Category Archives: Personal

Information of a personal nature.

President Trump and Tribalism

My Comments: Some of you will see this as a political statement by me and perhaps recoil from it. I hope not.

We are in the midst of a national, if not global, re-evaluation of the values that underly society. On a personal level, I’m very troubled by Trump and how his values about life, about other people, about truthfulness, about the rule of law differ so greatly from my values. I’m less troubled by the political direction he’s pushing us.

That’s because, short of a global nuclear war, the outcome is very likely to be a re-affirmation of the assumptions that drove our nation and our economy toward greatness. Trump represents an effort to roll back the tides, and you know how that’s likely to play out. (See King Canute above.)

From an economic perspective, it’s a non-starter. Sooner or later, his narrow focus will doom him and those around him. Personally, I refuse to live in the past. I’m concerned about the now and tomorrow.

Ronald Brownstein on Nov 2, 2017

Although in dramatically different ways, Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York and the Republican tax plan scheduled for release Thursday raise the same jagged question: In the Donald Trump era, is it possible for a deeply divided America to sustain any shared interest or common purpose?

The country obviously faced difficult divisions long before this president was elected. But he’s operated in a uniquely tribal fashion that has ominously, and even deliberately, widened those divides. In office, he has abandoned any pretense of seeking to represent the entire country. How deep a crevice he digs may turn on how much, if at all, the Republican congressional majorities resist his divisive tendencies.

Since announcing his presidential campaign, Trump has prioritized what I’ve called the “coalition of restoration”: the primarily older, blue-collar, non-urban, and evangelical whites who combine unease about America’s demographic and cultural change with anxiety about their place in an evolving economy.

Since January, Trump has repeatedly moved to show his coalition that he will resist the changes they fear. That impulse has been evident in his serial travel bans targeting mostly Muslim countries; his attempt to bar trans soldiers from the military; his forgiving reaction to the white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his support for preserving Confederate monuments.

Trump displayed a similar instinct following the New York attack, appealing to fear of the assailant’s Muslim background. In a flurry of tweets on Tuesday evening, Trump immediately denounced, as a “Democratic” invention, the “diversity lottery” immigration program that allowed the attacker to live in the United States. Leave aside that George H.W. Bush signed the lottery program into law, or that all Senate Democrats (along with 14 Republicans) supported ending it during the 2013 debate over comprehensive immigration reform. The key is that Trump’s reaction betrayed two central components of his political identity: his instinct to view any crisis more as an opportunity to divide than to unite, and how reflexively he portrays immigrants as a threat.

Trump is far from the first Republican tugged toward that dark star. But the party has sent mixed signals about how far it will follow him. On the one hand, this year’s attacks from Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie on so-called “sanctuary cities” and the Central American gang MS-13 have set a template for Trump-like anti-immigrant messages that many Republicans are likely to adopt in the midterms. On the other, Trump has struggled to build momentum for a bill to cut legal immigration in half, and he’s had trouble unifying congressional Republicans behind his demand for a border wall (which faces majority public opposition).

On immigration, Republicans appear genuinely divided—mostly by geography, partly by ideology—over how closely to join Trump in targeting whites most uneasy about the new arrivals. That hesitance is understandable given that, by 2020, minorities are likely to constitute a majority of all Americans under age 18.

But on taxes, congressional Republicans are placing an equally narrow bet. With Trump’s intermittent support, the GOP is advancing a tax plan aimed at a few voters at the pinnacle of the income pyramid. Although the numbers may change somewhat in the new House plan, the most comprehensive nonpartisan analysis of the GOP’s original blueprint found that it would shower fully four-fifths of its benefits on the top 1 percent of earners by 2027.

By diverting so much federal revenue to that one group, Republicans are ensuring future conflict with others. That lopsided allocation leaves them offering only small tax cuts to working-class voters, as well as possible tax increases to many upper middle-class families already recoiling from Trump’s behavior and cultural agenda. Their plan ensures they will pursue deep cuts in domestic discretionary programs that invest in the productivity of the increasingly diverse future generations—including programs in education and scientific research. It also means they will face growing demands from their fiscal hawks to cut entitlements, which benefit the predominantly white older population whose votes underpin their electoral coalition.

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Our Aging Workforce Needs Foreigners

I’m part of our aging workforce. I’m semi-retired, spending less money every month than I used to, and knowing that I have far fewer years to live than those in my children’s generation.

To have the same successful retirement that I’m hoping for, they will be fighting the same battles I’ve fought, but likely for more years.

This is because the United States is undergoing both a demographic and an economic shift.

My middle class life was sustained during years of economic growth driven by a demand for more and more of everything. A new car, a bigger house, longer vacations, etc., and that drove the growth of companies created to supply stuff to satisfy the demand. Those employed to provide the supply to satisfy the demand were largely home grown, supplemented by people from across the planet who filled the gaps created by those of us who by this time were further up the economic ladder.

