Democrat establishment must pay more attention to grassroots

Democrats need to capitalize on what is happening at the grassroots level. [Illustration by DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons]

In the recent special election in Kansas to replace Rep. Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s pick to head the CIA, it looked like a cakewalk for the GOP. Pompeo had won the seat by 31 points in November, 2016, and Trump easily won the district. It has been called one of the safest Republican districts in the country.

The GOP ran Ron Estes, the state treasurer, a guy who had won two statewide elections in the past. The Democrats’ candidate, James Thompson, had never run for any office of any kind before. But it didn’t turn out to be a cakewalk. Democrats across the US have been energized by the election of Donald Trump, and this energy can be found at town meetings held by GOP reps across the country (at least those not afraid to hold them) or the many demonstrations in front of their offices, or in one of many protest marches. And in Kansas, there was another factor – the wild unpopularity of Governor Sam Brownback, probably the GOP governor with the worst chance of being re-elected in a solid GOP-controlled state in the country.

The GOP candidate won, but only 6.8 points, and only after a panicked GOP poured thousands of dollars and robocalls by prominent Republicans into the state. A win is still a win and a loss is still a loss, but it’s no secret to say that some loses are more meaningful than others. Whittling down the GOP margin of victory by more than 20% points in “one of the safest GOP ridings in the country” was a real lift to many Democrats across the country. Political pundits had said that if the GOP only won by single digits, it would be a problem for them.

So one has to wonder that if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had paid more attention to the race who knows what might have happened. Its excuse for not getting more involved was, ‘well, if we paid attention to the race, it only would have hurt him,’ which is only so much horse manure. On the one hand, you might understand in the beginning that establishment Democrats were reluctant to get involved in Kansas. It’s a pretty red state. But on the other hand, the signs that something extra-ordinary was happening were seen by lots of people. But other than last-minute phone calls, the DNCC pretty much ignored what was happening. It didn’t even provide a link to Thompson’s website on its home page. And when the GOP launched wave after wave of negative ads against Thompson, he did not have the resources to respond.

If the DNCC had helped Thompson when it mattered, the result would have been even closer, or perhaps a totally unexpected victory. But the organization’s reluctance to throw its weight behind what grassroots Democrats across the country are doing, even in solid GOP districts, is a real mistake and if not corrected will come back to bite them. Right now, there is a real split in the Democrats between the Bernie Sanders “Build the party from the ground up” folks, and the Obama acolytes still running the party in DC who see the special election in Georgia 6th district as more of a target because it’s largely college-educated suburban area that they think will trend against Trump.

Yes, Georgia is promising. But here’s the problem with only that thinking way. When people work hard to make a difference, they need to see that what they do matters. They need small victories. If the Democratic establishment doesn’t help them find those small victories, they will become discouraged and stop what they are doing. They will stop coming out to town meetings and to protests. Even more important, they will stop donating money to the Democrats. Or instead donate it to the Green Party or something similar.

And the DNC can count on primary and convention fights in 2020 that will make what the GOP was afraid of happening in 2016 with Trump look like a slumber party. If the Democrat establishment does not find a way to work with what is happening at the grassroots level, they can forget about taking back the House, they will lose even more Senate seats in 2018 and will not win back the presidency in 2020.

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The problems with Trump’s strike on Syria

RED SEA (Sept. 23, 2014) The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke launches a Tomahawk Cruise Missile. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/Released)

By Tom Regan

If you want US talking heads, liberal or conservative, to hyper-ventilate for your presidency, it appears you just need to blow something up, preferably somewhere in the Arab world. Suddenly, you become “presidential” and every other misfire, error and mistake of the past few weeks is forgotten about.

Considering the horrific deaths suffered by the people of Khan Sheikhoun, and the images of dead and dying children broadcast around the world, you can understand that people were legitimately horrified when a Syrian (or Russian) jet dropped a deadly Sarin gas bomb on the town. Assad is a butcher and his regime does need to go. President Trump’s bombing of Syria looks like a winner for him on the surface level. But it doesn’t take much digging to find the cracks in its foundation.

