decided to throw my hat in the ring and start more actively opposing Donald Trump. I answered my very first question on Quora, which has been upvoted once in a week.


There are some other good answers here on Quora, but one thing that I haven’t seen covered about building the wall along the Mexico border is the dangerous signal that it sends.

It is more than just a wall

The reason people build walls around living areas like cities or countries is to keep undesirables out. Examples include the walls around medieval cities, the Great Wall of China, and cities in flood plains build walls to keep out the water [1]. By building a wall along the Mexican border, it signals that Mexico contains undesirable people.

This is reinforced by the two things:

  1. The fact that Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by railing against illegal Mexican immigrants, referring to them as "their drugs, their criminals, their rapists" with only "some" of them being good people.
  2. The fact that Donald Trump has not called for a wall along the Canadian border. His supporters, and even he himself, has claimed that this is impractical but it’s really not that much less practical than a wall along the Mexican border. It would only cost more money.

So we have a (possible) president calling Mexican illegal immigrants criminals and rapists, and then advocating building an obstacle to keep those people out at tremendous expense. It is worth the cost to build and maintain. Yet we hear nothing about the bad qualities of Canadians, and the US/Canada border is one of the most open in the world. That’s a not-so-subtle signal that "Mexicans==bad, Canadians==okay".

And it gets worse.

How it’s interpreted by others

In his 1986 book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion", behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini lists 6 factors that influence people’s behavior and one of those is authority. We humans take our social cues from many different places, and authorities on subjects are one of them. That’s why companies cast actors who play doctors on TV to sell their pharmaceutical products in commercials (or cast regular actors wearing white coats); it’s why companies pay celebrities to promote their products; and it’s why there is a short and long term spike in suicides among the general population when a celebrity commits suicide [2]. They have either real social status in the case of celebrities, or borrowed authority in the case of actors who are known for their roles as doctors or other professions (or borrow the authority of our association of white coats with doctors), and the average person takes their social cues from that role.

When Donald Trump says that Mexicans are criminals and rapists and we need a wall built along the border, this would be especially inflammatory as President because it’s an office with a lot of prestige and social status. It would send a strong social signal from the top-down that Mexicans are an underclass, are undesirable, and should be treated as such. Latinos are a minority in the United States, and populations around the world and throughout history often have poor histories of protecting minority rights. It is predictable that we would see an increase in prejudice against Latinos if the highest officer of the country were to give explicit consent through clear social signals that it was okay to label them this way.

This is coupled with the fact that there is no desire for Trump to build a wall along the Canadian border. People frequently revert to tribes (forming groups) and we do it naturally. We divide ourselves into Republican-vs-Democrats, fans-of-this-sports-team-vs a fan of that other sports team, and we even fall into group identity by something as arbitrary as being randomly assigned into two different teams. The stereotype of Canadians is that they are all white or Caucasian (which is true for the majority) with light-colored hair, and the sterotype of Latinos is that they are mostly tan-scanned with dark hair. This gives people an easy, visual way to differentiate between the groups they associate positively (whites) vs. the ones they associate negatively (Latinos).

What about when people say it only targets illegal immigrants?

The protest against this is that Donald Trump’s wall is only to keep out illegal immigrants, so legal ones are okay. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. First, as I said, using our visual heuristics [3], it’s impossible to tell looking at someone if they are a legal or illegal immigrant. Second, notice in the paragraph about Authority that I gave the examples of celebrities promoting a product, or actors who are known for their roles promoting a medical product, or increases in suicide when a celebrity does it. Why should we be influenced by a celebrity who has no more expertise than you or I in that product? Why don’t we rationalize in our own minds that an actor is not necessarily any more informed about pharmaceutical products than the average person? Why can a famous person increase our chances of taking our own lives? The answer is that our internal heuristics are not that sensitive that they make these distinctions. We take mental shortcuts and then stop thinking about it.

