Why the religious Right will put up with anything Trump does or says

A Liberty University-produced film called “The Trump Prophecy,” claims that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 can be attributed to divine intervention, and that Trump is the King Cyrus of our times.

Cyrus the Great was the king of Persia in the second half of the sixth century BCE. He conquered the Babylon and established a huge empire. He allowed the Israelites, who had been exiled there some 50 years earlier, to return to their native land, to govern themselves and to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. For this, the book of Isaiah declares that Cyrus was “messiah”, anointed by God to deliver the Israelites.

For the creators of “The Trump Prophecy,” the comparison with Cyrus has obvious appeal. It emphasizes the global power of the U.S. presidency. It implicitly condemns the previous administration: the exile from God that Trump is now reversing. And it makes Trump out to be the savior of God’s people, permitting them to live and worship as they please.

Although he may be beloved of the Christian right, Trump is no man of God. He is, like Cyrus, a pagan and a “tool of God”. This is often admitted by Trump’s “court evangelicals”. But to evangelicals Trump’s election was God’s plan.

But why would Cyrus do it in the first place? Here is where the equation with Trump becomes most interesting, and potentially revealing. The restoration of peoples to their lands, and the permission for them to self-govern (with Persian imperial oversight), was a broad policy under Cyrus. It was not just the Israelites he treated this way. It is easier to supervise a relatively self-governing group than it is to enforce Persian laws in a foreign and resistant land — but also, and perhaps predominantly, the policy was a propaganda coup. By appropriating local religious beliefs, he cemented his imperial domination and curried favor with the conquered peoples.

This is what happened in Israel as well. The declaration in Isaiah that Cyrus is God’s anointed ruler is not Israelite prophecy; it is Persian propaganda. The biblical writers bought what Cyrus was selling, and elevated him to the level of a David or Solomon. The parallel with Trump and his evangelical prophets is close. Trump too has effectively spoken the language of the religious right, promising them a return to their cherished customs and beliefs. (They’ll be able to say “Merry Christmas” again!)

Like Cyrus, Trump doesn’t care about the actual religious beliefs he is supporting. What he wants is free rein to do as he likes — with the support of those whose local authority he is propping up. He has offered influence, but not real power itself. And they have bought what he is selling. He is quite literally, to be a messiah figure.

It may all seem utterly ridiculous, of course, but there is an important historical lesson here. For though Cyrus restored Israel to self-governance, there would never be another Israelite king. The ceding of power to Cyrus marked the end of Israel’s native form of government. Proclaiming Trump to be a modern-day Cyrus is, implicitly and perhaps even unconsciously, to suggest that our own native form of government may have come to its untimely end. (Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible, Yale Divinity School, published on Religion News Service : https://religionnews.com/2018/10/04/the-trump-prophecy-includes-troubling-parallels-for-american-democracy/).

The support of evangelicals for a man who is a self-adoring huckster and whose every third word is a lie, a man who despises the poor, women and minorities – all this disqualifies them as a Christian sect. They are a political sect, manipulated constantly and expertly. Even evangelicals overseas do not regard them as christians.

Britain’s extreme right wing shows it has no idea and no grown-up ideas.

A short while ago the hard-line Brexiteers of the European Research Group were expected to finally reveal their detailed plan. The group of some 80 Tory MPs, led by the ubiquitous Jacob Rees-Mogg, was going to publish “a Brexit plan to rival Theresa May’s”.

Some in the Prime Minister’s camp feared that it would be “the final nail in the coffin” for her Chequers proposal. But in the event, the ERG’s plan B never materialised. The group’s fractious MPs were unable to agree on a united vision. Insiders revealed that the blueprint had been shelved over concerns about its “accuracy and eccentricity”: it included some off-the-wall ideas, such as a plan to build a Star Wars-style missile shield to protect Britain from nuclear attack, and an expeditionary force to defend the Falklands. “The truth is that we reconsidered,” said Rees-Mogg.

So instead, the ERG pushed ahead with a series of smaller announcements. First, they confidently asserted that a no-deal Brexit would leave Britain better off. According to a report by the pro-Brexit group Economists for Free Trade, far from unleashing doom, a no-deal would result “in a £1.1 trillion boost to the economy over 15 years” (how, exactly? Ed. They have no idea). Rees-Mogg endorsed the report heartily, which was surprising. “To have any idea where the economy will be in 15 years is erroneous,” he harrumphed when the Treasury forecast in January that a no deal would cut growth by 8% in 15 years. The ERG later released its own plans for solving the sticky Irish border question. The Irish government called the plan “dreamland stuff”.

