The Trump Uniform and Other Stereotypes

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

New Orleans    Donald Trump showed up for three hours in Baton Rouge yesterday to make whatever hay he might out of the 1000-year flood in the area. Obama will be coming next week. He’ll be leaving his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard or some such and answering the cries of daily editorials in the Louisiana newspapers calling for him.

There was a picture of Trump in many of the newspapers along with his vice-presidential running mate, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence. The photo op had them helping unload a truck with donated supplies and helping hand those out in the blistering heat and suffocating humidity that makes a Louisiana day in an August summer the stuff of tropical legend. What struck me though was the fact that Trump was still “in uniform.”

Pence was wearing a short sleeve shirt with an open collar. Trump had on his now iconic white golf cap, which reportedly is his sartorial strategy to hold the comb over in place so he doesn’t get caught by any of the political photojournalist paparazzi with his remaining hair flying akimbo in all directions. Not surprisingly, it was also one of his key fundraising strategies throughout the campaign. He was wearing his usual white shirt and dark jacket. No tie, but this is clearly his all-purpose uniform. He has no message discipline, but total and absolute fashion discipline. His image is clearly what he sees as important and paramount, not his message. I find that fascinating and frightening at the same time. This is what presidential means to him.

But, it’s also a product of the media flesh-eating machine. Over the last week we’ve had more than our share of articles about the “buns” in the women’s hair at the Olympics and the number of sequins and rhinestones in the women gymnasts’ outfits. It all got to the point that a rouge feminist interviewer in Rio, watched by my daughter, was interviewing male Olympians and asking them about their uniforms and asking them to “take a twirl” for the viewers.

Reading the business section of the big national newspapers it becomes easier to follow the Trump uniform and its challenges, particularly at the gender divide. For Trump – and many other business folks – this is all about their “brand.” Women pictured in those pages and elsewhere have greater challenges. Of course there is Hillary and her pantsuits and big jackets, Marissa Mayer and her colorful combinations at Yahoo, or Sheryl Sandberg and her dark-colored monotones at Facebook, but for the rest of the tribe there is uncertainty. Do they go with the rigid, formal suit or the summer flounce to message professionalism or friendliness?

Why can’t we move past the trivialities of “dad” jeans and sleeveless dresses? Certainly Trump doesn’t mean to teach us anything, but his boring, standard issue uniform is a clear message he is shrewdly planting in all of us, whether we like it or not.

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Maybe the Republicans Don’t Want to Run the Country, Just the States?

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Doug Mills/The New York Times

New Orleans   President Obama predictably in his last State of the Union address made the case for unity, change, and a new politics.

Makes sense. For the Democrats there is a bedrock belief in the future, demographics is destiny. Change is a friend. All things will come to those who wait.

How do we understand the Republicans though now that they are caught in their great divide? Building a higher fence at the border and deporting millions guarantees them little support in the Latino community? Cutting federal taxes, export-import banks, the federal budget, squeezing infrastructure investment, and free trade agreements alienates them from their corporate sponsors and even if there may not be many votes there, it’s their money that has filled their coffers? What’s up with all of this?

Eventually I have to wonder if the Republican base and a lot of their financiers and even key leaders even want to run the country on a national basis. Sure, there’s no rehab program for the ambition addiction of individual politicians, but I’m talking about the rest of the gang and the people behind them.

It seems for the Republicans the bedrock belief is in the past, demographics is defeat. Change is not a friend, and waiting means that the window could close on them forever.

Most of them probably believe there is no way to ever realistically achieve their ideal of no government, since it’s still a big, bad world out there, but for many it is hard for me not to conclude that they’ve given up on governing the complex, massive behemoth of a federal government. It’s hard not for me not to start think that all of this national stuff and chest beating is a smokescreen: they’ve decided not to be a national party, but to make their last stand state by state.

It can’t be just coincidence. Too much evidence is piling up. It’s all about division.

