Archive for January 2017


More lies and bigotry and racism from Trump

Another day, another appalling spectacle of dishonesty and bigotry.  Here is the dishonesty:

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump explained to an interviewer for the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians in Syria were “horribly treated” and alleged that under previous administrations, “if you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

“I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them,” the president said.

In fact, the United States accepts tens of thousands of Christian refugees. According to the Pew Research Center, almost as many Christian refugees (37,521) were admitted as Muslim refugees (38,901) in the 2016 fiscal year.

As far as bigotry, Trump announced that he will favor Christian refugees over Muslim refugees:

In an executive order that he said was part of an extreme vetting plan to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists,” Mr. Trump also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.

And here’s the racism:

More details are emerging about the 23 January meeting between President Trump and the leaders of the House and Senate, where the premier [?] was said to repeat false claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

If true, Trump’s claim would amount to the largest electoral fraud in American history. When one of the Democrats questioned what proof Trump had of this massive voter fraud, he defended his claim by telling an anecdotal story that German golfer Bernhard Langer, who Trump described as a friend, had told him.

Trump said the very famous golfer, Bernhard Langer – a German citizen who is ineligible to vote – told him recently of how he was standing in line at a polling station on Election Day, near Boca Raton, Florida, when he was turned away from the voting booth by an official.

Trump said that Langer witnessed people in line that didn’t look like they were legally allowed to be at the polls as evidence to support his voter fraud claim.

Now some will argue that’s not racism, perhaps Trump and Langer assumed that fat people were illegals, or people wearing white after Labor Day. But I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that race had something to do with the “look” of people who obviously were not qualified to vote.

It may be hard to believe, but there actually are some Hispanics and Asians who are here legally.  Indeed there are Hispanics whose families were living here before the Mayflower arrived.

BTW, here’s how many refugees we take in per capita, relative to other countries:

Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 10.35.43 AMUpdate:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google delivered a sharp message to staff traveling overseas who may be impacted by a new executive order on immigration from President Donald Trump: Get back to the U.S. now.

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai slammed Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, telling them that more than 100 company staff are affected by the order.

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”

I’m running out of things to say.

The alt-right’s dark twisted fantasy

During the Cold War, the far left would sometimes claim that the problem was caused by the West, which somehow provoked Stalin into his aggressive actions. Today the left has mostly risen above all that nonsense, but a similar fantasy is increasing peddled by the far right.  In this view, the US provoked Putin by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe.  Here’s what actually happened:

When Mr Putin became president in 2000, he showed no overt hostility towards America or the West, despite a recent NATO bombing raid on Belgrade without a UN resolution that had triggered a shrill anti-American response. In his first interview with Britain’s BBC, Mr Putin said: “I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe, so it is hard for me to visualise NATO as an enemy.” Russia, he said, might become a member of NATO if it were treated as an equal partner. Even when the three Baltic states joined NATO in spring 2004, Mr Putin insisted that relations with the defence organisation were “developing positively” and he had “no concerns about the expansion of NATO”.

The breaking-point in Mr Putin’s relationship with the West came towards the end of that year when several seemingly unrelated events coincided. The first was a terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, in the north Causasus, in which 1,200 people, mostly children, were taken hostage. After Russia’s special forces stormed the school, leaving 333 people dead, Mr Putin accused the West of trying to undermine Russia. He cancelled regional elections and handed more powers to the security services.

The press in America focuses on Putin’s murderous foreign policies, or the lies about shooting down a Malaysian airliner.  But these policies reflect a deeper problem in Russia, a lack of liberalism, aka utilitarianism.  This happened today:

Russia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to decriminalise domestic violence, a move the Kremlin claims will help support families but critics say will only worsen the problem.

Members of the lower house of parliament voted 380-3 in favour of the bill’s third reading after senior officials spoke in favour of the measure. The bill is expected to be approved by the rubber-stamp upper house before President Vladimir Putin signs it.

Vyacheslav Volodin, who became parliament speaker last year after five years running the Kremlin’s domestic policy, said earlier this week that the measure would strengthen the conservative social values promoted by the government.

