Alt-transcript of Yesterday’s Alt-reality Press Conference at the Alt-White House, Trump Tower

President Trump has an uncanny ability to spot moral equivalence, as demonstrated in this alternative transcript of yesterday’s press conference.

. . . .

Reporter: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.

Trump: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the alt-right…uh, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go.

Reporter: Senator McCain defined them as the same groups.

Trump: OK. What about the alt-left that came charging at-

[Indistinct.]

Trump:  You know what?  Listen.  Last night I decided to do my own historical research.  So, I watched the History Channel.  You may not know about this, fake news, but there was a war.  Not so very long ago.  The alt-right was occupying France.  There they were, the alt-right, minding their own business and you what?  You know what? The alt-left came charging at them across the English Channel and attacked them.  Surprise attack.  Very violent.  Very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

Reporter: Is it the same level as the Nazis?

Trump: I will tell you something. I watch TV very closely, much more closely than you people watch it, and you have- You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, or visas, and they were very, very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and alt-right on the same moral plane?

Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.

[Stunned silence.]

. . . .

 

Charlottesville: Shadows of Darkness

The eclipse came early.  The insanity abroad has been eclipsed by insanity at home.  White nationalists invaded Charlottesville this weekend and the country is bathed in darkness.

When the president attributed blame for Charlottesville to “many sides,” he demonstrated an alarming moral emptiness and intellectual vacuity.

We need presidential resolve and encouragement at such a moment of national crisis.

Much has been said about this overnight, including a retributory Tweet from the “Grand Wizard” himself, David Duke.  Among all the critiques, this one is perhaps the most gut wrenching.

duke

Duke attacks the President for his ambiguity, for being an ingrate to the White Nationalists “taking back America” in Charlottesville, for his failure to take their side and for failing to condemn instead the counter-demonstrators who opposed their efforts to “preserve” White History, White Culture and White Identity.

And it was not just about color, these white boys flew and wore both Confederate and Nazi symbols, spewed anti-Semitism, pulled down rainbow flags and rejected every individual and collective quality of a diverse, pluralistic society.

This is White Darkness indeed.  It expects to be unleashed from “political correctness” and “in control” with the license and leadership of a bouffant-blond, Aryan-looking White President.

These defenders of White History are the “spiritual” and intellectual descendants of the white American immigrants who, among other things, robbed the indigenous peoples of their land, killed them off with guns and disease, stole Africans from their homes, pressed them into the holds of ships to be transported like animals from Africa, and precipitated the death of millions in a civil war fought over the abominable practice of slavery.  They evoke the Nazi crimes of World War II, defend the Holocaust and justify other nationalist horrors of the modern era.

Yes, Mr. President, please do look in your mirror.  These people voted for you, echoed your words this weekend and proudly wore your absurd MAGA hats while they hissed their hate and wreaked their havoc.  You have enabled them and by your example and, by your silence, you have left them unshackled.

I hope these White Americans represent just a small number of the white Americans who voted for you.  But every white American who did, should also look in the mirror, especially the mirror of history.

My July 4th Letter to Senator Crapo. About Health Care, Of Course.

There is good reason for skepticism about our federal delegation. Even so, today I have mailed and emailed this urgent letter to Senator
Crapo.

Dear Senator Crapo,

On election night, when I called to congratulate you on your victory, you were gracious, told me of your working with and listening to both sides of the aisle and accepted my offer to be in touch for moments and matters of importance to Idahoans

This is one of those moments.  The matter is health care.

H.R. 1628 “The Better Care Reconciliation Act” currently before the Senate will have a devastating impact on many Idahoans.  I respectfully implore you to oppose it.

The predicted problems with this legislation are compounded for Idaho in the fact that 78,000 Idahoans already have suffered for years without health care coverage, in large part because the Idaho State Government refused Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Idaho’s Coverage Gap will grow and access to health care will become even more unattainable with the Medicaid contraction and rising premiums predicted by the CBO.

I recently received this note from someone already in the Idaho Coverage Gap:

“Jerry, it’s a sad state of affairs. I am one of the 78,000 here in Idaho. I don’t want something for nothing, but just can’t do the premiums. And it is obviously going to get worse.”

You and I have both served as Bishops in our church.  My ward is unusual in that it takes in the downtown area of Boise and the largest concentration of emergency housing for the homeless in Idaho.  Our ward also has a large swath of Section 8 housing.

Because of my experiences at Church and after the election, I joined the board of the Interfaith Sanctuary, one of the three large homeless shelters in Boise and the only one that accepts families.

ifs

In these roles, I have worked with (and conducted funerals for) the most vulnerable in our community and learned of the mental and physical problems that led to their homelessness and, like an iron boot, kept them there.

Access to health care through Medicaid is often the only thing that gives hope and the possibility of returning to productivity.

The coverage contractions and increasing premiums caused by the BCRA will only result in more homelessness, loss of hope and a growing social burden and responsibility.

In this divisive and individualistic political and cultural environment, I hope you will apply our shared values to encourage care for our poorer brothers and sisters.

