Donald Trump and the Triumph of Anti-Politics

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(Image: Little Perfect Stock / Shutterstock)

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I testified before the great assembly of our land.

When I describe this event to children today, it really does sound to them like a fairy tale. Once upon a time — a time before the world splintered into a million pieces and America became its current disunited states — this old woman was a young idealist who tried to persuade our mighty Congress that a monster was stalking the land.

“Did they listen to you, Auntie Rachel?” they typically ask me.

“Oh, they listened to me, but they didn’t hear me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I thought and I thought, and I wrote and I wrote, and I put together an even better presentation,” I say patiently. “I had to somehow make that monster visible so those mighty people could see it.”

“What did it look like, Auntie Rachel?”

“It was invisible, my dear children, but we could feel its hot breath. And we could see the terrible things that it did. It could make the oceans rise. It could make the crops wilt in the fields. Still, we kept feeding this terrible beast.”

“But why?”

“It’s what the monster demanded. Some monsters want to devour little children. Others insist on young maidens. But this one insisted on tankers of oil and truckloads of coal. Even as it grew, it only demanded more and more.”

At this point, the children are always wide-eyed. “What did you do then?”

“I talked to those great people again. And this time I tried even harder to describe the monster.” As I slip into the past, the faces of the children become those of long-dead politicians. “I provided more detailed graphs of rising temperatures. I cited statistics on the impact of burning coal and oil and natural gas. I displayed photos of what the melting ice and the surging waters had already done. And then I showed them pictures of what the future would look like: submerged cities, drought-stricken lands, dead seas. They looked and still they didn’t see. They listened and still they didn’t hear. Great people,” I conclude, “are not always good people.”

“What did you do then?” they always ask.

“I stopped talking, my darlings. I came here to escape the monster. I came to Arcadia.”

They look disappointed. The children know their fairy tales. They expect someone — perhaps a knight in shining armor — to appear suddenly and slay the monster.

“There was no knight,” I lament. “And the monster still lives. We can feel its hot breath even now.”

Of course, my young charges don’t really understand my story. Today, in 2050, there is no Congress. There are no committee hearings. There are no intergovernmental panels or global gatherings. I might as well be telling them about Roman banquets or medieval jousts. And yet my little students always clamor for more stories of the vanished world of Washington, D.C., 2017, just as they would beg for yet another of Aesop’s fables. But they don’t quite see how these tales of long ago connect to their lives today.

After all, they live in a post-political world.

The Death of Politics

Before the global thermometer went haywire, before the great economic panics of the early 2020s, before the battles escalated between vigilantes and jihadis, before the international community cracked like a mirror smashed by a fist, there was that initial death, which was barely noticed at the time.

As the historians — those left to tell the tale — will inform you, there were no funerals for the death of politics, nor were there obituaries. And even if there had been, few would have shed any tears. The confidence the American public had in Congress back in those days was lower than in any other institution — a mere 9% had such confidence, compared to 18% for big business and 73% for the military.

Politics in the muggy swamp of Washington, where I lived in those antediluvian years, had become a tug of war between two hated teams. Sometimes, one side won and dragged the other through the muck. Then the situation would be reversed. No matter: at the end of the day, everyone was left covered in mud.

Yes, things might have turned out differently. Radical reforms might have been enacted, a new generation of politicians cultivated. But at the moment of greatest peril — to the republic and the world at large — Americans turned their backs on politics, electing the most anti-political candidate in the history of the country. The founding fathers had done everything they could to ensure that the system would not produce such a result, but there was no way they could have anticipated Donald Trump or the circumstances that put him in power.

When the initial Europeans arrived in North America more than half a millennium ago, they brought weapons far more powerful than the stone axes and wooden clubs wielded by the First Nations. But it wasn’t just the guns that proved so devastating. The Europeans carried within them something far more lethal: invisible diseases like smallpox and the flu. Those viruses cut through the Native Americans like so many scythes, killing nine out of every ten of the original inhabitants of this continent.

Many centuries later, Donald Trump arrived in Washington armed with the explicit weapons of extremist rhetoric and sociopathic sangfroid with which he had destroyed his political opponents. But it was what he carried hidden within him that would ultimately turn out to be so catastrophic. Although he had railed against the political establishment in the election campaign that put him in the Oval Office, in his own way he had also played by the political rules to get there. Deep down, however, his greatest urge was to destroy politics altogether: tweet by tweet, outrage by outrage.

And his attack on politics would finish off the world as we knew it in Washington circa 2017. In the end, it would render congressional testimony and Congress itself irrelevant. Even today, more than 30 years later, the bodies are still piling up.

