Defending American Democracy On November 8

In a pretty amazing editorial, The Atlantic magazine—founded in 1857—endorsed Hillary Clinton. Only two other times in its long history has the magazine done such a thing. It preferred Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. You should read the entire piece for yourself, but I wanted to highlight one simple point the magazine’s editors made. Stating the obvious by calling Trump “the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency,” and by calling him “a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar,” the editors then say,

He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

It certainly is overstating the case that American voters these days comprise “statesmen and thinkers.” Some are. Too many aren’t. But it is not overstating the case to suggest that a lot of what is at stake in this election has to do with defending American democracy, even if, paradoxically, it is defending it against a legion of angry and un- and ill-informed voters who think Donald Trump is the answer to America’s problems.

If you think I am being too rough on those angry low-information voters, watch the following five minute comedy piece—that isn’t all that funny when you think about it—produced for Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal.” You won’t see any “statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box” in this segment, but you will see a very real threat to American democracy: the idea that our presidential election is “rigged.” Watch:

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  1. ansonburlingame

     /  October 7, 2016

    I had lunch with a friend that spent a career doing business in foreign countries around the world. While now retired he still travels. On a recent trip to Europe he was asked repeatedly how Trump got to the position he now holds in our presidential campaign. He asked for my view on how to answer that simple, but profound, question.

    My reply was Trump got to where he is through DEMOCRACY, “the people” decided to do so. The simple fact is that sometimes “the people” are just dead wrong, like 97 senators voting to allow private American citizens to sue Saudi Arabia under American civil laws never even considered for approval by “the people” of Saudi Arabia!!



    • Anson,

      Well, the truth is that the Republican Party establishment was unable to stop him because for years they flirted with the kind of nonsense–like birtherism, for instance–that kept low-information and no-information voters in their electoral fold. And now they have had to embrace him–Paul Ryan is going to appear with him, for God’s sake–because they can’t afford to piss off those low-information and no-information voters. They need all the “deplorables” to win down-ballot races.

      And Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell believe they can use a President Trump to get more tax cuts (mostly for the wealthy) pushed through Congress. They have already signaled they will use the budget reconciliation process to do exactly that. More trickle down, more economic catastrophes in the making. And added to that is the fact that Trump just said that he would do away with 70 percent of government regulations! Whoopee!



  2. At first read, I was at a loss on how to comment on the apparent democratic (small “d”) dysfunction. Then, I got this interesting Washington Post article from Bud Morgan. It explains a lot.


    • A well-written article, Jim. Thanks for sending the link. I can only say after reading it: personality disorder + fundamentalist religion + social media = Trump voter. I am afraid that social media is making our country very difficult, if not impossible, to govern on a national level. I am very afraid.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  October 8, 2016


    I now see that serious discussions are being held over how to get Trump to resign from his campaign and how the GOP might go about finding a replacement!! Never before has such even been hinted about as far as I know. Trump, rightfully so, is dead meat, period and anyone with any sense knows such to be the case.

    You and “yours” have spent considerable time and effort demonizing Trump, which should happen. But there is the other end of that dumb bell that you never criticize and by saying nothing about “it” or “them” you seem to almost condone “their” words, behavior, crazy and destructive ideas and actions. Probably the most outrageous expression I have heard in the last couple of years is the ever (should be) infamous chant “Pigs in a blanket. Fry’em like bacon”.

    I have not made a study of the matter, but there are I am sure equally abhorrent statements and actions by groups such as New Black Panthers as well. My point of course is that both sides have despicable “supporters” and democracy, combined with the information age makes such crap observable by anyone with a computer or cell phone now.

    The simple “fact” of the matter is both sides have a substantial number of “deplorables”. To argue that the GOP has a sole lock on that market is wrong, at least in my view. One of the most gratifying actions (to me) in this campaign came when Bill Clinton was accosted by a ranting BLM crowd. Just look at his face when he pointed his finger at them and said some tough, but true words right back at them. And of course Bill is now really in hot water for calling ACA “the craziest ……” Opps, but to me a refreshing opps!!

    This should have been a campaign about liberal vs conservatives ideas how best to govern. Americans were ready to hear such debate after 8 years of probably the most liberal President in my lifetime, at least. But instead all we have gotten is name calling, trash talk, etc. Pence at least tried to hold such a discussion in the VP debate and I applaud his efforts in doing so. But it was hard to talk over the interruptions from Kaene trying to hammer home all the ridiculous “Trumpisms”.

    There are reasonable alternatives to the “Obama Way” and Americans know it. But they don’t have a chance in hell of debating them now with Trump as their “leader”!!