1) Until Friday, the Trump administration’s ‘policy,’ if you can call it that, was totally hands off Syria. Trump wasn’t interested in replacing Assad and there had been no expression of horror at the almost half a million Syrians who had died in the preceding years, including ‘beautiful babies’ who had already perished in horrible bombings, or who had drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean to escape Assad. In the past, Trump had suggested that he believed many Syrian refugees were terrorists. While it’s interesting to think that Trump suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of humanitarianism, he hasn’t changed his position on his Muslim ban that includes Syrian refugees, many of whom currently live in abysmal conditions. It’s hard to see his concern as more than a hiccup in his emotional state.

2) Policy? What policy? The world is a complicated place. The leader of the world’s only superpower needs a plan to deal with those complicated matters. It is a somewhat disturbing idea that President Trump will jettison whatever policies he does have every time he sees horrible images on cable news. Did he think about how Russia would respond? Or Turkey or Egypt? Will one attack lead to more? The Syrians already have the base back in operation. Will he bomb it again to ensure it’s not used again for a similar kind of attack? If this attack hinted at more than ‘feel good’ retaliation, it might be more understandable. But it’s hard to see any master design behind the attack. And the sudden “guest” appearance by Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State only seems to have confused the issue even more.

3) That creeping question of emoluments, domestic and foreign, that just never seems to go away with Trump. Trump ordered that 59 Tomahawk missiles be fired. Raytheon, the company that makes the missile, immediately saw its stock price go up. Guess who has stock in Raytheon – Trump the man who ordered they be used. By taking this action, Trump also made himself a bit of money. The Trump tendency to see the presidency as a cash cow – already under question because of his use of his own properties for cash-payer supported events at Mar-A-Lago, or having the taxpayers support his wife staying at Trump Towers in New York – seems to get worse and worse. Sooner or later, his blatant actions to make himself even richer than he is at the expense of the US taxpayer will blow up in his face.

4) In a different vein, the US media’s reactions were also problematic for the US and the world. In times of conflict, American editors and reporters grow epaulets. And the attack on the Syrian air base was deja vue all over again with the media. Across the board, media talking heads and experts fell over themselves to applaud Trump’s decision to bomb. Fareed Zakaria of CNN said this was the “start” of Trump’s presidency. David Ignatious of the Washington Post said Trump put “credibility” back into American power. And Brain Williams, of MSNBC, practically wrote a love poem on the air describing the beauty of the missiles as they were fired. It was as the American media had learned nothing from the long nightmare of their miscalculations and errors about the Gulf War. Years ago, I had a senior foreign editor at a national media outlet where I worked tell me to be careful of inside-the-beltway journalists. “They are just a pack of lemmings attracted by bright shiny things,” he said. He was right.

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The danger for Democrats in being ‘ideologically pure’

[Illustration by Georgia Democrats, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

I want to tell you about my mom. She’s the main reason that I’m the outspoken progressive that I am.

Mom been gone for about six years now. She was an advocate for gay rights. She was one of the first people I knew who openly embraced people with HIV in the late 80s. She was pro-immigration. She supported universal health care and public education. She believed in equal pay for women and fought for it her whole life. She was pro-union. She supported left-wing candidates for as long as I knew her.

But there are two other things that you should know about her. She was very anti-abortion, a result of her strong Catholic faith. And she was Canadian and lived in Canada her entire life. Which means that she was never ostracized for her abortion position by other liberals. There was no ideological purity test that you had to vote a straight ticket on every issue of importance for liberals or socialists. That’s just the way it works in Canada.

I’m not so sure my mom would have been so accepted by liberal Democrats in America. And that’s a problem. Not just because it was my mom, but because the dangers of being ideologically pure were on full display last week. The vexed party in this case was the GOP. The major reason the GOP was unable to enact its destructive ‘Trumpcare’ version of health care was that for a group of about 30 Republicans, better known by the misleading name of “The Freedom Caucus,” being ideologically pure was more important than actually governing.

