What St. Patrick's Day should really mean

| No TrackBacks
     Today is a day when Capital Hill offices empty out early  as federal employees trek to familiar  pubs, the Chicago River runs  green, and the thousands of Long Island fire fighters and school children descend upon Manhattan to celebrate St. Patrick' Day.

      Yesterday, members  of Trump's inner circle, including V.P. Pence, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and others who  claim Irish heritage to welcome Enda Kenny, the Irish taoiseach (prime minster) to the White House.

    Their presence in the Trump administration and in the GOP causes one to wonder what these descendants of  Éirinn have in common with their  ancestors?

    I grew up in an Irish Catholic household in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston with four sisters and a brother. I was the first in my family privileged to attend a university.

     My mother was a home- maker with a grammar school education. My father also had only a grammar school education. Both sets of their parents had emigrated from Galway, Cork, and Roscommon.  For decades my father patrolled the streets of South Boston as a beat cop. He was always thankful to have a modest-paying job as a pubic servant because of his experiences and those of his family during the Great Depression.

    My father also always remembered what it was like in the early 1920s when, as a worker in  non-union factory, his boss ordered him and other Irish-American employees to participate in a torch-light parade for Warren Harding. He also remembered the indignities that his parents and friends had suffered as Irish immigrants.

         I never heard my mother or father utter a bad word about any immigrants from any other country. In addition, because they remembered their roots and from wence they came,  they did  not look down upon the poor  or other minorities or ascribe their misfortune to personal failings. They remembered the entreaty of the gospel according to  Luke, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return."

    After his brother  and a sister died prematurely, my father purchased a separate house on Rexford Avenue in Mattapan and placed his two nieces and a nephew along with his parents in that house. He supported his second family by working extra details as a policeman  for over two decades.

    My mother was one of eleven children. One of her sisters, Helen McNiff, was a seminal influence in my life. Aunt Nellie had suffered enormous adversity in her life but somehow she always remained an optimist. Her favorite comment was, "Sit down and have a cup of tea and everything will feel better." Nellie suffered privation but, because of the New Deal was able to eke out an existence on Social Security widow's payments and through public employment as a cleaning  women in the court houses of Suffolk county. Nellie was the one who constantly reminded me that  all true sons and daughters of Ireland could only be true to their heritage by their  shared commitment to social justice.

        My father and mother and Aunt Nellie were lifelong Democrats and Catholics.  They revered Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Pope John XIII. The message of inclusion and optimism that each of these three leaders exuded persuaded them that their children's futures would be  brighter and better than the lives they enjoyed. In their own, unschooled ways, my parents and my aunt understood that there was something profoundly wrong about greed and the needless accumulation of ever more possessions. They were also skeptical of all of those politicians, including  Ronald Reagan, who suggested that government was the problem, not an unregulated market economy that emphasized  individual short-term interests no matter how detrimental to the social fabric.

      As descendants of the Irish diaspora, my parents and my Aunt Nellie never lost their conviction that collective action could make our country and the word a better place and that the celebration of solitary acts would do little to promote the public interest. In short, they understood that we are all in this together.

    That is the true message of St. Patrick's Day.


Pope Francis Confronts Right-Wing Politicians

| No TrackBacks
                  (Chapter 25 of Private Affluence and Public Squalor: Social Injustice and Economic Misery In America)

   Pope Francis presents a challenge not just to self-styled GOP Catholics who describe themselves as "conservatives" but to the entire Republican establishment and its supporters and enablers. In February of 2017, for example, the Pope, while ostensibly rebuking Myanmar for its mistreatment of the minority Rohinga population, exhorted Christians "to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good." The pope continued, "A Christian can never say "I'll make you pay for that.' Never! That is not a Christian gesture.'"

    Shortly thereafter, Pope Francis sent a letter of encouragement to the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California. In his letter, the Pope reaffirmed the church's commitment to social justice and deplored tyranny amid the "gutting of democracies." He also condemned leaders who preyed upon "fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills on to a 'non-neighbor" 

     The Pope's challenge is likely to become even more formidable and divisive as the Trump administration announces its effort to dismantle the existing meager social safety net that Americans currently enjoy and the environmental, safety and health policies that were adopted to protect the planet and our collective well-being. The Pope's refusal to embrace waht passes for  conventional wisdom in the U.S. underscores the  chasm between the market values - that have accelerated the growth of inequality and public squalor - and the inability of classical liberal doctrine to address the misery created by its own policy prescriptions.

