Archive for Trump

Critical Thinking Today’s Q and A About the Mueller Indictments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by deborah1960

Well!  You can’t say that Robert Mueller doesn’t know how to throw a curve ball.  Everyone knew about one indictment, and some savvy money was on Manafort, but two? And an admission of guilt?  Who says Christmas comes only in December?

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s the low down:  Bobby Mueller has convinced a federal grand jury that Paul Manafort and his minion Jack Gates have committed a vast array of federal felonies, including conspiracy, tax evasion, money laundering, and failure to register as foreign agents.

Additionally, there’s the admission of guilt by George Papadopoulos.  In it, Georgie admits that he’s been a very bad boy indeed, having lied to the FBI about the timing and nature of interactions that he had with various Russian nationals on such sundry matters as emails and dirt on Hillary.  Of course, President Trump is saying “George who?”, but it wasn’t so long ago that Candidate Trump glowingly referred to Mr. Papadopoulos as “an excellent guy” who was one of his campaign’s five foreign policy advisors.

So those are the facts.  Now, some questions from the audience.

  1. What’s the big deal? It’s not like Jack and Paul are convicted or anything.

I can see your point.  In a sense,  this ain’t much—at this point in the game, all Mueller has to do is convince the grand jury that it’s more likely than not that a crime was committed in order to get the indictment.  It’s no guarantee of an ultimate conviction. True enough, but here’s a little piece of fat to chew over:  under the DOJ’s Principles of Federal Prosecution, in an indictment, a US Attorney should not recommend charges that he or she does not believe can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  And there’s something about the cut of Bobby’s jib that makes me think he takes those principles very seriously indeed.

  1. Why did Mueller release the indictments at the same time as the admission of guilt?

Other than wanting to give his legions of admirers an extra treat, there’s an excellent tactical reason for Mueller’s decision to release  the Papadopoulos admission at the same time as the Gates/Manafort indictments:  nothing says “you might want to reconsider your decision not to cooperate with the prosecutor” like an act of mercy juxtaposed with a napalm attack.  I wouldn’t be surprised if George ends up with probation, while Gates and Manafort, if found guilty of all charges, could be in for a very, very, very long sentence indeed.  The message should be clear to all possible actors in this sordid attack on our government:  speak up, and I’ll be merciful; be a dick, and you’ll rue the day you were born.  Even Jack and Paul should be able to read the tea leaves; if they showed up at Mueller’s office with a contrite heart and a willing set of jaws, I bet they’d be pleasantly surprised at how smoothly all this could go for them.

  1. Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27, but no one knew about it until his guilty plea was released on October 30. All that time, he was a “cooperating witness,” which must have been quite a mean feat to pull off. But when I read George’s admission of guilt, I got the distinct impression that he was a suit short of a full deck of cards. How in the world did he manage to keep his yap shut for such an extended period of time without letting on to any of his co-workers?

Well, yes, I think you’re right:  it was an amazing trick.  However, you might have misplaced the credit.  I think that Mr. Mueller, and not Mr. Papadopoulos, managed to pull off that particular caper.  I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but I suspect Mr. Mueller employed an old prosecutorial trick called the Ninja nut-twist.  It takes years of experience to know how to achieve that Platonic balance of employing enough rigor to get the witness to do what you want without making him squeal like a stuck pig.  I imagine that Robert is a Zen master by this point.

  1. By the way, what does a “cooperating witness” do?

The short answer is, whatever the prosecutor wants him to do.  As for the particulars, I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess—but I bet George’s former colleagues are doing just that as I type these words!

  1. Robert Mueller is saying one thing, and the President is saying another. Whom should I believe?

Seriously?  This is a question?  Tell you what.  As your Critical Thinking Teacher, I’m going to give you some homework.  Check out this brilliantly written masterpiece on how to judge the credibility of a witness by using RAVEN (Reputation for honesty, Ability to see, Vested interest, Expertise, and Neutrality), and then get back to me with your answer. Here’s a hint:  focus on “R.”

6. But what about Killary’s uranium? And Benghazi?  

 I. Can’t. Even. Here. Read this.  And this. Life is just too short.

  1. Ha, ha! Just messing with you! My real question is, since the first leaks about the indictments surfaced, Faux News, Rush Limbaugh, and others of their ilk have come out with guns a blazing, saying that the real scandal is anything remotely to do with Hillary.  I know that this is a false equivalency designed to distract me from the matter at hand, which is whether the Trump campaign gave a tiny but helpful hand to Putin’s plan to wreck our election.  But I can’t decide:  is this a red herring, or is it ignoratio elenchi?

Excellent question, Hermione, and a succinct description of both of these logical flaws.  The distinction can be difficult to make however, because it depends upon the intent of the person throwing rhetorical sand in his opponent’s eyes.  As you might recall from the delightful article “Ignoramus Rex,” a red herring requires intent, while ignoratio elenchi occurs when the opponent blurts out an irrelevant refutation without intending to do so.  Now, to absolutely prove intent, you would have to enter Rush’s mind—a sad and lonely place, to be sure, and I really don’t recommend it.  However, judging from the highly coordinated nature of their verbal blitzkrieg upon logic, I think it’s safe to conclude that they actually meant to fling their balderdash.  Hence, I would characterize their flaw as a red herring.

Well, that was fun.  I’d love to answer some more questions, but there really is the most marvelous World Series going on.  Gotta go!

