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Can Bloomberg do it?

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You have to perform a thought experiment with each of the Democratic candidates: Imagine them onstage, debating Trump. Trump is a good debater. Granted, he lies, a lot, and he relies on appeals to fear and resentment; but those are proven debate techniques. In the 2016 primaries, he trounced his Republican challengers. They all seemed wooden and scripted; Trump by contrast was refreshingly “real,” not in the sense of morally authentic or humanly decent, but in his insults and contempt, he at least was someone you could look at and think, “Well, he’s certainly not afraid to say what he thinks.”

He’ll be even better this time around, having had the benefit of four years of being president. He’s perfected his reality show shtick: He was already good on “The Apprentice,” but now he’s got all that extra rehearsal time to benefit from.

So back to the thought experiment: Whoever the Democratic candidate is, is going to have to be as good as Trump on that stage. Trump is a tall man. Bloomberg is a short man. That’s going to count against him, because T.V. is above all a visual medium. (Remember that in 1960, according to polls, most people who heard the JFK-Nixon debates on radio thought Nixon won, but people who watched them on T.V. gave the nod to Kennedy.)

Americans don’t like short people. The evidence for that is overwhelming: we “look up” to our leaders but we “look down on” criminals and losers. Employers hope a new man will “grow into the job”; if he doesn’t, he “didn’t measure up.” “One way in which social weight—power, authority, rank, office, reknown—is echoed…is through relative size, especially height,” a former U.C. Berkeley sociologist wrote. One of the reasons for Ronald Reagan’s political success was his height. When he stood among the leaders of the free world his manly head towered above the rest. Trump, who infamously hovered around Hillary Clinton during one of their 2016 debates, already has begun insulting Bloomberg’s height. “Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy,” he tweeted earlier this month. We can expect a lot more of that kind of personal smear.

Bloomberg, however, is no slouch. First of all, he’s a New Yorker. New Yorkers, I can tell you from personal experience, are fighters. Trump is a New Yorker: he goes for the gut, and his instincts tell him where each person’s gut is. (Remember “Low Energy Jed Bush”? That caused real reputational harm to Bush.) So Bloomberg’s going to have to fight back. He can’t base his response purely on policy: reversing tax cuts, fighting climate change, healthcare, protecting a woman’s right and so on. That kind of stuff, while important, doesn’t appeal to voters’ emotions, which is what so often drives them. No, Bloomberg is going to have to counter: tit-for-tat.

He can’t tease Trump about his height because, as I’ve explained, Americans already like and trust tallness. What can he go after Trump on? Let’s face it, Bloomberg (or anybody else going after Trump) is going to have to be bitchy. Mayor Pete can probably draw on his inner bitch (he’s got one, I’ve seen it, although he hasn’t had to unleash it much). Klobuchar? She’s pretty nice, and may not have the huevos (so to speak) for it. Warren might have the chops. But I’m writing today about Bloomberg, so let’s examine him a little further.

The thing about Bloomberg that can be so devastating to Trump is that Bloomberg knows Trump well. He’s lived and worked beside him in New York for decades. New York’s a big city, but all the billionaires know each other pretty well—the good and the bad. Trump carries a lot of baggage: ripping off vendors, lawsuits (including from porn stars), shoddy construction, misleading promises. That’s where Trump’s vulnerable: not his physical attributes but his business practices, which are a direct reflection on his character. The electorate already knows Trump is a pig. Bloomberg may be best situated to remind them of that.

Oh, I said Trump’s physical attributes aren’t his vulnerable point, but there’s one thing about him that nobody’s really poked fun at yet: his hair. It’s ridiculous. Everybody knows it. Bloomberg doesn’t have much to speak of in the hair department, but at least he doesn’t dye it and poof it up and do comb-overs, which are the marks of an insecure, vain man: everybody can see a comb-over, everybody knows it’s obvious, so when someone does a comb-over, it’s doubly-ridiculous, because he’s trying to fool people who aren’t fooled in the least. People who do comb-overs are con men. Donald Trump does a comb-over. Bloomberg can use that—and it’ll be all the more effective because Trump is thin-skinned and can’t stand criticism.

So, yes, I can see Bloomberg onstage with Trump, giving as good as he gets. But we’ll learn more about Bloomberg’s debating skills well before the Presidential campaign gets under way: Bloomberg is going to end up on the Democratic primary stage at some point, going up against whomever’s left. His performances then will tell us a lot about how he would “stand up to” Trump in the Presidential.


Six questions about Measure Q

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Oakland’s Measure Q, on the March ballot, proposes to address park maintenance and homelessness. The questions I raise here are based on language in the ballot measure itself.