The same sort of pattern occurs in the Russian drug war:

In most of the world the threat of HIV/AIDS has receded. The exceptions are eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Russia, which accounts for more than 80% of new infections in the region, 51,000 people were diagnosed in the first five months of this year. In January registered HIV cases there topped one million. Vadim Pokrovsky of Russia’s Federal AIDS Centre reckons the true figure may be 1.4m-1.5m, about 1% of the population; he warns there could be 3m by 2020. In some African countries prevalence can reach 19%, but the epidemic is slowing. In Russia, the infection rate is “getting worse, and at a very fast pace”, says Vinay Saldanha, UNAIDS’ director for eastern Europe and Central Asia. .  .  .

Harsh anti-drug laws keep users in the shadows. Methadone and other forms of non-injected opioid substitution therapy (OST) are illegal; in other post-Soviet states, such as Ukraine, they are legal. (After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, 800 patients found themselves cut off. The UN believes some 10% have died, “mostly of overdose or suicide”.) The World Health Organisation calls methadone “the most promising method of reducing drug dependence”, and HIV-positive addicts who receive OST are 54% more likely to get the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs they need to stay healthy, according to studies.

Russia’s foreign minister has derided OST as a “narcoliberal” idea. . . .

Drug users fear criminal repercussions if they seek help. And Russia’s “anti-gay propaganda” laws make it harder for gay-friendly charities to operate.

Virulent prejudice

Independent NGOs, many staffed by HIV-positive people, play a crucial role in reaching vulnerable groups. But Russia’s “foreign agents” legislation, which places bureaucratic restrictions around groups that accept foreign money, has made funding difficult. Several HIV and drug-policy advocacy groups have been labelled foreign agents this year, including the Andrey Ryklov Foundation, the only group offering free needle exchanges in Moscow. . . .

Russia’s economic crisis has slashed health-care budgets, and more money for AIDS seems unlikely. Even this year’s promised extra federal funds have yet to materialise, says Mr Pokrovsky. Officials, he adds, must abandon the old saying that “what’s good for the German is death for the Russian.” Germany’s population is a bit over half the size of Russia’s, and it has one 25th the number of new HIV cases. “Narcoliberal” ideas save lives.

Unlike utilitarian liberals, populist/nationalist/alt-right types don’t really care about the welfare of people, they focus on narrower values like patriarchy and nationalism and xenophobia.  America’s alt-right likes Putin’s Russia because it secretly shares many of those values.  Because America is more liberal than Russia, they are reluctant to say these things out loud, but you see it all over the internet, where alt-right views can be expressed anonymously.  (Or when caught on tape talking with Billy Bush.)

You don’t want to be a small (or midsize) country on the southern border of one of these populist/nationalistic powers, because the strong bullying the weak is a part of their core ideology.  It’s a sort of high school bully mentality, if not middle school.  Thus it’s not just the women and HIV victims in Russia that suffer, but also people in neighboring countries.  Put simply, the rejection of utilitarian values leads to bad domestic polices and bad foreign policies.  That’s why the problems in Russia matter for the entire world.

If an alt-right leader takes over your country, pray that he’s as weak and clueless as a small child, and must rely on experts.

Don’t tell Trump that border taxes are not protectionist

Here’s the Washington Post:

The leaks coming out of the Trump White House cast the president as a clueless child

All White Houses leak. Sometimes the leaks are big, sometimes small. But there are always people willing to talk to reporters about the “real” story or about why the chief executive made a mistake in regards to some decision he made.

That said, I’ve never seen so much leaking so quickly — and with such disdain for the president — as I have in the first six days of Donald Trump’s presidency. . . .

Time and again, the image of Trump pushed by his “aides” is one of a clueless child — someone who acts on impulse, disregarding the better advice of people who know better. We know he needs to be managed or else he will say and do stupid things, the message seems to be. We’re working on it.  .  .  .

Trump has shown that his tendency to obsessively consume media — especially cable television — is unchanged in the six days since he has become president. He appears to be making policy decisions via things he watches or reads. (Remember Trump’s famous/infamous statement that he got his military information and advice “mostly from the shows.”)

At odds with all of this, however, is the fact that Trump is both deeply proud and hugely image-conscious. Having to read and watch allegedly loyal “aides” casting him as a sort of feckless child constantly in need of guidance wouldn’t seem to be the sort of thing that would sit well with him. . . .