©2017 D. R. Miller

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Critical Thinking Today Scoops Exclusive VP Interview!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2017 by deborah1960

Critical Thinking Today’s exclusive interview with Vice President and Mrs. Pence was granted hours after the Vice President announced the salient features of the GOP’s Forced Birth Initiative.  Here’s the transcript of our interview, where Vice President Pence shares his and his wife’s views on contraception, female autonomy, and God’s plan.

CTT:  Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.  Our readers have so many questions about the, uh, thinking behind your party’s position on contraception, abortion, and women’s health care.

VP:  It’s our pleasure. Right, Mother? Frankly, nothing is more important to the health of our nation than the continued fertility of American women.  That’s why the GOP has gathered the finest panel of experts on woman things.  This panel, the Council of Fathers, has looked at the issue of female health from all sides, inside and out, and you ladies can be assured that we have your best interests at heart.

CTT: The “Council of Fathers”?

VP:  Yes.  Well, that’s what we like to call them.

CTT: Oh.  But how can we be sure that an all-male panel will have a full awareness of and sensitivity to all of the cultural, emotional, and medical issues that confront women as they make decisions about their reproductive health?

VP (patting her hand in an avuncular fashion): Aw, sweetie.  Don’t worry your pretty little head over that.  We got your back, don’t we, Mother?  Besides, it’s a known medical fact that thinking too much makes your uterus fall out.  So, be careful, okay?  Just got the carpets cleaned.

CTT (snatching hand away): But let’s look at one of the proposals that have come out of the Council of Father’s recommendations:  H.R. 490, the Heartbeat Protection Act.  Under the terms of that bill, it will be a criminal act for a doctor to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detected.  But most doctors say it isn’t a heartbeat at all: it’s the motion that occurs in the part of the yolk sack that might eventually become a heart, isn’t it?  That can happen at about 6 weeks, when most women don’t even know if they’re pregnant!

VP:  That’s the beauty of using the rhythm method.  You’ll be fully in tune with the cycles of your body, and you’ll magically know the instant that God has blessed you with the gift of life.  And what right does anyone have to throw away God’s gift?

CTT:  But rhythm has a 20% failure rate! And what if the mother’s health or life is threatened by the baby?  The Ohio statute that this bill is based on had no exceptions.

VP:  Well, that’s the price you pay for being a vessel.  Blame it on Eve. If she hadn’t bitten that apple, none of you ladies would have to suffer.

CTT: (inaudible)

VP:  What’s that?

CTT:  Nothing.  Okay.  Let’s look at another issue.  Female contraception.  Under TrumpDon’tCare, employers will be able to refuse to cover the cost of their female worker’s contraception.

VP:  That’s right.  We wouldn’t want to violate anybody’s religious sensibilities, especially corporate America’s.  They’re so righteous and easily offended.

CTT:  But at the same time, Viagra and other medications for erectile dysfunction will be covered.  Aren’t you in effect enabling men to have sexual pleasure, while making it more difficult for women to fully express their sexual nature? Isn’t that hypocritical?

VP:  Hypocrisy is never part of God’s plan!  Here, let me explain it slowly so you can understand.  God intended sex in order to procreate.  We cover Viagra not to let men have pleasure, but so they can fulfill God’s purpose.  If they can’t get it up, how will they implant their seed in the fertile fields of their wives’ wombs?  The fact that there is pleasure in sex is really surplus to requirements, if you think of it.  Let’s face it:  nice girls don’t have orgasms.  Right, Mother?

Mrs. P (sighing):  I suppose.

CTT: (coughing)

Mrs. P:  Are you all right, dear?

VP:  Would you like a sip of the Kool-Aid?  It’s refreshing and delicious.

CTT:  Good God, no! I mean, I’m fine.  Thanks. (Takes deep breath).  So, if I’m reading you right, then you’re saying that the only real role that women have is to bear children?

VP:  Oh, goodness, no!

CTT: Oh, that’s good.

VP:  That’s what God says.

CTT:  Oh.

VP:  That’s what saddens me so much about the Jane Doe case.  You know, that girl in Texas?  The one that the ACLU sent to an abortion farm?

CTT:  The girl who ICE was holding in prison so she couldn’t exercise her constitutional right to an abortion?

VP:  Yes. We were that close to saving that baby.  And that benighted soul just slipped through our fingers.

CTT:  But what would have happened to her and the baby?  Would she have been able to stay in the States with her baby?  Wouldn’t the baby have been a citizen?

VP:  Oh, goodness, no!  We would have no choice but to send the mother back to Mexico.  The baby would have been given to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.  I’m sure it would have been fine. Eventually.

(Several seconds elapse)

CTT:  All right, then.  One last question.  If the Council of Fathers is so pro-life, then why did they recommend that the Senate pass a budget resolution that recommends over $1.3 trillion in cuts to all non-Medicare healthcare, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program? And another half a trillion dollar hit to Medicare? Surely if you are pro-life, you would want to ensure that all humans have access to health care?  I mean, aren’t you the party that claims that “all lives matter”?

VP:  Gosh, Mother!  Look at the time!  I had no idea it was so late.  Isn’t your Mothers for Life group meeting now?

Mrs. P:  Is it?  Oh, yes! Yes, it is!

VP:  This has been loads of fun.  We’ll need to do this again.  In the meantime, God bless!

CTT:  Thanks.  I’ll need it.

©D.R. Miller 2017

The NPS’s Real Reason For Banning Nude Female Statue

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2017 by deborah1960

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—OFFICIAL NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE STATEMENT ON REVOCATION OF R-EVOLUTION STATUE PERMIT

It has come to the attention of the Director of the National Park Service that a height variance permit requested by the organizers of Catharsis on the Mall had been erroneously granted and has been consequently rescinded.  Structures normally must be no more than 45’ tall; while the statue itself is under the limit, it is placed on a 2’ stand, making the statue soar way, way over the limit.