    • Anson, I can understand the motivation behind the BLM chant (which I hadn’t heard before now) without approving of it. I submit that it is reckless and destructive of social progress to make broad generalizations about any group of people.

      As for Pence’s efforts in the debate, what he was doing was trying to deflect indefensible criticism of Trump by changing the subject. I can’t say, though, that in Pence’s place I would have done the same because I would never have been in Pence’s place. I would have declined the VEEP spot to start with. That he accepted it means to me that he was willing to compromise the very values he claims in order to achieve political power. In other words, he thinks that the end justifies the means.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Anson,

      I will not argue with you about deplorable people on the left. I know there are plenty of them. I have never suggested that assholes are all right-wingers. This time, though, the offenders are clearly on your side of the fence, or what used to be your side of the fence.

      But I will challenge you on what you said about Obama. You said he is “probably the most liberal President in my lifetime, at least.” If you think his “liberal” ideas are somehow way out there—which you have suggested many times before—you couldn’t be more wrong. His ideas are very centrist, actually. He may be the best friend capitalism has had since FDR. I have tried to explain this to you and failed over the years. You just have a blind spot I can’t overcome. So, I’ll allow Mr. Obama the opportunity to persuade you. Here is a piece he wrote for the Economist that was published a few days ago (I provide the whole thing because there is a pay wall involved). If you actually read it (it’s quite long) and still believe that the man is a far out liberal, then I don’t think you really know what a far out liberal is. You will never hear from a Democrat such a full-throated defense of capitalism as what you will hear in this piece, if you let it speak to you:


      Barack Obama

      The way ahead

      WHEREVER I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited—perhaps more than any other—from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore—and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?

      It’s true that a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation, immigration, technology, even change itself, has taken hold in America. It’s not new, nor is it dissimilar to a discontent spreading throughout the world, often manifested in scepticism towards international institutions, trade agreements and immigration. It can be seen in Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union and the rise of populist parties around the world.

      Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic. The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past—the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. We overcame those fears and we will again.

      But some of the discontent is rooted in legitimate concerns about long-term economic forces. Decades of declining productivity growth and rising inequality have resulted in slower income growth for low- and middle-income families. Globalisation and automation have weakened the position of workers and their ability to secure a decent wage. Too many potential physicists and engineers spend their careers shifting money around in the financial sector, instead of applying their talents to innovating in the real economy. And the financial crisis of 2008 only seemed to increase the isolation of corporations and elites, who often seem to live by a different set of rules to ordinary citizens.

      So it’s no wonder that so many are receptive to the argument that the game is rigged. But amid this understandable frustration, much of it fanned by politicians who would actually make the problem worse rather than better, it is important to remember that capitalism has been the greatest driver of prosperity and opportunity the world has ever known.

      Over the past 25 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from nearly 40% to under 10%. Last year, American households enjoyed the largest income gains on record and the poverty rate fell faster than at any point since the 1960s. Wages have risen faster in real terms during this business cycle than in any since the 1970s. These gains would have been impossible without the globalisation and technological transformation that drives some of the anxiety behind our current political debate.

      This is the paradox that defines our world today. The world is more prosperous than ever before and yet our societies are marked by uncertainty and unease. So we have a choice—retreat into old, closed-off economies or press forward, acknowledging the inequality that can come with globalisation while committing ourselves to making the global economy work better for all people, not just those at the top.

      A force for good

      The profit motive can be a powerful force for the common good, driving businesses to create products that consumers rave about or motivating banks to lend to growing businesses. But, by itself, this will not lead to broadly shared prosperity and growth. Economists have long recognised that markets, left to their own devices, can fail. This can happen through the tendency towards monopoly and rent-seeking that this newspaper has documented, the failure of businesses to take into account the impact of their decisions on others through pollution, the ways in which disparities of information can leave consumers vulnerable to dangerous products or overly expensive health insurance.

      More fundamentally, a capitalism shaped by the few and unaccountable to the many is a threat to all. Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. A world in which 1% of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99% will never be stable. Gaps between rich and poor are not new but just as the child in a slum can see the skyscraper nearby, technology allows anyone with a smartphone to see how the most privileged live. Expectations rise faster than governments can deliver and a pervasive sense of injustice undermines peoples’ faith in the system. Without trust, capitalism and markets cannot continue to deliver the gains they have delivered in the past centuries.

      This paradox of progress and peril has been decades in the making. While I am proud of what my administration has accomplished these past eight years, I have always acknowledged that the work of perfecting our union would take far longer. The presidency is a relay race, requiring each of us to do our part to bring the country closer to its highest aspirations. So where does my successor go from here?