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama, borrowing a phrase from Hegel, wrote a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man. The work became a cause célèbre among those who are often described in the popular media as "neo-conservatives."

     Fukuyama postulated that the emergence of Western liberal democracy, with its emphasis upon individual rights, limited government and market capitalism, potentially represented  the apogee in the evolution of Western  political philosophy: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

    Fukuyama's myopia with respect to the breadth and depth of Western political thought also left him oblivious to the older, still vibrant school of Western political discourse - the conservative tradition, as exemplified in Catholic social teaching. That tradition, harkening back to the Greeks and Romans, continues to insist that individuals realize their potential and humanity to the extent to which they participate as full members of a political society - as citizens. The notion of citizenship, based upon mutual obligations and reciprocal rights, remains central to that political philosophy.

     Equally emphatic is the Catholic Church's rejection of those economic doctrines that have elevated the primacy of the markets and capitalism over basic human need. In his encyclical, Mater et Magister, Pope John XXIII emphasized the central role of the state in promoting social justice: "As for the State, its whole raison d'etre is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters. On the contrary, it must do all in its power to promote the production of a sufficient supply of material goods, 'the use of which is necessary for the practice of virtue.' It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women
and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman."

    Historically, Catholic social thought has insisted that the state exists to serve the needs of civil society; not as libertarians and classical liberals would have it, to serve only the needs of the individual. As such, the state should not be viewed as a passive instrument, designed merely to protect private property or to protect rights, but that it imposes reciprocal obligations upon each citizen as a member of a political community.

    Thomas Aquinas taught that, because God endowed each man in his own image and likeness, man has become the steward for the earth, and for all of its creatures and its bounty. It is for that reason that Catholic social philosophy to the present remains deeply skeptical about arguments for an unregulated market economy dominated by the profit motive and the accumulation of wealth. As Aquinas observed, "It is lawful for a man to hold private property" but "Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need ..." Historically , Catholic social doctrine has condemned, in theory if not in practice, aggrandizement and selfishness. Avaritia (greed) and luxuria (extravagance) are counted as two of the Seven Deadly Sins.

     Catholic social thought is essentially communitarian, in contrast to the political philosophy of Speaker Paul Ryan and other eighteenth century liberals who contend that society and the state are abstractions and that only the individual is real. Catholic social thought emphasizes that the state exists to serve the needs of civil society; not as libertarians and classical liberals would have it, to serve only the needs of the individual. As such, the state should not be viewed as a passive instrument, designed merely to protect private property or to protect rights,  but imposes reciprocal obligations upon each citizen as a member of a political community.

     The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, echoing the tradition of Catholic social thought and epistemology, countered that the self is the abstraction. He rejected the argument that one's ability to reason and the quality of that reasoning are unique attributes that belong to the solitary self as opposed to the social self. Because of the self's ephemeral nature, the knowledge, customs and habits contained within a given political culture are essential guideposts to properly orient the self to its social self and to other social selves. Which then is the abstraction: the self or society?

    Centuries earlier, it was Edmund Burke, a Catholic sympathizer and an alleged favorite of William Buckley, who observed that political society exists as an historical project into which individuals enter and depart while sharing a common destiny: "...society is indeed, a contract....It is to be looked on with reverence; because it is not a partnership in things...It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born..."

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, long before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope, issued a guide entitled Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions. The bishops insisted that "...[T]he economy must serve people, not the other way around. All workers have a right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe working conditions. They also have a fundamental right to organize and join unions. People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life."

    Because the conservative and socialist tradition share somewhat similar critiques about the limitations and deficiencies of liberal political ideology, the hysteria and discomfit of Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, Human Events, Forbes, a legion of right-wing Catholic thinkers who defend market capitalism such as Michael Novak to Pope Francis' comments are understandable.

     In his inaugural address on January 30, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of the "millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day...I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Seventy-six years later, Roosevelt's message should still reverberate among all but the most indifferent.

    In October of 2013, the lingering effects of the Great Recession continued to be felt across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the  unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, showed little improvement. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 4.1 million and 8.1 million individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job while another 2.3 million persons were described to be marginally attached to the labor force."