And while I’m personally very glad that the healthcare plan went down in flames, there is a cautionary tale in this failure for Democrats – beware of ideological purity for that way destruction lies.

In opposition, it’s easy to agree with each other and have everybody sing from the same political hymn book. But governing is a whole different animal. Effective governing involves compromise and bipartisanship, especially in the American political system.

The same is true of being an effective political party. If the Democrats want to be the party of women, African-Americans, Latinos, Millennials, Baby Boomers, environmentalists, AND blue-collar whites, that’s going to require some compromise. While there are a lot of issues that all these groups can agree on, there will be disagreements.

If they want to be successful, the Democrats must make room for those disagreements. The leadership, as well as ‘rank and file’ party members, need to listen and respond appropriately. If the Democrats make ideological purity a pre-condition of being a Democrat, then they will fall into the same kind of trap the GOP set for itself.

It’s an exciting time to be a Democrat. A vibrant grassroots movement has sprung up since last November 8 and the election of Donald Trump. Borrowing from the ideas of the conservative Tea Party movement, the Indivisible movement is quickly turning into a real player in American politics.

And that movement is flexing its muscles. It played a role in convincing many moderate GOP members to say they couldn’t vote for Trumpcare. (One GOP rep told a cable news network that the calls were running 1000 to 1 against the bill in his office.) And that effort needs to continue. But Indivisible also needs to be smart about its goals and objectives. It not only needs a view of what’s happening right now, but also a “view from 30,000 feet” as a friend used to say.

If Indivisible borrows too much from the Tea Party playbook, Democrats will end up in the same kind of internally divided boat as the GOP. And I’m not just talking about when they return to power, I’m talking about right now.

GOP factions forgot how to listen to each other. And a significant section of the party came to believe that ideology was more important than doing what many members thought was best for the country.

If Democrats want to be an effective party right now, they must not repeat this fatal mistake. Just because they may not agree on everything, they can still work together to find compromises and move this country forward.

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Trump’s climate change changes really don’t matter

About 41% of the current 250,000 people employed by the solar industry work in installation.

By Tom Regan

My grandfather had a saying that he would use every time I did something too late to have any effect.

“You closed the barn door after the horse was already out past the gate.”

I thought of that saying this morning as I read about President Donald Trump’s plans to undo the climate change regulations that his predecessor Barack Obama had put into place to fight climate change, especially in the late stages of his administration. It’s fair to say that Trump hates Obama so much he will go to any length (or try to, though often not successfully, as we just saw with his Trumpcare debacle) to sabotage anything that Obama did. Trump wants nothing left of the Obama “legacy” by the time he leaves office.

But I’m afraid that on climate change that horse is already out past the gate and despite Trump’s best attempts, he won’t be able to get it back in the barn. While his latest actions will slow down the effects of some of the later regulations that Obama put into place, and cause some headaches for the Paris Treaty on climate change, the United States (like much of the world) is already moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and more quickly towards solar, wind and natural gas.

Trump officials say the reason that he is wiping out the Obama era regulations is his desire to make America ‘energy independent’ and help coal miners in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia who carried him to the presidency.

This is, however, only so much hot air. America is already well on its way to energy independence. And broader economic trends have already spelled the end of the line for coal. Robert Murray, the head of the largest privately held coal mining company in the US told the Guardian this week that coal jobs aren’t coming back, regardless of what Trump promises. Murray says the jobs have been lost to competition and technology, not regulations. Also, many of the changes that Trump wants to make will take years to put into place and will make little difference in the end.

Here is what will, and is, making a difference. In less than a week, Elon Musk will start taking orders for his solar roof shingles. They are expected to be tougher than regular shingles but cost less. Along with his Powerwall 2, Musk wants to make renewable energy available to every home. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will cover 15 massive warehouses around the US with rooftop solar panels, generating as much as 80% of each facility’s annual energy needs. And where Amazon goes, others will follow.