And that means the claim that Trump is only against illegal immigrants doesn’t matter. The wall along Mexico signals that tan-colored people are bad (because we don’t differentiate between illegal vs. legal), while the lack of a wall along the Canadian border signals that white-colored people are okay. The social signal is that "We don’t need a wall there because they aren’t dangerous. They act, think, *and look* just like us. But the ones that don’t look like us our dangerous."

That gives permission to people, whether explicit or implicit, that’s okay to discriminate against Latinos (whether legal or illegal) because it comes from the most important person in government. With a wall, and statements from the President himself, these signals all tell us that it’s okay [4].

Why calling a spade “a spade” is not always a good thing

The Democrats take a lot of heat for not calling out Islamic extremism. But the reason they water down their language is because of this – if they did not, people would take it as a signal that it’s okay to discriminate against Muslims. It doesn’t matter that the majority of the population are not terrorists. By tossing fuel on the fire, leadership making an association between any group of people and labeling them with a strongly negative stereotype leads to prejudice among the general population, and that leads to discrimination. Political correctness is frustrating because it seems like it isn’t calling out something for what it is, but actually what it does is overcorrect to prevent sending the wrong message which would be even worse. It’s an attempt to prevent fanning the flames.

And that’s something Donald Trump and his supporters don’t seem to understand, or simply doesn’t care. Building the wall is not just about preventing illegal immigration. We already have plenty of laws to enforce that [5]. Instead, building a wall along the border is a symbol of "Us-vs-Them", of descending into group identity and labelling "them" as morally inferior to "us". The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom, what symbolism does a giant wall send?

Bringing it all home

The antidote to racial distrust is not to build walls between people but to allow more interaction between people so that it normalizes relations. When you see a person of a different race and they’re just like you, you learn to accept them as having similar goals as you. Building up walls sends the opposite message and undermines inclusiveness.

The leader of the country has to be aware of what his inflammatory language inspires in people, given his or her own social status, and how it will be interpreted among the masses. Not knowing is being derelict in his or her duties.


[1] Even the Berlin wall, from the communist point of view, was rationalized as a way to keep aggressive westerners out. See Berlin Wall, its original name was the "Anti-Fascist Protective Wall"

[2] See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/…

[3] In his 2011 book "Thinking Fast and Slow", behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman differentiates between two different modes of the way we think – System 1, which makes snap judgments based upon heuristics that work much of the time; and System 2, which is slower, deliberate, and rational. Our brains default to System 1 thinking because it’s easier and requires far fewer calories. When you engage in a lot of difficult thinking and problem solving, that’s why you feel so tired afterwards.

[4] It is the same with banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Heuristically, people can quickly divide Muslims and Christians using skin color as a quick heuristic. It’s not completely accurate but it is rough shorthand that gets it right more often than it gets it wrong. Banning Muslims from entering in effect says that they are all dangerous, and that mindset leaks into our consciousness to spread suspicions on the ones that already live in the country. That’s (partly) why people react so strongly to Trump’s suggestions that we should ban them all.

[5] Obviously, nobody wants an open border. We have checkpoints, visas for vistors, designated checkpoints, and so forth. What we don’t need are divisive symbols.

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This upcoming election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is stressing me out, big time.

During the 2012 election, I was an observer but felt good that Obama had a comfortable lead and was probably going to win. During the 2008 election, I wasn’t stressed one way or the other, either. In 2004, I admit I was watching closely and it was starting to get to me, but no where near where this one is getting to me.

And it’s really bothering me.

Back when I thought Trump was going to win the Republican nomination but was going to lose the general election, I felt calm and collected. For a while after the Republican convention when he pulled even with Hillary Clinton, it was starting to freak me out. Then the Democratic convention gave Hillary an 8-10 point lead and I felt fine again, joking about Trump… but only because I thought he would lose.

Now the polls not only are tight, but may in fact be pointing to a Trump presidency.

And that makes me anxious.

And what’s more – it makes me anxious despite the fact that I am a white male with US citizenship, the very group that stands to benefit the most from a Trump presidency.

I won’t go into all the reasons why Donald Trump would be a terrible president. Those are well documented and anyone can read about them. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is how people take their cues from others with higher social status. This is documented in Robert Cialdini’s famous book Influence: The psychology of persuasion.