PARK MAINTENANCE

Measure Q proposes to “support the equitable distribution of maintenance services to parks…in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes of marginalized communities and to facilitate equity of opportunity throughout Oakland.”

When people—me included—think of “park maintenance,” we think of things like trimming trees, maintaining lawns and gardens, cleaning restrooms, repairing benches, collecting trash and litter, and maintaining other infrastructure. Yet Q’s language is curiously reminiscent of “social justice” movements: “marginalized” communities, “equity,” and so on.  

Question 1: What does park maintenance have to do with these things?

HOMELESSNESS

Measure Q will “provide matching funds for programs developed by nonprofit organizations.” I used to be a reporter for the Oakland Tribune. I investigated nonprofit organizations that worked in “social justice” areas, including preventing youth violence. What I found was shocking: mutual (and secret) back-scratching between grantors and grantees, a complete absence of oversight, and phony numbers.

Question 2: How will Measure Q prevent fraud?

Measure Q proposes to provide “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless.

Question 3: How long is “permanent”—for life?–and who pays the rent and utilities for this “permanent” housing?

Measure Q proposes to create “RV parking sites with health, hygiene, security, and case management services.”

Question 4: How long will these “services” be provided, and who pays the salaries and benefits of the needed employees, not to mention the health and hygiene needs (including medications) of the homeless?

Measure Q provides “quick financial assistance programs to keep people from becoming homeless.”

Question 5: Who makes sure that the right people get these “quick” cash payouts, not grifters?  

COST: Backers of Measure Q promise that the City Council will not raise the assessment rate in the future. But Measure Q’s language specifically refutes that claim. “Beginning for the fiscal year 2021-2022, and each year thereafter, the City Council may increase the tax.” That’s right in Section 4 (B).

Question 6: Is it not true that we can expect annual increases in the tax—which is already biggest parcel tax in Oakland’s history?

I hope Measure Q’s backers will answer these questions, so that we, the voters, can make informed choices. Thank you.


Post-Impeachment, Trump is frighteningly unhinged

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The venomous criminal in the White House showed his true colors yesterday with his violent post-Impeachment rant. Well, I shouldn’t say “he showed his true colors” because he’s been showing those colors all along. What he showed us was his true colors in more starkly mad, vulgar insanity than ever before.

There is absolutely nothing surprising about this. We’ve known all along how this kabuki would end up. His Senate Republicans, out of their minds, having sold their souls to the devil, clear him of the criminal acts he obviously committed. Then, Trump claims vindication!

When he held up those newspapers with the headline “ACQUITTED,” he was consciously mimicking Harry Truman, who famously held up a copy of the Chicago Tribune that headlined “DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN.” That was a great moment for Truman, and for America. Truman proved the pundits wrong: they said he wouldn’t win, but the American people decided otherwise.

Trump’s newspaper headlines—ACQUITTED—are factually true. The cowardly Republican Senate did acquit him. The problem for him, though, is that a solid majority of the American public knows Trump committed a crime. This battle isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. When Truman beat Dewey, that was it: end of story, election over. When the co-conspirators in the Republican Senate acquitted Trump, it was only the end of a chapter in a very long book. And I will tell you what the end of that book will be: Trump will be deposed. Somehow, some way, at some point, we will be rid of him.

This could occur in several ways. We can beat him in November. This is the most likely way to get rid of him. We can re-impeach him; he’s bound to do something as stupid and criminal as his Ukraine bribe because it’s in his nature to break the law. The leopard can’t change its spot, although that’s unfair to leopards, which are lovely, pure beasts. Trump is an unlovely stain on humanity.

Of course, someone might assassinate Trump. This is unlikely; he never goes anywhere in public except to highly-orchestrated rallies stuffed with crazy rightwingers who love him, and who have to pass through various Secret Service gauntlets. Of course, neither I, nor any other Democrat, wishes physical harm to befall Trump; the last thing America needs is for him to be murdered. But political assassinations have been known to happen in American history, and you can never count them out.

Barring assassination, Trump is an old man: going on 74, fat and addicted to junk food, and with a volatile temper that must make his blood pressure soar. We don’t know the actual facts about his blood pressure, or his cholesterol reading, or anything else concerning his physical condition, because he hides those things from scrutiny, as he conceals so many other things—for instance, his taxes and his weird sex life. But his life expectancy can’t be much longer. Even if he’s re-elected—God forbid—I should think he’s unlikely to outlive his second term.

