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Some people who take in interest in genealogy discover that they are Irish when they thought they were Scottish. Others find a long-lost cousin. When I began looking at my family history I found out that my great-great grandmother murdered my great-great grandfather with an axe on a snowy winter's night in Detroit, Michigan in 1910.
Nellie Kniffen's violent rampage and her husband Frank's grisly demise was front page news in Detroit for several weeks, but she and her crime were soon forgotten, both by the public and by her family. Those who remembered it tried hard to forget it and those who came after knew nothing about it at all.
Through research of public records, personal interviews and a review of the sensationalistic newspaper stories written before Frank Kniffen's body grew cold, I unearthed a chapter which had been torn out of my family's history. And I began to better understand the ghosts and demons which have haunted my family for over a century.
The story of Nellie and Frank -- Nellie Kniffen Took An Axe -- is available as a Kindle eBook for $2.99.
Today every urbanite's favorite faux-hillbilly -- J.D. Vance -- writes an op-ed in the New York Times about the health care system entitled "A Republican Health Care Fix." I've written a lot of words about this guy over the past year, but as long as people keep giving him platforms on which to share his vacuity, I'll be here to point out just how vacuous it is.
His broad point is not terrible. He thinks the recently stalled GOP health care bill is bad policy and bad politics and something better is needed. Not an earth-shattering argument -- everyone who is not Donald Trump or a Republican member of Congress agrees -- but give him points for saying it.
Beyond that, Vance is attempting, in his own Vancian way, to make a more salient good point: that there should be some sort of baseline of care for people and that no one in need of health care should have the hospital's doors slammed in their face simply because they're poor. While that should, again, not be a very tough bogey to meet, in this day and age it somehow is, especially for conservatives, so give him some points for saying that too.
The problem here, however, is the exact same problem he displayed in "Hillbilly Elegy": he completely misdiagnoses the cause of a real problem and, in doing so, ensures that any solutions for which he or his supporters would advocate are doomed to failure.
Vance's view of the problem: it's the government's fault that there is a health care crisis in America. He argues this by offering a simple-minded analogy about a pedestrian being hit by a government vehicle in order to make a broad "you broke it, you bought it" argument:
This is where the Republican Party hits an ideological barrier that it simply must power through before meaningful reform can happen. Yes, solving problems can be expensive, and yes, that money always comes from taxpayers. But that’s true when a government truck plows into a pedestrian. You break it, you buy it, and the logic applies equally whether the broken thing is an individual or a complex marketplace.
"The government broke health care" position is simply not true. There have been multiple books written analyzing why our health care system is expensive and, in many ways, broken. The uniform conclusion: that while some unique factors drive our costs up compared to other countries (i.e. the United States' unique position in drug research and medical innovation) most of the costs baked into the system are a function of administrative and marketing overhead unique to a for-profit healthcare industry, passing costs on to consumers.
We have a system which incurs massive costs for advertising, branding and the need for hospitals and doctors offices to bill dozens if not hundreds of different insurance companies in dozens if not hundreds of different ways. We have a system that delivers care to different populations via different programs and administrative means based on age, geography, financial status, ethnic background, job status and a dozen other factors, and each of those systems has developed its own infrastructure, raising costs through massive complexity. On top of that a cut is taken for profit. In light of all of this, Vance's premise -- the government broke our healthcare system! -- is exactly backwards.
At this point some might be inclined to say "Hey, Vance is not an expert in this area. You acknowledge that he cares and that he means well, so cut him some slack. He's talking about important stuff!" Sorry, not gonna cut him slack. Partially because Vance has political aspirations now and should not be allowed to get away with broad, misleading generalizing about pressing policy matters of the day. Mostly, though, I won't cut him slack for the same reason I didn't cut him slack for "Hillbilly Elegy."
In my review of that now famous book I noted that, as here, Vance meant well. And that, as here, he was talking about a very real problem: the myriad crisis facing people in rural areas and the working class at large. But just as he does here, he misdiagnosed the cause of the problem. He argued that the crisis is attributable to a lack of character and work ethic by those suffering from it. That the white underclass from which he rose is struggling so mightily because it is not taking responsibility for its own decay. That their moral failures, as opposed to economic challenges, were to blame.
The arguments in "Hillbilly Elegy" were utter hogwash. Hogwash, it should be noted, that adheres pretty closely to the views of the Silicon Valley venture capital class and from which Vance more recently hails and which would pass muster with GOP political leaders who will, eventually, be asked to aid his political ambitions. But more importantly, it's hogwash that stands in the way of solving the very problems Vance claims to care about.
If one does not acknowledge the external forces working against the victims of the 21st century economy, one can never hope to solve them. If one blames the victims of that economy, one can easily wash one's hands of them. Indeed, the prevalent opinion of people I know who have read "Hillbilly Elegy" and who are not personally familiar with rust belt or Appalachian life is "Those poor people. Their problems seem impossible to solve!"
In this "Hillbilly Elegy" is a work of absolution. It reassures its readers -- mostly coastal and/or urban-dwelling elites -- that they and the system which has benefitted them is not to blame for what's happening in places like Ohio and Kentucky. In turn it gives them license to look away after they've gotten their 272 pages worth of rural poverty porn, content in the notion that they cannot do anything to help and thus cannot be criticized for turning away.