In his book, Cialdini talks about how when people who have higher social status commit suicide, lower status people commit a rash of suicides in the next several days. We, as humans, take our social cues from others. If Trump gets elected, my fear is that his xenophobic rhetoric will empower the other racists in the country.

For you see, Donald Trump has said that he’s going to have a wall built along the Mexican border. Why would you build a wall? To keep out the undesirables. By normalizing people of Mexican descent that they are undesirable, it gives implicit approval to other racists to commit hate crimes against them. After all, the president of United States says it’s okay. Trump supporters will claim that he’s only trying to keep out illegal immigrants; what they don’t understand (or do understand [which is worse]) is that the average citizen doesn’t draw that distinction. We use mental heuristics to make snap judgments. “The wall is put up to keep the bad people out… and we can identify those inside as looking visually similar to the bad ones on the outside, so let’s treat them badly!” This is similar to what happened to immigrants in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote this past June.

Thus, I predict a serious uptick in crimes against people of Latin-American descent if Trump gets elected.

The same thing will happen to Muslims in the country. Trump supports already hold strongly negative views of Muslims, around 2/3 of them. Once again, this normalizes discrimination against a minority. While it is true we see a lot in the news about terrorism that is driven primarily by Islamic extremism, the majority of Muslims are not violent, and refugees want to come to the US to get away from the violence, the same as anyone else.

Trump supporters try to explain away his more extreme comments as if he really means something else. But what if he doesn’t mean something else, and what if he says what he means? A large proportion of his supporters think he means what he says, and agree with it. And they will be emboldened by a Trump presidency.

This blind-eye towards Trump’s rhetoric bothers me. How can 40% of the country ignore what he’s saying?

Here’s the problem:

I see people on the Democratic side saying that the press has been derelict in their duty of reporting Trump’s foibles. I disagree with this. I think there’s been sufficient coverage already to sink his campaign. Instead, people don’t weight the pros and cons of a candidate’s arguments about why they should be president (most people; only about 1 in 5 is persuadable). Instead, we descend into tribalism. If Trump’s perceived as being on your team, you’ll support him no matter what.

That’s how people rationalize Trump’s comments, or rather, why they rationalize it. They may disagree with what he’s saying but shrug it off as him not really meaning it. It allows them to shrug off the cognitive dissonance.

This makes me angry at Trump supporters, it makes me look down on them. I know I’m not supposed to, but his voters skew towards the older generation, and primarily white. It makes me angry that the older generation will elect a president who will screw up the nation’s economy and respect around the world, and then my generation will spend the next 1-2 decades cleaning up after his mess.

And that doesn’t seem fair.

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As I was saying in my other post, last week I watched parts of the Democratic National Convention. As a new citizen of the US, since I have the right to vote I feel like it is my civic duty to at least be quasi-informed.

But often times I feel lost, a political orphan, because I feel like both national parties don’t align with me. I feel like there are “sane adults in the room” who actually run the party and are smart, thoughtful, and pragmatic. These are people who believe in free trade, protecting individual rights, and have respect for science. But then there are the extreme wings on both sides that get all the press and drive the national debate, and those are the same ones that drive me away from both. People often tell me they don’t know what my political alignment is, and I take that as a compliment. But I also feel frustrated that I can’t pick one side because then the crazy ones would color me with their paintbrush.

One thing that is bugging me on the left-wing’s side is the criticism of Hillary Clinton’s recent Vice Presidential running mate Tim Kaine for trivial, fluffy reasons. When it was first announced, I said to myself “Oh, Senator Tim Kaine. He seems like a smart guy, I’ve read a few of his responses to questions on Quora and they were really good. Kudos to him for taking part in online discussions, and kudos for making sense on the issues.”

But the criticism of Kaine is superficial:

  1. He’s too boring

    In a campaign filled with everyone complaining about how TV ratings are driving the debates and the campaign, we get a candidate that is not sizzle and instead is substance and people complain about it! It’s like we’re addicted to whining about how much candy we eat, and then whine when the candy store closed.