Today, what’s left of the middle class are having fewer children, and having them later in life. Technology in the form of robots are now more economical in terms of output than were people a few years ago. Even China is today beginning to shift toward robots building stuff to export the stuff we like to buy. College graduates in this country, burdened with staggering debt loads, not only are having trouble finding good paying jobs, but are also less inclined to buy a house, a new car, etc., because they simply don’t have the money.

A decrease in demand, coupled with a shrinkage in the supply of labor, means the economy will shrink. Baby boomers will still demand health care. The dilemma is who is going to pay for it. Printing more money will simply lead to inflation, a self-defeating reality.

People with no money do not buy much. So unless we are willing to simply let people die in the streets, we as a society must find a way to provide care. One of the engines of growth is a hungry population willing to work and spend money to support their cravings for bigger and better. Immigration will not guarantee growth, but without a supply of labor you can almost guarantee there will be no growth.

By Joseph Coughlin and Luke Yoquinto 22 Aug 2017

Earlier this summer, Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican congressman from Arizona, delivered some hard truths to a session of the House of Representatives. “We have a math problem, and it is based on demographics,” Schweikert said on June 28. “I am a baby boomer. There are 76 million of us who are baby boomers, who are heading towards retirement. That demographic curve is changing the cost structure of government.”

This was back during that precarious period when Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts had succeeded in the House but hadn’t yet floundered in the Senate, and Schweikert was lending voice to an aspect of the legislative push that had gone more or less unsaid, at least in public. To austerity-minded policymakers, the Better Care Reconciliation Act represented an exceedingly rare opportunity—“once in a lifetime,” wrote Grover Norquist—to rein in Medicaid spending before the U.S. population grew significantly older and more reliant on public funds. “It is time for almost revolutionary thoughts,” Schweikert said. “We need to look at the budget holistically.”

Between Schweikert’s take on the future solvency of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security and the ongoing efforts of President Trump and congressional Republicans to push the BCRA into law, Republican policymakers have demonstrated real concern about the economic dependency of the old and sick on the young and gainfully employed.
Which is, from a certain point of view, fair enough: The Republican Party, at least in its platonic form, exists to limit government’s reach, and our aging population, it could be argued, may force that reach to extend. It would be strange if no Republicans pushed back.

And perhaps that was why it was so peculiar when, a little more than a month after Schweikert’s demographics lesson, President Trump announced he would embrace the RAISE Act, a legislative one-two punch co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, also staunch supporters of the Republican health care effort. RAISE, if signed into law, would change the admissions criteria for legal immigrants and, more concerning from a demographics perspective, reduce their numbers by half within a decade. To the limited extent that the American working-age population continues to grow, immigrants are responsible. And so, for leaders of a party with clear apprehensions regarding the ongoing ability of the country’s workers to support its older adults, slashing legal immigration would seem, to put it gently, inconsistent.

President Trump has weathered charges of inconsistency before, but this time may be different. His campaign promise to make America great is in a category of its own—the ur-promise from which all his other promises descend. And the passage of RAISE will likely violate it in a very tangible way.

It’s not just that the legislation’s legal-immigration cuts would damage the economy, a fact most economists affirm. It’s that RAISE would hurt the American economy relative to the economies of other countries. And for those who want America to be first in all things, that outcome may prove difficult to stomach.

The cuts entailed by RAISE aren’t extreme—at least, not by international standards. They would not put us in the hermetic company of Japan, which admits very few new permanent residents, or lump us in with Switzerland and Denmark, where new immigrants must pay a high ticket price for admission, sometimes out of future wages. Even under this new proposed policy, the U.S. would still accept more newcomers, in raw terms, than any other country except perhaps Germany. (On a per-capita basis, however, the U.S. is nowhere near the top of the list of immigration-friendly countries.)

But even if such a policy wouldn’t make the U.S. an immigration outlier, it would still be a spectacularly regrettable unforced error. In fact, it’s such a bad move precisely because it would put the U.S. on a level footing with more restrictive countries. As it stands, immigration is granting America an underappreciated edge that it would be a mistake to blunt.

Populations around the world are aging—in some cases, with alarming speed—for three reasons. Birthrates in the vast majority of the world’s nations have fallen since the middle of the 20th century. (In some countries, such as India, Mexico, and Brazil, birthrates have outright plummeted.) That means fewer younger people. At the same time, life expectancy has risen, and despite recent, well-publicized downticks in the U.S., the overall trend continues to point north. Finally, in some of the countries that were heavily involved in World War II, an enormous cohort of baby boomers is just now crossing into retirement age.

As a result, by 2030, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older, a demographic breakdown slightly older than that of today’s Florida. Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and many other wealthy countries have already achieved Floridian status, and Japan is ranging far ahead with a quarter of its population aged 65-plus. On the balance, societywide aging is a good thing—in our opinion, every extra year of life is a gift—but it still poses serious challenges beyond even the monumental-yet-crucial task of maintaining a safety net for older adults. One inevitable consequence of global aging is the shrinking of labor pools and even, in select countries, the waning of entire populations. China, Japan, Russia, much of Eastern Europe, and many other countries are now either experiencing population decline or will begin it soon.