His take on the health care system is no different. He cares. He claims that he wants things to be better. But by blaming the government for the problem he necessarily encourages readers to get behind market-based solutions which are actually responsible for the problem. Yes, he allows that the government should play some role in that, but his "you broke it, you bought it" framing ensures that that role should be limited and exercised only out of shame and guilt. After all, if you break a wine decanter at Crate and Barrel, you don't get to make decisions about restocking and inventory. You cut a check and, preferably, get the hell out of the store, never to return.
It's not unheard of for a patient to get better after a doctor misdiagnoses her condition. But it's not common, especially if, like the current state of the U.S. health care system, the condition is serious, complex and requires a lot of hard work to cure. It's also the case that, once a doctor has made a spectacularly wrong diagnosis, one should not go back to him the next time one gets sick.
Yet platforms like the New York Times continue to turn to Dr. Vance, under the delusion that he has insight and solutions. This despite the fact that, when it comes to public policy, J.D. Vance has already proven himself to be a quack.
Daniel Drezner wrote a column in today's Washington Post about the foray of some "Silicon Valley thought leaders" into politics. The short version: Zynga’s Mark Pincus and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman have launched a platform aimed at rallying people into political causes outside of the current party structure, forming some sort of center-left, pro-business movement and basically "disrupting" political engagement. Or something, in the way that only Silicon Valley types talk about such things.
Many have been sharply critical of this and similar initiatives. Drezner is critical, but less so, noting that even though Pincus and Hoffman are bound to fail, we should nonetheless take them and other Silicon Valley types seriously when they wade into politics, saying that Democrats should keep "their neoliberal billionaires inside the tent."
My distaste for neoliberalism notwithstanding, I don't necessarily disagree with Drezner. I don't believe anyone should be kept outside the tent if it can be helped. If they advocate good policies and want to make the world a better place - of if they are open to discussion about making the world a better place and share at least some common ground -- I want them in that tent. That's the point of all of this, after all.
At the same time, I share some of the skepticism many have about tech giants wading into politics, mostly because of the frankly odd manner in which tech giants tend to wade and the manner in which the media and the public has tended to discuss such wading.
So let's put it all into perspective, shall we?
By accident of my age and some friendships I made years and years ago, I know a number of people who are either Silicon Valley denizens themselves or people who at least orbit that world. They used to be programmers or startup employees, now they're mid-to-upper management guys. Some have made a lot of money. Others haven't. Some are academics now. But they all speak that odd Silicon Valley language and, at times, share a bit of it with me. It's a strange world, but so too is any somewhat insular subculture with which one is unfamiliar. Like any other, there is jargon and custom and behavior that those of us on the outside don't quite understand.
The people in that world, however, aren't fundamentally different than those of us who are not. Contrary to how tech moguls are often described, they have needs, desires and opinions that are not of some other planet.
When the election hit last year, a lot of Silicon Valley types freaked out, just like a lot of the rest of us did, because it did not conform to expectations. Most of them never thought that Trump would win and, like a lot of us, they started to question the assumptions they harbored. Assumptions which they thought were safe. As I said, Silicon Valley culture can be insular and, of course, Silicon Valley sits in the Bay Area, which is far more politically homogenous than a lot of places. While I disagree with so much of what has been written about so-called "bubbles," I don't think it's unreasonable to say that many of the political assumptions held by Silicon Valley types were less-challenged and more strongly held than those held by some of us in the Midwest, making the freakout of the Silicon Valley types a bit more pronounced than our own.
There are a lot of transplants in Silicon Valley. My friends are from Ohio, many others are from other places. During the post-election freakout, a lot of them asked me or their friends back home, "WHAT HAPPENED TO OHIO?" or "WHAT HAPPENED TO MICHIGAN?" Soon those panicky questions turned to more thoughtful ones like "what can I do to help Ohio?" or "what can I do to help Michigan?"
Some -- like venture capitalist-turned-author J.D Vance or former Uber executive Brian McClendon -- have moved back to their home states and have vowed to take an active role in politics. Some, while staying in California, have vowed to funnel money back home to political causes or to otherwise become engaged in local politics from afar. Some are still trying to figure it out the answer to that question. Some only asked that question for a while and then got back to the business of Silicon Valley.
Others, like Pincus and Hoffman, are simply trying to apply what they know to the problem. To combine their life's work with politics, while bringing the jargon and weirdness of their particular subculture along for the ride. Thus you read articles about entrepreneurs wanting to "disrupt democracy" and about how "thought leaders" are going to bring bold new innovation to a tired industry, just like they did so many times before. Because most in the media don't have a super strong grip on either business or technology, the coverage, like all the coverage of these folks which has come before, is often comically credulous.
Here's the thing, though: you can't "disrupt" politics, let alone public policy. Not in any fundamental way. Politics and policy will always come down to one's values and ones goals and how clearly those values and goals are communicated to voters. Voters who have shown, time and time again, that they will respond to ideas and promises, not branding and cultural framing on its own. You can try to sell them "innovation" and "the future" all you'd like, but they will not get on board with you unless you tell them what you plan to do, in very basic terms, or what it is you stand for, in very plain terms. Voters do not do Silicon Valley cloudspeak.