    Equally distressing, according to the Census Bureau as of September, 2014, 15.4 percent of people lacked health insurance, which, while down from 15.7 percent in 2011, at 48 million, was not statistically significant. A US Department of Housing and Urban Development report noted there were 663,0000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless nationwide on a single night in January in 2013. Further, the US Department of Agriculture reported last month that 17.4 million U.S. households struggled to get enough food to eat because money and that in more than a third of those households - around one in eight US homes - at least one person did not get enough to eat at some time during the year. Lastly, as of the end of 2012, 46.5 million Americans (15.0 percent of the population) were reported to be still living in poverty. These statistics reflect what Michael Harrington described in the 1960s as, "The Other America."

    What has caused the misery index in the United States to increase so exponentially? The public policies of the Reagan administration and the successor administrations of Bush 41 and Bush 43 expressed the three verities of classical liberal economic orthodoxy (or, at very least, its libertarian strand): deregulation of business, tax cuts for the wealthy, and free trade that would enable businesses to seek the lowest costs for labor and to pay lowest prices for the purchase of goods and commodities anywhere in the world. Each of these policies was sold to a gullible American public on the basis of sonorous platitudes such as "A rising tide lifts all boats." They are the very policies that Pope Francis has identified as the among the root causes of misery throughout the Western world. The net effect of these callous and harmful policies has been to unravel the safety net stitched together by Franklin Roosevelt,  Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

    An equally important and baffling question is why so many Americans appear to be indifferent to the suffering of their neighbors?  Pope Francis' call for social justice is profoundly conservative, but to the tone deaf, it sounds far too radical. He has reminded all of us that the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with human dignity. Those who seek to know the truth of the human condition will acknowledge this basic proposition. By contrast, the clamor and indignation on the right is solely calculated to vindicate the status-quo irrespective of the suffering and misery it has spawned.   

Trickle down economics doesn't work

| No TrackBacks
    In 2007, the top 20% of the population of the United States possessed 80% of all financial assets. That same year ,the richest 1% of the American population owned 35% of this country's total wealth, and the next 19% owned 51%.  Together,  the top 20% of Americans thus owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

    In 2011, financial inequality was greater than inequality in total wealth, with the top 1% of the population owning 43%, the next 19% of Americans owning 50%, and the bottom 80% of the total U.S. population owning a mere 7% of the country's wealth. As a result of  the Great Recession which started in 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew  from 35% to 37%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans grew from 85% to 88%. The Great Recession also caused a drop of 36% in median household wealth but a drop of only 11% for the top 1%, further widening the gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99%.[

    According to PolitiFact and others, in 2011 the 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined." Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a "substantial head start". In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest 400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege". By 2013 wealth inequality in the U.S. was greater than in almost all of developed countries of the Western world.

      In February of this year, President Obama unveiled a $4 trillion fiscal year 2016 budget that proposed to lift spending limits on national security and some discretionary domestic spending.  A month later, the GOP responded with its plan that would add nearly $40 billion in "emergency" war funding to the defense budget for next year and that contained more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. The GOP plan also demanded full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law.

             "A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are,"  Representative Rob Woodall, Republican of Georgia and a member of the Budget Committee, piously proclaimed. "We've never had the opportunity to partner with the Senate to provide real certainty."

             But if a budget is a moral document, Senator Bernie Sanders correctly noted that the "The U.S. currently spends more money on the military than the next nine countries combined. Yet, despite some 45 million Americans living in poverty, 35 million without health care and veterans throughout the country sleeping out on the streets, the only program that the Republicans want to increase funding for is the military. Why?"

             At a time when the public sector is being gutted, Philip Bump reports in The Washington Post that the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than all kindergarten teachers in U.S. The estimated 158,000 kindergarten teachers in the United States, earned an average teacher salary of $53,480, for a collective income of about $8.5 billion for 2012.  By contrast, the 25 top hedge fund managers found that the 25 most successful managers were paid $11.62 billion in 2014.   
            The continued decline in this country's investment in public goods is directly attributable to the "market-based" mythology that dominates current American political discourse. That mythology, which extolls unfettered Social Darwinism, seeks to minimize the role of government on the theory that, all evidence to the contrary, government is the enemy of prosperity. Not surprisingly, these same minimalists also deny the notion of a  separate public interest or choose to define it, if at all, as merely an aggregation of private interests seeking to maximize their self-interests.