Furthermore, the subject matter of the statue raises legitimate concerns whether the turf on the Mall would be harmed by allowing the erection of this particular object to take place.  The statue depicts a nude, short-haired woman who is standing in the mountain pose, a traditional yoga position that connotes strength, focus, and watchfulness.  Obviously, having a symbol of female power next to the Washington Monument would provide such a damning juxtaposition that experts fear it might cause cracks in the foundations of white male supremacy that underpin the Mall and its environs.  After having spent millions of dollars to ensure that the Washington Monument will thrust ever upward for generations, the NPS is simply unwilling to take that risk.

However, given the inevitable hue and cry over so-called First Amendment rights, the Director was unwilling to take this position without consulting the finest legal minds in the country.  Sadly, only Attorney General Jeff Sessions was available.  However, he said that he was equally appalled, and that, “the only thing that would make the damned thing worse would be if the statue depicted [a woman of color].”  Later conversations with the White House confirmed that the President concurred in the decision.

In consultation with White House staff, the NPS is willing to extend the hand of helpfulness to the little ladies at Catharsis on the Mall and offer this compromise.  We would be happy to grant the permit if the following reasonable changes to the statue were made.  Instead of mountain pose, the statue could perhaps be in a more suitable position, such as down-facing dog.  She should also be clothed in order to avoid traumatizing the millions of visitors to the Mall who have never witnessed a liberated female body.  We recognize that appropriately clothing a statue of such proportions in a short period of time might be a daunting task.  Consequently, the First Daughter has graciously offered to lend the organizers patterns for slinky evening gowns and totally practical stiletto heels for the working mom from her Plagiarista™ line, at nominal expense.

We trust that this accommodation will address the concerns of all parties involved.

Questions may be addressed to John Thomas Wankersmith III, White House Press Officer in Charge of Female Things.

© D. R. Miller 2017

 

 

 

Who Quoque? Tu Quoque!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by deborah1960

My beloved has suggested on more than one occasion that I should write a Critical Thinking textbook, using examples from Trump’s tweets and other public pronouncements to illustrate logical flaws.  I like this idea, and I just might take it up some time.  Lately, however, Trump has committed so many assaults upon logic, linguistics, and just plain human decency that it has been bloody difficult to keep up with him. Indeed, the onslaught has been so overwhelming that my most recent posts have focused upon the substance of what he has said (or done) rather than on how he has communicated his, for want of a better word, “thoughts.” While I’ve enjoyed writing these little bagatelles, I have felt a little guilty.  The role of a Critical Thinking Teacher, after all, is to teach Critical Thinking, and the first rule of Critical Thinking is “look at the details.”

Consequently, I resolved to redirect my attention in order to focus upon his actual words and phrasing, and to look for particularly choice examples of egregious thinking. It wouldn’t take long, I thought, before he would commit some logical faux pas or other.  And of course, Trump and General Kelly soon accommodated me by providing a magnificent catalog of ad hominem attacks upon Rep. Frederica Wilson (D., Fla. 24th).  It was easy pickings in the grove of Critical Thinking.  Believe me!

Too easy, in fact.  Everyone knows that ad hominem attacks are bad, bad. By attacking the arguer instead of the argument, they distract the listener from the issue at hand, and tend to provoke such an emotional response from all involved that reasoned discourse is impossible.  Up until recently, it would be considered bad form to accuse a female moderator of treating you unfairly because she had “blood coming out of her whatever.” Or to make short jokes about a Senator who happens to think you’re a menace to the nation and perhaps humanity at large.  Or to mock a reporter with a physical disability. Once upon a time, a bag of bile who would spout such things would be ostracized for an apparent inability to engage in civilized discourse.  Now, he’s in the Oval Office.

Do you see my problem?  Using Trump as an example of the evils of an ad hominem attack, while apt, would hardly win me any points for originality. I was about to hang up my towel when I heard something on the radio that pricked my ears.

As you may or may not be aware, President W gave a speech that, without naming 45, was a fairly damning assessment of why Trump, besides being an appalling human being, is also an existential threat to American ideals.  Bush asserted that nativism, bigotry, and protectionism are antithetical to the values we hold as a country.  In other words, Bush was a righteous oratorical antifa.

This might come as a surprise to most observers of presidential rhetoric.  W was never known as a fine spinner of words, and Christ knows I wasn’t a fan when he occupied the seat behind the Resolute Desk, but damn, he did a pretty good job of skewering Trump.  Kudos, George.

However, this is not what got my logical juices running.  I was listening to a phone-in show on NPR, and Bush’s speech was the topic du jour.  Many people were quite complimentary about the speech, and quite a few of them expressed their shock at being in agreement with W.  I certainly knew how they felt.  Anyway, I was nodding my head in agreement when the token Trump apologist opined that it was pretty rich that W, who had started two wars that we’re still fighting and whose own disapproval ratings were shockingly low, had the brass plated cojones to criticize another president.  Or words to that affect.

“That’s a tu quoque flaw,” I smugly said to myself.  “His argument is fatally flawed.”