Rees-Mogg and friends have had ample time to research their proposals. Yet with only a few months to spare, they have come up with a prospectus that is embarrassing. Their plans are studded with basic mistakes: they don’t seem to grasp, for instance, that the EU simply cannot give the UK access to the single market on the basis of a vague promise that our product standards will be equivalent.

It’s clear now that the ERG does “not deserve to be taken seriously”. Hopefully the whiplash from the recent car crash will jolt most of them to their senses “after a summer spent huffing and puffing and threatening to blow Chequers down”. The rebels have had their chance and they’ve fluffed it. Now they can only save face by abandoning their fantasies and accepting that a Chequers-style deal is inevitable. (from The Guardian, The Spectator, The Times & Daily Telegraph).

How do these closns get elected? They help blow up the United Kingdom in a xenophobic fit, but haven’t the intellect to study the problem and come up with grown-up ideas. It makes a farce of democracy. Where did all the grown-ups go? (Hint: not to the United States).

Chipping away at our health

The Trump administration has quietly reshaped enforcement of air pollution standards in recent months through a series of regulatory memos. The memos are fulfilling the top wishes of industry, which has long called for changes to how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the nation’s factories, plants and other facilities. The EPA is now allowing certain facilities to be subject to less-stringent regulations and is letting companies use friendlier math in calculating their expected emissions. Environmentalists and public health advocates say the memos could greatly increase levels of air pollutants like mercury, benzene and nitrogen oxides. They accuse the EPA of avoiding the transparency and public input requirements that regulatory changes usually go through.

I have picked just this one instance of harming-the-public-while-delighting-business to illustrate what is happening, mostly behind closed doors and without input from health or public interest groups. Air pollutants like mercury benzene and nitrogen oxides were unknown in the days of Epicurus (lucky Epicurus!), but if they had been I think he sould have been an advocate for regulation, and would have excoriated those who were knowingly and deliberately endangering both health and lives. And for what? Grubby donations to a political cause?

The gunrunner President

American weapons makers have dominated the global arms trade for decades. In any given year, they account for between one-third and more than a half by value of all international weapons sales.

Until recently, the Trump administration had focused on the promotion of big-ticket items like fighter planes, tanks, and missile defense systems around the world. Now Trump has specifically instructed American diplomats to put special effort into promoting arms sales. This has effectively turned them into agents for the country’s largest weapons makers.

Meanwhile, huuman rights and even national security concerns have taken a back seat to creating domestic jobs via such arms sales. Evidence of this can be found in, for example, the elimination of the Obama administration arms sales suspensions to Nigeria, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Despite Saudi Arabia’s commission of acts that one member of Congress has said “look like war crimes” in its Yemeni intervention, and his defence of the Saudi regime in the matter of the assassination of Jamal Khasogghi, Trump continues to protect his much-vaunted arms sales. No one has accused him of having any shred of moral fiber.

The fact is that fuelling death and destruction actually generates significantly fewer jobs per dollar than almost any other kind of investment. In addition, many of those jobs will actually be located overseas, thanks to production-sharing deals with weapons-purchasing countries like Italy, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other U.S. allies. In particular, Saudi Arabia is seeking to ensure that, by 2030, half the value of the kingdom’s arms purchases will be produced in Saudi Arabia. The McClatchy news service summed up the situation in this headline: “Trump’s Historic Arms Deal Is a Likely Jobs Creator — In Saudi Arabia”.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has brokered agreements for sales of major systems worth $46 billion in the first six months of 2018, more than the $41 billion in deals made during all of 2017. And that, it seems, is just the beginning. (Tomgram, Aug 14 2018 edited review of “The NRA and the Gun Industry in the Global Stratosphere By William D. Hartung”)

So the priority of the American diplomat overseas is to sell arms! As if there were not sufficient violence and ethnic division in the world already, made worse by modern methods of slaughter. This is supported by the christian supporters of a president who is scrapping the restraints put upon other disagreeable, repressive regimes, put in plce by his predecessors. People who subscribe to the peaceable ideas of Epicurus should be appalled. The problem is that every day there is yet another shock to our sense of decency, as ataraxia gets daily more difficult to achieve.

Take those impractical courses, kids!

The President of John Hopkins University, Ronald J. Daniels, recently overheard a conversation among students. One opined that he would have liked to have enrolled in an introductory course in philosophy, but that the demands of his major meant that “enlightenment would have to wait”, you “gotta get a job”, and that therefore he would have to sign up for a “practical” course. Such is the pressure of the sceptics of the humanities (“what use is 19th Century French literature?”) that courses in the humanities in the US are dwindling and are known in the trade as “fragile disciplines”.