In light of that, I've talked to my friends in Silicon Valley about what, exactly, Silicon Valley actually wants. What are its political values. They have some ideas. They're not crazy or disruptive or innovative, really. They're a lot of things many people support and some things only a few people support, but they're pretty conventional, politically speaking:
All of this adds up to Silicon Valley being just like and other industry, sector or collective of activists. It wants what's good for it, in its conception of the world. And those wants are all things that have been discussed over and over again by any number of parties, politicians and interest groups. It's not sui generis.
In light of that, the next time you hear about a tech billionaire getting into politics or a group of entrepreneurs putting together some killer app that purports to change the game forever, note their status, but just for a moment. Note their financial power, but not in any way you wouldn't note the financial power of a media mogul or an investment banker who enters the political fray. Then: ask them what it is, exactly, they stand for and ask them if they have a good idea about how to implement it or to convince a majority of people to get behind it. If they stand for good things and have good ideas, join them. If they don't, don't. As I have argued before, there is no magic bullet when it comes to this stuff.
What we should not be doing is what so many in the press have been doing lately, which is treating these guys as if they're magical unicorns with heretofore unprecedented ideas, with plans to disrupt democracy forever.
After weeks of secrecy and silence, Senate Republicans have finally revealed their version of the healthcare bill which will repeal the Affordable Care Act. You can read it here.
I'll save you some time, though: it slashes medicaid spending by billions, allows insurers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, including women who are pregnant, will raise insurance premiums and deductibles and will result in tens of millions of people losing health insurance. It will also give a $33 billion tax cut to 400 of the richest households in the United States. Billionaires.
I'm sure there are already talking points being issued about why this law is so important and beneficial. Such arguments are transparently false and don't hold up under a microgram of scrutiny, but they'll make those who offer them feel better.
But irrespective of such talking points and irrespective of any one law or policy, a simple truth remains: if you're hellbent on making things better for super rich people and making them harder for poor people -- which this bill does unequivocally -- you're doing humanity wrong. And there's no talking point that changes that.
Today Donald Trump opened a meeting by having his cabinet members go around the table to praise him. As it unfolded, each official attempted to obsequiously outdo the last with flattery of their boss. This actually happened.
This, by the way, is the same way Shakespeare's "King Lear" opens. Instead of cabinet members, it's Lear asking his daughters to praise him in order to justify their inheritance.
In other news, "King Lear" chronicles the descent of a leader into madness and death, set on his course by an almost comical but ultimately tragic narcissism.
Today Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This, quite obviously, makes the business of combatting climate change that much harder given that the world's largest economy is abdicating its responsibilities under the agreement.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement likewise damages America's stature as a world power. One hundred and ninety countries are committed to it, with only Syria and Nicaragua refusing to agree to it before today. Our joining those two countries in turning our backs on Paris is a declaration that America no longer leads and no longer wishes to lead when it comes to combatting the world's great problems.
All of that said, the business of combatting climate change will not stop. Nearly every other country on the planet is still committed to Paris, and the majority of U.S. based companies who have actual skin in the game of climate change are likewise committed to it. Indeed, in the minutes following Trump's announcement to withdraw from Paris today, numerous CEOs and entrepreneurs voiced their displeasure with the move and many more will do so in the near future.
They will do this because they know that climate change is the most pressing promise facing civilization today. They also know -- as I wrote recently -- that advanced energy technologies and industries are key to both our economic and environmental future, and that the advancement of these technologies and the work of these industries will not cease, even if Donald Trump turns his back on them and their importance.
So why has Trump done this? There are several reasons, separate and apart from the typical Republican desire to do the bidding of wealthy donors with interests in the fossil fuel industry.
Trump gained office by appealing to the fears and anxieties of people who have seen the 21st century economy pass them by and who pine for the days when coal mines, factories and refineries employed entire towns. Trump found it easier to make his supporters false promises of their return rather than articulate a vision in which new industries and a new economy may come to benefit them. By turning his back on Paris, he believes he is doing what these voters asked him to do.
Another reason, though, is basic isolationism. Today Trump seemed to criticize the Paris Agreement primarily because it is, quite simply, an international agreement. He talked about "America First" policies and struck many of the same chords that his advisor Steve Bannon and others in the alt-right movement have stuck with respect to the dangers of globalism. They want to build a figurative wall to keep out the international community in much the same way they want to build a real wall to keep out immigrants.
As I noted above, however, international actors and global corporations will nonetheless continue to work to combat climate change and will continue to work to grow the advanced energy sector with or without Trump's approval. As they do so, they'll necessarily be engaging with other U.S.-based businesses, state and local governments and U.S. citizens and workers. Anti-globalism may be a potent talking point on the campaign trail, but not even the president of the United States can cut the cross-border bonds which have been formed in our increasingly interconnected world.
Which brings us to this afternoon. A day on which, after Donald Trump's self-congratulatory words about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, he listened as a military band played celebratory jazz music and Trump basked in the congratulations of his closest advisors, political allies and supporters.