As it is, solar power currently employs twice as many people in the United States as does coal and slightly more than natural gas. And here’s the thing. Many of those solar jobs are in installation. They are exactly the kind of jobs that many coal miners or other blue collar workers could be easily retrained to do. If Trump really wanted to create more jobs, he would be continuing Obama’s actions, not trying to blow them up.

[Care of the Solar Foundation]

Or take the better fuel efficiency standards for cars and lighter trucks that the Trump administration says it wants to “review.” Again, the horse is well out of the barn. Turns out Americans like driving cars that give them more miles to the gallon. And the two states that have the most drivers – California and New York – have sworn to fight the Trump administration on just about everything (about an hour after Trump took office on January 20th, California’s air regulators released a plan to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). California says it has every intention of continuing its plan to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015. And seven days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $70 million electric car rebate. Eligible buyers would get a $2000 rebate.

And that’s not even examining what’s happening with wind or natural gas.

Once again, as is his way, Trump is grabbing the axe by the wrong end. His actions show little foresight and worse planning. It’s like he is only talking to his billionaire buddies who show up to play golf at Mar El Lago on the weekends and who complain to him about the problems of the 1%.

In the end, Obama’s legacy of starting to move this country down the road of renewable energy in order to help prevent climate change will long outlive any ham-handed attempt by Trump to kill it.

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Why jobs Trump promised aren’t coming back

Cleveland’s now deserted industrial flats. The kind of jobs that once kept these businesses in operation are not coming back to the US, despite President Trump’s promises. [Photo by Lisa Chamberlain, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

If you want to know why I don’t believe that manufacturing jobs will be returning to the United States as President Trump promised in his election campaign – at least not the kind of manufacturing jobs that once existed in this country – then you need to travel back with me 20 or so years to the Harvard Business School.

Back then I had the chance to sit in on an entire course taught on the Ethics of Business. What I witnessed was fascinating.

The main argument in the class almost always boiled down to duty to shareholders. The professor would offer up example after example of a possible ethical conflict and in the end, the class would invariably break down into two groups: Those who felt that businesses had an ethical duty to society at large and those who felt the only duty was to shareholders and what was necessary to make them happy. This latter group was by far the much larger group and were often identified by the little shark stickers they would place on their cardboard name cards.

I think of that group to this day. By now, they are all in their late-40s and no doubt running business across America. And many of those businesses have probably dramatically changed their manufacturing processes. Some have outsourced their work to China or Taiwan or Thailand or Mexico. Many others have used technology and robots to improve the way they make their cars, air conditioners or tractors for example.

Making those cars or air conditioners or tractors are the jobs that are no longer available to many of the people who supported Donald Trump, the jobs he promised to bring back to help make America great…again. Recently I wrote about how technology is the main reason for the decline of these older forms of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Studies have shown that up to 87% of American manufacturing jobs have been lost to technological innovation while only 13% have been lost to trade or companies outsourcing their work to other countries. A recent McKinsey report showed that by 2050 almost 50% of current American jobs in all industries will be replaced by some form of technology.

I deliberately wrote “older forms of manufacturing jobs” because the jobs themselves have not been lost, they just changed. In September 2016 there were more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States. But almost all required advanced education or training.

All these factors taken together show why these jobs aren’t coming back despite Trump’s promises. The first duty of publicly owned companies is to their shareholders, not to the “American people.” Much has been made of Donald Trump’s background as a billionaire businessman, so he knows how true this is. Even companies like Carrier and its parent company United Technologies, which did agreed to keep some jobs in the United States after being pressured by Trump, is still outsourcing an even greater number of jobs to Mexico because this will reduce costs and make shareholders happy.

Then there’s technology. Many people currently left unemployed by changes in the economy could find work again if they were willing to get that additional education or training. The truth is, however, many of these people just don’t want to do that. They want their old jobs back and really don’t want to deal with the fact that that’s not going to happen. In fact some industry experts have said that even if Trump did bring some of the jobs back to the United States, they would then be lost to technology.