  2. The lack of diversity

    This one irks me even more. People say “What does Kaine buy Clinton?” The idea is that Clinton had to pick someone strategic to appeal to… someone. Tim Kaine is a white male. He’s not an ethnic minority, nor is he a woman. He’s a white male. Where’s the value in that?

    To which I think “There are only two people on the ticket. And he’s qualified – he was a city councilman, then mayor, then governor of Virginia, and then US Senator. The value he provides is his experience and his good ideas.” The criticism that there should be diversity for the sake of diversity is wrong. I understand why we need diversity, that is not beyond me. But part of diversity is the awareness that you aren’t representative of all ethnic minorities at the table, and Kaine seems to have this self-awareness. Besides which, diversity for the sake of diversity isn’t a good thing if everyone went to the same schools and believes the same thing.

Where I get off the progressive train is the conspiracy theory of oppression. For example, we often hear the claim that women earn 78% of what men earn, and that sounds unfair. It is unfair, but it’s also more complicated than that. For one thing, men and women choose different occupations and in general, men’s occupations (that is, jobs that more men choose to go into) pay more. Secondly, in professions where men and women are compared against each other, the gender pay gap narrows to be almost indistinguishable. In other words, male and female engineers make almost the same amount of money. The only time where is a gap is because men have more experience because women take more time off for childcare.

The progressive left claims this is a big conspiracy theory that society pushes men towards certain disciplines (science and engineering) and women towards others (early childcare and psychology), and that even though one pays better and though people have a free choice, we are steered in those directions by gender stereotypes.

I disagree.

While I agree that society rewards and pushes people in certain directions and there is bias in the system, society did not invent gender stereotypes. Instead, through evolution, men were selected to be competitive and women co-operative. In all societies everywhere, women provide a greater amount of childcare than men. Thus, men and women naturally pick different paths, and society rewards men’s paths better. Women get rewarded financially roughly the same if they choose the same path, but they don’t, and these decisions are biologically influenced because of our evolutionary heritage.

I think progressives completely miss that.

HOWEVER!

I think society shouldn’t shrug their shoulders and say “Well, if women picked better jobs, then the gap would disappear.” Instead, we can still embrace our evolutionary heritage (because that’s not going to change) and instead institute social programs that account for this. For example, in some Scandinavian countries, women are given 1 year of maternity leave. That’s a lot. But, men are given 1.5 years of paternity leave, even more. This provides incentives in the system to even things out.

Thus, through social policy like the Scandinavian model, we can account for real differences. It’s fine that men choose better paying professions, but social safety nets can ensure that people who don’t choose the high paying jobs can do okay, too (it doesn’t have to be maternity/paternity leave, but instead can be national childcare, subsidies for women, and so forth).

I feel like both sides of the debate are missing out on some key realities.

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This past year in January, I became a naturalized citizen of the United States after having moved here from Canada 9 years ago. This is the second time I’ve been an immigrant, the first being when I moved to England in 2001 and lived there for ~18 months.

Because I can vote this time around, I’ve started paying more attention to the candidates. I don’t know why I am doing this, I already know who I am going to vote for and have been decided for several months now.

A couple of months ago, I tried watching a few of Donald Trump’s speeches. My assessment is that he is a talented speaker, great mannerisms, great gestures, and can own the room. But, I could usually only last about 10 minutes of watching at which point I got bored. I was out of town last week and didn’t watch any of the Republican National Convention, but caught a few highlights in my news feed.

This past week, I wasn’t that interested in watching any of the Democratic National Convention either until this past Wednesday night when President Obama spoke. His speech was about 45 minutes, and I got through 20. Then today (Friday), the wife watched most of it, and then we both watched parts of Hillary Clinton’s speech, which was around 50 minutes. Once again, I got through about 30.

I don’t trust the public perception of politics. It doesn’t really matter what the candidates’ positions are on anything, the media and your friends on Facebook will hyper-distort what they believe and stand for in order to create a caricatured villain of who to vote against.