As he enjoyed this day, I wonder if any of his anti-globalist supporters appreciated the irony of his handing multinational corporations and international actors even more power in the shaping of the future of the world than they had before he acted today.
In the past several years many have made a point -- a good point -- to gently remind people that Memorial Day is not the same thing as Veterans Day. To remind us that this day is not set aside to thank living military members or veterans for their service and it's certainly not a day for patriotic platitudes or displays to eclipse our commemoration of those who died in service to our country.
But while the "it's Memorial Day, not Veterans Day" correctives are worth acknowledging, I think there is something similar to how we tend to approach both holidays that is equally worth acknowledging.
Memorial Day is a holiday commemorating those who died in war. Indeed, it is rooted in literal visits to the graves of the fallen. Veterans Day, originally anyway, was a holiday intended to celebrate the ending of a war. While the former has informally morphed into something else and the latter was officially changed to encompass a different purpose, the fact remains that our nation, for whatever reason, has moved away from the notion that war is bad, that its byproducts are tragic and that its ending should be celebrated. It has, instead, filled those spaces with patriotism and, in some cases nationalism and militarism.
It says a lot about where we are as a country right now that we have pushed the bad parts of war out of our national consciousness and have wholly disposed with celebrating the endings of wars. Maybe it's because, these days, our wars do not end.
Whatever the case, I do not think that focusing and reflecting upon the tragedy of war and celebrating the ending of wars are bad things nor do they do a disservice to those who have fought and who have died. To the contrary, I can think of nothing that would honor and aid those men and women more.
Yesterday the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its report on the impact of the House Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the AHCA. The bottom line: 23 million Americans will lose health care coverage, one million Ohioans among them.
The impact will be felt primarily by the most vulnerable members of society. Senior citizens. The poor. The sick. The very people who we, as a country, should be doing the most to help would be the ones harmed the most by this callous, cruel and immoral law.
What's more, the CBO report reminds us that it's not just those who are on Medicaid or who purchase insurance through ACA exchanges who will be harmed by this law. To the contrary, the CBO reports that insurance coverage for one-sixth of all Americans would “become unstable by 2020.”
This will occur because of the increased costs and pressure put on our health care system which will now be serving millions without being paid for it. This will occur because the AHCA gives states the right to drastically cut health care benefits to those with preexisting conditions and to drastically increase the number of conditions deemed "preexisting." This will occur because, under the AHCA, health insurance premiums will rise by 20 percent by 2018 and another five percent the following year. Again, all confirmed by the non-partisan CBO.
All of this so that Republicans can give a massive tax cut to the rich. All of this to please the insurance companies and drug companies which have donated millions to Republican campaigns. None of this to help Americans who have found themselves victimized by callous and uncaring health insurers, drug companies and medical expenses which have spiraled out of control due to gouging and profit-seeking by the very people supporting the AHCA.
Yesterday, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, called this "just the start." If this is how it starts, God help us all once he and his Republican colleagues in Congress really get going.
The AHCA will do violence to millions of Americans, preventing the sick from obtaining necessary medical treatment and forcing those who do manage to obtain treatment to risk bankruptcy and financial ruin.
Any lawmaker who supports it has abdicated their responsibility to their constituents and has shown themselves unfit for public service. They should be told this in no uncertain terms and they should be voted out of office at the earliest available opportunity.
Today Donald Trump will unveil the first comprehensive budget proposal of his presidency. The details have been leaked to the media already, however, and they reveal the most aggressive cuts to programs benefiting needy Americans in living memory:
The budget demonstrates nothing short of unconscionable cruelty to the poor, slashing trillions from the social safety net while giving out the largest handouts to the rich and to big business in American history.
What's more, the proposal is based on bald faced lies regarding how it will be paid for and the impact it will have on the national budget.
Trump recently proposed $5.5 trillion in tax cuts. The proposal excludes those entirely, hiding the fact that those cuts will take away a gigantic chunk of revenue. At the same time, the proposal assumes comically unrealistic economic growth created by those very same tax cuts. Given the idea that tax cuts to the wealthy will trickle down to benefit the rest of America in the form of economic growth has been thoroughly debunked, Trump's budget proposal is doubly dishonest.
Thankfully, a president does not have the ability to unilaterally impose a budget and thankfully there will be people fighting hard against it. I have faith that those doing so will ultimately prevail because this budget does not reflect the values and principles of most Americans.
In the meantime, however, we must work to highlight how disastrous these proposals would be for the most vulnerable Americans. And how disastrous they will be to the country as a whole, over time, if they are implemented. We must demonstrate how cruel and heartless Trump's budget is. And how cruel and heartless those who support it are.
Tomorrow, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, will join Speaker Paul Ryan and fellow central Ohio representative Steve Stivers here in my very own town of New Albany, Ohio. They will be holding a roundtable discussion on tax reform. Then Tiberi will meet with one of his constituents.
Unfortunately, you're not allowed to go to the roundtable. It's by invitation only, at a private business, owned by a couple who have made thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations to Tiberi over the years. The company owes the state of Ohio $3.5 million in taxes, by the way, so you know their questions challenging Tiberi's and Ryan's questionable views about tax reform will be hard hitting, balanced and incisive.