The very real possibility of such trends manifesting in either the raw or working-age populations of the U.S. should alarm anyone who claims an interest in American greatness. Consider, for instance, yet another stated priority of President Trump: infrastructure construction. Baby boomer retirement is hitting the construction industry hard, and taking with it able bodies and institutional knowledge. Positions in the skilled trades, such as machinists, welders, electricians, and HVAC technicians, were ranked the hardest for employers to fill in 2016 according to a survey conducted by staffing company Manpower. Such shortages will only worsen in the coming years as retirements accrue. Adecco, another staffing company, estimates that retirements in the aforementioned fields as well as general construction; mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineering; plumbers and pipefitters; and others will mean that 31 million skilled-trade positions will be left unfilled by 2020, almost a tenth of the population of the United States. As a result, contractors will have to either turn down jobs, slowing growth, or else raise their wages and therefore their rates, an expense that would likely be passed along to taxpayers in the event of a major infrastructure push.

And that’s just the construction-related industries. Others facing mass retirement include the petrochemical, defense, transit, agriculture, financial advisory, and railroad industries. Air-traffic controllers, hired en masse after Ronald Reagan fired their predecessors in 1981, are now retiring en masse. The ranks of doctors and nurses—especially internists and, in an unfortunate twist, geriatricians—are also thinning. Even the Hoover Dam, perhaps the country’s most quintessentially American piece of infrastructure, is now running short of workers qualified to operate its machinery.

Despite ongoing, frenzied discussions of the potential for advanced automation to take American jobs, these crucial shortfalls continue to go overlooked. U.S. companies are already finding it difficult to entice the staff they need, as Slate’s Daniel Gross has written. Who, in the next two decades, will run our economy and grow our food? It’s not just a matter of retraining those currently unable to find work. The economy is already at or near full employment, and at a certain point, the U.S., like other aging nations, will simply need more warm bodies.

Japan is quietly addressing its labor shortage by admitting foreign workers as temporary “trainees.” Germany is attempting to stall an incipient population decline by increasing its acceptance of immigrants and refugees. (Both countries are also finding ways of keeping older workers happy in their longtime jobs, from adopting exotic exoskeletons to making workplace ergonomic adjustments—a strategy that would also benefit the U.S.) Meanwhile, China, poised to experience the largest demographic swing of any nation, is losing millions of people from its workforce every year. The resulting spike in wages is one possible explanation for why President Xi Jinping recently laid off 300,000 troops from the country’s armed forces.

In the United States, the birthrate is 1.9 children per woman, slightly below the replacement rate of roughly 2.1. Thanks only to the twin inputs of immigration and the relatively large size of new immigrant families, the U.S. population is still growing slowly and stably. Without immigration, however, the population would begin to fall as soon as 2040, according to unpublished data supplied to us by Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center. (The projection, originally made in 2015, assumes that immigration would have been cut off starting that year.)

Thanks to its current inflow of immigrants, the U.S. has, and will continue to have, one of the youngest populations among wealthy nations. That relative youth equates to a better-than-average (though still troubling) ratio of workers to nonworkers and, at least in theory, a good crop of workforce replacements for baby boomer retirees. Without immigrants, however, we would be staring cross-eyed down the barrel of a far more threatening demographic future, filled with economic malaise, higher taxes, and even disastrous cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

Legal immigration has become a partisan issue, but it shouldn’t be. Economists might disagree about whether to adopt a system that prioritizes highly skilled immigrants, as the RAISE Act proposes. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that the RAISE Act’s salary rules would keep out home-health aides, which the aging United States will soon need in droves, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff recently pointed out.) But there is broad agreement that slashing the raw number of immigrants to the U.S. would be an economic mistake. Immigration has been shown to have little to no effect on wages for native-born workers, and has even been called an “economic boost” by the George W. Bush Foundation.

Congress understands the stakes involved in cutting off America’s youth supply. Schweikert even mentioned it in his June 28 speech: “You do understand, as a nation, we functionally have zero population growth without immigration?” Though population aging may not be news to our political leaders, the question of whether they will prioritize the economic competitiveness of the nation over nativism remains open. We get it: There are people in this country who just don’t like immigration. But presumably a lot of those same people would feel more comfortable living in a world where America, bolstered by a healthy economy and a workforce strengthened by legal immigration, retains its geopolitical clout. As it stands, the world at large is sending the United States a precious resource—young people—free of charge. You can want an America with far fewer of these immigrants, or you can want America to be great. In this era of population aging, however, you can’t have both.

Source Article HERE

Irma is nearly here!

We’re getting ready for some rain and wind. I-75 north might as well be a parking lot. And you guys north of here are going to get hammered as well. Run like hell if you can. And good luck.