The Judgment of Paris

I teach science to the young children here in Arcadia. It’s not difficult to explain the basic scientific concepts that so changed our world, and we have a well-equipped lab for them to run experiments. So they understand the science of climate change. What bewilders them is how the crisis came about.

“Why didn’t our grandparents run the factories every other day?” a bright young girl once asked me. “Why didn’t they drive those stupid cars just on the weekend?”

Our children know little but Arcadia, and this community is fully sustainable. We produce everything we need here in this corner of what was once the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. What we don’t grow, we synthesize or create on our 3-D printers. We conduct limited trade with the few neighboring communities. If there is an unexpected death, we issue another birth permit. If our solar batteries run low during the winter, we ration energy. Everything is recycled, from our chicken bones to our night soil. The children of Arcadia don’t understand waste.

They also don’t understand the now-strange concept of an international community. They’ve never ventured beyond the walls of our little universe.  It’s only thanks to virtual tourism that they’ve seen the world outside, which just reinforces their desire to remain here. After all, the world out there is just a collection of sharp little shards, what my ex-husband used to call the “splinterlands” of this planet. My students can’t comprehend how those shards, most of them exceedingly dangerous micro-environments, once fit together to form larger nations that in turn sometimes cooperated to solve common problems. It’s like that old story of the elephant and the six blind men. The children of Arcadia can understand the parts, but unsurprising enough, given the events of the last three decades, the whole eludes them.

Think of that long-gone international community, I tell them, as a squalling infant born in 1945 to bickering parents. A troubled childhood was followed by an awkward youth. Only in middle age, with the end of the Cold War in 1989, did it finally seem to come into its own, however briefly.  Unfortunately, within a few short years, it was prematurely in its dotage. In 2017, at 72, the international community was past retirement age, in frail health, and in desperate need of assisted care.

Once upon a time, this aged collective creature, this Knight of the Sad Countenance, was supposed to be our savior, the slayer of the horrible monster. When the time came, however, it could barely lift a lance.

Without some knowledge of the life cycle of the international community, my children can’t possibly understand why global temperatures continued to rise in the first part of this century, despite the best efforts of scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens. Several countries, Uruguay and Bhutan among them, had gone to extraordinary lengths to reduce their carbon footprint, and more than a dozen cities eventually became carbon neutral. Individuals adopted vegetarianism, drove electric cars, turned down their thermostats in the winter — as if lifestyle changes alone could slay the monster.

Unfortunately, a global problem really did require a global response. The Paris climate accord, which 196 countries signed at the end of 2015, was just such an effort. Only two countries refused to sign, one (Syria) because it was mired in a civil war and the other (Nicaragua) due to sheer cussedness. And yet the terms of the agreement were far from adequate. The international community, which had come together in this twilight of cooperation, well understood the enormity of the challenge: to keep global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average. At best, however, the Paris treaty would have kept temperatures from rising three degrees.  And as everyone now knows, the best was hardly what happened.

In this way did that community abandon the very idea of sustainability and embrace its lesser cousin, resilience. I try to explain to my children that sustainability is all about harmony — maintaining balance, never taking more than what we give back. Resilience, on the other hand, is about making the adaptations required by a crisis, about simply getting by. The judgment of Paris, with its nod toward resilience, was, in fact, an acknowledgment of failure.

Although flawed, it was at least part of a process. That’s what democratic politics is all about, I tell my charges. You have to begin somewhere and hope to improve from there. After all, there’s always the possibility that one day you might even graduate from resilience to sustainability.

But, of course, there’s also the option of going backward, which is exactly what happened, big league — to use an expression of the new American president — in 2017.

The Trump Revolution

It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that destruction is so much easier than construction. Anyone can wield a sledgehammer; few can use a trowel. An inadvertent sneeze can take down the most elaborately built house of cards.

Donald Trump was more than just a sneeze. His devotion to the destruction of the “administrative state” was impressive. At the time, we were all so focused on the domestic side of that destruction — the toppling of the pillars of the welfare state, the repeal of universal health care, the rollback of legal protections and voting rights of all sorts — that we failed to pay proper attention to just how devastatingly that destruction spread internationally.

Yes, the new president cancelled pending trade deals, thumbed his nose at traditional allies, and questioned the utility of agreements like the one that mothballed Iran’s nuclear program. But those were largely bilateral attacks. Much more dangerous were his fierce sallies against the international administrative state.