· Take healthcare, 31 states now in with the Louisiana decision, and 19 out.
· Take guns, different rules in every state with no hope of federal action.
· Take land and they are doing just that, taking land, and claiming that the federal government should give over the land to the states so it could parcel the pieces out to mining, oil and gas, timber companies, and ranchers.
· Take environment, where the Senate Majority leader wanted states to rebel over the coal emissions standards and most of them would scuttle the EPA in a minute.
· Take the poor, and believe me they would love for us to take them, but from Speaker Ryan on down their answer is “block grants,” no matter how they’ve failed, and that means “money for nothing,” since the same 19 or more would take the money and let the poor run or try to pay for bus tickets to their neighbors on the Nevada plan.
· Take workers and their unions, or what’s left of them, where they are using the states to undermine any notion of federal protections for workers, wage increases, and semblance of union security.

The beat goes on and on. This isn’t just tactics, it’s becoming a clear strategy. Make the country ungovernable and hunker down in the states as a last stand at the Alamo and hope you can run the clock out and freeze time. The devil take the hindmost.

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Please enjoy Bonnie Raitt’s Gypsy in Me. Thanks to KABF.

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Wages Up but How High is Fair?

Chicago-Raise-the-Min-Wage-Rally-300x189New Orleans       Walmart has announced that over a half-million of its workers will get a raise to $9 now and up to $10 sometime in 2016 at the cost of one-billion dollars.  This is good news, so I won’t remind people of the Pinocchio stories the company has told for years about its so-called average wages.  The company is joining Gap, Target and others that have already said they are raising wages.  Aetna Insurance several weeks ago raised all of its workers to $16 per hour to lead the way.  Economists speculate that the labor market is finally beginning to tighten and that Walmart is recognizing the inevitability of wage increases, so wanted to jump ahead of the pack, embrace reality, and try to change its reputation as one of the country’s worst employers.

All of this is happening as President Obama tries to breathe some new life into his proposal to raise the minimum wage in various steps to $10.10 per hour which has been dead-on-arrival in Congress since it moved from his mind to his mouth.  Not to rain on the parade, but Congress will no doubt use the announcement by Walmart as the nation’s largest private sector employer as evidence that there is no need for new federal minimum wage legislation.

All of this is happening as many of us have been in lengthy conversations in recent months about how to move forward on a different “living wage” strategy.  The “fight for fifteen” has won huge publicity, but aside from Aetna, very little take-up, and, practically speaking, the notion that minimum wage fast food workers might suddenly find their wages doubling from the $7.25 they are earning now ranks somewhere next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on the reality scale.

What is fair and practicable?  Our brothers and sisters in Canada have tried to navigate their campaigns around figures produced by respected nonprofits that include day care cost and other facts that live for many of us only in our dreams.  A recently released poll in the States though found that there is 75% support among Americans for a $12.50 minimum wage achieved by the year 2020.  The same poll found that even in the South that number was supported by 74% including over 50% of Republicans.

We tried to reverse engineer the math using statistics based on the average housing cost in our cities for a single person to rent an apartment and assuming that would represent one-third of their income.  The results were interesting and would seem to resonate with people.  Using this formula a “living wage” now would look like the following:

Little Rock      $11.53

Baton Rouge   $11.59

Houston          $13.00

New Orleans   $13.24

Dallas              $13.56

The wage train is starting to rumble forward finally.  These numbers seem fair and make sense.  It’s campaign time!

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Please enjoy Green Day singing Working Class Hero

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Immigration Wedging Politics in United Kingdom Too

BNP-ImageNew Orleans    In the contentious midterm elections in the USA there were huge issues that were simply not core issues for the candidates. After all of the sound and fury about the Affordable Care Act, blah, blah, blah, the actual candidates seem to have come to grips with the fact that 11 million enrollees just might be on to something, so let’s tone it down. Where immigration has been a wedge issue for years and presidential candidates are still beating the drums, the story line on the midterm elections was more about the disaffection of Latinos with both parties because of the limited progress on any permanent immigration reform, than any sense that any candidates for either party were moving forward on the issue. President Obama reacted a bit to the news of Latino alienation by leaking more plans to maybe do something to ease the legalization process, but it just wasn’t much of an election issue.