I was recently talking with a very senior person from the US Treasury. In the course of the conversation he told me that the biggest problem in the Treasury was the lack of people who could write English, communicate with the Press, not to mention internally, and make the jargon of the department comprehensible. He said that good writers with a command of grammar and vocabulary were among the highest earners in this large department.

I read Modern History at University. For “history” you can resd “human motivations, national interest and mass psychology”. I ended up running a company and found history a great foundation for managing employees and customers, the two most important aspects of management. Of course, not everyone will end up managing people, but learning the technical part of a job comes after you have honed your imagination, ethical decision-making, writing skills, discernment, critical thinking, self-reflection, empathy, and tolerance. Not to mention sense of humour, without which all business can be grim.

Actually, recent studies show that those with humanities degrees are thriving in the workplace. They experience low rates of unemployment and high levels of job satisfaction. Throughout an average career the ratio between average median incomes for humanties degree holders and those with business, engineering, health and medical science degrees has been shown to narrow. As if only income matters in a lifetime.

Yet another serious “derivatives” threat

Prospect Magazine, October 2018 edition, runs an article by Jay Elwes entitled “The Brexit Crunch”, and it is very important indeed. A precis of the article follows. Long-ish, but bear with me:

In 2008 the total value of all CDOs (Collateralised Debt Obligations) and Credit Default Swaps, both types of derivatives, was $458 trillion. One might be forgiven for imagining lessons have been learned, pace Warren Buffet, who severely criticized the derivatives business last time. But no. The current value of all derivatives at the moment is now an astonishing $542.4 trillion, and, furthermore, the modern type of derivative is designed not so much to allocate risk but to conceal it.

The last disaster was caused by over-stretched sub-prime house borrowers. This time it is Brexit.

It seems the British government is going to pass a law allowing EU companies to work on derivative trades post- Brexit, but the EU has made no corresponding offer. If no agreement is forthcoming British finance companies will be unable to operate in the EU. The value of the EU derivatives operated by British companies in the EU is about £27 trillion at any one time. If there is no agreement between the UK and the EU, the legal basis of the derivatives will disappear the day Brexit is effective, and the British companies would have to apply for permission to trade with every country in which they operate. It is possible that the European Court of Human Rights would ensure that freedom to enter contracts, and property rights over derivatives, would be maintained. But it would take time to litigate, and the British companies need immediate clarity.

Worse than this threat of disruption is the fact that after 2008 regulators pushed derivates into clearing houses, the biggest of which is LCH (formerly London Clearing House). LCH clears billions of EU trades every day. When Brexit happens LCH and other clearing houses will be regarded by the EU as “third country entities”, and would lose their right to trade in the EU. Banks would have to move their businesses into continental clearing houses, and find someone prepared to buy all the trades they individually have on their books, a tall order. This in turn would create a stampede to sell assets built up over many years, amounting to an estimated £33 trillion.

The European Banking Authority has said in a statement that “firms cannot take for granted that they can continue to operate as at present, nor can they rely on as yet unrealised political agreements”. This matter of derivatives could cause a giant international meltdown and is arguably the least discussed, but most important issue, about Brexit, not, of course, even thought about (or understood?) by Brexiteers.

Were I not of Epicurean persuasion I would add: Heaven help us!

How to reform the US Senate

For those of you who read the New York Times, you would have read that the senators who voted to confirm Kavanaugh represent only 44% of the US population. These senators tend to come from states which are small, rural and disproportionately white. In an era where race and population density play an ever-greater role in determining political preferences, the system, however unintentionally, seems heavily bias in favour of the Republicans. Combined with a hyper-partisan climate, and the results are toxic.

Defenders of the Senate as it is point to the intentions of the Founders. They wanted senators to be wise councillors, uninhibited by tribal bickering and hot-headedness. More importantly, the Constitution was written in the context of a society where state identity was very strong. The most common criticism of the Constitution was that it granted the federal government too much power; anti-federalism was still very strong in country that had been governed under the Articles of Confederation. By ensuring that states were represented as states, power-hungry demagogues who appealed to the whims of the masses would have their ambitions curtailed.