The New World Order Is Leaving the U.S. Behind

Friday = Random Thoughts

Some of my Facebook friends may not realize I too want Donald Trump to be successful as President. Yes, I disagree with many of his positions on issues, but that alone isn’t enough for me to oppose him at every turn.

For many years I played golf regularly with a group of perhaps 15 like minded men. We came from all kinds of backgrounds, and enjoyed the company of others, regardless of our relative skill levels at golf. If a new club member asked to join us one Saturday, we would willingly accept his presence among us. If, however, after playing 18 holes it became apparent this person was bellicose, grandstanding, loud, presumptuous and not a team player, he would not be invited back.

My reasons for opposition to his politics are not that I simply don’t like him, as suggested by a friend. Like it or not, he is the President, but I would be opposed because I find him unfit for the office. The skill set necessary to be the CEO of the world’s dominant democracy is beyond the skill set required for a reality TV show, or even building a global real estate empire on the backs of little people.

My reasons for opposition are his lack of intellectual curiosity, his lack of discipline, his disregard for what I think of as normal social norms, be they respect for women, respect for those who are physically handicapped, respect for anyone whose values do not exactly match his own.

Increasingly, his apparent inability to discipline himself and project a coherent message in support of what are presumably his core values, leaves us with a measure of uncertainty. Uncertainty over time carries with it the very real potential to cause us irreparable harm. Nature abhors a vacuum, and he is creating one that will be filled. When that happens, the outcome could be disastrous. So far he doesn’t seem to care as he insists on digging the hole ever deeper.

He lacks the skill set necessary to effectively lead ALL of us. That’s why I don’t like him.

James Gibney / Aug 11, 2017

American allies have decided Trump is simply not someone they can do business with.

Of all the global consequences of President Donald Trump’s first half-year, surely one of the most surprising is the rise in multilateral diplomacy.

After all, this is the guy who came into office pledging to put America First. He downgraded the security guarantees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to a definite maybe — and only if its members ponied up more defense dollars. The Iran nuclear pact was “the worst deal ever,” and the Paris accord on climate change wasn’t much better. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead on arrival. Japan and South Korea’s free-riding days were over. The North American Free Trade Agreement was toast. The U.S. would ignore the rules of the World Trade Organization. And from its proposed cuts in foreign aid and United Nations peacekeeping to the empty offices and embassies of the State Department, the Trump administration has made clear how little it thinks of soft power and diplomacy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the disintegration of the international liberal order. It’s started to reconstitute itself — only not with the U.S. at its center.

Unfortunately, that has less to do with a realization among our allies and partners that the burden must be more equitably shared than with the increasing recognition that Trump is not, as some U.S. diplomats liked to say about third world dictators during the Cold War, “someone we can do business with.”

That sentiment found its most trenchant expression in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration, following Trump’s May trip to Europe, that the continent “must really take our fate into our own hands.” The net result of the Trump administration’s antipathy to free trade and cooperation on climate change and refugee resettlement was a united front against the U.S. at both the Group of Seven and Group of 20 meetings.

Jilted by the U.S., the other 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are moving ahead on their own. Canada and Mexico are working together more closely than ever to save Nafta. Asian nations are hedging their bets between the U.S. and China. Trump’s tough talk on Mexico has prompted it to reach out to its hemispheric rival Brazil on defense cooperation.

Serious differences among allies are nothing new. During the Ronald Reagan administration, for instance, hardline U.S. attitudes toward a planned gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Europe caused a transatlantic breach that strained even the “special relationship” with the U.K. And the call for fairer burden-sharing by American treaty allies — a.k.a. the free riders — is also as old as the alliances themselves, even if Trump turned the volume up to 11.

Yet as destabilizing as Trump’s transactional mindset — we’ll protect you if you pay us — has been, his temperament has been even more destructive. In Latin America, his brash bullying plays to the worst caricature of Yanqui behavior. No wonder the foreign ministers of 12 nations in the Americas who pledged this week in Peru not to recognize Venezuela’s new constituent assembly — a remarkable regional diplomatic achievement — chose to keep the U.S. mostly out of it.

Then there is Trump’s uncoordinated impulsiveness. His “fire and fury” outburst toward North Korea upended earlier efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. was not about to put them in danger. Tillerson has seen Trump repeatedly sandbag his efforts to broker a rapprochement among the U.S.’s fractious Gulf allies. And transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto suggest that both men could be forgiven for thinking they were dealing with Homer Simpson, not the Leader of the Free World.

Every hegemon has a sell-by date, and the U.S. is no exception. Even during the halcyon days of the 1990s — remember when the U.S. was being called a “hyperpower”? — President Bill Clinton’s administration was focused on creating institutions and a rules-based international order that it hoped would constrain China’s economic and strategic rise and extend the half-life of U.S. supremacy. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out so well (see: “deplorables”).