Now, faithful readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!  Hi, Dad!) will recall that I have extensively discussed tu quoque flaws in a previous article.  However, for those of you who are new to my readership or have short term memory issues, here’s a brief explanation.  “Tu quoque” (pronounced “tu kwo-kway”) is Latin for “you, too.”  It is the “and so are you” or “look who’s talking” retort that we make when we realize that our verbal sparring partner is guilty of exactly the same behavior that he is complaining about.  Basically, the Trump supporter was saying that President Pot has a helluva lot of nerve for calling President Kettle black.  Tu quoque is a form of ad hominem attack because you are focusing the listener’s attention to a personal trait of the speaker (Bush is a flaming hypocrite) rather than the substance of his argument (Trump sucks).

But at almost the same moment that I was mentally patting myself on the back for recognizing the flaw so swiftly, the following thought caught me up short.

What if he’s right?

I asked myself this question because, believe it or not, there are times when an ad hominem attack would not be considered a flaw.  I would hazard a guess that 99.9% of the time that an insult is hurled at an opponent, the hurler’s intent is to distract the listener (and opponent) from the subject at hand.  Thus, Trump’s designation of any unflattering story as “fake news” can pretty much be seen as an ad hominem attack on the outlet that published it. Indeed, so consistent is this rule that you can just about bet your kid’s education fund on the truth of the story and sleep well at night (except the bookies wouldn’t give you decent odds on the bet, so why bother?).

However—and stay with me here, I know it’s a stretch—let’s imagine that there were a network or website somewhere the sole purpose of which was to spread unfounded rumors and outright lies about, oh, let’s say a female presidential candidate. Crazy, huh?  Let’s take that wild hypothetical a bit further, and imagine that the website is headed by a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends.  Let’s call him Steve.  Now, if I were debating Steve and said, “Steve, you are a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends,” I would be guilty of making an ad hominem attack up to the point that I called him “fat” and “cirrhotic.”  The state of his physique and his apparent ill-health have nothing to do with his propensity for publishing fake news.  However, the rest of my statement, from “lying sack of shit” onwards, wouldn’t be an ad hominem flaw.  Steve’s honesty is the heart of the matter being debated and, assuming that I can back my assertion with facts, it is logically connected to my argument.   (Where, oh where would I be able to find back up for such a spurious claim?)  Similarly, my oblique characterization of our current president as a bag of bile, while not nice, also wasn’t an ad hominem flaw because it was linked to the idea that a president should be able to engage in civil discourse.

So, are there times when tu quoque isn’t a flaw?  Am I so blinded by my misotrumpy that I glossed over the importance of Bush’s failings as a president? I’m tempted to say, “Yes.  There are times when the charge of hypocrisy is so damning that the term tu quoque denotes not a flaw, but an appropriate label.” It seems reasonable.  After all, would we sit still for a lecture by Himmler on the evils of anti-Semitism?  How many copies of Harvey Weinstein’s The Importance of Eliminating Sexual Harassment could we reasonably expect to fly off the shelf?

But isn’t anti-Semitism evil? Shouldn’t sexual harassment be eliminated? And does the mere fact that a hypocrite made these statements make them any less valid? Does the degree of hypocrisy in and of itself invalidate the argument?

To me, this conundrum illustrates perfectly why tu quoque is such an insidious flaw.  The charge of hypocrisy is powerful because we have a visceral reaction to people who dare to tell us to act in one way while they blatantly act in the other.  They make us want to puke.

But does that mean they are illogical?  Or can’t their reasoning, no matter how insincerely held, be sound?  Even if the subject of the hypocrite’s argument is “why I hate hypocrisy,” wouldn’t the reasons for hating hypocrisy remain valid? In other words, if their argumentation is valid, why should their lack of moral standing invalidate it?

I’m not sure it should.

Let’s take Bush as an example.  I recall that I spat blood when W stole the election from Al Gore, so I’m willing, for the sake of this thought experiment, to ascribe all sorts of nastiness to him.  Let’s pretend that George Bush is a goose-stepping, tiki-burning, refugee-kicking fascist.  He even likes to dress up in lederhosen embroidered with swastikas. Now, let’s look at what he says.  The entire speech can be found here, but here are three fairly typical statements:

“Our identity as a nation—unlike many other nations—is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.  Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.”

“[B]igotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

Is there anything wrong with these ideas?  Are they illogical, biased, or flawed? Does the fact that they were uttered by the second-most incompetent president in the history of our fair land destroy their legitimacy? Or do they merely reflect some fairly basic tenets that in ordinary circumstances (remember them?) would not have to be said?

These are not terribly controversial stands for W to be taking, if you think about it.  Our history as a nation of immigrants pretty much makes the notion of an American people pretty absurd; what brings us together isn’t our ethnicity, but our belief in certain ideals and notions embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Marbury vs. Madison.  If we take the 14th Amendment seriously, with its Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, then we really do have to admit that bigotry is a destructive force that needs to eradicated, not propagated. Didn’t we even fight a war or two over those very principles? And kids really do need role models, preferably positive ones. The only reason why these fairly unsophisticated notions have attained the status of soaring oratory is because Trump has set the rhetorical bar so low.  Frankly, it is so refreshing to hear something expressed in such a gentlemanly, multi-syllabic, and (praise be!) grammatical manner, that we swoon to hear it.  In no way does Bush’s hypothetical status as a closet Trumpite make them any less basic or correct.

So, yeah.  Tu quoque is pretty much always a flaw, no matter how hypocritical the speaker might be.

Glad that’s settled.

 

 

©2017 D. R. Miller

Greetings From Nambia!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear World Traveler,

We at the Trump Executive Travel Group are delighted to invite you to explore Nambia, the jewel of the African Riviera and the home of the newest and most exclusive Trump Golf Club, Club Oligarch.

