The Election Chronicles, Volume 3: We Have the Lineup For the Next Debate

In June I listed the candidates who were included in the first Democratic debate. As I said at the time in previous elections I listed anyone who announced his or her candidacy and had a web page. Frankly, it drove me crazy as those two criteria included a large population of people who just weren’t adequately medicated.

This year I decided to list only Democrats (as the Republicans have lined up for President Trump’s re-election) and only those Democrats who did well enough to be included in the debates. The first round included 20 candidates split over two days: July 30th and 31st.

Since then a few candidates dropped out and the Democrats have tightened the rules. Today we learned that only 10 candidates have qualified for the next debate on September 13th.

Here’s the list:

Some of those not on this list haven’t given up their campaign, and I know their exclusion angers them, but we need to admit that their chances of winning the nomination defy reality.

As for me, I subscribe to the NPR Politics podcast. Each week they interview a candidate and I find these interviews fascinating. I recommend that everyone who reads this subscribe to this podcast.

Stay tuned.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 88, The Money Chronicles Volume 18: More Tax Cuts?

A year and a half ago I argued against the Republican belief that cutting taxes will benefit the economy and pay for themselves. Granted, tax cuts can increase consumer spending in the short run and that’s good for the economy. But it also balloons the budget deficit and the national debt.

Now, in August of 2019, we see signs of an upcoming recession. This is nothing but bad news for President Trump as a recession would likely doom his reelection.

Hoping to stave this off, in the last few days he’s suggested another round of cuts to payroll taxes (in fairness, as I write this, he now claims he’s not considering it). Then again, since he reacts to the last thing he saw on Fox TV who can tell what will happen?

There are times when higher deficits make sense, and President Obama’s quick action to recover from the Great Recession added to both the deficit and the debt. Ironically, this led to a recovery that lasts to this day, and a recovery that President Trump claims credit for.

But our economy rises and lowers, booms and busts. Frankly we are overdue for a downturn. President Trump clearly hopes not so much to prevent the inevitable next recession as to delay it until after the election 15 months from now.

But here’s the problem: his proposed payroll tax cuts work like taking cash advances on your credit card. Responsible consumers sometimes use cash advances in a short term crisis. But responsible consumers know that they need to plan a path to their repayment. Maybe the need cash to relocate for a better job or make a necessary purchase. Irresponsible consumers, who don’t have a repayment plan, learn eventually that they’ve dug a hole they can never climb out of.

Unlike the United States, irresponsible consumers can declare bankruptcy. Our nation can’t.

And we are led by a President who has declared bankruptcy six times.

Can somebody tell him that the United States economy can’t?

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 130: You Should Read This Book

I just finished Daniel Okrent’s book The Guarded Gate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

This was not an easy book to read, particularly to those of us who follow the news. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species that found that plants and animals change and develop to adapt to a changing world. In the decades that followed, many people asked the question as to whether humans do the same.

It’s a decent question and we’ve found that skin color has changed incrementally over millennia based on our distance from the equator and sunlight. We all began in Africa with dark skin because of the sun: we needed dark skin to block skin cancer. But as a species we migrated to areas where the sun was not as intense, areas that we now know as Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Those migrants needed lighter skin because they needed the Vitamin D that the sun provided. And over thousands of years they developed exactly that. The different skin colors between Africans and Scandinavians had everything to do with the sun and nothing to do with anything else.

But in the decades after Darwin this debate took a horrifying turn: a number of Americans took Darwin’s theory to argue that people from certain countries were “good” and some were “bad” based on skin color and where they were born.

From the late 16th Century much of what we now call America saw a huge influx Western Europeans. In 1776 we declared ourselves independent from Europe (England) and opened our shores to all who wanted to come, not thinking much about skin color (except for the slaves we brought here in chains but that’s grist for another post). This lasted until 1882 when we decided that we didn’t want to include people from China.

Shortly after this descendants of Western European immigrants feared they would lose their wealth and their identity because of current Eastern and Southern European immigrants. With calls of “Keep America for the Americans” they decided that some immigrants were good and should be welcomed and some were bad and should be banned. They claimed science on their side and named their belief “eugenics.”