But it goes without saying that America in the early 21st century is a very different place to America in the late 18th century. States, particularly the small Midwestern ones, have a weaker identity, and one which is more cultural than political. The slave-non slave division no longer exists. America’s primary economic division used to be between the industrialised Northeast and the agricultural South. It is now between globalised cities and de-industrialised small towns. Since the New Deal, America has become accustomed to the federal government playing an active role in society; a chamber cannot defend its existence simply as a curb on ‘big government.’ Put simply, the Founders could never have foreseen America’s current political, socioeconomic and demographic nature.

On the other hand, what constitutional conservatives get right is that it would be a mistake for the Senate to become a mere replica of the House of Representatives. Already, the Senate exhibits some of the worst features traditionally associated with the House: ultra-partisanship, a lack of technical expertise and experience, frequent stalemates. The influence of corporate money is even worse in the Senate due to the sheer expense of running an election across a whole state. The existence of the filibuster makes passing all but the budget reconciliation bills an arduous process. If America is to have a second chamber, it ought to be one which contributes wisdom, moderation and a long-term vision. Democrats have proposed a range of reforms to make the Senate more representative: giving bigger states more senators, giving Puerto Rico and DC statehood, campaign finance reforms. But these would only make the Senate a copy of the House- hardly a desirable outcome given the general unpopularity of Congress.

Rather, reforms to the Senate ought to focus on reducing its power. A chamber that is increasingly unrepresentative should not be able to indefinitely veto legislation, particularly pertaining to finance matters like the budget or the debt ceiling. The Senate should transition into being more of a revising chamber, akin to Britain’s House of Lords or Germany’s Bundesrat. Most bills should originate in the House, with the Senate mostly tasked with improving legislation, not changing it entirely. This would have the happy effect of reducing the amount of money poured into Senate campaigns, and thus the amount of time senators have to waste fundraising.

The Senate should also be non-partisan. This already happens in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature. While true non-partisanship will be extremely difficult to achieve, the absence of party whips would allow Senators to vote their conscience, fearing only the views of their constituents. For example, Trump-sceptic conservatives could oppose some of his policies without being labelled a traitor to the Republican Party. This would have the added benefit of replacing party primaries with a single primary to determine who stands in the general election.

America is fortunate to have the Senate. The Founders were right to fear the power-hungry men that were attracted to the House. They wanted a civilised, intelligent platform where the conflicting interests of the states could be resolved amicably. Progressives who favour the abolition of the Senate point to countries like Sweden or New Zealand, which seem to get on perfectly well without one. But those countries have a multi-party political culture, where coalitions and compromises with those from other parties are normal. America, which is dominated by two bitterly opposed parties, needs a non-partisan, experienced and wise second chamber. And while the political salience of state identity has been reduced, it remains a prominent fact of life which requires representation.

Quotations from Albert Einstein

“The most aggravating thing about the younger generation is that I no longer belong to it.”

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned at school.

“You teach me baseball and I’ll teach you relativity…..No, perhaps we shouldn’t…..You will learn relativity faster than I learn baseball.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Sexual abuse in the Catholic church

A new manual designed to help prevent clerical sexual abuse in Chile has triggered further outrage by listing a host of instructions that critics say should be self-evident. Among other things, the manual – which was published on the website of the Archbishop of Santiago, but which has since been withdrawn – advised priests not to touch children’s genitals and to refrain from “expressions of affection” such as patting buttocks and hugging from behind. It also warned priests not to kiss children on the mouth. The document, signed by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, was posted online one day before Pope Francis defrocked Fernando Karadima – one of the priests at the centre of Chile’s clerical abuse scandal.

I would prefer a Catholic to explain how the church got itself into this appalling mess. For a non-believer to do so seems inappropriate.

Me Too

If occasonally I depart from philosphic mode, I hope I will be forgiven for my human failing. It usually isn‘t worth getting roiled up.

On this issue, however, I don’t apologise at all. What some entitled, predatory and totally amoral men are doing now in the United States is trying to discredit the MeToo movement and to make out that they, the men, that is, are being victimised and unfairly picked on by harridans who hate men and who make up sordid events that never happened. Already we have seen a group of men, led by no less than the President of the United States (!) trash the reputation and the quiet, honest and totally believable testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who charged Judge Kavanaugh with attempted rape.

Now other men are piling on, with poor-me stories of wild and unsubstantiated accusations that “women” are false witnesses, only out to bring down decent, upstanding men, who now dare not even smile at a woman without being accused of date rape.

Maybe I, in turn, am being unfair, but to me (as a man) the only reason I can see for this backlash against women is a compunction to lash out as a “saint” (with a guilty conscience?) in order to head off a real case of sexual harrassment, and to brand a woman before she gets a chance to brand you. The sight of the President trashing the victims of harassment and rape while his ardent supporters (including women!) cheer and laugh, filled me with disgust. You can be poorly educated, out of a job, fed up with the way the country is run, but still exhibit sympathy, even outrage on behalf of women exploited sexually by powerful bosses.