The ACA was meant to do that, by spreading the risks and costs of health care to as many as possible. (We all share the costs and risks of driving with car insurance!  Why not health care?)

After strenuous and constant opposition, the ACA mandate is reportedly “hated,” but the fact is that without it (or increased taxes) more people will suffer the effects of poverty and the crushing unavailability of health care—at a cost to all of us.

Consider, for example, the statistics that show where Medicaid was expanded, the costs of emergency care went down.  Otherwise, the costs of emergency care must be spread with increased taxes and higher health care prices.

For these and other reasons, the AHCA and BCRA have been characterized as “Rich Care” for some Americans rather than “Better Care” for all Americans.  No surprise that recent polls show most Americans are against it.

This is not an area where deficit reduction or reducing taxes on the rich should be a consideration.  A healthier society will be a happier, more productive society.  Deficits and rich people will take of themselves.

Please vote against the BCRA and collaborate with both sides of the aisle to fix the ACA or otherwise spread risks and costs to make health care fair and affordable for all Idahoans and all Americans.

Thank you for your kind consideration and your continued service.

Sincerely,

JERRYSIG200

Jerry Sturgill

P.S.  Please feel free to share this message with Senator Risch.  I look forward to being in touch again on future topics, like tax reform, immigration, climate change and public lands.

Bodies Were Lying in the Street

One night in New York City, I happened upon a mafia hit, the result of competition for leadership of the Gambino crime family. Current events take me back to that night.

After law school I worked as a corporate finance lawyer at a prominent law firm and spent 10 years in the firm’s New York City office.

My wife and I had both grown up in the West and, to us, the East had always been distant and forbidding.

“It will be an adventure!” I said to her cheerfully. “We’ll spend a couple of years out there, and then move back West.” She glared at me.

I went out ahead to work and look for housing.  For a week or so, I wandered Manhattan in the evenings, searching for an affordable apartment.

On one of those nights, as I made my way back to my humble Lexington Avenue hotel, I passed Sparks Steak House on 46th Street, close to Third Avenue.

It was the night “Big Paulie” Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down on his way to dinner. Police tape closed off 46th street. Lights were flashing. Sirens blared. Bodies were still lying in the street, covered with sheets.

John Gotti, who had ordered the hit, would become head of the Gambino family. Guess he thought he could do a better job than Castellano.

“Better not tell my wife about this,” I thought, as I skirted the crime scene.

This was a dramatic introduction to an ugly part the City at that time. The mafia was distinctly present and projected an image of being above the law, cocky, arrogant and unrepentant.  Just look at this mug shot of John Gotti.

Gotti mug shot

At that time, some in the New York business world seemed to have inherited mafia-like arrogance, rudeness and winner-take-all attitudes. They showed little concern for relationship and trust. In negotiations, I experienced their blatant misrepresentations, threats, verbal abuse and crudeness.  This always injected stress, distrust and delay in the transactional process.

At law school, in my business negotiations class, I had learned that a negotiator will more quickly achieve optimal outcomes with a collaborative approach.  Humility, listening, honesty and respect build trust, foster cooperation and reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

In the face of the belligerent, bullying New York business style, I consistently applied what I had learned in school. My team succeeded in getting hard things done quickly and our practice grew.

This experience keeps coming back to mind (and you can probably guess where I am headed with the story).

I shudder watching from afar the negotiation style of our new President. So far, his lurching administration has left more bodies “lying in the street” than John Gotti.

This approach to “winning” shows little regard for the “other side,” or the greater good, and, with huge arrogance and a small attention span, fails to understand issues, details, process or people.  It is, to me, mafia-like and poisonous to the political setting.

Our governing institutions, with checks and balances, exist to reach collaborative solutions and achieve optimal outcomes for the whole country, without regard to political party, group identity, winners or losers.

As citizens, we must demand collaboration and resist the “me-first” attitudes promoted by the new administration and worse-than-ever partisanship.

Those attitudes are causing our country, and the world, to become more fearful, angry and divided—and more dangerous and dispirited than ever.

Tax Cuts and Drip-Drip Economics

Idaho Trump voters take note:
The Trump tax plan, as announced, is clear proof that a vote for Trump was a vote for making the already-rich richer.

Political issue: 'national debt' concept. Photo realistic sign, isolated

The Trump proposed tax cuts, which promise to add trillions to the national debt, must be putting our Idaho federal delegation in a real bind. They have consistently campaigned on the traditional Republican planks of reducing deficits and the national debt.

Surely, our Idaho Senators and Congressmen will oppose the Trump tax plan.

Rolling out the plan this week was another 100-day trick, supported with the usual marketing hyperbole and unusually-bad economic analysis.

Here are at least three of the falsehoods behind this maneuver.

Falsehood #1: US companies are uncompetitive because of the high US corporate tax rate.

The statutory tax rate may be high compared to other countries, but the actual (or “effective”) tax rate for US corporations is always lower, after the many deductions and loopholes available to American businesses.

More specifically, the statutory tax rate is 35%, but after exclusions and deductions, the effective rate is, more-often-than-not, zero percent (0%). A March 2016 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report shows that most US corporations paid no taxes between 2006 and 2012.