Even more daunting is that McKinsey prediction because we are doing such a poor job right now of preparing young people for the future. A high school education will literally get you little more than a burger flipping job. Once it might have gotten you a good job driving a truck or a taxi but with driverless cars and trucks only a decade away from being an everyday reality that no longer holds true. Even burger flipping might be taken over by robots.

No, the jobs aren’t coming back, one at least not in their old form. Unfortunately, this will probably make people even angrier than they are now. What President Trump needs to be doing is what President Obama was trying to do and that is promote education at all levels and helping people understand that without that education they face a bleak, probably jobless, future.

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GOP’s ‘Trumpcare’ CBO meltdown

The CBO’s assessment of the GOP’s Trumpcare is not what they wanted. [Photo by 401kcalculator.org, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

The Congressional Budget Office is a bit like a theatre critic. For the people the most affected by what its officials write, it’s only as good as last its review. If it gives a good review, those officials are loved and praised for being perceptive geniuses. But give a bad review and they’re idiots, always wrong, and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Currently, the Republicans are in full “the CBO is a joke” mode because the assessment of Trumpcare released by the office Tuesday is bad, bad news for the long-term health of the bill. The findings that 24 million additional Americans will be uninsured by 2026 (which is two million lower than the White House’s own estimates according to some reports), that poor Americans are the group most affected and that seniors will pay five times as much for their insurance as they currently pay landed like a grenade.

As a result, the main GOP supporters of the new health care plan started a stylized dance around the assessment in a desperate attempt to discredit it. It’s completely disingenuous, of course, because in 2009 when the previous administration introduced the Affordable Care Act, it was the GOP howling in favor of the CBO’s estimates which at the time helped kill the idea of the single payer option.

Yet for all the negative mud slung at the CBO, it isn’t going to help the bill in the Senate where even Republican members of that chamber showed their dismay at the numbers of uninsured predicted in the assessment. Many of these senators were already skeptical about the chances for Trumpcare, especially those senators in states that had signed on to the Medicare expansion and had subsequently seen dramatic increases in of the number of citizens receiving health care. The additional news that seniors would ultimately see their health care costs rise was another body blow because if there is one block of people who can be counted on to vote, it’s seniors – a fact that all politicians, Republicans in particular, know.

The pro-Trumpcare forces led by House Speaker Paul Ryan are not getting much help from the president who, as he does in most cases, tells whatever group of people he happens to be with whatever they want to hear. There is a report this morning, however, that Trump is willing to move the rollback of Medicare and other changes to the insurance marketplace to 2018 from 2020 to appease hardcore conservative members who just want to totally blowup the Affordable Care Act, and are not happy with the bill as it now stands.

This would practically guarantee failure in the Senate because of the reasons stated above. One needs to ask then if this just becoming an exercise in ‘not my problem.’ It raises the possibility that the GOP is aware that Trumpcare may never pass and elements of the party are looking to blame other parts of the party for its collapse because they can’t blame the Democrats any more for anything.

This would produce widespread panic as failure on such a significant piece of legislation would send the Republicans into a tailspin and make plans for items like tax reform or infrastructure spending that much harder. It would also show people that while the GOP can sing in harmony when in opposition, once in government they cannot overcome the divisions in their own party. Add to that the impending investigation into the Trump administration’s connections with Russia and the exposure of Trump as an unstable, jealous provocateur over his unproven accusations of being wiretapped by Obama, and you’ve got a mess of gigantic proportions not even a year into Trump’s presidency.

Democrats need to be careful how they respond to all this. My advice is for the moment reach for the popcorn, sit back and watch it all unfold in front of them.

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Listening to the opposition… Carefully

It’s hard, but necessary, to hear what the other side is saying. [“The argument” by Kurt Bauschardt, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

One of my oldest friends in the world has become what I would consider a far-right conservative. His opinions on Muslims, liberals, the “left loonies” as he calls them, frequently infuriate me. He’s a big fan of posting links on Facebook from sites that I consider “fake news” that often feature stories that are wildly inaccurate or use grossly out-of-date photos or videos to create negative impression of more recent events. He’s been “unfriended” by many people he has known for a long time who no longer find his views palatable.