In that and other respects, the willingness of other democracies to step up on the world’s non-zero-sum challenges is welcome. Moreover, whether in matters of security or trade, Trump’s strong preference for bilateral deals that allow the U.S. to make the most of its leverage could yield clear benefits. If he and Chinese President Xi Jinping achieve a compact that balances their respective interests, so much the better. That approach could apply to U.S. relations with Japan, the U.K., and other U.S. allies and partners. Strong bilateral agreements, after all, can provide a basis for stronger multilateral ones in years to come.

But even bilateral agreements require a degree of discipline and coordination that Trump has yet to display. For now, Trump’s reflexive trashing of President Barack Obama’s policy choices without offering any coherent alternatives has left the U.S. on awkward ground. It’s one thing for other countries to fill a diplomatic vacuum created by a gradual U.S. withdrawal; it’s another for them to do so in the wake of a scorched-earth retreat. If and when the U.S. recovers its strategic senses, it might find itself reduced to occupying a much less attractive seat at the multilateral table.

Trump Can’t Reverse the Decline of White Christian America

My Comments: Remember the context. Racial tension has been a hallmark of our society since the beginning. Think pilgrims vs indigenous peoples in the 1620’s. Think black vs white in the 1860’s.

Right now the tension is elevated, and coupled with Trump’s inability or unwillingness to quash the tension, overreaction is going to surface. Reaction, within limits, will allow the ideology behind the tension to fade or lose. Otherwise the message becomes all about the confrontation rather than the underlying false premises of bigotry, racism, religion and political ideology.

Robert P. Jones \ Jul 4, 2017

Two-thirds of those who voted for the president felt his election was the “last chance to stop America’s decline.” But his victory won’t arrest the cultural and demographic trends they opposed.

Down the home stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s most consistent talking points was a claim that America’s changing demographics and culture had brought the country to a precipice. He repeatedly cast himself as the last chance for Republicans and conservative white Christians to step back from the cliff, to preserve their power and way of life. In an interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in early September, Trump put the choice starkly for the channel’s conservative Christian viewers: “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure.” Asked to elaborate, Trump continued, “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens you can forget it.”

Michele Bachmann, a member of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, echoed these same sentiments in a speech at the Values Voters Summit, an annual meeting attended largely by conservative white Christians. That same week, she declared in an interview with CBN: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives [sic] in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Post-election polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which I lead, and The Atlantic showed that this appeal found its mark among conservative voters. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Trump voters, compared to only 22 percent of Clinton voters, agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.”

Does Trump’s victory, then, represent the resurrection of White Christian America? The consequences of the 2016 elections are indeed sweeping. Republicans entered 2017 with control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider an Obama appointee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in early 2016, Trump was able to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice right out of the gate. Trump’s cabinet and advisors consist largely of defenders of either Wall Street or White Christian America.

The evidence, however, suggests that Trump’s unlikely victory is better understood as the death rattle of White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—rather than as its resuscitation. Despite the election’s immediate and dramatic consequences, it’s important not to over-interpret Trump’s win, which was extraordinarily close. Out of more than 136 million votes cast, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College came down to a razor-thin edge of only 77,744 votes across three states: Pennsylvania (44,292 votes), Wisconsin (22,748 votes), and Michigan (10,704 votes). These votes represent a Trump margin of 0.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 0.7 percentage points in Wisconsin, and 0.2 percentage points in Michigan. If Clinton had won these states, she would now be president. And of course Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, receiving 48.2 percent of all votes compared to Trump’s 46.1 percent. The real story of 2016 is that there was just enough movement in just the right places, just enough increased turnout from just the right groups, to get Trump the electoral votes he needed to win.

Trump’s intense appeal to 2016 as the “last chance” election seems to have spurred conservative white Christian voters to turn out to vote at particularly high rates. Two election cycles ago in 2008, white evangelicals represented 21 percent of the general population but, thanks to their higher turnout relative to other voters, comprised 26 percent of actual voters. In 2016, even as their proportion of the population fell to 17 percent, white evangelicals continued to represent 26 percent of voters. In other words, white evangelicals went from being overrepresented by five percentage points at the ballot box in 2008 to being overrepresented by nine percentage points in 2016. This is an impressive feat to be sure, but one less and less likely to be replicated as their decline in the general population continues.

Updating two trends with 2015-2016 data also confirms that the overall patterns of demographic and cultural change are continuing. The chart below plots two trend lines that capture key measures of change: the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Christians in the country and the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage. The percentage of white Christians in the country fell from 54 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014. That percentage has fallen again in each subsequent year, to 45 percent in 2015 and to 43 percent in 2016. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who supported same-sex marriage rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2014. That number stayed relatively stable (53 percent) in 2015—the year the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states—but jumped to 58 percent in 2016.