      Further progress requires recognising that America’s economy is an enormously complicated mechanism. As appealing as some more radical reforms can sound in the abstract—breaking up all the biggest banks or erecting prohibitively steep tariffs on imports—the economy is not an abstraction. It cannot simply be redesigned wholesale and put back together again without real consequences for real people.

      Instead, fully restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.

      Restoring economic dynamism

      First, in recent years, we have seen incredible technological advances through the internet, mobile broadband and devices, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced materials, improvements in energy efficiency and personalised medicine. But while these innovations have changed lives, they have not yet substantially boosted measured productivity growth. Over the past decade, America has enjoyed the fastest productivity growth in the G7, but it has slowed across nearly all advanced economies (see chart 1). Without a faster-growing economy, we will not be able to generate the wage gains people want, regardless of how we divide up the pie.

      A major source of the recent productivity slowdown has been a shortfall of public and private investment caused, in part, by a hangover from the financial crisis. But it has also been caused by self-imposed constraints: an anti-tax ideology that rejects virtually all sources of new public funding; a fixation on deficits at the expense of the deferred maintenance bills we are passing to our children, particularly for infrastructure; and a political system so partisan that previously bipartisan ideas like bridge and airport upgrades are nonstarters.

      We could also help private investment and innovation with business-tax reform that lowers statutory rates and closes loopholes, and with public investments in basic research and development. Policies focused on education are critical both for increasing economic growth and for ensuring that it is shared broadly. These include everything from boosting funding for early childhood education to improving high schools, making college more affordable and expanding high-quality job training.

      Lifting productivity and wages also depends on creating a global race to the top in rules for trade. While some communities have suffered from foreign competition, trade has helped our economy much more than it has hurt. Exports helped lead us out of the recession. American firms that export pay their workers up to 18% more on average than companies that do not, according to a report by my Council of Economic Advisers. So, I will keep pushing for Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to conclude a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU. These agreements, and stepped-up trade enforcement, will level the playing field for workers and businesses alike.

      Second, alongside slowing productivity, inequality has risen in most advanced economies, with that increase most pronounced in the United States. In 1979, the top 1% of American families received 7% of all after-tax income. By 2007, that share had more than doubled to 17%. This challenges the very essence of who Americans are as a people. We don’t begrudge success, we aspire to it and admire those who achieve it. In fact, we’ve often accepted more inequality than many other nations because we are convinced that with hard work, we can improve our own station and watch our children do even better.

      As Abraham Lincoln said, “while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.” That’s the problem with increased inequality—it diminishes upward mobility. It makes the top and bottom rungs of the ladder “stickier”—harder to move up and harder to lose your place at the top.

      Economists have listed many causes for the rise of inequality: technology, education, globalisation, declining unions and a falling minimum wage. There is something to all of these and we’ve made real progress on all these fronts. But I believe that changes in culture and values have also played a major role. In the past, differences in pay between corporate executives and their workers were constrained by a greater degree of social interaction between employees at all levels—at church, at their children’s schools, in civic organisations. That’s why CEOs took home about 20- to 30-times as much as their average worker. The reduction or elimination of this constraining factor is one reason why today’s CEO is now paid over 250-times more.

      Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. This is not just a moral argument. Research shows that growth is more fragile and recessions more frequent in countries with greater inequality. Concentrated wealth at the top means less of the broad-based consumer spending that drives market economies.

      America has shown that progress is possible. Last year, income gains were larger for households at the bottom and middle of the income distribution than for those at the top (see chart 2). Under my administration, we will have boosted incomes for families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution by 18% by 2017, while raising the average tax rates on households projected to earn over $8m per year—the top 0.1%—by nearly 7 percentage points, based on calculations by the Department of the Treasury. While the top 1% of households now pay more of their fair share, tax changes enacted during my administration have increased the share of income received by all other families by more than the tax changes in any previous administration since at least 1960.

      Even these efforts fall well short. In the future, we need to be even more aggressive in enacting measures to reverse the decades-long rise in inequality. Unions should play a critical role. They help workers get a bigger slice of the pie but they need to be flexible enough to adapt to global competition. Raising the Federal minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without dependent children, limiting tax breaks for high-income households, preventing colleges from pricing out hardworking students, and ensuring men and women get equal pay for equal work would help to move us in the right direction too.