Meanwhile immigration seems to be pushing the economy as a wedge issue in Europe.  The story line is confusing there as well.  On one hand there are regularly tragic stories of African immigrants trying to virtually swim their way to France and Spain.

And, then there is the United Kingdom where immigration is driving parties and people crazy left and right. The explanation is easy to grasp, but the party policies are impossible to understand. The weak economy has left too many finger pointing at new immigrants as job jumpers. The United Kingdom as a member of the European Union is part of the open borders program allowing anyone within the EU the ability to work in any of the member countries, and that’s the hot button that is being pressed in Britain. Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to play footsie with the issue in a dangerous game by vowing to put membership in the EU to a 2015 referendum, the same year his government is up again on the ballot. The United Kingdom Independence Party, known as UKIP, has played the Tea Party, hardcore anti-immigrant hater role and eaten away deeply at the Conservative’s right flank.

Cameron has some slow learning problems in understanding the position of the other EU countries, betting the long shot that they will grant Britain concessions for fear of losing them from the EU. Meanwhile Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose robust economy and deep pockets, pretty much puts her and Germany in the drivers’ seat in really calling the shots there, and has toughened her stand on the issue saying that the UK position is near a “point of no return” and holding that freedom of movement is one of the cardinal principles of the European Union.

Even Britain’s Labour Party seems to be buckling on the issue, as its leader Ed Milliband is taking fire from the right in his party worried about the defection of more of their white working class voting core to the UKIPpers as well. In recent weeks he has enraged the left by arguing that he would insist that new immigrants be subjected to tougher standards barring them social benefits and requiring more English language skills before allowing them to enter the job market.

What a mess!

With yet another National Football League game heading to London, as the NFL tries to branch out to England and all of this anti-immigrant blurting from politicians and Tea Party wannabes, it’s becoming clear where this is really going. What we can expect next it seems is that the UK will drop out of the EU, and start lobbying to become the 51st state in the United States of America, realizing that being anti-immigrant is the perfect approach to getting the nod to come in. If the EU is too liberal for them, the US is just far enough to the right to feel like home.

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Too Much Data in Too Many Hands for Both Good and Evil

Word Cloud "Big Data"New Orleans      An observation decades ago always stuck with me. It was a comparison of Americans and people who live elsewhere. The point made by the author, whose name fittingly has long ago left me, is that we have too much information at hand and too little ability to process it. Ironically, that was then, and the observer would have been dumbstruck by the exponential increase of information now available to us and just about everyone else on the other end of hands pounding the keyboards, but some people have the ability to process it. What’s out there and who has the capacity to understand it though, still might leave us at the same point as a generation ago without the ability to use the tools effectively. Too many of us are at the Stone Age, while a few others are flying to the moon.

A case in point can be found with the new data on doctors and their paymasters, including and especially drug companies and others who would interfere with good judgment. Part of the Obamacare reforms are already tracking what various hospitals now charge for specific procedures, and starting in September, we will all have this information if we have access to a website. Excellent news! How many will be able to effectively access that data to make the choices that it promises and within the ACA, how many of the doctors a patient might want to avoid will be in or out of the network allowing the power of such information to give rise to voice and the threat of exit? Well, that’s a whole different question entirely, but today it’s safe to say, the information is more powerful as a selective threat from the government than a promise useful to many people.

More disturbingly is the availability of what some called “hyper-specific” community data. As the Times posed the question, if you…”Want to find a ‘family-friendly’ community within 20 miles of Boston with a high Asian population, a low poverty rate and a median home value of $400,000…” then there’s a bunch of websites for you! With some simple key strokes and a semi-passive real estate database and an agent steering you into its use, then you can effectively violate the Fair Housing Act and racially discriminate all day long. It’s not so much “redlining” anymore but it is a kind of data-mining discrimination that eviscerates Fair Housing, the CRA, and a host of other public policies.