The constituent Tiberi will be meeting with afterward is Les Wexner, the billionaire founder of L Brands. He's Ohio's richest man. The purpose is for a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidates. It'll be held at Wexner's 100 acre estate which is literally surrounded by fences on which there are signs notifying passers-by that the property is patrolled by dogs. I am not kidding about that.
In other news, Pat Tiberi is still not planning on holding a town hall or otherwise answering to the thousands of constituents he just voted to deprive of health care.
The American Health Care Act, the health care bill on which the House intends to vote today, is not just bad policy and cynical political calculation. It's immoral, plain and simple.
The reason Republicans are trying to pass this bill? It slashes taxes on the wealthiest two percent of earners. That's it. All of that damage done to give rich people a tax cut which they'll hardly even notice. The new bill does nothing to help ordinary working Americans in any way and will, in fact, harm millions of them. By voting in favor of it they are sending a loud and clear signal that they value the wealth of the richest Americans over the health of millions.
The specific impact of these items are not fully known because Republicans in Congress are ramming the bill through without hearings, without getting a CBO score and, in some cases, without them even having seen the text of the bill. In some cases, such as in the case of my congressman, Pat Tiberi, they are simply lying about its contents. They are doing so because they know full well how terrible this bill is and unpopular this bill will be once more people are aware of what it does.
It is a shameful bill, being passed in a shameful fashion. While I am optimistic that the bill will die in the Senate, the mere act of passing it in the House is immoral. It is greedy. It is cynical. It is harmful. It is irresponsible. It is wrong.
Any member of Congress who votes for it today will have disqualified themselves from public service and shown themselves to care nothing for the men and women who voted for them to represent their interests. And they will pay heavily for doing so.
President Trump plans to begin talking about his tax overhaul today. It will, not surprisingly, be a giveaway to the wealthy. Based on what we know:
There is no upside to this. And the sales pitch which will try to make you believe otherwise is a scam.
The centerpiece of the plan is to slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. This despite the fact that corporate profits are soaring, corporate tax revenues are at record lows and workers are seeing little if any of the benefit. This unnecessary giveaway to businesses is estimated to cost two trillion dollars. This at a time when the federal deficit is already over $500 billion a year.
Trump and the Republicans will claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth. This is a lie, pure and simple. An old one, actually, as Republicans have been promising such things from tax cuts for decades as part of their "trickle-down" economic theory. It's a theory, however, which has been consistently refuted by experience.
There is zero correlation between tax cuts and economic growth. Indeed, economic growth in the United States since World War II has been greater in times with relatively high top marginal tax rates, such as in the 1950s and 1990s, which we all know and remember as boom times. This does not mean that higher tax rates lead to economic growth, of course, but it does mean that they do not impede it. In reality, there is no strong relationship between the two things at all, no matter what Republicans tell you.
Trump and Republicans in Congress will likewise claim that the tax cuts will cause businesses to use their savings to hire more workers. While, theoretically, yes, companies with more cash on hand could use it to hire more workers or invest in new facilities in the United States, we have seen that, in practice, they are far more likely to hold on to the money as cash reserves, benefitting no one, or to distribute it to their wealthy stockholders. As is the case with overall economic growth, low tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations have rarely correlated with employment growth.
The plan will also call for a massive cut in the top tax rate on “pass-through” companies, such as sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships which pay their taxes through the individual income tax code rather than through the corporate code. While this will be sold as a break for mom-and-pop businesses, the benefits of such a plan will not be realized by the guy who owns the corner store.
Pass-through businesses are often huge, sophisticated and wealthy companies. They generate over half of all business income in the country and employ more than half of the private sector workforce. A great example of a pass-through business: The Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering company in the country, which has over $30 billion in annual revenues. Other examples: hedge fund managers, doctors and lawyers who own their own practices and people who earn income from motivational and promotional speaking. Another example of a pass-through business: The Trump Organization. Indeed, Donald Trump personally stands to save tens of millions of dollars a year under his tax plan. The pass-through tax cut will be portrayed as a benefit for businessmen who struggle to get by. In reality, it's little more than a gift to the wealthy.
No matter what specific part you look at, Trump's tax plan and similar tax plans proposed by Republicans in Congress have one unifying theory: cuts to the tax rates paid by the wealthy and pain inflicted on the poor and the middle class.
An analysis of Paul Ryan’s proposed tax plan found that a whopping 99.6 percent of the tax-cut money would go to the top 1 percent of income earners. In turn, budget proposals floated by Republicans contain massive cuts to infrastructure spending, education, medical and scientific research, child care, job training, the arts, our national parks and public lands and a host of safety net programs that help families make ends meet in tough times. This is not just theoretical: the two states which have rolled out tax plans like Trump's -- Kansas and Louisiana -- have been thrown into economic and budgetary chaos.
The priorities of Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are exactly backwards.
To the extent Donald Trump had any mandate, it was a mandate to help working people and ordinary Americans who have been left behind by a quickly-evolving global economy. That's what people who voted for him desperately wanted and desperately need. His tax plan is a slap in the face to those people and a windfall for him and his wealthy friends. It should be rejected out of hand.