Daniel’s book documents this belief that Europeans could be divided into three groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.” With no evidence they claimed a hierarchy: Nordics were good, Alpines were suspicious, and Mediterraneans were inferior. In no small part they recognized that Nordics had fair skin and fair hair while Mediterraneans had olive skin and dark hair.

In 1924 Congress passed (and President Coolidge signed) a law that placed horrific quotas on immigration from different nations of Europe. I encourage you to read the book but basically they wrote this law that set up immigration quotas from each nation. Those from Northern Europe and Scandinavians enjoyed generous quotas (including, by the way, President Trump’s mother who came from Scotland in 1930) while those from Italy, Austria, and the Balkans were essentially shut out.

The horror of this law wasn’t realized until the 1930s when Jews from Europe frantically attempted to flee Nazi Germany and were turned away from our shores because of their misfortune to come after their quota had already been met. Thousands were turned back where they perished in concentration camps. If you don’t think this has real consequences, read about the St. Louis.

Today, day after day, we see that men, women and children come to our borders. They are desperate to flee because of the same fear that Jews faced in the 1930s. They don’t face antisemitism but instead face death threats. Their fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons face threats from local gangs who demand that these young men join their gang or face death.

They don’t want to join gangs and they began a long and dangerous journey in the hope of a place of safety: the United States. They want what our ancestors wanted. But when they arrive at our border they are seen as “invaders” who want to “take our stuff.”

In 2019 we cannot condemn xenophobia in the 1920s and defend xenophobia today.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 129: Thoughts on Gun Violence and Mental Illness

News reports about mass shootings have become part of our lives ever since Columbine in 1999.

And the reaction to these shootings has divided our nation. Many of us look to gun control. We believe that military weapons were designed to kill a maximum number of people in a minimum amount of time, and don’t they belong in the hands of civilians. Others claim that these weapons of max destruction aren’t the problem. Instead they suggest that these massacres are the result of bad people or bad circumstances, or…whatever. In the last several years they have settled on a scapegoat: people who struggle with mental illness.

One some level I understand their choice: while we’ve found success in treatments for our kidneys, hearts, and pancreases we had a much harder time with brain disease. Gun control opponents have seized on this opportunity to claim that we should continue to allow military grade rifles for all those except who are mentally ill. After the shootings the President said this: “[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

So here’s the problem: nobody knows what level of mental illness should block someone from buying or owning a gun. Simply put, opponents of gun control point to a problem with no solution and celebrate the appearance of concern.

If we’re not good at treating mental illness, we’re even worse at diagnosing it. The idea that we can predict the next mass shooters while treating those who suffer but aren’t a threat is, frankly put, a myth. People who live with (among others) depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia normally do more damage to themselves or their immediate circle of family and friends than they do to large numbers of strangers.

Recent massacres in Gilroy, California, El Pao, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio have made my point. None of these shooters would have been classified as mentally ill.

And even if you don’t buy my argument that we can’t predict these mass shootings, I’ll also argue that this will make it harder to provide treatment to those who suffer from mental illness.

How do we classify mental illness? We already have a “cannot purchase” list, but these are primarily those who have felony convictions, are on terrorist watch lists, or have been convicted of domestic violence.

But the term “mental illness” is much more fluid. Do we include only those who have been involuntarily institutionalized? What about those who have been voluntarily institutionalized? What about those currently in the care of a psychiatrist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychiatrist? What about those currently in the care of a psychologist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychologist?

Do we include those who participated in a depression support group? How about those who participated in a grief support group?

Many who suffer refuse to ask for help because of a well founded belief that they will be unfairly labeled as weak or crazy and will put themselves at risk of discrimination. Now imagine a troubled teenager who comes from a family who hunts. He knows that if he asks for help he may well be put on a database that prevents him from purchasing a gun.

We already have reasons for people to fear mental health treatment, we don’t need to create another.