We have police looking at broken windows in our cities as a deterrent, but no one should be able to look at personal computer screens due to privacy restrictions. Well not exactly, since a federal appeals judge just allowed federal prosecutors access to email and data records for a customer whose info was held at a Microsoft data farm in Ireland. We already knew there were no boundaries for the NSA, and it appears there are no foreign borders either.

It seems clear that the level of data now on everyone and everything and the ability of some, but not all, to access and process that data has outstripped our ability to regulate, legislate, protect privacy, establish and maintain rights and entitlements, and of course hold us safe and sound. We may not all be planning a trip to the moon, but we’re living on a planet and in an age that none of us truly understands anymore.

Just saying.

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IRS and the Tea Party

Edinburgh   The Internal Revenue Service apologized for batching up 300 applications for 501c4 tax exempt status when groups had Tea Party or Patriot in their names, claiming they were flooded with 2600 applications and their lower level pencil pushers were just trying to figure out a short cut.  Conservatives and their Congressional allies screamed like stuck pigs demanding assurances that this kind of thing never happens again.  Public Citizen, the old Ralph Nadar campaign finance watchdog, tried to get a word in edgewise demanding more investigations of the abuse of tax exempt status being awarded without any viable claims to benefiting “social welfare” as required by the regulations.  They believe, as do many others, that c4 status is becoming a signpost for creating a tax haven to serve as a political slush fund on the Karl Rove Crossroads model of no holds barred campaign spending in the last US Presidential election.

What should we make of all of this this?  Worth the worry or a tempest in a tea party…I mean tea pot?

Next to the military and the CIA, there are few more inscrutable and opaque government outfits than the IRS, making it pretty easy to believe both Kentucky Senator Mitch O’Connell’s accusations about their “thuggish” practice and the Tea people’s lawyer’s cry about McCarthyism.  The Republicans  don’t much like the IRS or anyone involved in tax collection given their project of dismantling the government dollar by dollar, so it’s not like they are going to budget more money for better supervision of nonprofits or anyone else, so it will be even easier to believe the IRS apologists that they were sorry because they were incompetent and didn’t supervise their agents well in sort of a “guys gone wild in Cincinnati” storyline.

And, of course we all have our own stories on this side of the divide as well.  This year I’ve had to pay for a tax certificate requested by nonprofits in Japan to pay for speaking over there.  Six months, no word, and no way to track it down.  In another incident this year, I had to pay for a new copy of an exemption letter sent to me at the wrong address and lost without me knowing it was sent for several years, and suddenly got a call from an IRS investigator saying my letter and the results of an audit were held up because filing and paying for the letter as instructed by Cincinnati had confused them in Fort Worth into thinking someone else was trying to file for a new exemption under the ACORN International c3 number.  One the other hand I had a great conversation with the IRS several weeks ago about waiving penalties and fines for KABF in Little Rock, and thanks for that guys!  My point is simply that there is no way to figure the IRS out.  And, I don’t want to get into how long it took them to start paying attention to the predatory nature of refund anticipation loans or the way they handle volunteer or VITA sites and their so-called “partnerships” there.  They move at their own chosen speed without explanation or transparency, and it’s luck of the draw every time Joe Citizen ends up dealing with them, so basically the only good strategy is avoiding them completely and hoping they lose your name in the files somewhere.  In short, we should all feel lucky it’s not worse.

As for the Tea people and Public Citizen’s positions, most of the Tea groups will shrivel and die anyway so it hardly matters at some level, and Karl Rove and his lawyers could tie the IRS up for years and might argue that stopping Obama from being elected is their definition of contributing to the public’s “social welfare.”  Both sides are no doubt right even for both right and wrong reasons, all of which adds up to the likelihood that with less staff and less funding and no improvements in supervision or transparency, the only sure bet is that our experiences with the IRS will get a lot worse before they get any better.

IRS & Tea Party Audio Blog

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