Last night I saw Brian Wilson perform at the Palace Theater for his “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances” tour. It’s amazing enough that Wilson is touring given his history of mental illness, drug abuse and now, as he's approaching 75 years-old, physical decline, but he's still doing it. And doing it well.
His voice is still recognizably his voice. He's not like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits or someone who has had to become a fundamentally different kind of singer than he once was due to ravaged vocal cords. The same old tone and timbre of 1960s Brian Wilson is there. He may not tear into the second verse of "I'm waiting for the day" with that aggressive edge so evident on the album version, he doesn't sustain notes like he did when he was young and, yes, he occasionally hits a clunker, but he's still unmistakably Brian Wilson.
If anything, the flaws in his singing enhance the experience of seeing him live. He's not a jukebox full of oldies like some other artists are. And the mere act of him being on that stage singing those songs elevated his performance above that of his increasingly vanishing contemporaries and vanishingly few artistic peers.
I don't begrudge The Rolling Stones, the Who or Paul McCartney going on the road and playing concerts into their 70s. They're legends, people love them and their music, they put on great shows and, of course, they're more than entitled to make money off of the art they created. But there is something . . . off about it. There is something off about Mick Jagger singing about how he can't get satisfaction when we know he's rarely had anything but satisfaction for the past 50 years. There's something silly about Roger Daltrey singing that he hopes he dies before he gets old when he's already old. There's something downright creepy about a wrinkly-faced Paul McCartney telling us that we know what he means about that girl who's just 17.
One might think this problem would be even greater for Wilson doing "Pet Sounds," actually. The album he once famously called "a teenage symphony to God" is about young romance. About that moment when teenage love changes from butterflies in one's stomach to one's first feelings of melancholy. It evokes emotions common to anyone who has ever experienced love, but they're feelings unique to a certain time and place in our lives that we never again recapture. That's not the stuff one would expect to wear well when sung by a 70-something year old man. Despite his age, however, there is something poignant about Wilson singing from the point of view of his younger self that is absent when others do it.
Ideally art stands on its own, without the audience bringing their own knowledge about the artist with them, but that's next to impossible when it comes to Wilson. We know what his life was like at the time "Pet Sounds" was recorded. We know how much more difficult it would become in the two decades-plus after it came out and how damaged Wilson came out on the other end. Jagger, McCartney and Daltrey all had personal ups and downs of course, but compared to Wilson they've lived pretty happy and contented lives. In light of this, their taking to the road seems like a pleasant but somewhat superfluous and undoubtedly commercial act.
Wilson didn't have the same sort of happy and contended second and third public acts as those guys. He's never gotten the chance to connect with his old songs and his old fans in the same way they have. And given that his former bandmates Mike Love and Bruce Johnston have long toured as The Beach Boys, playing the biggest Beach Boys hits in theaters, state fairs and other venues with relatively low ticket prices, a lot of his old fans might not even care too much anymore. They've seen what they wanted to see for the most part. As such, Wilson's act of singing his old songs -- these particular old songs, which were never as commercially successful as the stuff Love and Johnston perform -- seems more personal to him. More important and significant.
While I'm likely projecting to some degree, as Wilson sang through "Pet Sounds," it seemed as if he was reaching back through time for something necessary. Something he didn't get to fully enjoy and explore at the time and something he finally can now as opposed to simply putting on a show. He may have played these songs or things like them over and over again in his home, but on this tour he's getting to play them with a full band -- he had ten backing musicians and singers, including original Beach Boy Al Jardine and one-time Beach Boy contributor Blondie Chaplin -- forming those harmonies he's on record as saying are his favorite parts of his songs.
It was a great show for us, but you can't help but feel it's a rewarding and perhaps necessary act for Wilson to play these songs. Necessary in ways it's simply not necessary for others to play their old songs. This may have been most evident in the opening and closing of the show when, as a warmup/encore, he played some of the more popular Beach Boys songs like "Help me Rhonda" and "California Girls," with Jardine doing an admirable job with the Mike Love vocals. They were fine, but somewhat rote. The crowd stood, cheered and sang along, but Wilson seemed to be going through the motions with them to some degree. The big hits don't seem particularly important to Wilson.
The "Pet Sounds" songs, which were played in order, in their entirety after an intermission, felt more moving and stirring. And not just because they’re better songs. It's because, with the possible exceptions of "Wouldn't it be nice?" and "Sloop John B," a lot of people don't know all the words to a lot of them. And even if they do, they're not exactly jukebox singalongs. They provided an opportunity for Wilson to sing and perform for us in ways that McCartney and the Stones can't without resorting to an obscure R&B cover. People know "Pet Sounds," of course, but it's not back-of-their-hand stuff like "Maybe I'm Amazed" or "Brown Sugar." Wilson was reacquainting many in the crowd with those songs just as he was revisiting them himself and the net effect of it was stirring.
Stirring in and of itself, but also stirring because the man singing the songs is, in 2017, still here. Against all odds, he's still here. Reaching back for something one gets the sense he loves and needs just as much if not more than any of us.