Located along the shores of the Bamboozle River in the outskirts of the capital city of Ponziville, Club Oligarch has fully exploited the natural riches of Nambia in order to ensure that you have easy access to the very best presidential golfing experience in the world that money can buy, bar none.  Believe me!

Personally designed by President Trump himself, the golf course is nestled between the legendary Quagmire Morale and the richest covfefe fields in the world!   Imagine teeing off on the first hole, with its splendid vista of the Nambian Alps, the strip mines barely discernable to the human eye.

Trump Executive Travel Group has also arranged special armed guard guided tours through the bustling neighborhoods of Ponziville, where you can explore Nambia’s rich cultural heritage from a safe distance.  While there, be sure to check out the newly unveiled Monument to Benevolent Colonialism, donated by the Trump Foundation.  This impressive twenty foot statue represents President Trump holding out his tiny hands in friendship and congratulations to the plucky Nambian natives, and is an appropriate token of his thanks on behalf of all his friends who made a killing in Africa.

Speaking of which, visiting Club Oligarch would give you an opportunity to investigate the many and varied business opportunities available in Nambia.  European and American investors have already established a very huge and amazing infrastructure to support a beautiful array of industries, including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, gold mining, blood diamonds, pesticides, and the harvesting of human organs—all with total freedom from pesky health, environmental, and occupational safety rules.  Nice!

Finally, if you are concerned about your personal health while visiting Nambia, have no fear!  The government of Nambia has inaugurated a health care system and insurance program the likes of which has never been seen before.  In case you didn’t know, that’s really saying something.  Do you have any idea how complex health insurance is?

So, we hope you will take advantage of this very fantastic opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a very, very huge deal.  Inquiries may be made by calling 555-COV-FEFE.  Call before midnight tonight, and we’ll throw in a pair of Ivanka’s latest designer sandals from her extremely nice Plagiarista ™ line.

Meet me at the nineteenth hole—you’re gonna love it!

Reynard Foxworthy

Director of Marketing, Nambia Section

Trump Executive Travel Group

Budgets, Tax Cuts, and Dog Whistles—Oh, My!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by deborah1960

 

Unless you have the amazing good luck of living under a rock, you have, by now, heard about Trump’s proposed budget. In a nutshell, the budget factors in the $600 billion tax cut to the wealthiest citizens resulting from the not-yet repealed ACA, slashes governmental programs across the board with an extra whack of the budget axe to those that provide assistance to the poor, and gives a nice, fat increase to defense spending.

It is a mark of Trump’s diminishing standing among his fellow party members that several GOP members of Congress have chipped in and bought themselves a spine, and declared the budget “dead on arrival.”  However, the moribund status of Trump’s proposal has not prevented a spirited –nay, dare I say, feisty?—defense of this latest manifestation of Trumpism by a variety of surrogates from the Office of Management and Budget,  Congress,  and various “think” tanks.  And from Mick Mulvaney on down, these apologists have glommed onto one particular talking point with alarming alacrity.  In defending their slash and burn budget, they claim that they are “showing compassion to the taxpayer” by cutting federal programs to the bone.  It is not fair, they declare, to expect hardworking middle-class tax payers to continue footing the bill for the lazy slugs who are sucking undeserved milk from a worn out public teat. Fully 45% of American households do not pay income taxes!  Why should we subsidize them?

In other words, they’ve cynically split American citizenry into two camps:  makers and takers.   On a certain gut level, this argument seems to make sense.  You work your butt off, this line of reasoning goes, so why should you pay for free breakfast and medical insurance for the illegitimate spawn of a feckless welfare queen?  And the legitimacy of this position appears to be bolstered by the additional fact that approximately 45% of American households do not pay federal income taxes.  But the very ire that this stance provokes in the listener—that sting from the enormity of this insulting injustice—is precisely what should make you pause and consider the legitimacy of the argument.  Remember:  logic is boring, dull, and analytical.  It should rarely make you need to reach for an extra dose of your blood pressure medication. If an argument leaves you feeling absolutely murderous, then you need to see if it is grounded in logic, or if it is mired in knee-jerk provoking emotionalism.

So, let’s put on our Spock ears and look dispassionately at what they’re saying.  Personally, I think there are at several logically sound reasons for rejecting Mulvaney’s argument.

First, that 45% figure that’s bandied about is interesting as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go that far.  For example, it doesn’t include all of the other taxes that people pay:   even if you don’t pay federal income taxes, the chances are pretty great that you do pay some combination of payroll, state, property, excise, sales, sin, and gas taxes. According to Roberton Williams, an analyst for the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, the actual percentage of people who pay no taxes is actually closer to 1%.[1]  Pretty much all of us are makers, as it turns out. Similarly, many of the households who didn’t pay federal income taxes had taken advantage of various deductions and credits that they were entitled to because Congress decided to use the tax code as a mechanism for carrying out important social policies, such as encouraging home ownership or giving to charities or making sure that the working poor can afford to go to work or keeping your granddad out of the poorhouse[2] or deciding that families that make less than $20,000 probably have too much shit on their plate already to worry about paying taxes.  You know, compassion.

