"Trump, The Courts, and the World" in LTO Online

I wrote a little something on the legal implications of Trump's victory on Legal Tribune Online:

In a deeply riven America, the only point about which all Americans can agree is this: The election of Donald Trump is the most stupendous political event Americans have seen in our lifetimes. He is the first US President with no previous political or military experience. His campaign was run by a bare-bones staff and was ludicrously amateurish. The general verdict was that he lost all three debates with Hillary Clinton. He spouted a seemingly endless series of falsehoods, racist and sexist rhetoric, and offensive remarks, any one of which would have destroyed an ordinary candidate.

Yet these supposed flaws were simultaneously the key to his appeal. He came across as abrasive, decisive, direct, and rude – but genuine. Against Hillary Clinton's scripted, poll-tested soundbites, he offered tirades against the evils of the system which were as blunt as they were vague. Both his charisma and his policy positions motivated millions of less-educated white voters to switch their votes from Obama or to go to the polls for the first time, defying all forecasts. He also attracted surprising support from white voters with college degrees, and even outperformed Mitt Romney among blacks and Hispanic voters. Trump was also assisted by Clinton's safe, lackluster campaign, which sparked little enthusiasm and left her vote totals millions short of what Obama achieved.

I look at how Trump might affect the federal judiciary and how the courts might look at some of the foreign policies he says he supports. Go over and read the whole thing if you're interested.

Right now I'm working on a piece about how the US could be transformed into a multi-party system. It seems to me the process of shoehorning all the political tendencies in the US into two broad coalition parties is now causing more problems than it solves (i.e. by providing stability). But first, to catch up after a long election binge.


Merkel's Superfluous and Irritating Election Statement

Merkel's statement scolding congratulating Donald Trump for his election victory is getting a lot of press:

Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.

The statement's being met with mixed reviews even in the German press, with center-right commentators like Alexander Kissler (g) denouncing it for its self-righteous sanctimoniousness.

I tend to side with Kissler on this one. America neither needs nor wants lectures from Germans on protections of minority rights. One thing most Germans will never understand is that even when interpreted by conservative Republican judges and officials, the US constitution and laws offer more protection for religious and racial minorities than German law does. Let's look at a few highlights:

  • Gays can marry in the United States, but cannot in Germany.
  • Women have just as many opportunities in the USA as in Germany. They participate in the labor force at a slightly higher rate in the USA than in Germany, and they have a higher median income in the USA than in Germany.
  • The US has banned racial and religious discrimination in private contracts since 1964, Germany only since 2006.
  • German anti-discrimination laws are toothless. Discrimination lawsuits are notoriously hard to win, and the penalties for discrimination are much too weak to have any deterrent effect. Verified accounts of blatant discrimination in housing and employment are easy to find in Germany.
  • American class-action discrimination lawsuits regularly result in damages verdicts of tens of millions of dollars. This is impossible under German law.
  • The US has an official federal government agency, the EEOC, which sues American companies who engage in racial, gender, or other forms of illegal discrimination. This agency forces the companies to pay massive damages judgments, accept public responsibility for their action, and remedy their policies. This level of accountability is unknown in Germany. The only thing Germany has is a federal agency that publishes reports and non-binding guidelines.
  • Foreigners and people not born in Germany are over-represented in Germany prisons at a rate comparable to blacks in American prisons. And for the same reasons -- crime is more common in these populations.
  • American laws do not discriminate among religious faiths; German laws do, giving massive privileges to the two established churches -- including a € 460 million yearly subsidy (g) based on obscure 19th century state contracts. Scientologists and members of other odd religious groups can operate freely in the US, while in Germany they are spied upon and harassed by officials who consider them dangerous cults.

This is not to say that Germany is backward or oppressive. All societies make different policy choices and have different levels of protection for minorities. All societies have failings when it comes to providing equal opportunity. But the USA is, objectively, ahead of Germany in many ways. Disputes about voter registration or transgender bathroom use are side issue. America's core protections for minority rights are firmly entrenched in powerful, popular laws and institutions which transcend partisan politics and which are fully accepted by all mainstream political actors. 

A Trump presidency will do absolutely nothing to change that, just as two Bush presidencies didn't. Merkel's condescending warning is as superfluous as it is irritating.


F**k Google and Goldman

Thomas Frank:

The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment. And then they lost. Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.

The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the “last thing standing” between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability. Enough with these comfortable Democrats and their cozy Washington system. Enough with Clintonism and its prideful air of professional-class virtue. Enough!