Picture1

Falsehood #2: Lower corporate taxes will stimulate economic growth.

This argument is based on the same faulty economic logic that justified the Reagan and Bush era tax cuts. That logic was (and is) that tax benefits for corporations and the rich will “trickle down” to the poor.

However, trickle-down economics has never worked in the real world and would better be described as “drip-drip economics.” Tax savings for corporations and their owners will more likely make their way into bigger homes, private jets and longer yachts, with little if any broad-based economic boost for everyone else.  Meanwhile, the national debt will skyrocket.

In his “Cross of Gold” speech, Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan proclaimed:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through [trickle down] on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

Falsehood #3: The middle class will benefit from the tax cuts.

OK, sure, this sounds good. Who would not want a tax cut?  But who really benefits?

The already rich population will benefit most. Trump’s promises to the middle class amount to pandering to the non-rich to give greatest advantage to the already-rich.

Among the most-advantaged beneficiaries will be the Trumps, his cabinet members and his circle of super-rich friends and advisors.

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial page summarized it well:

“Regardless of the plan’s fate, Mr. Trump has already sent a strong message about where his sympathies really lie. They lie not with the working people who elected him, but with the plutocracy that envelops him.”

“CSRs, We’re Not Doing That!”

The Affordable Care Act and healthcare for low-income families are held hostage as a Republican-controlled White House and Congress lunge for “victories.”

The newest “repeal and replace” healthcare plan will NOT be voted on today. Hurray! What a relief—for now.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act remains in the hands of its enemies and they have shown they are willing to hold it and its beneficiaries hostage.

littlewhitehead-hostage1

A few days ago, the White House proposed an exchange of payments for President Trump’s wall for continued funding of the Cost-Sharing Reduction payments (CSRs) provided for in the Affordable Care Act. The administration said, in so many words, “For each dollar towards President Trump’s wall, we will not stop a dollar of Obamacare CSR funding.”

Stated otherwise, “we will not make health insurance unaffordable, if you will pay for the wall.”

CSRs are government subsidies provided for in the Affordable Care Act. They are paid to insurance companies to offset the cost of insurance for low-income families. Without CSR payments, health insurance for those families would be unaffordable.

The proposed “deal” (or threat) was met with immediate, negative political and industrial response. As a result, President Trump backed off both wall funding and the withholding of CSR funding—for now.

Republican hostility for the Affordable Care Act remains and the withholding of CSR funding is just one of the several tools in Republican hands to promote their self-fulfilling prophecy of “implosion.”

With the Trump administration, and a Republican-controlled Congress, it is hard to see this ending well for low-income families in need of health insurance. It has been made clear that political victories (and walls) are more important than American lives.

Resistance should remain on high-alert.

“You gotta knock the hell out of them — Boom! Boom! Boom!”

It’s amazing how blowing things up in the middle of nowhere can cover your faults and boost your reputation.

“If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what’s happened over the past eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference, tremendous difference,” Trump told reporters after the military unleashed [the 22,000 pound “Mother of All Bombs”] on a largely unpopulated region of the Afghan wilderness. “This was another very, very successful mission.”

Washington Post, April 14, 2017

DISCLAIMER: THIS STORY WAS TOLD TO ME BY AN OLD FRIEND. I WAS NOT INVOLVED. IT REMINDS ME OF RECENT EVENTS—SERIOUSLY.

It was a hot summer night in a Western, sagebrush-covered desert. Another weekend gathering of “the guys,” high school boys, drinking beer away from the attention of parents and police.

This was the Pre-Game-Boy Era, when testosterone-infected young men competed with cars, guns, beer—and things that go “BOOM!”

On this particular night, around a blazing fire built in a remote clearing that had for years been the regular “drinking spot,” testosterone needles jumped when one of the guys showed up with his dad’s new Oldsmobile and a stick of dynamite.

oldsmobileDynamite

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT CONDONE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

One genius among the young, beery group suggested connecting the dynamite to a jackrabbit—the desert was full of them—and went to his pickup for a roll of duct tape. The rest of the guys eagerly went looking for a jackrabbit.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Sniffing

After surrounding and grabbing a stringy male, the boys strapped the red stick to its back, like a rocket pack, and lit the fuse. The poor panic-stricken animal jetted away into the dry sagebrush darkness, trailing the sparks of the burning fuse.

The group howled in delight and the kid with dad’s new car felt proud of his accomplishment—manly and more accepted by his peers for this extraordinary, albeit impetuous and inhumane, show of manhood.

Burning fuse on black background

Everyone leaned forward, in anticipation of the blast. But then–“HOLY S#%T!”–the jackrabbit suddenly veered back, out of the sagebrush, toward the group.  Everyone screamed and ran for cover.

The rabbit found cover too, moments before the blast—under dad’s new Oldsmobile.

“KA-BOOM!”

LESSON: BLOWING THINGS UP IN DESERTS (OR MOUNTAINS) CAN HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.  IMPETUOSITY AND SHOWMANSHIP, WITHOUT A STRATEGY, ARE DANGEROUS.