Despite the outcome of the 2016 elections, the key long-term trends indicate White Christian America’s decline is continuing unabated. Over the last eight years, the percentage of Americans who identify as white and Christian fell 11 percentage points, and support for same-sex marriage jumped 18 percentage points. In a New York Times op-ed shortly after the election, I summarized the results of the election this way: “The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of White Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.”

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission? White evangelical voters’ attraction to Trump was even more mysterious because the early GOP presidential field offered candidates with strong evangelical credentials, such as Ted Cruz, a longtime Southern Baptist whose father was a Baptist minister, and Marco Rubio, a conservative Catholic who could talk with ease and familiarity about his own personal relationship with Jesus.

The shotgun wedding between Trump and white evangelicals was not without conflict and objections. It set off some high drama between Trump suitors, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and #NeverTrump evangelical leaders such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty University, where he serves as president. In his introduction, Falwell told the gathered students, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” And a week later, he officially endorsed Trump for president. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the influential First Baptist Church in Dallas and a frequent commentator on Fox News, also threw his support behind Trump early in the campaign but took a decidedly different approach. Jeffress explicitly argued that a president’s faith is “not the only consideration, and sometimes it’s not the most important consideration.” Citing grave threats to America, particularly from “radical Islamic terrorism,” Jeffress’ support of Trump for president was straightforward realpolitik: “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” Moore, by contrast, remained a steadfast Trump opponent throughout the campaign. He was aghast at the high-level embrace of Trump by white evangelical leaders and strongly expressed his incredulity that they “have tossed aside everything that they previously said they believed in order to embrace and to support the Trump candidacy.”

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered.

In the end, however, Falwell and Jeffress had a better feel for the people in the pews. Trump received unwavering support from white evangelicals from the beginning of the primaries through Election Day. As I noted at the beginning of the primary season, the first evidence that Trump was rewriting the Republican playbook was his victory in the South Carolina GOP primary, the first southern primary and one in which more than two-thirds of the voters were white evangelicals. The Cruz campaign had considered Super Tuesday’s South-heavy lineup to be its firewall against early Trump momentum. But when the returns came in, Cruz had won only his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, while Trump had swept the southern states, taking Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. Trump ultimately secured the GOP nomination, not over white evangelical voters’ objections, but because of their support. And on Election Day, white evangelicals set a new high water mark in their support for a Republican presidential candidate, backing Trump at a slightly higher level than even President George W. Bush in 2004 (81 percent vs. 78 percent).

Trump’s campaign—with its sweeping promise to “make American great again”—triumphed by converting self-described “values voters” into what I’ve called “nostalgia voters.” Trump’s promise to restore a mythical past golden age—where factory jobs paid the bills and white Protestant churches were the dominant cultural hubs—powerfully tapped evangelical anxieties about an uncertain future.

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered. The election, more than in any in recent memory, came down to two vividly contrasting views of America. Donald Trump’s campaign painted a bleak portrait of America’s present, set against a bright, if monochromatic, vision of 1950s America restored. Hillary Clinton’ campaign, by contrast, sought to replace the first African American president with the first female president and embraced the multicultural future of 2050, the year the Census Bureau originally projected the United States would become a majority nonwhite nation. “Make American Great Again” and “Stronger Together,” the two campaigns’ competing slogans, became proxies for an epic battle over the changing face of America.

The gravitational pull of nostalgia among white evangelicals was evident across a wide range of public opinion polling questions. Just a few weeks before the 2016 election, 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. Nearly as many favored building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico (64 percent) and temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. (62 percent). And 63 percent believed that today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. White evangelicals also stood out on broad questions about cultural change. While Americans overall were nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s, white evangelical Protestants were likelier than any other demographic group to say things have changed for the worse since the 1950s (74 percent).

It is perhaps an open question whether Trump’s candidacy represents a true change in evangelicals’ DNA or whether it simply revealed previously hidden traits, but the shift from values to nostalgia voter has undoubtedly transformed their political ethics. The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means. As he saw the polls trending for Trump in the last days before the election, in no small part because of the support of white evangelicals, Russell Moore was blunt, lamenting that Trump-supporting evangelicals had simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”

White evangelicals have entered a grand bargain with the self-described master dealmaker, with high hopes that this alliance will turn back the clock. And Donald Trump’s installation as the 45th president of the United States may in fact temporarily prop up, by pure exertions of political and legal power, what white Christian Americans perceive they have lost. But these short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past.

Meanwhile, the major trends transforming the country continue. If anything, evangelicals’ deal with Trump may accelerate the very changes it was designed to arrest, as a growing number of non-white and non-Christian Americans are repulsed by the increasingly nativist, tribal tenor of both conservative white Christianity and conservative white politics. At the end of the day, white evangelicals’ grand bargain with Trump will be unable to hold back the sheer weight of cultural change, and their descendants will be left with the only real move possible: acceptance.

This article has been excerpted from the new Afterword in the paperback version of Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

Russian Oligarchs May Have Used Donald Trump To Launder Money

My Comments: Every two years, I’m required to complete an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) overview and exam. At the local level, it’s mostly about drug money and efforts to turn illegal money into legal money with insurance and investment products.

