Monday, January 23, 2017

A Confidence Man Named Donald J. Trump Occupies The White House

President Donald J. Trump is a confidence man. A con man is someone who swindles his victims by way of a confidence game. Confidence men gain their victims trust, playing on some of our most basic human weaknesses (and strengths), such as, kindness, opportunism, dishonesty, decency, arrogance, empathy, recklessness, gullibility, innocence, desperation, generosity, and greed.

Trump has been hustling people for a long time. His ability to con people has rewarded him handsomely over the years and now has resulted in him becoming the 45th President of the United States.

The foundational work for the confidence game started about 18 months before Election Day when Trump announced his candidacy. The scam “officially” hit its apogee, however, on Friday, January 20, 2016, when he was sworn in and gave one of the darkest speeches ever given by an incoming president.

In his inaugural address, Trump invoked dark dystopian imagery that does not match reality. Although U.S. crime rates are half of what they were in 1991, Trump described the country as crime ridden and promised to stop the “American carnage." Even though welfare rolls dropped under Obama and continues to be lower than it was before Bill Clinton signed into law a radical welfare reform bill, he promised to “get our people off of welfare and back to work.” While the U.S. Border Patrol budget has increased threefold since 1991 and the number of agents patrolling the border has doubled, he promised to “bring back our borders,” blaming both Democrats and Republican administrations for “refusing to defend our” border. And, despite 75 months of job growth (albeit anemic) and an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent (a questionable figure given the lack of quality jobs created since the end of the Great Recession and the number of people underemployed or have simply left the job market), to make America Great Again, Trump has promised to “bring back our jobs.”

"Rusted out factories are scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation," Trump said in his inaugural address. "The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from our homes and redistributed all cross the world," he added. Laying out his vision for the future, “buy American and hire American,” Trump has vowed to create as many as 25 million, mostly manufacturing and/or good paying jobs over the next decade. He has also promised in the past an annual economic growth rate of 4 percent.

There are not many specifics to his plan beyond badly needed infrastructure spending, and the usual Republican, Wall Street, and monopoly capital corporation wish list of massive tax cuts for corporations and individuals (most of which will go to the super rich), the gutting of the corporate regulatory system, and a renegotiation of trade deals, such as NAFTA to favor American corporate interests.

How could Trump deliver on his promise? Short of, perhaps, eliminating the use of innovations in technology as a way to lower labor costs and increase efficiency that corporations are so fond of, pulling all the robots and computers out of the factories and replacing them with human beings, moving back to America nearly every manufacturing corporation that has moved abroad in the last 50 years, lowering corporate tax rates to practically zero and then give them taxpayer money to encourage investments, raising worker salaries to where they should be if they had kept pace with inflation since the 1970s so they can go to malls and go on a spending spree, raising the tax rate to about 85 percent for the top earners and transferring that wealth in the form of direct payments to individuals who will go out and spend it and not invest it in stock to build their nest egg, and erecting trade barriers to keep cheap foreign goods out of America so that we only buy American, I don’t see how Trump will deliver on his 25 million new jobs and 4 percent annual growth of the economy.

Given that most of the 11 million jobs created during the Obama years were in the service sector, Trump promised, in typical con man fashion, things he never intends to and will never be able to deliver.

Confidence games work because the victims have trust or faith in the confidence man, belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of this person, and the “marks” or “suckers” are certain that the outcome will work in their favor. His core constituency believes he will and can do what he has promised. According to exit polls, 80 percent of Trump supporters are confident that he can bring about the kind of change needed to make America great again.

It is perhaps not a kind thing to say, but, P.T. Barnum got it right, “There is a sucker born every minute.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mission Accomplished: Mike Pence Made An Unfit Presidential Nominee Look Better

Listening to the pundits this morning, the big question following last night’s highly entertaining first and only vice-presidential debate is, “Did Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, help Donald Trump’s candidacy by making him look better.”

What a bizarre question to ask.

The question should not be whether Pence helped the person at the top of the Republican ticket look better, checking perhaps, any concerns about Trump’s fitness to serve as President.

The point of a vice-presidential debate is to introduce the number two person on the ticket and hopefully give the American people confidence that person is capable of being the President if called upon.

Clearly, more was at stake last night than the usual (especially, given how easily Hillary Clinton demolished Trump at the first debate).

Trump supporters (and Clinton haters, but Trump detractors throughout the political and business “elite” establishment) had to have let out a collective sigh of relief following last night’s vice-presidential debate. Indeed, if I were a Trump supporter this morning, I’d be circulating a petition to flip the ticket and put Mike Pence on top.