The most important of these, of course, was his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. Admittedly, it was a weak, voluntary agreement. Yet even that was too much for Donald Trump. The president declared that the agreement would disadvantage Americans and force workers and taxpayers “to absorb the cost” of reducing greenhouse gas admissions through “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.” It didn’t matter that none of that was true.  Renewable energy programs were creating more well-paying jobs in the United States than the dirty energy industries were trying to maintain.  In his surge of destruction, however, President Trump never felt the need to justify his actions with recourse to actual facts.

The United States, moreover, was both the richest country in the world and historically the largest producer of carbon emissions. As we tell our students here in Arcadia, if you’re most responsible for the mess, you should be most responsible for the clean-up.  It’s a simple concept for children to absorb. Yet it was beyond the ken of most Americans.

Worse than being merely indifferent, the new president was determined to hasten global warming, single-handedly if necessary, by expanding offshore drilling; green-lighting more gas and oil pipelinesreducing restrictions of every imaginable sort on the dirty energy industry; cutting support for the development of alternative energies; encouraging the production of, and reduced emissions standards for, gas-guzzling vehicles; and slashing the budget for the enforcement of environmental standards of every imaginable sort. Trump, in other words, wasn’t just willing to let the buried treasure of fossil fuels well enough alone.  He was eager to feed the monster even more than it demanded.

If we had been living in a normal time, it might have been possible to fight back effectively in political terms against this onslaught. But just as Trump’s carbon-based vision of America and the world was exploding upon us, politics was taken into a backroom and strangled.

The Politics of Antipolitics

I remember the birth of antipolitics. I was a young woman when dissidents in the communist world began to associate official political activity with support for an immoral order. Voting, they believed, was an empty gesture if the ruling party won 99% of the ballots cast. Parliaments were empty vessels if the Party leader and the Politburo always ended up making all the decisions. When politics are compromised in this way, all but the opportunists retreat into antipolitics.

Communism died in 1989, and politics was reborn in those lands of antipolitics — but all too briefly. Within a decade, the new converts to democracy began reverting to their earlier mistrust of anything political and conventional politicians became the enemy.  Collaboration and compromise were once again anathema.

And then this very dissatisfaction with politics as we knew it began spreading beyond the post-communist world. Voters elsewhere became dazzled by the most illiberal of politicians, a crew who were naturals for one-party or one-leader states. Donald Trump was just part of this new fraternity of nationalist populists that included Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Viktor Orban of Hungary.  All of them quickly began concentrating power in their own hands in an attempt to rule by decree (or, in Trump’s case, by executive order). In the process, they used antipolitics strategically to defeat any potential challenges at the domestic and transnational level.

It was odd that, in so many countries, voters seemingly couldn’t wait to disenfranchise themselves through this new antipolitics. To a man, these autocrats came to power not through coups but through elections. Odder still was the fact that, in those years, it was increasingly young people who no longer considered it important to live in a democracy. When only the old believe in such a system, then it, too, is but one step from the grave.

Perhaps the culprit was economic. The major parties in these countries had almost uniformly supported policies that widened the gap between rich and poor, robbing young people of jobs and any hope for a future. No surprise, then, that they lost faith in the secular religion of democracy.

Or perhaps technology killed politics. The computer and the cell phone combined to reduce the attention span required for sustained involvement in public affairs. The micro-communities created by social media obviated the need to interact with those who didn’t share one’s own micro-concerns. And of course everyone began to insist on immediate results at a single keystroke, which, at the political level, translated into an increased preference for decrees.

For a brief moment, the Trump “shock” provoked a counter-reaction. In the United States, there were huge protest marches, while unsympathetic government bureaucrats dug in their heels — but this only strengthened the populist narrative of an irresponsible liberal elite and a hostile “deep state.” In this brief moment of seeming reversal, Trump’s allies in Europe even lost a few elections, but the victors in those contests continued policies that disadvantaged the majority economically and politically and in the next round or the one after the predictable happened.

As those of a certain age remember, Trump himself eventually fell from power, undone in the end by his own self-defeating vengefulness.  At that moment, his critics exulted in their schadenfreude, only to find that he was replaced all too soon by someone who shared his destructive anti-politics without his noxious personal traits.

Trump stunned the international community. His successors gutted it.  And as everyone in Earth’s splinterlands now knows, the monster continued to be fed, while the thermometers, floods, droughts, wild fires, sea levels, tides of refugees, and all the rest continued their inexorable rise.