         John Kenneth Galbraith published The Affluent Society in 1956. In that important little book, the economist worried that the United States had become a nation that tolerated the existence of "private affluence and public squalor." Little could Galbraith imagine that by 2016 the gap between private affluence and public squalor would grow so large that the United States would come to resemble the Victorian England that Charles Dickens chronicled and ridiculed.  

Disenchanted Millennials

| No TrackBacks
        The polling data to date suggests that millennials are disenchanted with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee and may not vote on election day or, if they do, will cast a dissenting vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

    Should they opt out of the election or succumb to cynicism or indifference, the consequences to the U.S. political system would be significant. Millennials in the U.S. are a large, self-defined population group. According to PEW Research, there are about 76 million millennials in the United States (those who were born between 1978 and 2000; 50 per cent have at one immigrant parent;  50 percent of Millennials consider themselves politically unaffiliated;  29 percent consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.  But, as a generation, they also tend to be inward-looking, and skeptical of authority and institutions. As of 2012, only 19 percent of millennials said that, generally, others can be trusted.
    A few months ago, voters of the United Kingdom, in a stunning and unanticipated referendum result, voted to leave the European Union. The British pollster Yougov reported that 64% of people between 25 and 29 wanted the U.K. to remain it the European Union, and that 61% of those aged between 30 and 34 wanted to stay. However, the research showed that while those younger than 44 were more likely to vote to stay, the balance tipped in favor of Brexit for those aged 45 and more. And the numbers told the story.  Older voters turned out, younger voters did not. So it didn't matter if the overwhelming majority of millennials preferred to remain in the EU, because they simply didn't show up and vote to express that opinion.

    A similar pattern of voting in the  U.S. presidential election would result in a decisive victory for Donald Trump. And who would be the losers? All of us, the old, the infirm, minorities, the poor, the hard-scrabble will suffer, but the millennials themselves will be the biggest losers as the Affordable Health Care Act, minimum wage legislation, labor laws, Medicare, Social Security, environmental protection, civil liberties, a woman's right-to-chose and student relief would all be placed on the chopping block. A Trump-Spence  administration would open the floodgates to lobbyists, polluters, robber-barons, insiders and craven, self-seeking man-spirited reactionaries.

    It was Abraham Lincoln who reminded us that "Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters."

The Revolt of the Masses

| No TrackBacks


            From his lofty perch as a professor of Metaphysics at Complutense University of Madrid, and as contributor to the newspaper El Sol, the Spanish philosopher, José  Ortega Y Gasset expressed his apprehension at what he described as the rise of the "mass man."  He observed in his seminal book, The Revolt of the Masses, "Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can decide whether he is "mass" or not. The mass is all that which sets no value on itself -- good or ill -- based on specific grounds, but which feels itself "just like everybody," and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else."

            A critic of bourgeois culture, Gasset warned about the glorification of mass values - what John Kenneth Galbraith later excoriated as "conventional wisdom " - and the consequences of conformity - the desire to be just like everyone else: "The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States: 'to be different is to be indecent.' The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated."


            Gasset's primary concern was that when ideas and principles were reduced to their lowest common denominators, democracy itself and liberal values that informed it would be imperiled. As he noted, "The Fascist and Syndicalist species were characterized by the first appearance of a type of man who did not care to give reasons or even to be right, but who was simply resolved to impose his opinions. That was the novelty: the right not to be right, not to be reasonable: 'the reason of unreason.'"


            Gasset's concern was prophetic given subsequent triumph of General Franco and the fascist dictatorship that he imposed upon Spain though his Falange  party. It also has particular resonance in American politics today. That dictatorship, lest we forget, promoted and protected the interests of the wealthy, destroyed labor unions and stifled every form of dissent. all in the name of restoring Spain's past greatness.


             A few weeks ago, Peggy Noonan wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, "How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen." Ms. Noonan, an unctuous, life-long reactionary and stalwart defender of the 1%, correctly claimed that elites throughout the Western world all too often disparage ordinary people and are increasingly disconnected from those whom she argues are victims of their policies: "the top detaching itself from the bottom, feeling little loyalty to it or affiliation with it....From what I've seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they're aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage."


            Noonan concluded, "our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect."


            Ms. Noonan professes to have little confidence in the candidacy of Donald Trump, even as Trump proclaims himself to be the kind of advocate for the common man and opponent the kind of elite that Noonan rails against. But the "elite" that both Noon and Trump castigate is not the economic elite that controls the levers of power in this county - the Koch brothers, the Romneys and Trumps of this world who received a leg up from inherited wealth - but rather some mythical liberal elite that does not  share their or America's values. In addition, Noonan, a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, espouses the same kinds of policies that Trump endorses. Those policies would only exacerbate the chasm between the 1% and the many and further impoverish ordinary working Americans.