The past 36 hours have been interesting. A tweet and then a post I wrote about patriotism and flag-waving at sporting events went viral. And not in a good way.
This post over at NBC contains and explains my original tweet and otherwise speaks for itself, but certain elements of the conservative media decided to mischaracterize my comments as anti-American, anti-flag and anti-military. With the help of a few strategically-placed firehoses, my social media accounts have been flooded by thousands upon thousands doing the same. I've received multiple legitimate, specific death threats. People have told me that they hope I get cancer and that my loved ones die in accidents. The less odious among the mob merely wished that I'd leave the country never to return. I respectfully declined.
I'm a big boy and I -- and law enforcement, who I have contacted about the threats-- can handle that stuff. But I will not stand by and allow myself to be slandered in this fashion.
I come from a family which has served in foreign wars for the past three generations. My brother is a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from a disability and relies on V.A. benefits for his healthcare. My father served on board the U.S.S. Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and my paternal grandfather was a tank sergeant under General Patton during the liberation of Western Europe. In light of that, to suggest, for one moment, that I do not respect the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is an insult and a lie. A knowing one for those who have read this.
I likewise consider myself a patriot and a proud American. One who understands that America is exceptional, not only in the freedoms and opportunity it provides, but for the dissent, protest and critique it allows. Just as an athlete must endure training to excel in competition and a writer must undergo editing and critique to improve, our country is stronger thanks in part to the efforts of those who have found fault with it at times and have worked to make it a better place. Our Constitution begins with a reference to a "more perfect union," anticipating that the work of the American Experiment is never done and establishing that any claims to American perfection are specious.
I have criticized and will always criticize that which I see from our government and in our society with which I take issue. I view that as part of my duty as an American. People don't often care for such criticism, obviously, and when one criticizes the country, the government or society, there will always be blowback. Like I said, though, I'm a big boy and I can take it.
I will not, however, sit idly by and allow people to mischaracterize that which I have said, that which I have written and that which I stand for. And I will certainly not allow them to lie about it.
This is delicious.
A far right political action committee, Club for Growth, is running an ad targeting Pat Tiberi for "standing in the way" of Obamacare repeal. Watch:
The best part of this, of course, is that not only did Tiberi support the failed bill which would've repealed Obamacare, he was one of its biggest champions. Paul Ryan called him the "Quarterback of Obamacare Repeal." On a recent visit to central Ohio Vice President Pence personally thanked Tiberi for his efforts to repeal the ACA and his attempt to enact AHCA.
Yet here Tiberi is, getting attacked by conservatives who want what he wants. It's one thing to not pass a bill you wanted to pass, but it's another thing to fail so miserably in doing so that you get attacked for being an impediment to it passing. Not an easy trick!
Of course, Pat Tiberi could stand up to this ad and call it out for its disingenuousness. He could issue a loud, clear and unambiguous statement saying just how hard he worked to pass the AHCA. He could likewise give a full-throated endorsement to the AHCA itself and vow not to rest until it passes.
But he can't. He can't because the AHCA is a bad bill, his constituents hate it and he knows it. His support of Obamacare repeal and the AHCA is political poison. Poison he thought he could survive if he swallowed it quickly, but he couldn't and now he's stuck. His district hates the AHCA and will pound him if he tries again to pass it. The conservative PACs hate that it didn't pass before and will pound him if it doesn't sometime soon.
This all could've been avoided, of course. All Pat Tiberi would've had to do was listen to the people in his district and ask us what we wanted. To address the real issues with the ACA and work to fix it. To work for us instead of for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. He didn't do that. He hitched his wagon to a couple of guys who do not have the best interests of the people of this district in mind and now he's getting hammered.
I'm not sure what political pundits call whatever it is Pat Tiberi did to get himself into this mess, but it's certainly not leadership.
James Thompson came within five points of winning a Kansas congressional seat in a district that went for Trump by 27 points. He did so by getting almost no support from the national Democratic establishment. His success -- and given the odds stacked against him, the success was considerable -- was based on him articulating a clear message in support of policies that would help the people in his district and against policies which would harm them.
In this interview with ThinkProgress, he implores the Democratic establishment not to ignore Democratic candidates in seemingly safe Republican districts because every district -- every single one -- can be won by a strong candidate sending a clear message.
The district in which I live, currently represented by Pat Tiberi, was seemingly tailor made for him and is likely considered "safe" for Republicans. But Donald Trump certainly did not win the 12th by 27 points and Pat Tiberi has decided that falling in with Trump's agenda is, somehow, a great idea. He has decided to promote policies which are bad for people in his district. Policies which will do them harm.
Pat Tiberi can be beat. Any congressman in any district, no matter how seemingly safe the district is, can be beat. Do not write their challengers off and do not let the Democratic Party do so either.
As everyone knows by now, a man was dragged off of a United Airlines flight by police yesterday and was injured in the process. The reason: United wanted to place a couple of its employees on the flight and kick off paying passengers to do it. I wasn't aware that a private business had the right to manhandle you when they messed up, but here we are.
While the condemnation of United over this event has been considerable, today the media has decided that the victim of this act of excessive force is the one owed scrutiny.