The AML effort has the effect of reminding us about behaviors, questions, circumstances, patterns, etc. that are consistent with those used by people who were caught laundering money. If we get even a hint of AML behavior, we are required to alert a compliance officer immediately. The idea is to avoid any legal morass that is sure to follow.

What follows here is Chapter Two of a five part story that explores the long time relationship between our 45th President and Russian individuals. If you are disturbed, whether as a Republican or Democrat about the issue, then you owe it to yourself to read what is said below.

As Donald Trump entered the stage as a viable candidate for President, I was aware of relationships, comments, questions asked, financial outcomes, etc., that raised AML flags in my mind. If someone came into my office with similar circumstance, and refused to provide me with satisfactory answers to questions I posed, I would be bound to refuse any requests and report what was said, or not said.

His candidacy was for me a giant red flag. And nothing said and done so far by he and his team has caused me to change my mind.

Grag Fish \ May 30, 2017

Say you’re an oligarch in a country that loathes them but is powerless to do anything about their existence because the highest levels of government profit off their businesses, legal and not. While you might think you have it made, your position is actually quite precarious. Pull on your leash too much and start commenting on politics, and you might just find yourself in jail for tax evasion and embezzlement, or sent into exile according to the template that shut down a critical news channel first, and stealthily re-nationalized an oil empire soon after that.

You probably want to hedge your bets and find a country to which you can make a smooth exit, ideally spending a lot of time there and out of the government’s sight and mind. If things get bad, you can just pull your assets and stay abroad.

Many countries are happy to allow a wealthy foreign investor with millions in cash to set up shop permanently, as long as all that cash looks legitimate. And that condition could be a problem if you’re trying to wire it from a country under sanctions, or your income history has gaps indicating something shady went down.

Of course that’s why money laundering exists. One of the simplest ways to do it is to create a web of offshore companies strategically located in countries that don’t ask a lot of questions about where the money came from, but are just happy to take their cut. Many are the usual suspects in the Caribbean, but other favorites include the Seychelles, Cook Islands — which are now being called the Crook Islands by the natives thanks to their sudden surge in popularity as an offshore destination — and of course, Cyprus, which is heavily favored by Russians.

These offshore companies can cross borders, invest and transfer cash between each other, and after creating a frustrating enough web of transfers and exchanges, as many of them as vague and anonymous as possible mid-transit, they can invest in money-making ventures. Over time, they build small empires in their target destinations, which for Russians are often Switzerland and the UK, particularly London. But that’s fairly basic. The real pros are a lot sneakier than that, using charitable organizations and nonprofits as their identity shields.

These funds, as they’re called in Russia, are operated by LLCs that transfer assets, take out loans, and can make a single large organization doing all sorts of questionable deals and making eyebrow-raising purchases when viewed as a single entity, into a web of seemingly unrelated organizations with very different agendas. With enough records to have to sift through, they can hide their affiliations for years, often in plain sight, just because the web is too tangled to really unravel without a very good reason to spend months parsing paperwork.

Continue reading the article HERE

ACTION OR NO ACTION?

My Comments: Friends of mine are scared. I’m less so. I want President Trump to be a successful President; our future as a respected state on the global stage is important to me.

But I am less confident today than I was last January. Not because of the Russia issue, but because of his apparent lack of intellectual curiosity. His role as President dictates he move beyond his role as a reality TV host. I’m no longer sure he can or even wants to.

The media and others can be alarmist. After all, that’s how you get an audience and generate revenue. And there are apparently lots of reasons for us to be alarmed. But so much of what we read and hear is simply noise.

I also believe that we are overdue for an in-depth review of the fundamental issues and assumptions about government that go back 75 years and more. This is a healthy process that will either reaffirm the assumptions that got us where we are or cause us to make some necessary changes. I don’t fear change like many of my contemporaries.

Clearly there was and is an imbalance economically among demographic elements of our society. It’s increasingly apparent to me that income inequality is the driving force behind much of the tension in this country. Whether that gets remedied under a Trump administration remains to be seen.

What kind of society do we want going forward, and do we have the courage and conviction to make it happen? I hope we do, and I intend to do what little I can to voice my opinions.

By Zachary Karabell / Feb 12, 2017

Just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, you would think that everything had changed. The uproar over the president’s tweets grows louder by the day, as does concern over the erratic, haphazard and aggressive stance of the White House toward critics and those with different policy views. On Sunday, White House aide Stephen Miller bragged, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.”

But Miller was dead wrong about this. There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.

It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing.

The key problem here is understanding Trump’s executive orders and presidential memoranda. Trump very quickly seized on the signing of these as media opportunities, and each new order and memo has been staged and announced as dramatic steps to alter the course of the country. Not accustomed to presidents whose words mean little when it comes to actual policy, opponents have seized on these as proof that Trump represents a malign force, while supporters have pointed to these as proof that Trump is actually fulfilling his campaign promises.