Childhood’s End

Fairy tales should have happy endings. I assure our children that they are safe inside Arcadia. They can see for themselves how successfully we raise our crops. They are far enough from the ocean’s tidal waves not to fear the waters. They participate in the democratic political life of our community. The occasional breakdown notwithstanding, Arcadia is a small island of hope in a sea of despair.

The temperatures continue their climb. Outside, the scramble for resources becomes bloodier by the year. Many of the communities that once dotted the landscape around us are nothing but a memory. The walls surrounding Arcadia may be next to impregnable and our armory remarkably well stocked, but the question remains: Can we survive without our founding members, who are just now beginning to die off?

We raise and educate our children under the threat of the same monster grown larger yet. As they get older, some of the young accuse my generation and me of failing to slay that creature and, unfortunately, they couldn’t be more right. I believe that we, at least here in Arcadia, did do our best, but sadly it wasn’t good enough.

Soon, it will be our children’s turn. They will tend the crops and maintain the armory. They will continue the search for a scientific solution to climate change in the absence of a political one and an international community to enforce it. And they will be the ones who must make sure that the monster, however much it huffs and puffs and threatens our very livelihood, does not in the end blow our house down, too.

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On Fighting Inequality, Which Nations Do More than Pay Lip Service?

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Republicans are Right: Going to College Hurts

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(Photo: iidea studio / Shutterstock)

Going to college is a good thing, right? That’s at least what I was told as a kid, and what led me to get a college degree. I was the first one in my family to do so.

Yet new public opinion polling shows most Republicans think colleges have a negative impact on the country. Unfortunately, they might be right — but not for the reasons you might expect them to give.

Attending college has been proven to unlock opportunities. A report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found that college graduates are 24 percent more likely to be employed than high school graduates — and earn $ 1 million more over a lifetime.

Those with college degrees are also more than twice as likely to volunteer, and over three times more likely to give back to charity.

College educations also affect the way people vote. Three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders vote in presidential elections, compared to just over half of high school graduates.

So why might some view college negatively? Well, there’s a lot of reasons — 1.3 trillion, to be precise. That’s how much debt students, current and former, are carrying in this country: $ 1.3 trillion worth, and rising.

Who’s hit worst by this skyrocketing debt? Women, who owe two-thirds of that amount — and especially black and Latina women.

A recent report from the American Association of University Women found that the average woman who graduated from a four-year university between in 2012 carried $ 21,000 in college debt. That’s about $ 1,500 more than the average man. Black women are even more negatively impacted, averaging over $ 29,000 in student loans.

Worse still, women are paid about 80 cents to every dollar a man makes — a number that falls to 63 cents for black women, and just 54 cents for Latina women, when compared to white men. That means these grads start out deeper in debt and then have a much harder time getting out.

So, is rising Republican opposition to the academy a result of their concern for the economic well-being of black or Latina women? Doubtful.

After all, our GOP-led Congress refuses to engage with potential solutions to close the gender wage gap, which could make huge strides in reducing overall student loan debt. And not a single Republican senator supported the Pay Check Fairness Act, which would make it harder for employers to discriminate based on gender.

Same goes for the College for All Act, a bill put forward by Senator Bernie Sanders to create a debt-free higher education system and help student borrowers refinance their debt. A lot more effort is needed on the federal and local levels to remove this economic burden systemically placed on women.

Unfortunately, the Pew study that showed Republican opposition to universities didn’t dive deeper as to why. However, an old quote from Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind responsible for bringing George W. Bush into office, offers a clue: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic.”

What else about college might rub conservatives the wrong way?

Colleges provide a space for critical thinking where students can expand their minds and become more knowledgeable of the world. That might be why universities have historically played major roles in the resistance to bad public policy — from Vietnam to Iraq to today’s #resistance to Donald Trump.

Fixing higher education means reducing barriers to college, not increasing them. Greater investment in debt-free higher education and debt relief for the most impacted students, including black women like me, is what’s needed — not mindless broadsides against the idea of education.

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Can the EU Pass a Speculation Tax?

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Trump’s Worst Collusion Isn’t With Russia — It’s With Corporations

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(Photo: Flickr / Glenn Halog)

I’ve always been a little skeptical that there’d be a smoking gun about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. The latest news about Donald Trump, Jr., however, is tantalizingly close.

The short version of the story, revealed by emails the New York Times obtained, is that the president’s eldest son was offered “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” and “would be very useful to your father.”

More to the point, the younger Trump was explicitly told this was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr.’s reply? “I love it.”