From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
From a news anchor at WJLA TV in Washington D.C.:
From the gossip site TMZ
Some of this might've been relevant if anything Dr. Dao did contributed to yesterday's incident. If he had been an unruly passenger or if he had assaulted someone or if he had broken some law. Looking at the past of someone who commits a transgression is often instructive and illuminating. It makes sense to do that sometimes.
But, of course, Dao committed no transgression here. He was roughed up in the name of bad corporate policy made worse by it being carried out incompetently. His past is of no consequence or relevance to what happened yesterday. So why is the media digging into it so eagerly?
Part of it is mere sensationalism. The United story has captured the attention of the nation and anything that can keep it going is in the best interests of certain segments of the media. If it bleeds, it leads, and Dao bled. If there's sex or drugs or a crime involved, all the better. One may have to dig years into Dao's past to find that, and it may not have anything to do with the news story itself, but beggars can't be choosers as they chase ratings and page views, so whatever dirt anyone can find on the guy is, apparently, fair game. This sort of muckraking is a story as old as newspapers themselves.
There's a deeper motivation at work here, however. It may be an unconscious motive on the part of any one member of the media pushing this kind of smear job, but it's a motive aimed at giving us something we, as a society, crave in these sorts of situations. The need to believe that a person who had something bad happen to him had it coming to him. And that, in turn, nothing bad like this could ever happen to us.
In the past 24 hours I've seen countless people -- otherwise disinterested individuals, -- rush to United's defense to talk about the fine print on tickets or the need to overbook flights or how, in general, people forfeit their rights once they get on a plane. People coming, almost reflexively, to the defense of authority, lest anyone suggest that authority was abused. If you're the sort of person who doesn't feel comfortable challenging the status quo and take much greater comfort in defending it, this line of reasoning is tailor made for you.
Not everyone is like that, of course. Some people are super upset with what United did regardless of the underlying policy but are desperate to minimize the ugliness of the incident because confronting ugliness is not a pleasant thing for many. To that end we see the media dig into Dao's past which will, almost certainly, result in Dao being considered "controversial" or worse by the public, causing them to see his ejection from the United plane in a more ambiguous, less ugly light. "Sure, he was roughed up," they'll say, "but he's no angel."
It's all about people wanting to feel better about the incident. To make them believe that it was not as arbitrary as it seemed. To make them think this was a special case, in which the victim was partially to blame. To make them less likely to question how and why it happened. To make them less likely to ask themselves whether they have ever done something, actively or passively, to enable this particular sort of horror. If a truly innocent man has something terrible happen to him, it shakes our faith in the system. If a sketchy individual with a sordid past does, well, everything is just fine. And maybe he even had it coming.
We all sleep better if we think the world is just. The world is more just if the people who do bad things have bad things happen to them and the people who have bad things happen to them turn out to be bad. We all want to sleep better, so sometimes we'll work extra hard to make sure that state of affairs exists.
Even if we have to delude ourselves into believing it does. Even if we have to smear a victim to make it so.
Today the president's son told reporters that last week's decision to fire 59 missiles at a Syrian air base was influenced by a "heartbroken and outraged" Ivanka Trump. "Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence," Eric Trump said, "I'm sure she said, 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."
Eric Trump added, "If there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie."
Perhaps Eric Trump is completely deluded and knows not of what he speaks, but I think it's at least worth inquiring whether our president committed an act of war to assuage his daughter's feelings and to cover up a political scandal.
If we had a Congress that cared about anything apart from cutting taxes for rich people and gutting the social safety net, there would at least be a couple of hearings about it.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has the latest of what seems like dozens of stories in which people who supported Trump find themselves in trouble precisely because of the policies Trump plans to enact.
There are a lot of things that can be said about these "Trump remorse" articles. The first impulse of many is to point and laugh or to call the subjects of these stories "suckers." I understand why that is, but I can't get on board with that. Sadness and suffering is sadness and suffering even if it's self-inflicted and it's nothing I want to celebrate.
My takeaway: this is a result of politics' transformation into team sports and base tribalism.
The business of policy and governance has, over the past decade or two, been turned into an exercise in self-image, group identification and, above all else, a grand loyalty test. Them or us. Our side and the other side, defined in the most superficial ways, dealing with attitudes and fashion more than substance. The defining of one's tribe by contrasting it with those one opposes for the broadest and, ultimately, least consequential of reasons. People aren't voting against their interests as such. With respect to government, their very interests have been transformed from those dealing with policies and outcomes to basic fandom and a base disposition to be conservative or liberal as a matter of style as opposed to politics.
It boils down to team colors. Just as I still watch the Atlanta Braves even if they suck and do things I hate, an alarmingly large number of people support their party -- or their rogue offshoot of their party -- regardless of what it means for governance. "Hey, Trump may enact policies which will ruin my life, but at least he's not a libtard or a social justice warrior!" And yes, there are similar examples on the left -- many dealing with labor -- though they're less obvious now that Democrats are out of power.
This cycle will continue until people stop looking at politicians and parties as personal avatars or lifestyle brands and begin looking at them as merely the means via which a bundle of policy choices are implemented. I'm not sure how we get to that place, but until we do, we'll see more and more stories like these.