      Third, a successful economy also depends on meaningful opportunities for work for everyone who wants a job. However, America has faced a long-term decline in participation among prime-age workers (see chart 3). In 1953, just 3% of men between 25 and 54 years old were out of the labour force. Today, it is 12%. In 1999, 23% of prime-age women were out of the labour force. Today, it is 26%. People joining or rejoining the workforce in a strengthening economy have offset ageing and retiring baby-boomers since the end of 2013, stabilising the participation rate but not reversing the longer-term adverse trend.

      Involuntary joblessness takes a toll on life satisfaction, self-esteem, physical health and mortality. It is related to a devastating rise of opioid abuse and an associated increase in overdose deaths and suicides among non-college-educated Americans—the group where labour-force participation has fallen most precipitously.

      There are many ways to keep more Americans in the labour market when they fall on hard times. These include providing wage insurance for workers who cannot get a new job that pays as much as their old one. Increasing access to high-quality community colleges, proven job-training models and help finding new jobs would assist. So would making unemployment insurance available to more workers. Paid leave and guaranteed sick days, as well as greater access to high-quality child care and early learning, would add flexibility for employees and employers. Reforms to our criminal-justice system and improvements to re-entry into the workforce that have won bipartisan support would also improve participation, if enacted.

      Building a sturdier foundation

      Finally, the financial crisis painfully underscored the need for a more resilient economy, one that grows sustainably without plundering the future at the service of the present. There should no longer be any doubt that a free market only thrives when there are rules to guard against systemic failure and ensure fair competition.

      Post-crisis reforms to Wall Street have made our financial system more stable and supportive of long-term growth, including more capital for American banks, less reliance on short-term funding, and better oversight for a range of institutions and markets. Big American financial institutions no longer get the type of easier funding they got before—evidence that the market increasingly understands that they are no longer “too big to fail”. And we created a first-of-its-kind watchdog—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—to hold financial institutions accountable, so their customers get loans they can repay with clear terms up-front.

      But even with all the progress, segments of the shadow banking system still present vulnerabilities and the housing-finance system has not been reformed. That should be an argument for building on what we have already done, not undoing it. And those who should be rising in defence of further reform too often ignore the progress we have made, instead choosing to condemn the system as a whole. Americans should debate how best to build on these rules, but denying that progress leaves us more vulnerable, not less so.

      America should also do more to prepare for negative shocks before they occur. With today’s low interest rates, fiscal policy must play a bigger role in combating future downturns; monetary policy should not bear the full burden of stabilising our economy. Unfortunately, good economics can be overridden by bad politics. My administration secured much more fiscal expansion than many appreciated in recovering from our crisis—more than a dozen bills provided $1.4 trillion in economic support from 2009 to 2012—but fighting Congress for each commonsense measure expended substantial energy. I did not get some of the expansions I sought and Congress forced austerity on the economy prematurely by threatening a historic debt default. My successors should not have to fight for emergency measures in a time of need. Instead, support for the hardest-hit families and the economy, like unemployment insurance, should rise automatically.

      Maintaining fiscal discipline in good times to expand support for the economy when needed and to meet our long-term obligations to our citizens is vital. Curbs to entitlement growth that build on the Affordable Care Act’s progress in reducing health-care costs and limiting tax breaks for the most fortunate can address long-term fiscal challenges without sacrificing investments in growth and opportunity.

      Finally, sustainable economic growth requires addressing climate change. Over the past five years, the notion of a trade-off between increasing growth and reducing emissions has been put to rest. America has cut energy-sector emissions by 6%, even as our economy has grown by 11% (see chart 4). Progress in America also helped catalyse the historic Paris climate agreement, which presents the best opportunity to save the planet for future generations.

      A hope for the future

      America’s political system can be frustrating. Believe me, I know. But it has been the source of more than two centuries of economic and social progress. The progress of the past eight years should also give the world some measure of hope. Despite all manner of division and discord, a second Great Depression was prevented. The financial system was stabilised without costing taxpayers a dime and the auto industry rescued. I enacted a larger and more front-loaded fiscal stimulus than even President Roosevelt’s New Deal and oversaw the most comprehensive rewriting of the rules of the financial system since the 1930s, as well as reforming health care and introducing new rules cutting emissions from vehicles and power plants.

      The results are clear: a more durable, growing economy; 15m new private-sector jobs since early 2010; rising wages, falling poverty, and the beginnings of a reversal in inequality; 20m more Americans with health insurance, while health-care costs grow at the slowest rate in 50 years; annual deficits cut by nearly three-quarters; and declining carbon emissions.