But that will never ever happen with me. As much as I sometimes find his views beyond the pale, he has every right in the world to hold them and even publicize them. And he’s not the only one. I have no intention of ever deleting or unfriending individuals whose views I find repugnant. It is vitally important that I know what others think and that I use every opportunity to engage them in debate and try to correct a misstatement or an incorrect fact. It doesn’t always work. There’s lots of proof that it’s hard to get people to change their views. But that’s okay. Now and then they raise valid points that I would totally miss if I had blocked them out.

There is a real danger among liberals and progressives to exist in an echo chamber where they only hear views that mirror their own. (I suppose it’s no different for conservatives or far-right alt-Reich proponents. But I’m not worried about them.) Although it’s far from the only reason that Donald Trump won the last election, the tendency of those on the left to totally discount any view that even carries a hint of conservatism definitely played a role in his victory. In the midst of the noise from alt-Reich party boys, the unhinged ranting of Alex Jones at Infowars, the poorly constructed lies of Breitbart, and the fake news being pumped out via Russia-supported fly-by-night websites, there were conservatives who were saying they were going to vote for Trump because they felt they had no other option, often despite the fact they weren’t all that crazy about him. But we in the left largely missed what they were saying because we had just closed their minds to anything that any scent of Trump support. That was a mistake.

But don’t want to get me wrong here. I’m not saying that liberals need to flail themselves over a missed opportunity. Nor that we must give weight to every lunatic far-right screed. Nor do I buy the warmed-over, pablum-like rhetoric about the coasts being “out of touch” with the “real America” of the flyover states in the middle. The coasts are just as much “real America” as any Midwestern spread of farmland. I reject the notion that because we value diversity, openness, education, science, democracy and a positive role for government that we are less American than anybody else. That’s just horse manure.

What I am advocating is that if those on the left value the things listed in the previous paragraph, we will have a better idea of how to defend those values if we listen to what the other side is saying. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to hear the great Molly Ivins speak at a conference. After she gave her talk she opened the floor to questions and one of the first ones was what advice she would give to those on the left about how to combat the ideas of the right. Her advice was to “read across the grain”, not to just read those things whose viewpoint you agreed with, but to look for the logic, or the lack thereof, in opposing viewpoints.

Because in the end there is no way that everyone in this country is going to be singing the same song or hold hands with each other in perfect harmony and unity. It’s a bit of a creepy idea and not very American. We can certainly strive for better understanding of each other and look for areas of agreement. Nevertheless, it’s important that those of us who hold progressive values fight for the things we believe in because it’s a battle that will never end. But knowing what the other side is thinking will help us craft successful outcomes that otherwise might elude us through our own ignorance.

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Trump’s twitter sleight-of-hand

By Tom Regan

[Photo by Rippie: Contra Censura!, Creative Commons]

By now everyone in the free – and not so free – world knows about Donald Trump’s tweets this past weekend that basically accused former President Barack Obama of being a felon. Trump’s accusation that Obama illegally wiretapped his phone and Trump Tower in New York has been dismissed by every knowledgeable authority in existence, but just like his allegation that three million people voted illegally in the November election, Trump says he plans to have the whole thing investigated.

It is yet another tweet from our thin-skinned, angry president with the short attention span that had opponents in an uproar and his supporters scratching their heads wondering just what he was trying to do.

But whatever he was trying to do, it worked.

Whether intentionally or because he can’t control his temper or ego, Donald Trump’s tweets have a habit of throwing the media and the public off the scent of the real story. The current real story concerns Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. The fact that Sessions lied to Congress about meeting Russians during the campaign is, as one pundit put it, “a big deal.” Sessions is the top cop in the country, and recusing himself from any further investigations involving the Trump campaign and its alleged connections to Russian attempts to sabotage the election is just window dressing. It’s the least thing he could do.