As I said before, I’ve twice been an immigrant in my life, and now as a naturalized US citizen, and as a white male living in a wealthier area of the country and myself doing reasonably well for myself, I am in the most privileged demographic there is. As Homer Simpson said, I’m a white male aged 18-49, everyone listens to me no matter how bad my ideas are. And what I don’t like about Trump’s campaign is his anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-non-white-voter rhetoric. His defenders try to surround it with layers of nuance, but the fact is that if Trump gets elected it is entirely predictable that we’d immediately see a wave of anti-immigrant crime and hate speech.

Why is that?

Trump has denounced illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and criminals; he has said that the Chinese are screwing over and laughing at the US; he has proposed (and walked back) a blanket ban on all Muslims from entering the country. His defenders claim that these statements are nuanced – it is not all Mexicans, it is the illegal immigrants; it is not the Chinese people, it is their government; it is not a particular race of people, it is Muslims who belong to any race (even whites). But that’s not how the lower uneducated classes see it.

Because the top ranked leader of the country says it’s okay, and because people simply don’t draw the distinctions that Trump is drawing but instead clump them together, I would expect to see a wave of violence or hate speech directed against people of Mexican or far-east Asian descent, or people from the middle east, Pakistan, or India. People use simple heuristics to identify us-vs-them, and skin color makes a handy differentiator. People who aren’t white would be subject to insults or violence because the President gave them permission to hate them, it doesn’t matter that he made his statements conditional.

I do understand why some people would want to vote for Trump. In a world of globalization, there are winners (like myself… for now but that’s not necessarily going to last forever) and losers (like coal miners in rural Kentucky and Pennsylvania). The solution is not to build trade barriers but instead to spend money on social programs for retraining. This means longer time periods where workers can collect unemployment benefits; training programs like apprenticeships and subsidized college tuition; and other specialized placement. That’s the way to ease the fallout from globalization. Humans move slower than the pace of technology.

So you see, I believe in globalization, trade, and classical economics but realize that gains are not distributed evenly among people. Left to their own devices, because humans are such irrational creatures they don’t even out; people don’t go ahead and take the bull by the horns. Private enterprise does not come and fill in the gaps. Many times it does, but there are some markets where it doesn’t make sense for them to go into because margins are not good enough, or non-existent. That’s where government does have to fill in the gaps.

Anyway, that’s how I see things right now.

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So, I’m currently traveling in Germany and the other day we made a quick trip to Luxembourg City. Luxembourg, the country, is a small little area between France and Germany, the two powerhouse countries economically in Europe (with Germany being the strongest).

While in Luxembourg, I discovered that the European Union (EU) has not one, not two, but three capital cities: Luxembourg City, Brussels (in Belgium), and Strasbourg in France. Strasbourg is located in the area known as Alsace Lorraine in northeastern France, which borders Germany (in blue below):

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Aside from the fact that I didn’t know that either of these two cities were capitals of the EU, they are all in a particular location – they are between France and Germany.

The recent history of Europe is a series of struggles between France and Germany:

  1. In the 1800’s, Napoleon of France invaded the Holy Roman Empire, the pre-cursor to Germany, dissolving it. He took over a lot of territory in Germany before being repelled back.

  2. In 1871, Germany clobbered France in the Franco-Prussian war and took over Alsace Lorraine, and France never forgot that.

  3. During World War I (1914-1918), the western front was a stalemate between Germany and France. But Germany tried to go through Belgium (where Brussels is), dragging England into the war.

  4. During World War II (1939-1945), Germany invaded France again.

Look at all those three capital cities of the EU – they are all regions that flipped back and forth during the recent conflicts between France and Germany. Was the EU set up and these places deliberately chosen so that if one country tried to take over that city, it would invoke the rest of the EU against it? That is, if Germany ever takes over Strasbourg/Luxembourg/Brussels again, they cause all of the other nations in the EU to unite against it? Maybe these three cities and regions are acting as a buffer between the two big countries?

Hmm…

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I’ve wanted to post this for a while.

Below are two cartoons with contrasting views of war. One has a romantic view that the sacrifice of our soldiers was worth it. The other… less so.

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