      For all the work that remains, a new foundation is laid. A new future is ours to write. It must be one of economic growth that’s not only sustainable but shared. To achieve it America must stay committed to working with all nations to build stronger and more prosperous economies for all our citizens for generations to come.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ansonburlingame

     /  October 8, 2016


    Your linked Wash Post article was interesting for sure. You know as well as me that there are literally millions that think and act just like the woman in the article. There are also millions that feel the same way as the woman proclaiming “Now I don’t have to worry about my mortgage” shortly after Obama won the 2008 election.

    The one issue I continue to work on as best I can is trying to find a path, locally, to deal with the tragedy in the decline of public education. While I no longer blog or write columns in the Globe on such matters I continue to work “within the system” to lend a hand. I have been a NALA tutor in math, a lunch buddy and a TREK teacher.

    I recently participated in a group discussion about local R-8 education issues

    Here is an anecdote that is telling in my view. On the first day of school (years ago) a student (not an R-8 school) was raising hell in a class and the teacher “sent him to the office”. The student then cussed out the Principal, the first time. The Principal said “that gets you three days of a suspension”. The student continued to cuss our the Principal who then said, “You now have two weeks for your suspension. Would you like to try for more?”. The third time the student cussed him out the Principal expelled him from the school for an entire semester. All this happened on the first day of school.

    On member of the group was horrified. She thought the Principal was so wrong “not to give the kid a chance”!

    In my view that could have been the best thing that ever happened to that kid, being expelled from school. I have no idea how the now probably 35 year old man turned out but he could have learned a very valuable lesson and never made such a mistake again. But defend that kid, rant against the Principal,, to me at least, simply beyond the pale.

    Illiteracy is defined (I think) as an adult who cannot read, write or do math at or above an 8th grade level of education. Joplin has about a 40% rate of illiteracy based on that standard. Now can anyone tell me we don’t have a national security issue with such numbers across America. Does any progressive disagree with me that the woman described in that Post article is part of that national security issue, or her counterpart on the other side thinking a President will allow her not to pay her mortgage or have a “free” cell phone!

    Has it “always been that way”, millions of people such as the one described in the Post? Or is it simply that we “never heard of such people” but now with social media being what it is they are all exposed more clearly to “normal” Americans? I don’t know that answer but do believe what I see and hear today is “deplorable” on a broad scale, today in America.



    • The woman in the WaPo article keeps weighing on my mind, Anson. I keep trying to understand her and it occurs to me that many people instinctively want to blame someone for their personal set-backs in life. A president is therefore a good candidate for that role. Even so, I find it interesting that Barack’s popularity is hovering near 58% now, and that’s compared to about 28% for Bush’s rating near the end of his presidency.

      I applaud your involvement in community affairs. Our town is the better for it. And I agree, as you know, that education has big problems with discipline. I’m not sure, though, that suspension is all that effective in today’s culture. A few weeks of boot camp would be better. That, I would vote for.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  October 10, 2016


    A reasonable and good exchange. And it is a classic divide between you and me, liberal and conservative. How does any “system” deal with “deplorables”, or more politically correct, people at risk? Internationally we are now confronted with the likes of ISIS, about as deplorable an organization as the world has seen, perhaps even worse than Nazism or Stalinism.

    Hillary of course is quick to call her political opposition “deplorable” (for sure referring to people like this woman). Yet she refuses to call ISIS and the people within it radical Islamic terrorists. And for damned sure she will never put American boots on the ground to destroy such abhorrent ideology. No, instead she wants someone else to do it for her or “us”. How is that any different than IF FDR refused to call Hitler and his supporters “Nazi thugs” and called on Europe to put their boots on the ground while we struggled to improve equality in America?

    The woman in the article would more than likely call for using “Nazis or ISIS or Stalin-like” tactics against her opponents. How you deal with such a person to set them on a better path in life, for her alone, is a confounding issue. If she was my daughter I know exactly what I would do however, and I would have done “it” long before she was 50 years old.

    Forget for a moment the abhorrent political views of the woman. Just consider that woman’s position in life for lack of a better term, her living conditions, financial situation, the kind of man she lives with, etc. How did she reach such a state of existence? To me that is not at all hard to “understand”. And the tragedy of her life is NOT the failure of “government”, in my view. She of course will refuse to take any responsibility for her conditions and blame anyone and everyone that fails to give her what she wants.

    Thanks to my Dad, I was exposed to such people at early ages in my life, to poor tenant farmers, the illiterate blacks doing menial work, the tobacco warehouse worker living in the cold of winter in a shack with little heat, etc. Dad’s point was not to demean such people but to simply point out to me what “could happen” if I did not apply myself to achieve higher standards of performance in my own life. “I don’t care if you become a ditchdigger, son. Just be sure you become the best God Damned ditchdigger you can be” was his guidance, sometimes even his “demand” of me..