Can a man be a member of the MeToo movement? Count me in!

“The new Republican tax code rigs the economy.”. A millionaire investor

“The new Republican tax code deliberately rigs the economy in favor of the political donor class – the CEOs, corporations, and millionaires who fund campaign – and virtually guarantees that a tiny number of the richest people in the country will get significantly richer while working families and the middle class get screwed.

“Among other things, the NEW REPUBLICAN TAX CODE allows:

– Millionaire investors to pay half the tax rate of people who bring home a paycheck from an actual job.
– Trust fund babies to inherit more than $22 million tax free while Americans who work for a living pay up to 37% in taxes on what they earn by actually working.
– Corporations to get a tax break for moving jobs outside of the US.
– “Fund managers” to pay half the tax rate of similar professions.
– Real estate developers and the children of real estate developers to be exempted from paying any taxes at all on properties worth tens of millions of dollars!
– Families who control massive stock portfolios to be exempted from paying any taxes at all on those assets, forever.
– Corporations who hid money overseas for years to be rewarded for their deceit.

“With the passage of the new federal tax code, Republican politicians essentially transferred almost $2 trillion of the nation’s money to the corporations, CEOs, and millionaires who fund political campaigns. Those same politicians are now using the deficits they themselves created to demand huge cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Programs, and other essential benefits that have protected American citizens and American society as a whole for decades.

“To add insult to injury, these politicians (along with the donors and corporations who fund their campaigns) insist on arguing publicly that this obscene new tax code is somehow going to create new jobs and explosive economic growth. Nonsense. Common sense understands (and academic studies have confirmed) that in history, tax cuts have never created new jobs. They won’t this time either. And because of the new tax code, most if not all future growth of the economy will be captured by a tiny group of people rather than shared across our citizenry.

“Let me be clear, the new Republican tax code is not based on some credible economic theory or philosophy. It’s a payoff to the political donor class. Yes, it is that simple. They make it complicated on purpose to try to confuse you.”
(Morris Pearl, Chair, the Patriotic Millionaires, Retired Managing Director, Blackrock)

Blackrock is one of the biggest investment companies in the world. There is no need for comment from me, except to say “Why isn’t this common knowledge? And why is anyone still voting for them?”

The U.S. Mail should not be for sale!

Postal workers and their allies are demanding that the country’s mail service stay in the hands of the public. This comes amid increasing threats to privatize the postal service, including a proposal from President Trump this summer to examine selling U.S. Mail off to the highest bidder.

Many may think that in the internet age, the Postal Service has outlived its usefulness, and that the decline of letter mail is the cause of the Postal Service’s financial troubles. But the Postal Service actually turns a profit on its deliveries.

The USPS’s problems were largely created by Congress which passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which forced the USPS to pre-fund future retiree health benefits 75 years into the future! That means it had to fund retirement benefits for postal employees who haven’t even been born yet, a crushing burden that no other agency or company — public or private — is required to meet, or could even survive.

The mandate drained $5.5 billion a year out of Postal Service funds and accounts for more than 90 percent of its losses. In fact, if it weren’t for this manufactured pre-funding crisis, the USPS would have reported profits in four of the last five years — all without receiving a dime of taxpayer money. The reason is that package volumes have exploded with the e-commerce boom. Companies of all sizes, including Amazon, rely on the Postal Service. USPS delivers 30 percent of FedEx Ground packages and 40 percent of all of Amazon’s many shipments. Vitally, the USPS is at the heart of a $1.7 trillion mailing industry that employs more than 7.5 million people. 88 percent of Americans view the USPS favorably.

What could the public expect if the Postal Service were sold to off to private interests? Higher prices, slower delivery, and an end to universal, uniform, and affordable service to every corner of the country. In the UK, postage costs are up nearly 80 percent since 2007. The privatized Portuguese post has closed nearly a third of their post offices.

The US postal system postal system is older than the country itself. It was a vital component of our country’s public good then, and still is today. It never belonged to any president, any political party, or any company. It has belonged to the people of the country.

My comment: Here they are, at it again – spot a public organisation and the far right money-grubbers realise they have another source of private profit. Privatise it, raise prices, fire a third of the staff, reduce the level of service, and, of course, skim the profits off into offshore bank accounts that can be used to bribe congressmen to deliver yet more public operations into private hands. They call it “shrinking government”. Clever, isn’t it? Some would call it legalised theft. How can they live with themselves? Oh, by the way, do look at what has happened to the once terrific British postal service. Half the mail delivered is wrongly delivered – at inflated prices. Epicurean situation? No!