Yet Sessions’ predicament was more or less forgotten by midday on Saturday as the media, stunned once again by an early morning twitter storm from the president, was off on another wild goose chase, deploying its resources to hunt down yet another seemingly disjointed ranting from Mar-el-Lago.

Joe Scarborough first suggested (on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) a pattern to this behavior. Trump inevitably launches these tweet broadsides either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. When you look back at the tweets that have sent the media scurrying to either verify or debunk them, it’s always come after a really bad week and a need for Trump to change the story.

Whether it was his reaction to the size of his inaugural crowd versus that of the much larger Obama inaugural crowd, his accusation about the millions of illegal voters, or in this the charges leveled against his predecessor, Trump’s objective is to use the traditionally quiet news hole on Saturday mornings to blow up the media landscape. As a result, the Sunday morning talk shows to which he is so addicted are forced to discuss the fallout from his weekend twitter rantings rather than the mistakes and errors of his administration that have taken place during the previous week.

There is some debate over why he tweets so intensively at this particular time of the week. Some speculate it’s because his daughter and son-in-law, both Orthodox Jews, are observing Shabbat and are not around to temper his twitter tantrums. Perhaps. But adopting this viewpoint plays into the myth that Trump is incompetent and can’t be left alone for five minutes. It was this line of thinking that led his opponents in the Republican primaries to underestimate him, and then led Hillary Clinton and much of the media to do the same in the general election.

Trump is no dummy. Yes, he’s thin-skinned, has an ego the size of Jupiter, doesn’t like being the butt of comedians’ jokes and probably has very little idea about what it really takes to be the president of the United States. But he plays the media like he is a concert violinist. Years spent in the chaotic and cutthroat New York media market have made him a Jedi media master: “This is not the story you been looking for… There’s nothing to see here move along.”

Yet you can’t blame the media entirely for responding in this way. Journalists are supposed to follow the news of the moment, and when the leader of the free world regularly launches tweets like cruise missiles, it’s hard to ignore them.

And don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. Based on the track record of the first 45 days of this administration, there are going to be a lot of busy Saturday mornings.

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It’s always the cover-up

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

Many years ago, when I was in Grade Two at St. Dunstan’s Catholic Elementary School in Fredericton New Brunswick, I got into trouble with the nuns who ran the school. There was a fight in the school yard and I had seen it. The nuns wanted me to spill the beans on who was involved. I told them I hadn’t seen anything. They didn’t believe me and for the once and only time in my entire school career, I got the strap.

In the end, it wasn’t the fight in the school yard that got me. It was the cover-up.

It was a lesson I took to heart. Sort of. I’d like to pretend that from that point on in my life, I never engaged in another cover-up of any kind. But that would be a…cover-up. We humans, as a species, seem to think that if we refuse to acknowledge a situation, it will never come back to bite us. Telling the truth would always be the best answer. Yes, there would be repercussions, but not as many as there are once your cover-up gets exposed.

If there is one occupation that seems to suffer the most from the compulsive need to engage in cover-ups, it’s politicians. There are, of course, too many instances of this to name them all, so let us focus on two recent examples from the Trump administration in the United States.

Example one is the former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. First, he said he didn’t meet or talk with Russians about potential sanctions the then-Obama administration was about to level against Russia because of its meddling in the American election. Then the Washington Post discovered he had indeed had such discussions. This being the Trump administration, he might have gotten away with lying to the media and Congress – the Trump minions care little about them – but he made the mistake of lying to poor Vice-President Mike Pence, and that was a bridge too far. The cover-up got him in the end, and now Donald Trump has a National Security Advisor who is much less of a patsy and doesn’t like Russia very much.