            Rhetoric and bluster aside, one need to look no further than the 2016 Republican Party platform that calls for massive tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of Wall Street, abolition of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, repeal of existing environmental laws, restricting the ability of workers to join unions and to bargain collectively through the enactment of a national right to work law, repealing the federal minimum wage law,   cutting the benefits and pensions of public sector employees, and privatizing Amtrak, Medicare and public schools, among other harmful proposals.


            Trump, as Gasset has warned,  is "the type of man who did not care to give reasons or even to be right, but who was simply resolved to impose his opinions:" he epitomizes "the right not to be right, not to be reasonable: 'the reason of unreason.'"

          In the tradition of so many dangerous demagogues, Trump has succeeded in persuading many "low information" voters that, despite his vast wealth, lavish life-style and unsavory business practices, he is the champion of decent, hard-working people whom our economy has left behind. Implicit in his message is the inference that other less deserving people - i.e minorities, immigrants, etc -  have been permitted to jump t the head of the line. Like Generalissimo Franco, he promises to restore traditional values and to make the country great again. Sadly, many of his supporters,especially those who have been most disadvantaged by current economic policies that have favored the very wealthy, because of their anger, frustration and disenchantment, fail to understand how inimical Trump's policies are to their own best interests.   


            In  his dialogues, Plato has Socrates describe people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, who face a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to give names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners can ever come to viewing reality. 


          If Plato's allegory is not to serve as a metaphor that defines this election, informed citizens throughout this country will need to become more engaged and with fact-driven information explain to their family members, friends and neighbors the importance of this election to their own lives and those of future generations of Americans. The stakes could not be higher, nor the danger to our admittedly imperfect democracy greater. 

Donald Trump, Draft Dodger

| No TrackBacks

           Over Memorial Day weekend this past May,  Donald Trump delivered a message, via Twitter, to Americans about the debt owed to this country's veterans: "Honor Memorial Day by thinking of and respecting all of the great men and women that gave their lives for us and our country! We love them," Trump wrote. Throughout his campaign, the Republican nominee has pledged his support for veterans and our fighting men and women.

           As has too often been the case throughout his privileged life, Trump's words and present recollections stand to stark contrast to his actual deeds and to the truth . Earlier this year, The New York Times reported on Donald trumps' military deferments during the Vietnam War era.  In 1968, during the escalation of that conflict,. Donald J. Trump was 22 years old. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall and had an with an athletic build; and he played football, tennis and squash in school.  His medical record showed that his overall health was excellent, and that, in the past, he had only a routine appendectomy when he was ten years old.

          Despite his overall excellent health,  Donald Trump received several deferments that enabled him to avoid service in Vietnam, despite previous claims by him in which he insisted that he missed the draft solely because he had a high lottery number.

           In April of 2011, Trump told WNYW in April of 2011, the New York Fox affiliate, that he was "lucky" to avoid the draft and remembered the lottery taking place while he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "I was going to the Wharton School of Finance, and I was watching as they did the draft numbers and I got a very, very high number and those numbers never got up to," Trump said. In that conversation Trump did not mention he also received several deferments.

          According to his Selective Service records, first obtained by the website The Smoking Gun through a Freedom of Information Act request, Trump received four student deferments between 1964 and 1968 while in college and an additional medical deferment after graduating. Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1968. The lottery occurred in December 1969, conflicting with Trump's recollection of the event.

          Trump received his first two student deferments while enrolled at Fordham University in New York City in June 1964 and December 1965.  He transferred to Wharton as a sophomore that year and received another two 2-S deferments in December 1966 and January 1968 during his last year of college.
          After his graduation Trump was no longer eligible for student deferments and was about to be classified as 1-A, eligible and qualified for conscription. However, in October 1968, he was declared medically unfit to serve except "in time of national emergency," even though he had been declared fit to serve in 1966. In 1972, Trump was ultimately declared ineligible for service and given a final 4-F deferment, purportedly because of of bone spurs.

         In another interview with The New York Times last month, Trump stated that the bone spurs had been "temporary" condition -a "minor" malady that had not had a meaningful impact on him. He said he had visited a doctor who provided him a letter for draft officials, who granted him the medical exemption. He could not remember the doctor's name.