Coping with loneliness : follow- on from a recent post

1. Distracting yourself by dedicating time to work, study or hobbies. Drawing or painting is particularly absorbing. It doesn’t matter if the result is lousy. Singing in an amateur choir can be fun, and it doesn’t matter if your voice is a bit weak or you can’t read music.

2. Joining a social club, but this also appeared in the BBC list of the top three unhelpful things that other people suggest. If you feel isolated, then joining a club might help, but if you find it hard to trust people, you might still feel lonely in a crowd. other ideas are: joining a book club, where houcan get to know people gradually. Joining a gym is a possibility, although you might wait a while to meet someone sympathique!

3. Trying to change your thinking to make it more positive. This is easier said than done, but there are cognitive behavioural strategies which could help people to trust others. For example, if someone snubs you, you might assume it’s because they don’t like you, but if you ask yourself honestly what evidence you have for that, you might find there isn’t any. Instead you can learn to put forward alternative explanations – that they were tired or busy or preoccupied.

4. The next most common suggestions were to start a conversation with anyone, talk to friends and family about your feelings and to look for the good in every person you meet

5. People told the survey that the most unhelpful suggestion is to go on dates. While many respondents feel lonelier now they are not in a relationship, it is also clear that meeting someone new doesn’t necessarily solve everything. “It’s important to remember you can be lonely even when you’re in a relationship,” one respondent remsrked.

6. Arranging for a volunteer to phone you every Sunday for a long chat.

Loneliness survey, BBC oct 2, 2018

How the Democrats can win the midterms

In the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, Democrats are feeling dejected. It seems the country is institutionally biased in favour of wealthy, well-connected men. The pleas of a woman who is “100% certain” she was assaulted carry little weight. It is tempting to give up the fight and go home.

But Kavanaugh’s confirmation can be a rallying cry for Democrats. The appointment of the most unpopular justice in history ought to galvanise opposition to Trump, resulting in high Democratic turnout in the midterms. However, there are several caveats to this. The Democrats are in serious danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Here’s what they ought to do to maximise their chances of success.

  1. Campaign against Kavanaugh’s partisanship, poor temperament and lack of sympathy for Ford, not the allegations themselves. If Democrats insist on Kavanaugh’s guilt, with slogans like “Believe women”, it makes them seem like they don’t believe in due process and innocent until proven guilty. They will play into the Republican conspiratorial notion of the allegations being orchestrated to thwart Kavanaugh’s nomination. They will also alienate male voters who instinctively oppose the notion that women ought to be believed over men in these sorts of cases. I think Democrats were right to vote against Kavanaugh, but they are close to overplaying their hand on this issue.
  2. Do not let voters forget about the Mueller investigation. Bring up Trump’s ties to Russia as frequently as possible. Playing the patriotism card could win over swing voters who share the Democrats’ suspicion of Russia, but don’t share their progressive discomfort with nationalism.
  3. Establish a consistent opposition to Trump’s trade war. Trump’s tariffs will cost the American consumer, while doing virtually nothing to change China’s economic policies. Democrats have the rare opportunity to be the low-tax party here. But by flirting with Trump-style protectionism and opposition to trade deals, progressive Democrats in particular could weaken the party’s critique of Trump’s trade policy in an attempt to win back Rust Belt voters. This would be a mistake; Democrats must make the working-class case for free trade.
  4. Oppose the Republican tax bill, without supporting high taxes per se. The Republican tax reforms are unpopular because they are rightly seen to favour the wealthy and major corporations. But that doesn’t mean most Americans support European levels of taxation. Democrats should pledge to reserve the individual income tax cuts. They should also raise corporation tax, though not to the 35% level it was before the reforms were passed. But good messaging is clear here- no one should doubt the Democrats’ commitment to keeping taxes low for ordinary people.
  5. Don’t run a purely negative campaign. Of course, the Trump administration ought to be critiqued. But Democrats must present a coherent and radical alternative if they are to succeed. Policies like moving some federal agencies away from DC to give struggling areas more high-paying jobs, a fund to help areas affected by deindustrialisation, or pressuring cities to loosen planning regulations to get more affordable houses built- are all popular and don’t cost all that much money. Democrats need to seem exciting and fresh. An attack of Trump from the position of the status quo will be frowned upon.
  6. Play down expectations. Many Democrats are eagerly anticipating winning states like Texas and Georgia, despite those places being generally conservative. While the aim should be to win them, if Democrats fail, Republicans will portray that as a victory, even if there is a swing towards the Democrats in those places. Failing to achieve high expectations will only fuel Trump’s ego.
  7. Don’t fuel America’s worsening hyper-partisanship. This is more an issue of morality than electability. I concede that bitter and hyperbolic attacks on Republicans could boost Democratic enthusiasm. But it’s nevertheless the wrong thing to do. Democrats and Republicans increasingly see each other as mortal enemies. The proportion of people to say they would be happy for their children to marry someone in a different political party has fallen considerably. This makes good governance and establishing a broad consensus almost impossible. While Republicans have often demonised Democrats, accusing them of wanting to undermine the country, Democrats should not fall to that level. You cannot win over your opponents by insulting them.