    OK so I was a privileged white child living with a silver spoon in my mouth. But that does not make his guidance any less applicable to anyone, black, white, rich, poor or whatever. As well in my experience it is not at all hard to “understand” why some people fail to do as he suggested. As well there are many instances in my life where I failed to “give it my best shot” simply because I was and remain a flawed human being. But I sure don’t blame anyone else for such shortcomings in my own life nor have I ever called for “government” to bail me out when my own bad choices resulted in conditions I did not want to face..



    • Anson,

      I’m going to butt in here on just one point. You say Clinton refuses to call ISIS “radical Islamic terrorists.” You know why she doesn’t normally use that phrasing? Because she, like George W. Bush, believes it helps the goddamned terrorists. She believes it would be counter-productive in our fight against them, especially in our fight to keep them from recruiting new members. ISIS wants to put the fight in terms of Islam v. Christian West. And also the deliberate phrasing you suggest tends to isolate American Muslims at a time when we need them to remain part of our social fabric. Why is that so hard for you guys to understand?


      Liked by 1 person

  6. Anson, Duane speaks for me regarding the reason for not including “Islamic” in describing terrorists. I would only add that calling Nazi anti-semites “radical Christian terrorists” would raise the same objection. (Adolph Hitler was raised Catholic and espoused Christianity in speeches.)

    Your message that work-ethic is the answer to poverty and social problems sounds good, but there again, generalizing leads to flawed reasoning. I don’t think you “were born with a silver spoon in your mouth”. Your stories about your father and your upbringing demonstrate that. But you had a lot of advantages that many poor people didn’t. In fact, I would say that being raised by parents with a strong work ethic is itself a major advantage. Hell, everybody admires work ethic, but many aren’t introduced to it early enough.

    You have good genetic advantages, higher than average intelligence and health. You had to have had safety, sanitation, and decent medical care in growing up or you wouldn’t have been acceptable to the USNA. I assume you didn’t face discrimination in getting part-time job(s) as a teen. You were able to complete high school and not pulled out early to try to support your parents because good jobs were reserved for people of your color. I assume you had decent dental care in growing up – many who can’t afford it suffer the bad luck of the unattractive.

    Sure, you can always name a few minorities who achieved success despite disadvantages, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, George Washington Carver and the like. But if you want a healthy and peaceful society, survival of the fittest is not going to get you there. In the state of Utah, for example, they are finding that providing the needy and jobless with housing as a first step has reduced chronic homelessness by 91%.

    Very few people are satisfied to loll on the bottom rung of success, if they have even a glimmer of hope, that is. The oft-offered stigmatic image of the welfare queen is misleading. Sure, there are some, but she is more likely to be a single mom struggling to do two demanding jobs on her own. That’s a cultural problem that has its roots in the slavery and discrimination of our sordid past.

    Sorry, I know I’ve said most of these things before. Maybe I just need to vent.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  October 11, 2016

    Duane and Jim,

    One of the best, if not the best, exchanges I have had in this blog over the last 8 or so years. And, yes Duane, the article is good for sure, but it also fails to acknowledge some of my concerns and suggested ideas how to improve some conditions.

    Obama, and thus you (two and others), focus on the desire for all Americans to “have a good job”. Frankly, I disagree to some extent. Many Americans want a “good paycheck” instead. The job is simply a burden that must be borne if a good paycheck is to be gained.

    It is not just all about work ethic. In fact my work ethic could be pretty pitiful in many cases. I hated being awakened after only a couple of hours of sleep to once again “go the bridge” in freezing weather to stand a long and intolerable watch for the next six hours. I sure didn’t do so for the money, either. I could as well bitch and complain along with the best of them when being asked (forced) to do so. But in the end I did “it”, time and again.

    Same with school, any school from K through 12 and beyond, far beyond. I hated “doing homework”, etc., much less all the other crap I had to endure in four miserable years in college. But by ultimately “doing it”, doors were opened by me that I never even dreamed of as a kid, later even as an adult.

    Yes I was “given” a free college education by the federal government, but you have also heard me say it was “a $50,000 education (today about $250,000) shoved up my ass a nickle at a time”. No wonder we had a 25% dropout rate in that college and I came close many times to joining that crowd of dropouts.

    Any life (at least in America) is a series of “doors”, each one a little more difficult to “open”. But only by getting through one door can the next one be available to be opened. As well, many, many people helped me develop the tools (academic knowledge, behavior, being “yelled at”, etc.) to open each door. But in the end I alone was responsible for getting it open. No one else could do the heavy lifting (passing the next “test”) but me. And yes, I faced doors that I could never open and thus faced disappointments along the way. But I never blame others for such failure, ultimately. I alone must “own” such failures.