Second, let’s just look a bit at who is eating the federal pie.  According to their really pretty pie chart, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that in Fiscal Year 2015, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion, of which $3.2 trillion was from taxes and the rest from loans.  In that year, 16%  of the federal budget went to defense, 24% went to Social Security, 25% (or $938 billion) went to Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP[3] , and ACA marketplace subsidies, and 10% went to Safety Net programs.  Debt, vets, transportation, education, science and medical research, non-security related international programs, and miscellaneous crap made up the rest of the expenses (about 25%).  Now, you might tot up the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, marketplace, and safety net programs and think, “Holy shit!!  The poor really are sucking up all of the federal resources.”  But slow down, okay? First of all, Social Security, including Social Security Disability Insurance,  is an insurance program, and current recipients have contributed to the program through their payroll tax contributions.  Second, of the 25% of the federal budget that went to paying for the poor’s health bill, two-thirds went to Medicare—which is available to all Americans over the age of 65, both rich and poorall you have to do is pay in and hope you make it to 65.  Social Security and Medicare are not programs for the poor.

But let’s be truly Scrooge-ish in our analysis and do our best to root out the freebooters in Granny’s nursing home. In 2015, 24% of Medicare recipients were at or under 200% of federal poverty levels.   However, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 41% of Medicare payments come from general federal revenues, while 38% was from pay roll taxes, 13% from beneficiary premiums, and the rest from state transfers, interests, and the ubiquitous but tantalizingly vague “other.”[4] Part A of Medicare, which covers hospital, nursing home, hospital, and home care, is the most expensive part of Medicare ($261.2 billion), and, guess what:  in 2014, only 1% of the Part A bill was paid for through income taxes!  The bulk of Medicare payments that were covered by federal income taxes were under Medicare B and D. These two programs totaled $338 billion, of which $253.5 billion (or 75%) is paid for by federal tax dollars.[5]  So, if we assume that 24% of that $253.5 billion was spent on the elderly poor, then the total of federal tax dollars spent on the poor for Medicare B and D is $63.4 billion. Add in the $633 million the feds chip in to the poor in Medicare A (25% of $2.5 billion in federal income taxes paid under Part A), the total payments to the poor under Medicare that originated from federal income tax is $64 billion.

So, let’s add up the federal income tax dollars that were spent on the poor (in billions of dollars):

 

Medicare 64
CHIP 9.7
Medicaid 351
ACA marketplace subsidies 41
Safety net programs[6] 362
Total: 827.7

 

Now, let’s see what percentage of federal income tax dollars were actually paid directly to the poor.  Taking the $3.7 trillion 2015 total budget as our starting point, I’ll immediately knock out the $938 billion in Social Security because, as I’ve pointed out before, that is funded by payroll taxes.  Similarly, I’ll toss out the $343.2 billion for Medicaid that came from non-federal income tax dollars.  That leaves us with roughly $2.4 trillion, of which $827.7 billion is 34%.  And since in 2015 32% of Americans were at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, I would be inclined to say that seems about right.  And here’s a point:  if you thought it was unfair for 55% of potential federal income tax payers to subsidize the 45% who don’t pay income tax, then how fair is it for 32% of the population to bear the burden of 60% of the budget cuts?

When you think about it, the middle and upper classes get quite a lot out of the budget.  After all, who benefited from bank bailouts?  Who gets the most benefit from agricultural subsidies and shiny new airports?  I have a guess, and it isn’t the under-employed white guy living out in the country who’s about to lose his pick-up truck because he can’t make his loan payments.  Furthermore, this is not taking into account the very real benefits to the rich that are not accounted for in the budget. In 2015, $1.2 trillion dollars were exempted, excluded, or deducted from potential federal income tax and payroll tax revenues.  Also known as “tax expenditures,” these funds would have been enough to pay for Social Security, or Medicare and Medicaid combined, or defense and non-defense discretionary spending. In essence, because these dollars that are not captured by the federal government, they act as subsidies for the people who are eligible to claim them. While the poor benefited from the Earned Tax Credit, most tax deductions and exclusions are overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy[7] :  according to the CBPP, 50% of tax expenditures were claimed by the top 20%.[8] But because by their very nature they are not revenue, this benefit is not reflected in the federal budget. So who’s the real piggy at the trough?  Not sure, but I bet it’s the one whose chauffeur drove it to the food fest, and not the one who can’t afford the bus fare to get there.

All of this raises an important question:  why focus on the poor if they represent only a third of federal income tax dollars spent?  Well, for one thing, it’s easy to pick on the poor.  Practically by definition, they are vulnerable to attack, lacking the education, savvy, and resources to defend themselves and their interests.  And, let’s face it, we don’t really like the poor.  For all our protestations about being a classless society, we have a long, extensive and fairly vile history of abusing and denigrating the poor[9].  They make us feel bad, especially when it turns out that it’s not people’s  poor choices that create poverty (or even their state of mind), but ingrained societal inequities, including the failure to provide a living wage and the disproportionate impact of inherited wealth.[10] So when we’re feeling sad and scared and want to blame someone for our shitty state of affairs, the poor make a convenient whipping boy. Perhaps that’s why Trump’s budget really packs a wallop against the same white, rural, poor who voted for him.