Deep down, even his most strident supporters all know that Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States. Nearly every opportunity he gets, he demonstrates that he is a racist, xenophobe, misogynist, megalomaniac, simpleton, and con man.

Perhaps, the most effective thing Pence did all night was dodge and deflect questions about Donald Trump’s odious record (a job Trump’s regular cast of surrogates must be exhausted from doing on 24-7 cable news).

Don’t get me wrong, Pence is terrible in a lot of ways too, especially abortion rights, the right of workers to organize, and LGBTQ rights. And, while he has tried to distance himself from really stupid things Trump has said and done, his answers at last night’s debate to issues ranging from immigration to warrior cop style policing in black and brown communities (especially his denials about implicit bias and structural racism) show that he and the Republican Party presidential nominee have a lot in common.

Nonetheless, last night’s debate, at least according to the pundit class, will be remembered for what Dick Cheney did in 2000 for the ticket led by George W. Bush, which is, to make an unfit nominee look better.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Police Are A Domestic Military Force That No Longer Simply Serves And Protects

Like many people, I was enraged and glued to the television for several days watching thousands of people across the country peacefully protest the lynchings of two black men by police officers – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

I was shocked and disheartened to hear that a mentally disturbed shooter, filled with anger and hatred of white police officers, army reservist Micah Xavier Johnson, opened fire on police at a peaceful demonstration under the banner of Black Lives Matter in Dallas, Texas.

My jaw dropped and I yelled out loud “what the fuck,” when I heard the chief of the Dallas police department describe at a press conference how negotiations with a pinned down Johnson in a garage where going no where and in order to put no other officers or civilians in harms way that they had decided to use a C-4 plastic explosive attached to a robot to kill the suspect in the Dallas ambush.

The police chief, David Brown, somberly described it as their “robot bomb.”

I immediately thought about the first time I ever heard about the police using a bomb in an American city. That was 30 years ago when the Philadelphia police dropped an incendiary device on a bunker on the top of a fortified compound from a helicopter during a standoff in West Philadelphia between the police and an outcast black separatist group named MOVE.

There were nearly 500 police officers at the scene, ready for urban warfare – flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun.

Early in the morning on May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police commissioner, Bregore Sambor, yelled into his megaphone, "Attention, MOVE … this is America, … you have to abide by the laws of the United States."

Shortly after someone in the MOVE compound fired a weapon, the police responded with an estimated 10,000 rounds of ammunition over the next hour-and-a-half. Later that day, the city’s firs black mayor, Wilson Goode gave the go ahead to drop a bomb on the roof to destroy the bunker.

When the dust finally settled, 61 houses had burned, 250 people were homeless, and 11 people were dead, including 5 children. Only two people made it out of the MOVE house alive – a woman named Romona Africa and a child named Birdie Africa.

With little public debate, the police have slowly transformed themselves into a domestic military force – with what appears to be all the powers and protections of the regular military – and American cities populated by black and brown people have become urban war zones.

How did this happen?

Following a decade of "rights" movements (especially black and Chicano liberation movements), urban rebellions in hundreds of cities, and an increase in casual drug use by the baby boomer generation, the nation's policy makers (with popular support from the public especially those that fled the cities for the suburbs) declared wars on drugs, crime, and political protesters.

Local police departments were given the tools they needed to restore and maintain order: armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, submachine guns, flashbang grenades, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, sophisticated intelligence gathering equipment which has been coupled with an aggressive style of policing (such as, stop and frisk, and broken windows) and a series of court decisions designed to make their job easier but also erode fundamental civil liberties (such as, exemptions to Miranda and illegal searches, no knock warrants, and seizures of property).

The police have a strong financial incentive (especially in cities without lots of property tax paying citizens) to be aggressive. The desire to militarize themselves means they aggressively seize property and issue tickets to raise money; and lots of arrests – which proves to policy makers in Washington that they are being tough on criminal behavior – also means more dollars and military equipment from a wide range of federal programs.

What we are dealing with is a domestic military force full of people who see themselves as warriors on the battlefield. Whether they are good people with good intentions is of no importance. They and their supporters believe that the police are our last line of defense against a decline into chaos. They are our Warrior Cops.

With nearly 800,000 people with police type powers in departments spread across the country with little public or national oversight, this will not be "fixed" by better training, better police community relations, or getting rid of a few so-called "bad apples." This is a systemic problem.