Michael Moore: Trump Will Win

I usually find Michael Moore rather silly and smug. But every single word of this was prescient:

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now.

I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!” Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this!

You need to exit that bubble right now. You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts – “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump cant win a majority of any of them!” – or logic – “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” – is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to – we need to – hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a shit show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening. The first people plowed down by the truck in Nice spent their final moments on earth waving at the driver whom they thought had simply lost control of his truck, trying to tell him that he jumped the curb: “Watch out!,” they shouted. “There are people on the sidewalk!”

Well, folks, this isn’t an accident. It is happening. And if you believe Hillary Clinton is going to beat Trump with facts and smarts and logic, then you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut. As of today, as things stand now, I believe this is going to happen – and in order to deal with it, I need you first to acknowledge it ...

And therein lies the problem for November – who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long, all the way until the last polling place has closed, making sure every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Bob and Joe and Billy Bob and Billy Joe and Billy Bob Joe) has cast his ballot? That’s right. That’s the high level of danger we’re in. And don’t fool yourself — no amount of compelling Hillary TV ads, or outfacting him in the debates or Libertarians siphoning votes away from Trump is going to stop his mojo. 
Here are the 5 reasons Trump is going to win:

1. Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit. I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states – but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states. When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the governor next-door, John Kasich.

From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. ...

2. The Last Stand of the Angry White Man ... a small peek into the mind of the Endangered White Male. There is a sense that the power has slipped out of their hands, that their way of doing things is no longer how things are done. This monster, the “Feminazi,”the thing that as Trump says, “bleeds through her eyes or wherever she bleeds,” has conquered us — and now, after having had to endure eight years of a black man telling us what to do, we’re supposed to just sit back and take eight years of a woman bossing us around? After that it’ll be eight years of the gays in the White House! Then the transgenders! You can see where this is going. By then animals will have been granted human rights and a fuckin’ hamster is going to be running the country. This has to stop!

3. The Hillary Problem ... her vote for the Iraq War made me promise her that I would never vote for her again. ... Let’s face it: Our biggest problem here isn’t Trump – it’s Hillary. She is hugely unpopular — nearly 70% of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage. Young women are among her biggest detractors, which has to hurt ...

4. The Depressed Sanders Vote. ... The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” – meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home.

5. The Jesse Ventura Effect. ... the voting booth. It’s one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there’s not even a friggin’ time limit. You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. ... There are no rules. And because of that, and the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. ...

Election Open Thread

A few half-baked observations which I took over from Facebook. Consider this an open thread:

+ Trump is a venal, empty chiseler and narcissist, but other countries have elected cretins before and survived (I'm lookin' at you, Italy).

+ The fact that Trump said some rude things didn't matter. Both because his message overwhelmed them, and because ordinary people (1) say words like 'bitch', 'fuck', and 'pussy' all the time; and (2) find Hillary's pre-masticated euphemisms boring and condescending.

+ Most of Trump’s campaign bluster was just that. He won't be able to actually do those crazy things, and knows this. He lies to get what he wants, and that's what his campaign rhetoric was.

+ He will quickly get bored with the tedium of actual governance, and delegate. Much will depend on whom he picks.

+ To the extent that his election thrusts a big fuck you finger to smug, insular elites inside their self-congratulatory filter bubbles, it's a good thing. Those people could profit from a bracing lesson in humility.

+ Identity politics is a dead-end. It elevates race, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity to virtues in and of themselves, and views everything reductively through that narrow lens. Once you open that Pandora's box, you realize that white people can do identity politics too. Hillary’s anti-Bernie speech in which she repeatedly pointed out that ‘breaking up the banks’ would not eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia (those modern heresies) etc. was a perfect example of this worldview. As we've just found out, this sort of posturing leaves a lot of people cold.

+ Trump has promised to reduce America’s needless military presence abroad and let other countries regulate their own affairs with minimal US interference. If he actually follows through on this, the results would be positive. Hillary's hawkishness would have been more dangerous than Trump's isolationism.

+ Trump doesn’t care about climate change, but then again that genie is out of the bottle and can’t be forced back in. The world is already getting warmer, and all the various climate accords would have done little to change this. Now’s the time to look into other solutions.

+ Everyone take a deep breath. The US will survive, the world will survive. There will be a referendum on Trump's first two years in 2018, and a chance to kick him out two years after that.

And who knows? Maybe he'll mature in office. Nah, that ain't gonna happen.