Neither is correct. The official documents have all the patina of “big deals” but which when parsed and examined turn out to be far, far less than they appear. Take the order authorizing the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The relevant section of the January 25 order read: “It is the policy of the executive branch to … secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” That sounds indeed like an order to fulfill a controversial campaign promise. The problem? Congress initially passed a Secure Fence Act in 2006 that mandated the construction of nearly 700 miles of fortified border. By 2011, under the Obama administration, most of that was completed, with a mix of pedestrian fencing and vehicle fortifications. Since then, there has only been minimal funding for further fortifications.

The result is that Trump issued an executive order mandating something that has in many respects already been done—with no congressional funding yet to redo the current fortified border with a larger, more expensive structure. The president does not have the budgetary discretion to build such a wall, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will authorize what promises to be a controversial and redundant project. This executive order, therefore, changes nothing, and only mandates something that has already been mandated, already been constructed and that the president lacks the spending authority to upgrade.

Then take things like the Keystone pipeline permits, the promise to deregulate and the most recently signed orders about crime. The January 24 order on infrastructure begins with a sentiment almost anyone could agree with: “Infrastructure investment strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers, and reduces the costs of goods and services for American families and consumers. Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.” It then declares that the policy of the Executive Branch is to expedite the permitting of such projects. That was followed by two memoranda on the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines that had been denied permits during Obama’s tenure, which urges the companies to re-submit their permit applications for review.

That might seem like an order to have the pipelines built. But Keystone remains almost entirely an idea, and oil shipments and infrastructure from Canada have long since been routed elsewhere given the years and years of delay in ever authorizing it. The Dakota Access Pipeline is largely complete, with a major dispute over its passage through tribal lands, and here too, it is unlikely that a presidential memorandum has any legal bearing on how that issue is resolved given that it lies within the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers and cannot simply be countermanded by the White House.

Or take the orders of deregulation. Those were widely hailed as a rollback of Dodd-Frank, especially given that the morning that the order was issued, February 3, Trump met with bank CEOs and expressed his dislike for many of the legislation’s provisions. The actual order, however, delivers much less than it promises, merely directing the secretary of the Treasury to review existing regulations and report back on which ones might be refined to achieve better outcomes.

Or the crime orders signed on February 9, which were widely hailed as cracking down on “transnational criminal organizations” and “preventing violence against … law enforcement officers.” Nothing in the text of these orders is either objectionable or in any respect a departure from current law and policy. One order states plainly that it shall be the policy of the administration to “enforce all Federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, and thereby all Americans.” The other says that the administration will seek to use existing laws to crack down on trafficking. You would have known none of that from the headlines both supporting and denouncing the efforts. Breitbart claimed “Trump Signs Three Executive Orders to Restore Safety in America” while many took these orders as a sign that police will have new, expanded powers and protections. In truth, the orders changed the status quo not one whit.

On it goes: The recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants that followed Trump’s January 25 order on enforcement priorities may depart from Barack Obama’s post-2102 policies to de-emphasize deportation of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records, but it appears fully consistent with deportation actions during both Obama’s first term and during significant portions of George W. Bush’s administration. The orders on health care, on defeating ISIS, on rebuilding the armed forces—all were essentially statements of intent with no legal force and requiring no action except a mandate to relevant departments and agencies to study issues and report back.

The travel ban, of course, is different. It was an actual policy order that dramatically changed immigration and visa policies for seven Muslim-majority countries. It was swiftly rejected by the courts, however, which meant that the signature policy of the Trump administration is now not a policy at all—at least, unless and until the White House finds a different approach.

Yes, what the president says matters. Trump’s casual relationship with the truth and his carefree use of tweets set the public agenda and help determine how foreign countries relate to our government. Intent also matters, and clearly, the Trump administration is determined to do a variety of things—from border security to health care to trade to immigration—that many, many Americans find objectionable, wrong and against the best interests of the country.

And yet, words are not the same as actions. Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.

But too many of us take these words as action. That confirms both the worst fears of what the Trump administration is and the greatest hopes of what Trump wants it to be: a White House that shoots first and asks question later, a White House of action and change that shakes the status quo to the core and charts a new path for America and Americans. To date, this White House has broken every convention and rule of tone and attitude, toward Washington and toward the truth. But in reality, it has done far less than most people think.

In the time ahead, as Congress turns to actual legislation and the White House presumably does normal things like propose a budget and specify its legislative ideas, there will be real actions for us to probe and debate. Distinguishing between words and action is essential: When senators say silly things about legislation, we know to separate those public statements from votes takes and laws passed. When leaders of other countries speak aggressively, we do not immediately act as if war is imminent; if that were the case, we’d have invaded Iran and North Korea years ago. Words should be taken as possible indicators of future action, but not as absolutes and not always.

Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.