Revealed: The letter drafted but never delivered

To the White House:

Mr. President,

Over the last week or two the nation has been more divided than I have seen it in my lifetime. While I am honored to have been chosen by you for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, and to have had the heartening support of the Republican members of the Senate, the fact is that the issue has become about me, my past and my suitability for the post. While I stoutly maintain my innocence of the charges made against me, I love this country much more than I love power and prominence. My overwhelming wish is to bring our country together, not to divide it, and certainly not to serve on the Supreme Court with a shadow over my reputation.

I am therefore writing to withdraw my name from contention for the post and indicate my wish to return to serve the country on the DC Court of Appeals.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh

(Thinks: Sounds weak. Mmmmh. Oh, to hell with Epicurus, goddam moderation, and the country, let’s go for it!)

Loneliness. ( an attempt at a deliberate distraction from the news!)

In February 2018 The BBC Loneliness Experiment was launched on BBC Radio 4 in collaboration with the Wellcome Foundation. People from 237 different countries, islands and territories took part in the survey. A summary of the main findings:

Loneliness is said to mainly strike older, isolated people – and of course it can, and does. But the BBC survey found even higher levels of loneliness among younger people, and this pattern was the same in every country. The survey was conducted online, which might have deterred some older people, or attracted people who feel lonely. But this is not the first study to see high rates of loneliness reported by young people: similar research was conducted earlier in 2018 by the Office for National Statistics.

There are several reasons why younger people might feel lonely. The years between 16 and 24 are often a time of transition where people move home, build their identities and try to find new friends. Meanwhile, they’ve not had the chance to experience loneliness as something temporary, useful even, prompting us to find new friends or rekindle old friendships – 41% of people believe that loneliness can sometimes be a positive experience. Other young people who feel lonely told us they felt ashamed about it.

– Those who told us they always or often felt lonely had lower levels of trust in others and higher levels of anxiety, both of which can make it harder to make friends. They look inwards and question people’s motives, wondering whether people spend time with me because they want to, or because they feel guilty. There is some evidence that if people feel chronically lonely they can become more sensitive to rejection. You are dealing with so many things alone that when people do take an interest you can be quite defensive. It can be debilitating being lonely.

– 83% of people in the study said they like being on their own. A third said that just being alone for a while makes them feel lonely, and in some cases isolation is clearly at the root of their loneliness.

– Loneliness is worse if you have lost a spouse or a companion who was close.

– Lonely people use social media for entertainment and to connect with people. On the other hand, watching people put up on social media only the fun, glamorous stuff – photos, new clothes, fancy holiday venues – can heighten feelings of loneliness.

– The survey also found that people who feel discriminated against for any reason, like their sexuality or a disability – were more likely to feel lonely. Blind teenagers, for instance, have a bad time feeling left out of chat about boys, music, clothes etc. and are often ignored in class. They can’t make eye contact or use body language. If someone who can see comes into a room they will gravitate towards someone who smiles at them. You can’t smile at someone unless you know they are there. Even an assistance dog is a mixed blessing
people fuss over the dog but don’t engage with the human being.

– people who say they often feel lonely score higher on average for social empathy. They are better at spotting when someone else is feeling rejected or excluded, probably because they have experienced it themselves.

– Sometimes it’s suggested that people experiencing loneliness need to learn the social skills that would help them to make friends, but the survey found that people who felt lonely had social skills that were just as high as everyone else’s. So instead, perhaps what’s needed are strategies to help deal with anxiety.

– The type of culture you live in has implications for loneliness. People from cultures which put a high value on independence, such as Northern Europe and the US, said they would be less likely to tell a colleague about their loneliness. In these cultures relationships with partners seem to be particularly important in the prevention of loneliness.