         In the 2015 biography ,The Truth About Trump, the author, Michael D'Antonio, described an interview with Mr. Trump, who at one point slipped off a loafer to display a tiny bulge on his heel. And during a news conference last year, Mr. Trump could not recall which heel had been involved, prompting his campaign to release a statement saying it was both. Trump, who has proclaimed that his health is perfect," claimed that the heel spurs were "not a big problem, but it was enough of a problem." "They were spurs," he said. "You know, it was difficult from the long-term walking standpoint."

           In December of 2015, his longtime personal physician, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, announced that Mr. Trump had "no significant medical problems" over four decades and that, if elected, he "will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Dr. Bornstein made no mention of the bone spurs but did note the appendectomy from Mr. Trump's childhood
           In an article published last year  in The New York Daily News, Wayne Barrett, a biographer of Donald Trump, justified Trump's evasion of the draft  because it "fit a pattern of avoidance than was commonplace in his generation." What Barrett neglected to mention, however, was the fact that college deferments and medical exemptions supported by physicians' statements were options available only young men of privilege; the children of the working poor and the uneducated were the ones who became fodder in the jungles of Vietnam and  returned home only in body bags.

          Trump insists that he is committed "Making America strong again," a promise that includes strengthening and expanding the welfare-through-warfare machine that has consumed trillions of dollars of taxpayer money since the end of World War II. But, as a draft evader,Donald Trump shares the same lack of credibility that bedevils other prominent GOP weasels who evaded military service such as Dick Cheney and Rudolph Giuliani. If the the past is prologue, Trump's rhetoric is little less than bluster. It simply underscores the fact that the GOP will continue to remain the party of "do as I say and not as I do."


The Sad Demise of the Fourth Estate

| No TrackBacks

            Students of logic and language agree that facts must not be confused with opinions.  A fact is based on direct evidence, actual experience, observation, inferences derived from direct observation. A fact is a statement that can be shown to be true or can be proved - as, for example, in the statement "The polio virus causes polio," as has been shown by clinical tests and medical observations. A fact may also refer to an event that actually occurred - e.g., the Mayflower landed in Plymouth in 1620, or the name Boston is a linguistic corruption of the original name for the town in England that was named after its patron saint, Botolph.


         By contrast, an opinion is a statement of belief or feeling. An opinion expresses someone's belief, feeling, view, idea, or judgment about something or someone. Opinions express how a person feels about something; they do not have to be based upon logic and may be entirely subjective matters of opinion - i.e. paisley ties should not be worn with polka-dot shirts.

            When supported by evidence - facts - opinions may be deemed credible; when facts are disregarded, or are contrary to the facts, opinions must be dismissed are incredible and nonsensical.

            Despite these important distinctions, ill-informed opinions continue to drive policy-making in the United States and elsewhere, such as the recent Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. To cite but one example, almost all economists agree that government austerity measures during a time of economic travail, such as during a severe recession and its aftermath, exacerbates the plight of the unemployed, the underemployed and middle class employees who have seen their wages stagnate or erode.

            This was a lesson that the Tory government blithely ignored in the aftermath of the Great Recession as its chose to embark on a ill-advised and counter- productive program to drastically reduce government spending and to balance its budget on the backs of the U.K.'s most vulnerable citizens. That effort was,by and large, with a few notable exceptions such as the Guardian newspaper and the Economist magazine, enthusiastically endorsed by the British tabloid media. The effects of that policy, coupled with xenophobia also spread by the tabloid papers, undoubtedly contributed to the chaos and loss of confidence that has now engulfed Britain's political and economic institutions.

           Here in the United Sates, despite all of the same objective evidence to the contrary, advocates for government minimalism have persisted in their monomaniacal efforts to commit the federal government to extreme austerity measures. Every effort by the Obama administration to increase demand by investing in infrastructure and thus creating jobs has been resisted by the GOPs' lilliputian caucus and its business enablers who are unable to comprehend the difference between a static family budget, based upon fixed income, and the U.S. treasury which, unlike families, has the capacity to increase revenue through licenses, taxes, leases and bonds.  Because of their collective obdurance, these minimalists have prolonged the current era of stagnant wages and weak growth by their refusal to support proven macro-economic stimulus measures that would increase demand for goods and services through pubic investment.