    Look at “four of us” exchanging views on this blog, Duane, Jim, Herb and me”. We are all (somewhat) “special” given our race and gender. None of us suffer extreme conditions such as the woman in the WaPo or the black crowds screaming insults, etc. The difference between us is that “you” seek ways to give material things to people in need. I try to approach such “lack of …..” by finding ways to instill in them the ways to “open their own doors”, teach them to fish rather than giving them a fish to use an old expression.

    Ultimately the solution is a combination of the two approaches. That is why I strongly believe the long term approach is drastically improving our system of public education. And yes, my approach in that effort is placing high demands on every child to achieve high standards, themselves. You would be amazed how many kids don’t understand how to “do math” at the elementary level, for example. Well I cannot “give them” the ability to “do fractions”. But I can teach them to do so if they do the hard work needed, themselves.

    I have been working for the last six months with a 58 year old, black, woman who has worked as a “cleaning lady” for decades. She graduated from high school years ago but still cannot come close to “doing math” to enable her to enter MSSU. which is her goal, an admirable goal but frankly one she will probably never reach. But week after week she shows up to work for an hour to learn how to “know” that 1/2 is equal to both 0.50 and 50%.

    Though I write harshly and in a demanding way herein and elsewhere, you might be surprised that she and i are friends now. I don’t demean her in any way and she “fusses” at me when I am too quick to show her again how to work a given problem (my impatience) rather than just letting her struggle on her own to work it for herself. I admire the woman and have great empathy for her as well. But empathy will never teach her fractions either.

    Oh that she had “learned” such skills in the 4th grade and used them to the extent that she could recognize how much money she would make if she received a 50% pay raise (or what a pittance a 2% raise really meant) for example. But for decades such understanding has been beyond her comprehension. Why?

    How do “we” fix that. Even in her day she was offered a free education, probably housing help, help to buy food, etc. She as well is young enough to have NOT been educated in segregated schools and throughout her adult life never had to live under Jim Crow laws. As well I have seen many, many kids today that graduate from high school in Joplin with the same kind of academic (and behavior) low skill levels, no matter their gender or race in Joplin today. It is a color blind problem, rampant and debilitating. So what to do for her and millions of others today in America. Teach her to fish or simply pass out free fish with no responsibility on her part to improve her own life.

    Duane says I have a blind spot and of course I do. But so does Duane who once wrote herein that ANY safety infraction is ALWAYS the failure of management in an industrial setting. Countless times I have seen “sailors and steel workers” (union members) making terrible mistakes despite the best training available, written procedures that if followed would prevent mistakes, etc. Sometimes, many times it boils down to some arrogant, know-it-all that could give a hoot about creating chaos on the job!! It is management’s fault only to the extent that they did no see such abhorrent behavior and fire the son of a bitch before he did it again!!!

    Hard words. Trump-like words for sure. But despite such politically correct admonitions it happens, a lot, in the real world of human nature where people make terrible choices all by themselves.. It was a very rare occasion that I ever “fired” a sailor (getting him kicked out of the Navy or sent a civilian packing from a civilian work force) but you better believe after I (or my subordinates) got through “training them” they would have loved to have left for an easier job on their own!! They wanted nothing to do with a good, secure (based on performance), well paying job that also placed high demands on their achievement of high levels of skill and behavior.

    There is no “government program” that will fix such things overnight, or over a presidential term. But such things can be fixed over lifetimes, if ……… As I have written in a (maybe) forthcoming column in the Globe, we have accumulated $20 trillion in national debt ($15 Trillion of it since 9/11) throwing money at such problems, domestically and internationally, thinking we can buy our way, collectively or individually, to better lives.

    It will take a helluva lot more than money to resolve such issues or at least mitigate them but never solve them. At least Trump, this year, has repeatedly pointed out that we in America no longer “have enough money” to keep on keeping on like we have over the last at least 50 years. Condemn him for other things I certainly do, but he has that one right!!

    Try this one on for size all you liberals. Let;s tax the rich a helluva lot more but ONLY use that added source of funds to pay for what we already have in place in terms of federal obligations. Free college my ass. Let’s tax our way to making SS and Medicare solvent, for starters!! As for as “giving everyone a college education”, why not use available funds to ensure every high schools graduate has a grade level education all the way through 12th grade!!

    Sorry for the pointed political passion in the last paragraph. But I just had to vent to make that point!!