But let’s be real here, right?  We know what Mulvaney is really trying to do.  He’s blowing on his dog whistle.   The tendency of white Americans to associate poverty with African-Americans has been well-documented, as has its connection to attacks on welfare systems.[11]  Using “poor” as a surrogate for “black” is a time-honored tradition at least since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the 1968 presidential campaign—and not just for Republican presidents.[12] And nobody can blow on that particular dog whistle half as well as Donald Trump. He won not despite using overtly racist language, but because of it.  So Mulvaney, by picking on the poor, by pitting hard-working “us” against shiftless, feckless “them,” is using the same tactics his boss used to such great success back in November.[13]

So what do we do?  Point out that in 2015 41% of people living under the poverty line were white? Discuss how his budget will actually hurt Trump supporters the most?  Convene symposia on the links between structural racism and poverty? Well, as much as I love to think that reasoned discourse would bring an end to our racial woes, I really, really, doubt it.  Racism is an emotional response to the world, mired in shame, guilt, and greed, and as such is pretty immune to logic.  Anybody who has had Thanksgiving dinner with their Archie Bunker uncle knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Engaging in the debate on Mulvaney’s terms will do nothing to eradicate the inherent racism of his argument, but it would actually play into his hands by deepening the chasm between Trump supporters and reasonable people and hardening the differences of our positions even more. I therefore suggest that we reject Mulvaney’s position in its entirety and refuse to participate in it at all.  Instead, we need to replace his emotional appeal with one of our own.  And ours, I humbly suggest, would have the double charm of being grounded in fact and patriotism.  Hooray!

Here’s how it goes. While a mere 99% of households are makers, I would argue that 100% of us are takers.  We don’t all take the same things, but we all take something.  Some people get retirement benefits from having served our country, while others get help getting preventive medical care for their kids.  Hipsters might go to an exhibit funded in part by the NEA, while little kids like going to their local libraries and museums to learn[14].   Student loans help our kids get further education, and clean water and fresh air are universally popular, even if, for some unfathomable reason, you don’t “believe” in the impact of greenhouse gasses.  Nobody wants to lose their fingers at work.  The National Park Service is nifty, and how would I get my giggles without the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report? I don’t know about you, but I like  science and medical research, and disease prevention is something I could definitely live with.  Some of us need help to afford to eat, while others like to rake in agricultural subsidies . See how it works?  Something for everyone.  The federal budget accommodates the needs and desires of all citizens, and that’s cool because this country, like all countries, is a joint enterprise.  If Justice Holmes were right, and taxes are the dues we pay for a civilized society, then the budget is the mechanism for establishing and maintaining that civilization. What we need, instead of attacking the users, is a fair and equitable means of raising tax revenues—including from the oh-so-favored top 20%.

Basically, there is a division in our country, but it is not between the makers and the takers.  Instead, it is between those who see government as a means to provide for the common welfare of all its citizens and those who see it as a way to redistribute funds from the poor to the rich. Reader, I think the choice is obvious, but we need to beat our drums about it more, because there are those who will buy Mulvaney’s false dichotomy and deepen the rifts that are already dangerously close to ripping our nation apart.  Sad!

 

©2017 D. R. Miller

[1] For a good explanation of the limitations of the 45% figure, click here.

[2] According to The Economist, in 2011, 22% of families that didn’t pay federal taxes were seniors receiving tax-exempt Social Security benefits.

[3] Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Oh, those pesky kids.

[4] Figure 6 on the KFF fact sheet.  The KFF fact sheet is based on FY 2014 figures, but, you know what?  I’m willing to bet that the percentages are about the same for FY 2015.

[5] Part B = 259.8 billion, and Part D = $78.2 billion.

[6] These programs include SNAP, and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor, and unemployment insurance

[7] The disparity between the haves and have-nots is especially eye-watering when looking at who benefits from the capital gains preferences.

[8] 16.6% went to the top 1%.

[9] And if you don’t believe me, check out this light-hearted tome, the genteelly named White Trash by Nancy Isenberg .  Also available on Audible for your listening pleasure.

[10] Stupid poor.  Always choosing the wrong parents.

[11] See, for example, Gilens, M. “Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the News Media” Public Opinion Quarterly, 1996, found at http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS234/articles/gilens.pdf.

[12] Bill Clinton’s campaign for welfare reform springs to mind, for example.

[13] You really need to read the National Book Award winning Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kelly of the University of Florida.  I mentioned this book in my last blog, but I really can’t recommend it enough if you’re at all interested in the evolution of racist ideas and their role in justifying racist beliefs, actions, and policies.

[14] Because Christ knows they won’t be able to learn anything at their local public school, thanks to Trump’s budget!

Presidential Grammar 101: Dynamic, Stative, and Modal Verbs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2017 by deborah1960

Verbs are wonderful.  The root of a verb is aptly called “the infinitive” because any given verb can take place at any time: the past, the present, the future.  With verbs, we can express actions that occurred in the past but continue into the present (present perfect:  Trump has always been a buffoon) or that will take place in the future after something else occurs (future perfect:  I hope that Comey will have completed his public testimony before Sean Spicer’s ass is fired.)  Heck!  Verbs are so flexible that we can even use them to express hypotheticals, situations contrary to fact, or wishes (conditional:  If Paul Ryan loved his country more than power, he would start impeachment proceedings; and subjunctive:  I wish McConnell weren’t such a bald-faced liar and hypocrite.)

So, verbs are gifted with temporal agility, and if that were all they were capable of, I think we could still agree that they are pretty remarkable indeed.  However, the true beauty of verbs is their ability to allow us to express a limitless range of physical and mental and emotional actions.  In other words, they not only allow us to express what we do, but also what we are—and even what we should.  It is this aspect of verbs, which is so fundamental to their nature that it is frequently overlooked, that I wish to examine.

In general, then, there are three basic types of verbs:  dynamic, stative, and modal.[1]  Dynamic verbs, as their name suggests, involve some type of action, process, or behavior.  In other words, it’s what we do.  Here are some examples:

Hillary Clinton laughed until she nearly wet herself at the notion that Trump had fired Comey because of the FBI’s bungled investigation of her emails.

Anderson Cooper’s eyes rolled like a wheel of fortune during his interview with Kellyanne Conway.