Speaking of life expectancy, did you see the photos of Melania putting the Medal of Freedom around Rush Limbaugh’s fat neck at the State of the Union? Limbaugh just announced he has terminal cancer. Again, I wish no physical ill upon anyone, but Limbaugh has been a cancer on American political discourse, and when he dies, that cancer will have been excised: which will be a good thing. Limbaugh is, clearly, a racist (which is why he’s a Republican); and I thought it appropriate that Melania associated herself so closely with him. She’s from Slovenia, one of the most anti-semitic, racist countries in Europe. She has consistently remained silent while her husband has hated on Blacks, Mexicans, Africans, Muslims, transsexuals and people of color in general. It’s not hard to imagine Melania having super-racist secret thoughts. I’ll bet you that, someday, we’re going to learn how much she objected to her stepdaughter, Ivanka, marrying a Jew.

But I digress. We now have Trump unhinged, wreaking vengeance upon his “enemies.” This is a dangerous Trump; hence, it’s an extra-dangerous time for America. It’s more important than ever to keep our eye on the prize. Trump, like a cockroach, is at his most effective in the dark. We, through the media, must shine a relentless light on him, and alert the public, every minute of every day, to his unnatural, illegal activities. We must organize. We must send money to whatever Democratic groups and candidates we favor. The 2020 Election will not be cheap! And above all, we must Take The Pledge: “I vow to vote for the Democratic nominee for president no matter whom it is.”


Iowa: A wrap-up

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Back in November, here on my blog, I formally endorsed Mayor Pete for President of the United States. So I couldn’t be more pleased at how well he did in the Iowa Caucus. We still don’t know whether he won the raw vote, or a majority of the delegates, or what; but even if Sanders edges him out at the last minute, Mayor Pete’s performance in Iowa has indeed shocked the world. From Hong Kong to London, Capetown to Montreal, Tokyo to Auckland, they’re saying “Wow. A gay man might be the Democratic nominee for president of the U.S.”

There’s a long way to go before the party decides on its nominee, though. Most people I know who follow politics think that Mayor Pete will not be the nominee. He may have won Iowa, they say, but he’s unlikely to win New Hampshire, where Sanders is surging, and where even Biden is ahead of Mayor Pete. As for South Carolina, Mayor Pete is doing dismally. Even Tom Steyer is beating him. Pete might get a little bounce in the Palmetto State after Iowa, but it seems unlikely he’ll do well there. South Carolina has a lot of Black voters, and there’s a lot of homophobia in that community. There’s also this meme that Mayor Pete somehow underperformed with respect to Black people in South Bend when he was Mayor. Even some Black leaders in South Bend have criticized him. If Mayor Pete can’t garner tremendous support from Black voters, he can’t beat Trump in November.

But I think Black voters are strategic. They understand the importance of getting rid of the monster in the White House. They may not have the same enthusiasm for Mayor Pete, or any other current Democratic candidate for president, as they had for Obama, who was the candidate of a lifetime; but I have to believe they’ll rally around whomever the candidate is. Black voters are realistic. They know you can’t always get the candidate you might prefer. When the choice is between the Democrat and Donald J. Trump, I hope and expect they’ll do the right thing.

A friend here in Oakland, a Black woman who’s active in politics, told me yesterday she was glad that, in his live appearance after the Iowa Caucus, Pete didn’t kiss his husband, Chasten. My reply was, “Well, he will, eventually.” It would be phony for Mayor Pete to refrain from such a public display of affection with his significant other. Why shouldn’t he kiss his spouse? All the straight candidates do. As great as it is that a gay man has gotten this far, we still have a long way to go. If you don’t believe it, watch T.V. Car commercials, cruise ship commercials, pharmaceutical commercials—they never show same-sex couples.

I’m surprised Klobuchar didn’t do better in Iowa. She’s a really good candidate. She has the best smile in politics. I don’t think anyone dislikes her. She’s sunny, positive, smart and, as she says, she’s won every election she’s been in, including in red districts. I suspect she’s running for Vice President. Buttigieg-Klobuchar? That would be something.

And now, we have the end-game we’ve all seen coming for a year: Trump triumphant, holding up newspapers with “ACQUITTED” headlines, as if he was Truman showing that infamous Chicago Tribune headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” after the 1948 election. Trump is no Truman. The scuttlebutt this morning is that House Democrats might still subpoena Bolton. That would be great, but what is there to be gained? Even Senate Republicans, like Lamar Alexander, concede that Trump did it. “It was crossing the line,” Alexander said, of the attempted Zelensky bribe. Of course, that didn’t stop Alexander from voting to acquit.

If I were Pelosi or Schumer or the other senior Democrats who plan strategy, I wouldn’t give up. They should continue to be nudniks to Trump, to use an old Yiddish word. Why, at this point? First, because it annoys the crap out of Trump, and it’s fun to annoy him. Secondly, because Trump really has gotten away with High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Democrats would be remiss in their oath to the Constitution if they don’t press on, and on, and on, as long as they have breath. Third, because the majority of the American people who know that Trump did something really, truly wrong continues to grow, and reminding those people of Trump’s crimes must remain a top priority for Democrats.