Now we have the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He too told Congress he didn’t talk to any Russians and whoops! Now we know he did, thanks once again to the “failing” Washington Post (Sad). When the Attorney General, the “top cop” in the land misleads Congress and the public about a matter that is very much at the forefront of this administration’s troubles du jour, this is not a good thing. As I write this, it has just flashed across my screen that Sessions has recused himself from any investigation into any possible connections between the Trump administration, the Russians, and hanky-panky that took place during the 2016 presidential election. But this may only be the beginning of his troubles, as he might also find himself the subject of an investigation for lying to Congress.

Apparently, Attorney General Sessions did not get the memo about cover-ups being a bad idea.

There is a drip, drip, drip feeling here that is hard to ignore. As Chris Cillizza of the Post noted, where there is smoke, and smoke and smoke and smoke, there is likely to be fire. One is hard press not to wonder just how much of a cover-up is going on here, and just how many more Russians we are going to find hiding in the Trump administration’s corridors of power.

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Technology real job-killer in US

by Tom Regan

As technology, like solar, continues to improve, employment in fossil fuel industries will become less viable. There will be many new jobs in these new technologically advanced industries, but only for those with the education and skills needed to develop, manufacture operate or repair their products. (Photo by Eneco, Creative Commons)

It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a living. The money is good. It can be a bit boring sometimes however – you tend to do the same thing every day. But you’ve been doing it for a long time. And now that you’re in your late 40s, maybe early 50s, you can see yourself just riding this job into retirement.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there’s a very good chance that within the next 10 years, maybe even sooner, you’re going to lose your job. But what takes your job away won’t be that your company switched production to China or Mexico, it will be technology. Maybe something as simple as a piece of software, or as complex as a robot – regardless it will allow your employer to lower costs and improve productivity. And you’ll be out in the street.


Pres. Donald Trump loves to complain that China and Mexico have been stealing jobs from American workers and that he plans to bring those jobs back. And you can see why this campaign promise resonated with so many people – there are five million fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States now than there were in 2010. Bringing those jobs back is nice idea but it’s totally pie-in-the-sky and not doable. Because the truth is that even if you brought those manufacturing jobs back they would probably be taken by a machine and not a human.

There’s a lot of recent research to back this up. A study by two Ball State professors showed that between 2000 and 2010, 87% of manufacturing jobs were lost to technology and not to trade. If that’s not bad enough, a report from McKinsey showed that 49% of worker activities can be replaced by technology. And that number is only going to grow, particularly in jobs that require repetitive tasks. Jobs, for instance, like in accounting, food preparation, or even some aspects of journalism, will be replaced by machines or robots that can do the job faster and allow increases in productivity.

So why is more attention not paid to this? There are probably two answers: 1) American businesses like to make money and cut costs. Their concerns are for their shareholders and not for their employees. If making more profit means replacing humans with machines, then so be it. They just don’t like to talk about it a lot; 2) it’s much easier for unemployed 50 year-old white guys to blame foreigners or outsiders than to blame technology. The steelworker in Pennsylvania has a much easier time blaming his lost job on a worker earning less in China, then struggling with the fact that technology made his job redundant.

Yet there is a way to combat this problem. It’s called education. For instance, in late 2016 there were over 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States, numbers similar to what were available before the 2008 recession. There is, however, another important factor. Most of these jobs require what are known as “high skill sets” which means that they require a level of education that will enable any worker to operate technologically advanced machinery. To go back to our steelworker in Pennsylvania, chances are he or she is not interested in returning to school to learn a whole new skill set. It’s just much easier to complain about China and Mexico.

Meanwhile, most other Americans are ignoring the writing on the wall. A study by the Pew Research Center show that 80% of Americans think that their job will existed in its current form in 50 years. It’s just whistling past the graveyard.

It boils down to this. American jobs are being lost to technology, not to trade. The answer is education and improved skills but that requires much more investment in education. And based on who Pres. Trump just named as his Secretary of Education, the befuddled Betty DeVos, there is a serious question whether that will happen or not. Pres. Trump can rant all he wants about China and Mexico but that won’t stop American jobs from disappearing. And unless he faces the real issue, it’s only going to get worse.

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