    • Anson,

      Let me begin by saying I am glad you took the time to read the piece. I have to admit I don’t run into too many people these days who would commit to such a task, what with the tendency to communicate and receive information in a hundred characters or so. Having said that, here is a response:

      1. I am not surprised to find that Obama’s words didn’t satisfy all of your “concerns” or match your ideas on “how to improve some conditions.” That wasn’t why I ask you to read it. Remember that you have suggested he is pretty far left in his policy positions. I have tried to argue he is pretty much a centrist. I think if you read that piece carefully, you would have to say I am closer to the truth than you are. I mean, he pretty much laid out the case for a robust capitalism, one that he said is necessary to bring prosperity to more and more people, if we keep control of it in sensible ways. That is the standard liberal position and it is not far left thinking at all.

      2. I appreciate the distinction you try to make between wanting a job and wanting a good paycheck. Sure, a job is “simply a burden that must be borne, if a good paycheck is to be gained.” But having a “good job”—and I am talking here about one that may not bring in a lot of income but is satisfying for other reasons—is important to many people. Some folks value the kind of work they do (like teaching, for instance) over financial considerations, so long as they are paid enough to have a decent life.

      3. As far as work ethic, I don’t know anyone who is balls-to-the-walls all the time. I like the way you put it:

      Any life (at least in America) is a series of “doors”, each one a little more difficult to “open”. But only by getting through one door can the next one be available to be opened.

      I would agree with that, so long as the difficulty in opening those doors has nothing to do with a person’s skin color or sex or any other non-relevant attribute. When you say you approach helping people “open their own doors” by teaching them to fish, as opposed to giving them handouts, I don’t know any liberal who would disagree with that generally. But we liberals can see times where handouts actually help people get to the point where they can be taught. I was one of those people, back in 1975, when I was 16 years old and became (swallow hard) a “father.” My family needed the help that the government provided, mostly through food stamps. That didn’t last long, but it lasted long enough. We made it through some hard times and all of us eventually became productive, tax-paying citizens. The investment in us paid off many, many times over. That is what liberals mean by the term “investing” in our folks. People are born into, or get themselves into, some bad situations and sometimes they need some help just to get through that first door you mention. I am glad you see that “the solution is a combination of the two approaches.” Again, you sound like an “Obama liberal” to me.

      4. I, for one, am not surprised that you are helping a black lady and have become friends with her. And I don’t disagree that “empathy will never teach her fractions.” But empathy will help you both understand each other, and I find it a powerful tool in the toolbox of civilization. Very often I need to practice what I preach, I confess.

      5. How do we “fix” the deficiencies in people’s knowledge or skills or ability to learn? Some folks, and this is a point I want to make emphatically, will not be fixed. They have deficiencies that are not subject to repair. These folks, Anson, are folks liberals want to take care of in ways that upset the average teapartier. But what is the alternative? Allow them to starve? I know a hard-working guy who is absolutely unfit to hold a job in any structured setting. He simply doesn’t function that way and no amount of training will change that. Few employers would even give him the chance and most would fire him after a week or two because he simply doesn’t fit in. It has nothing to do with his work ethic. There is something else going on inside his noggin. But although I don’t know how to change what’s going on inside his head, I know how we as a society can keep him from starving to death: provide him a little money without demands he can’t meet.

      6. Management is always responsible for those they are managing. Do workers screw up? Yep. Usually because they have been ill-trained or are under pressure to produce more or some other management-generated reason. And for those who screw up because they are unqualified in the first place, whose bleeping fault is that? How about the manager who hired them?

      7. Most of the debt we have accumulated hasn’t been “thrown away” on domestic welfare programs, Anson. You know the budget better than that. You hinted at what’s going on when you included “international” expenditures, by which you mean the military and war. You can’t blame that on Obama, my man. He didn’t start the Iraq war, which has cost us dearly and continues to do so. I do want to say here that most (but not all) of the money, outside of that associated with the Iraq war, we have spent has gone for worthy things. And you forget that we gave lots and lots of tax cuts to rich people, which helped contribute to that big number you always throw around.

      8. Speaking of taxes: As you know, I have always said that income taxes should be raised on the middle class, so long as the wealthiest Americans are paying way more than they do now. I couldn’t tell you what the right mix is, but I think the 1994 tax increases (which cost Democrats dearly and brought us Speaker Gingrich and all that turmoil) are a good place to start. But, alas, getting back to that level of taxation is politically impossible, since W. Bush cut them and Obama only partially restored them and nobody wants to do what Bill Clinton did and suffer for it.

      In any case, I enjoyed this discussion. It was nice, for a while anyway, to get way from the assaults on decency that is the Trump campaign.


      Liked by 1 person


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