            A second case in point is provided by the shared consensus of consensus of the current GOP leadership, including Donald Trump, Paul Ran and Mitch McConnell, on the issue of the issue of climate change. In the aftermath of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in May of 2013, President Obama immediately signed a disaster declaration for that state. The Office of the Press Secretary stated that "The President today declared a major disaster exists in the State of Oklahoma and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms and tornadoes beginning on May 18, 2013, and continuing" and that "The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pedatum."

            The President announced that he was instructing his disaster response team to get tornado victims in Oklahoma everything they need "right away." The President described the devastation that destroyed the Oklahoma City suburbs as, "one of the most destructive tornadoes in history." The president also offered his prayers and emphasized that there was a long road of recovery ahead. But he said the victims wouldn't travel alone and they would have all the resources that they needed.

            The President's concern for the victims of Oklahoma's tornadoes stood in stark contrast to the appalling hypocrisy and lack of compassion shown by Oklahoma's two U.S. Senators toward the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, claim to be fiscal conservatives who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country (yet they have willingly accepted federal disaster aid in the form of transfer payments from the more prosperous, more enlightened blue states). They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.  

            Inhofe, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has publicly stated that he does not believe that human activities cause climate change. Inhofe, who is not one to be confused by any set of facts, regularly repeats his denial that human activity contributes to climate change and he describes that claim as a hoax. Inhofe insists that the possibility that humans are influencing climate change is impossible because "God's still up there" and that it is "outrageous" and arrogant for people to believe human beings are "able to change what He is doing in the climate."

            For decades now, the Republican media consultants, as chronicled by Roy Brock in The Republican Noise Machine, have sought to persuade ordinary Americans that the print and electronic media throughout the United States is dominated by liberals. For that reason, all news reports that propose to discuss the scientific basis of evolution, the existence of climate change, economic inequality or which suggest that the current political system is dysfunctional should be dismissed as evidence of liberal bias. The purpose of this consistent propaganda effort has been to inculcate a worldview that denies that there is any such thing as "objective reality" or fact-based information. In a world in which all information has been reduced to that which one believes, one's subjective understanding of reality is as valid as anyone else's, and that the opinions of the ignoramus or village idiot are entitled to the same weight as the research of the scholar.   


            On an individual level, it is a sad fact that too many of American citizens lack the basic skills in reading, writing and comprehension to use language to communicate effectively or coherently. Few can read a newspaper such as The New York Times with good comprehension; fewer still read any newspapers or books at all.

            By almost every indicator - whether measured by linguistic, scientific, historic, economic, geographic or legal literacy - Americans, as a people, fare poorly. We have become a "sound-bite" culture. The consequence of this pervasive illiteracy is that many American citizens cannot distinguish between a fact or an opinion, or distinguish myth from reality. In addition, the illiteracy of the American population creates a docile and easily manipulated public. At the political level, the inability to understand and to use language properly has created a vacuum into which slogans and cant have become substitutes for serious public discussion or analysis of issues.

            When language is used imprecisely - or in a slovenly or cavalier manner - the underlying quality of thought is similarly compromised. The link between language and thought is explored in George Orwell's profound novel, 1984. In that seminal book, the central character, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth. His job is to help to create for the omnipresent tyranny which governs Oceana a new language, Newspeak. Newspeak is the ultimate language of control: Each year in the Ministry of Truth, thousands of words are eliminated. In addition, antonyms are collapsed into synonyms. Hence, "Freedom is slavery, "Ignorance is strength, "War is peace." As Orwell reminds us in the appendix to that novel, when one loses the capacity to use words correctly, one loses the capacity to think; when one loses the capacity to think, the ability to rebel or to imagine alternatives to the status quo is irrevocably extinguished.

            The misuse of words impairs our ability to reason and to understand social reality. The deceptive or imprecise use of words denotes fallacious or imprecise thinking. When words are used as epithets for the purposes of ad hominem attacks, the intent of the author of the words is to elicit an emotional reaction and to thus foreclose the possibility of serious reflection or consideration by appealing to the listener's prejudices. Thus, during the past six decades as we have seen, the word "liberal" and a panoply of related synonyms such as "tax and spend," "death tax" and "government mandates" have been used by various politicians and media outlets to convey something sinister, while slogans such as "free enterprise," "individual rights" and the "American way" have been invoked to convey something wonderful and patriotic.