An Urgent Appeal to Americans About the US Election

AN URGENT APPEAR TO AMERICAN VOTERS FROM A US CITIZEN LIVING ABROAD

This is no ordinary election. After a troubling campaign unique in American history, the United States now faces the most momentous election of any of our lifetimes. The specter of Doom, as the Firesign Theatre once said, is raising its shrouded head -- in agony! As I know, living abroad as I do, the whole world is watching.

Ordinarily, I would never presume to tell my fellow citizens how to vote, but this year I feel I have no choice. I implore you -- I beg you -- to vote for whomever you want, or not at all.

You have concerns different from my own. Many of you probably don't care how the US is perceived abroad, because it makes zero difference to your everyday lives. There is no reason you should pay any attention to the opinion of one guy somewhere. You have your own reasons for voting the way
you did, or will. Most studies have shown that attempts to persuade people about things they already know about and have made up their mind about are useless, and often counterproductive. Besides, given the segregated filter-bubbles we all seem to live in now, there are probably only a tiny few people in my online circle who aren't voting the way I did.

So to grab you by the collar and harangue you would be nothing more than virtue signalling on my part: and attempt to loudly broadcast to the world not only that I Am Right and that I Know More than You,
but also that I Care About the Fate of Humanity. That I stay awake at night, tormented by anguished compassion, taking the burdens of the world, Atlas-like, upon my all-too-puny shoulders.

Meh. Vote if ya feel like it. You probably should vote, I guess, but if you don't feel like it, I'm not gonna jump down your throat. After all, your vote probably won't make a difference.

No matter who wins, government policy won't change much. The government will be gridlocked, Presidential power is still limited, and bureaucratic inertia has always been a force thousands of times stronger than politics. And that's a good thing, too.

Have a fun election day, America!


New York: The City That Never Cares

I'm visiting relatives in the USA and decided to make a stop in New York City, since that's usually a fun thing to do. After living in Europe for so long, seeing any New York airport is a reminder of just how shitty they are. America's public infrastructure really is crumbling. Three separate long lines at customs and passport control, which snaked far beyond the barriers and ended up haphazardly curling back and forth into the corners of the rooms. All the pens had been ripped away from their holders, so you couldn't use the tables to fill out the customs forms. 

No personnel to tell you where to line up. When you did encounter someone official, they usually spoke worse English than the foreign visitors. The luggage pickup displays directed us to the wrong carousel, where hundreds of people waited patiently as their luggage was delivered elsewhere. Since nobody was there to pick it up, the workers just stacked it into random piles. Most of the ceiling tiles were stained, some were missing.

The line for the cab was also 100 people long, snaking along a narrow concrete median with traffic on both sides. Since the area to line up for the cab was the same area for passenger pickup, you couldn't tell if people were in line for the cab or waiting for a car to pick them up. Tense confrontations resulted. Touts patrolled the cab line offering jacked-up rides to the inner city; nobody did anything about them. There was a strong stench of urine wafting along the line. A couple in front me of from Australia were chatting among themselves, incredulous that this malodorous, chaotic dump of an airport was the gateway to one of the world's great cities.

Finally got a cab after a 40-minute wait. The cab was falling apart, couldn't do over 50 miles per hour, and the driver had night vision problems which led him to constantly bleed into other drivers' lanes. He had no idea where the destination was and no GPS system. The Van Wyck Expressway has to be one of the ugliest roads I've ever seen. On each side is a pile of garbage and dead leaves, and the only barrier between it and the modest Queens neighborhoods on either side is a rusty chain-link fence. All the houses seemed to have burglar bars on all windows and doors.

The overall impression you get landing in New York is worse than in most developing countries I've been to. I am already looking forward to returning to Europe, where countries still at least try to make sure their public amenities are interesting, pleasant places to be.


An American in Berghain

Schlecky Silberstein stumbled upon this instant Internet classic -- an American from San Antonio decides on the spur of the moment to visit legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain and, as his Yelp review indicates, is scarred for life. I'm putting it after the fold because, well, this is Berghain we're talking about. You've been warned.

Continue reading "An American in Berghain" »


Alcohol and Socialism

From a display at the Stasi Museum in Leipzig:

Stasimuseum leipzig

Translation:

3. Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse occurs when alcohol consumption leads to a contradiction between socialist moral requirements and a socialist lifestyle, on the one hand, and actual behavior, on the other.

Since most of us now drink and live a life in contradiction to fundamental socialist principles, we are all alcoholics. I find that strangely reassuring.