– In cultures where extended family is often emphasised, such as Southern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, older women in particular were at lower risk of feeling lonely.
(Loneliness survey, BBC October 2, 2018)

My observation:
After university and travel in the Americas I went to live in Central London, only to become aware that, in fact, I knew no one there. It came as a shock. I was very lonely and sorry for myself. But after a while I told myself to buck up, and I joined a choir, took singing lessons and joined a group that put on musicals. That did the trick. But it was an act of deliberate will.

Light relief

The Tune

The Tune, just like it’s friend, the Rhyme,
Has had its era and its time.
Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein
Now seem as quaint as Auld Lang Syne.
And big bands that were once the rage,
Are relics of a bygone age.
A booming sound in deep bass clef
Now satisfies the future deaf.
The “melody” that kids applaud
Is eight bars on a single chord;
And juries give ecstatic votes
To songs strung out on single notes —
The words, however subtle, drowned
In thumping, unrelenting sound.
Am I too old, perhaps ungallant,
If I suggest a lack of talent?
Can the young recall or croon
A modern song without a tune?
Could it be composers now
Would write a tune, but don’t know how?

Robert Hanrott

How American politics work

On April 24th the New York Times reported that Mick Mulvaney – then interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the following to a group of bankers:

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”
This is one of those things everyone in the political establishment knows but few dare say aloud. It’s both appalling and common knowledge at the same time. But most Americans know it. It’s quite obvious.

And we talk about corruption in Africa, India etc! It’s hard to cultivate peace of mind knowing that the level playing field has vanished and the fox is in charge of the henhouse.

Our collective memory is fading

The famous quote by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, is echoed by Yascha Mounk, who writes, “One possible explanation for why young people are disenchanted with democracy is that they have little conception of what it would mean to live in a different political system.”

Today most of the millions who fought against fascism in the second world war have since passed on, their children are in their seventies and eighties, and Remembrance Day is held only once a year. Confronted by this huge, and ultimately tragic memory gap, Mounk suggests that “civic education…should spend more time pointing out that ideological alternatives to liberal democracy, from fascism to communism, and from autocracy to theocracy, remain as repellent today as they have been in the past”. (Richard Orlando, Westmount, Quebec, Canada)

I am one of those elderly men whose father fought in the Second World War. He was one of the first Allied serving officers to encounter and enter a Nazi death camp in Northern Germany. He gave me a leather-thonged whip that he had taken from an arrested concentration camp guard, who had used it to whip women and children. My father’s words to me were, “Keep it, and never, ever forget”.

My British father was a product of his time, but he believed passionately in democracy, in benign capitalism designed to improve the lives of everyone. He believed in honesty and integrity, in getting along with everyone, in moderation, equal opportunity, and using taxes to ensure that the less well brought-up and educated were respected and had healthy lives. And he voted Conservative. Yes, he was a Conservative! I never knew my wife’s American father, but my wife tells me that he was a Republican with a world view almost identical to that of my own father. Whatever happened? Certainly, the meaning of “Conservative” has radically changed since both fine and honourable men passed away.

The crisis among young British youths

Yesterday, my colleague, Owen Bell, wrote a post about millennials and their attitudes. Today I would like to comment on the group coming up behind them, teenagers of both genders.

More than 100,000 children aged 14 in the UK are self-harming, with one in four girls of this age having deliberately hurt themselves, according to a report from the Children’s Society. Experts have put the behaviour down to a combination of pressure from school, austerity and gender expectations. Nearly a quarter said they hear jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all the time, while more than a fifth of those in secondary school said jokes or comments were often made about people’s sexual activity. The mental health campaigner Natasha Devon said more needed to be done to treat the causes of self-harm. “We need to look at the environment young people exist in at home and in school so these issues don’t arise in the first place rather than fire-fighting once they have manifested.”(The Guardian, August 29 2018)

I think the principle culprit in all this is social media, which has enabled the cruel, the bullies, and the twisted individuals to bully and exploit vulnerable youngsters, unpunished. Facebook et al offer a charter for the malicious, and are helping produce, arguably, one of the most screwed up generation in history. And to what end? I have no doubt that the initiators of social media sites had no ill intent when they set out. They naively thought they would bring people together, and in many cases they have done so. But they never imagined how their inventions could be used for mischief. As an Epicurean I refuse to have any social media site at all. If I can’t see my friends and have them sit in my Epicurean “garden”; if I can’t phone my friends or visit them, I just won’t see them. So be it.