Whomever the Democratic nominee is, he or she will have to go toe-to-toe with Trump, not only on policy issues, but on Trump’s unfitness for office. The American people already are primed to believe that: they need to be reminded, over, and over, and over.


A psychopathological interpretation of Trump and trumpism

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“Social cohesion in all societies is based on authority, and the more rigid, unquestionable, or, politically-speaking, absolute authority becomes, the more hierarchical and repressive societies tend to be. Subordination to a strict authority, whether it be embodied in the stern father…or, analogously, in a powerful leader of an absolutistic state, makes tremendous demands on individuals, especially if obedience is elevated to the status of the primary moral obligation in private and public life. It does not allow an individual to disobey—that is, to ventilate the aggression or dissatisfaction that subordination routinely induces—in a socially or politically acceptable manner.”

Lonnie R. Johnson, historian

Johnson wrote that paragraph, in his book “Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends.” He was referring to the way in which absolute despotism, and its attendant horrors, routinely arose in Central Europe: from the witch hunts of medieval Germany to the pogroms of Ukraine to the dictatorships of the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns to Hitler’s gas chambers. But he might have had Trump’s regime in mind.

All U.S. presidents are authority figures, by definition. But none in our history ever aspired to the level of absolute authority like Trump. We witness his desire to repress all opposition in his repeated slurs of the media as “fake,” in his attacks on the Democratic Party, in his extortion of Zelensky, in his threats to annihilate Republicans who dare cross him, in his obstruction of the Congress by refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas, in his violent State of the Union address last night, and in a hundred other ways.

The subordination to him by his acolytes, which he demands, makes, as Johnson notes, tremendous demands on them. Some of these demands are psychological—indeed, psychopathological. The repression that the stern father imposes on the child shows up, years later, in all manner of mental imbalances, most especially rage and its hand maiden, violence. When the repressor has the vast powers of “an absolutistic state,” rather than a mere father, the demands are correspondingly greater: a stern father can make life unpleasant for a disobedient child, but a stern state can make life impossible for her—or end her life altogether. Nor can the repressed child ventilate her dissatisfaction: To do so risks being socially isolated and shunned. This is why so many Republicans repress their own reaction to Trump: they bury it beneath the purview of consciousness. For, if they admitted to themselves the horror to which they have abandoned all pretense of religion, decency and morality, they could barely live with themselves.

In psychoanalysis, the person who yields to an authoritarian figure is known as an “aggressive-subservient personality type.” Their subservient nature is expressed through the obedience with which they “obey orders.” The adjective “aggressive” is interesting; it implies that a resulting “reaction formation” occurs in the repressed person, which expresses itself in violence towards a perceived “enemy” who is—naturally—defined by the authoritarian figure. Trump has signaled his repressed followers to take their anger—which is really towards themselves—and aim it instead at foreigners, Moslems, Mexicans, gays, liberals, women, disabled people, the poor. When, as Johnson observes, the “absolutistic state” becomes ever more repressive and total, the violence towards perceive “enemies” moves beyond mere rhetoric into physical forms: the roundups, the street attacks, the cattle cars, the camps, the gas chambers.

Johnson, the historian, seems almost to describe the current state of the Republican Party in America, in this note concerning Hitler’s ideology. “[N]ationalism and racism, the idealization of the German nation…and the degradation of alleged enemies can be explained as psychological mechanisms. The device of negative integration was a characteristic of imperial German nationalism: the ability to portray ‘internal enemies’—Communists; Socialists; Catholics; Jews; and Polish, Danish and French minorities—and ‘external enemies’ as so subversive or threatening that ‘good Germans’ would close ranks against them.”

Sound familiar? It’s straight out of the Trump playbook, except that, in place of Jews and Catholics, you have Moslems, and in place of Polish, Danish and French minorities, you have dark-skinned people, especially Mexicans.

Roundups, camps and gas chambers is, obviously, the worst-case scenario with this Trump regime, but history teaches us that it’s not impossible. “It can’t happen here,” Sinclair Lewis warned us, satirically; but it did. Acquitted in the Senate, as Trump will be later today, unleashed from the yoke of Mueller and Ukraine and everything else, more beloved and feared than ever by the aggressive-subservient personality types who follow him, and more unhinged, Trump now is likely to brook no opposition whatsoever. And his Republican henchmen in the Congress, in for a dime, will figure they might as well be in for a dollar. There’s no reason to expect they’d stop him from doing anything he wants.


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