The hundreds of Benghazi “patriots” who had gathered in front of the White House to protest Trump’s loosey-goosey sharing of top-top-top secret intelligence with his Russian comrades screamed, “Lock him up!”[2]

Stative verbs, on the other hand, reflect our states of being, or who we are. These include verbs of existence (“Trump is totally irresponsible”); appearance (“Kellyanne seems really shifty”); feelings and emotion (“McMasters really hates lying to the press on behalf of his shit-storm of a boss”); mental processes (“Mitch McConnell forgot the meaning of the phrase ‘checks and balances’); and possession (“To their chagrin, many GOP congressmen own their votes in favor of TrumpRyanCare”).  Generally, you don’t use the progressive (continuous) tense[3] with stative verbs.  So, for example, you would say “The chocolate cake tastes all right but really it’s nothing to write home about,” but not “The chocolate cake is tasting all right but really it’s nothing to write home about.”  However, there are lots and lots of stative verbs that can also be dynamic.[4] Here’s an example of what I mean:

Sean Spicer lies to the press (stative:  he always does it).

Sean Spicer is lying to the press again (dynamic:  he is currently in the act of lying).

Sean Spicer is lying prostrate on the rug after the daily briefing (dynamic: using a different meaning of the verb “to lie”).

“To be” can, under certain circumstances be either stative or dynamic, depending on how it’s used:

Sean Spicer is a liar (stative:  he always is a liar)

Sean Spicer is being a liar (dynamic:  right now, at this moment, Sean Spicer is lying).[5]

“To have” can also be dynamic or stative:

I have had a nasty case of nausea since November 9, 2016 (stative:  possession)

I am having a particularly nasty case of nausea right now (dynamic:  I am in the process of being sick right now).

However, even though they can behave similarly,[6] they really do not mean the same thing.  Consider the difference between these two sentences:

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts”

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which is absolutely right to do, facts”

Now, as delightfully refreshing as it is to see Trump dealing in facts, even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, I think we can agree that the first sentence (his actual tweet) is quite different from the second sentence (which is what I think he wishes we would think he said).  To have the right to do something does not mean that it is right to do it. You would think that was obvious, but, well, you know.  Trump.

But this exploration between having a right and being right—the difference between “can” and “ought,” in other words–makes a nice segue to modal verbs.  Modal verbs are words that express degrees of necessity and possibility.  They include could, should, would, ought, may, might, can, shall, will, and must. Hardly anyone (besides English teachers and other grammar enthusiasts, that is) realizes that these words are verbs at all. They simply don’t act like normal verbs; hell, they don’t even have an infinitive form (there is no “to must”).  When diagramming a sentence with modal verbs, most students just scratch their heads and wonder where in the world the goddamned predicate is.

Yet, in many ways, the modal verb is what makes civilization possible.  They establish our bounds, and also act as a reality check.  When joined by “have”, could, would, and should allow us to evaluate our past actions, and enable us to learn from our mistakes.  They really are the most marvelous words.  But don’t just take my word for it:  look at these incredibly useful examples to see what I mean!

A president may disclose top secret information to a traditional enemy, but perhaps he oughtn’t.

A president could choose to share top secret information with a traditional enemy, but he should not do it just to prove how cool his intelligence sources are.

The Russian officials must have been beside themselves with joy when they received the top secret information from the president.

The next time the president thinks about sharing top secret information with the Russians, he might want to remember that he has a duty to the citizens of his country to act in their best interests.

So, that’s it, then.  Dynamic, stative, and modal.  Now, you might be thinking that all this is nice, but has nothing to do with real life.  Reader, I could not disagree more.  If you think about it, looking closely at these verbs should remind us about the difference between our thoughts and our actions, between innate qualities that cannot be changed and attitudes that can be, between the things we can do and the things that we ought (or ought not). That’s because our words and the rules that govern them are not separate from ourselves and our actions, but are entwined in them.  We once had a president who understood that, and chose his words carefully as a result.  Alas, that is no longer the case.  So, if the current president won’t pay attention to his words, then we have no choice but to do it for him.  Sad!

[1] Yes, yes, yes.  I know that there are auxiliary verbs (AKA “helping verbs”)—to have, to do, and to be.  But when these verbs are functioning as auxiliary verbs, they are used to just change the tense of verbs.  In other words, they perform a purely grammatical function.  So screw them—they’re boring.    But please note that I said “functioning as auxiliary verbs” because all of these auxiliary verbs can be dynamic, and two of them can be stative and dynamic (but no prizes for guessing which ones). Verbs.  As slippery as the slope the GOP is pushing us down.

[2] Not really—I’m just fucking with you.

[3] The continuous or progressive tense is formed by joining some form of the verb “to be” with the present participle (-ing) of the verb in question.  Here’s what I mean:

Past continuous:  Donald Trump was eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake when he shared state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

Present continuous:  Right now, Donald Trump is eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake while sharing state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

Future continuous:  Without a doubt, Donald Trump will be eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake the next time he shares state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

[4] Well, of course there are.  This IS English grammar we’re discussing, after all!

[5] However, you need to be careful—there are some conditions that are so innate that you cannot convert them to a dynamic state.  So, you can say “Donald Trump is a narcissist,” but not “Donald Trump is being a narcissist.” That’s because Trump’s narcissism is the very core of his personality, and not something that he can turn on or off like a faucet.

[6] And now you know which two auxiliary verbs are both stative and dynamic!  Good for you!

© 2017 D.R. Miller