The frequency — and nature — of these leaks are yet another reminder that the Trump presidency is nothing like anything that’s come before it. There is no blueprint. We’re through the looking glass.

But my educated guess is that these leaks must be driving Trump absolutely crazy. And when he gets mad, history suggests he will try to get even. And quickly.

Of course I warned people of this a year ago, but was told I was “deranged” and that Trump is perfectly fine.  I look forward to the scene where our Furher discovers that his aides have sold him a bill of goods on how the border tax/subsidy would “protect” America.

Dear God!  I never realized that life could be so much fun.

How to raise Australian interest rates

This caught my eye:

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe has signaled a willingness to tolerate weaker price growth to avoid further inflating east coast housing that is already among the world’s dearest. His desire to avoid cutting interest rates further from the current record-low 1.5 percent is being challenged, however, by a third-quarter slump in the economy and recent gains in the jobless rate.

So Philip Lowe doesn’t like low interest rates, because they might inflate the housing market.  OK, but what’s causing the low interest rates in Australia?  This is:

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe has signaled a willingness to tolerate weaker price growth

You raise rates by signaling an unwillingness to tolerate low inflation.

Somehow the normally sound RBA has things all upside down:

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 5.00.33 PM

How would you feel about a President Bernie Trump?

On Monday, I watched a bit of cable news at the airport.  The former CIA chief called Trump’s speech at the CIA “despicable” (and of course it was.)  One of Trump’s aides finally admitted that his promise to release the tax forms after the audit was a lie (he’ll never release them), just as the earlier claim that returns could not be released due to the audit was a lie, just as the even earlier promise to release the returns before the election was a lie.  With Trump, it’s lies all the way down.  Then I heard he’s torpedoing the TPP, which is no surprise, but still disappointing (unless you are Bernie Sanders.)  All in one news show.  (If only his TPP campaign promises had been lies!)  And the next day Trump made up a silly story about 3 million cases of voter fraud.

These are different kinds of despicable actions.  One is a lack of basic human decency, another is dishonesty and contempt for the voters, and the third is simply bad policy.  But I think they all matter, because character matters. (I actually don’t think that politicians should be required to release tax returns—the mistake here was making an explicit promise to voters, and then contemptuously saying the promise would not be honored.)

If you are one of those Trump supporters who think process doesn’t matter, and all that matters is whether Trump signs GOP bills, then I’d like you to consider what happens if this stuff becomes the new normal in American politics.

I recall when there was a lot of friction between Jimmy Carter and the oil companies.  But at no time were the oil companies afraid to speak out against Carter’s policies, and they did so—vociferously.

If the business press is to be believed, every single major corporation in America is now terrified of Trump’s vindictiveness, and they are effectively silenced. Or they put out PR statements kowtowing to Trump’s agenda. Now contemplate a left-wing version of the Donald, let’s call him Bernie Trump.  Suppose he abused presidential power and ordered companies around in the same way that Trump does–but in order to achieve a socialist agenda.  Would you still say “process issues” don’t matter, or would you be whining that Bernie Trump is turning America into a Venezuela-style quasi-dictatorship?  I think we all know the answer.

And yet I predict this post will have no impact.  Trump supporters will claim (with some justification) that every abuse of Trump also occurred with previous presidents, including Obama.  What they don’t see is that the appalling lack of class, the extreme dishonesty (even by politician standards), the paranoid conspiracy theories, the made up facts, the vindictiveness against perceived enemies, the xenophobia and zero sum thinking, etc., etc., are an order of magnitude worse than anything in modern history—even worse than Nixon.

Unfortunately some people just don’t see this, and they won’t be convinced by anything I or anyone else says.  They’ve made up their minds.

PS.  Even if I end up applauding Trump’s moves on corporate taxes, the FDA, vouchers, etc., I will never be happy with the process.  Once you become a banana republic, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

PPS.  While on the airplane I was reading a book by Robert Walser, and came across the following remark:

Should a ruler not lead by offering the most beautiful example, should he not be the gentlest, most patient man among his people?  Should he not be the best of men, and possess the biggest heart?