Trump Jr. didn’t just host that meeting at Trump Tower. He also brought along campaign manager Paul Manafort and top Trump confidante (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

We still don’t have evidence they coordinated with Russian efforts to release Clinton campaign emails, spread “fake news,” or hack state voting systems. But at the very least, the top members of Trump’s inner circle turned up to get intelligence they knew was part of a foreign effort to meddle in the election.

Some in Washington are convinced they’ve heard enough already, with Virginia senator (and failed VP candidate) Tim Kaine calling the meeting “treason.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth asking: Who’s done the real harm here? Some argue it’s not the Russians after all.

“The effects of the crime are undetectable,” the legendary social critic Noam Chomsky says of the alleged Russian meddling, “unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth.”

That’s worth dwelling on.

Many leading liberals suspect, now with a little more evidence, that Trump worked with Russia to win his election. But we’ve long known that huge corporations and wealthy individuals threw their weight behind the billionaire.

That gambit’s paying off far more handsomely for them — and more destructively for the rest of us — than any scheme by Putin.

The evidence is hiding in plain sight.

The top priority in Congress right now is to move a health bill that would gut Medicaid and throw at least 22 million Americans off their insurance — while loosening regulations on insurance companies and cutting taxes on the wealthiest by over $ 346 billion.

As few as 12 percent of Americans support that bill, but the allegiance of its supporters isn’t to voters — it’s plainly to the wealthy donors who’d get those tax cuts.

Meanwhile, majorities of Americans in every single congressional district support efforts to curb local pollution, limit carbon emissions, and transition to wind and solar. And majorities in every single state back the Paris climate agreement.

Yet even as scientists warn large parts of the planet could soon become uninhabitable, the fossil fuel-backed Trump administration has put a climate denier in charge of the EPA, pulled the U.S. out of Paris, and signed legislation to let coal companies dump toxic ash in local waterways.

Meanwhile, as the administration escalates the unpopular Afghan war once again, Kushner invited billionaire military contractors — including Blackwater founder Erik Prince — to advise on policy there.

Elsewhere, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and other architects of the housing crash are advising Trump on financial deregulation, while student debt profiteers set policy at the Department of Education.

Chomsky complains that this sort of collusion is often “not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy.” While Trump has taken it to new heights, it’s certainly a bipartisan problem.

If Trump’s people did work with Russia to undermine our vote, they should absolutely be held accountable. But the politicians leading the charge don’t have a snowball’s chance of redeeming our democracy unless they’re willing to take on the corporate conspirators much closer to home.

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Fed Up with Washington, DC? Look to Washington State.

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(Photo: Flickr/ Takver)

Forward thinking in Washington these days is limited to federal law-makers scheming new and innovative ways to bolster the fortunes of the ultra-wealthy at the expense of just about everyone else.

That is, in Washington, DC. On the other side of the country in Washington State, and specifically Seattle, policymakers are taking a much different tack, choosing to build an economy that works for everyone.

Congress, and other states, should take notice.

The Seattle City Council voted on July 10 to pass a city-level income tax on its wealthiest income-earners. The small 2.25 percent tax will only apply to income over $ 250,000 for individuals, or $ 500,000 for married couples, and will raise an estimated $ 125 million per year.

This new revenue will strengthen the city’s public programs to address homelessness and affordable housing, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, and improve the city’s education and transit.

The new revenue will also shore up federal funding lost as a result of budget cuts from the Trump administration. Opposition to the president’s budget proposal was a motivating factor for many, leading organizers to name the campaign “Trump-Proof Seattle.”

Katie Wilson co-founded the Transit Riders Union, which helped coordinate the campaign. As she put it, “We can’t count on solutions at the federal level coming anytime soon, so we need our city and our state to step up for the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Stand up the city did. Whether state lawmakers, and the state supreme court, mirror the sentiments of their largest metropolis remains to be seen. Washington State has among the country’s most unfair tax structures — it’s one of just seven states without a statewide income tax — and opponents of Seattle’s income tax claim it violates the state constitution.

It’s not just on tax and budget issues where Seattle is leading the charge for a more equitable future. In 2014 the city council passed the first minimum wage increase scheduled to rise to $ 15 an hour. Other cities have followed, including San Francisco and, just recently, Minneapolis.

Research from University of California-Berkeley professor Michael Reich shows that significantly raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay and hasn’t led to either job losses or a slowdown in economic growth, among a slew of other social and economic benefits.

The federal minimum wage remains at $ 7.25 an hour, so low that there isn’t a single city in the country where a worker can afford to live and support a family on that wage.

Yet Congress has shown less than zero appetite for raising the wage either under President Obama or President Trump. Many Republicans in Congress, including Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and a number of his colleagues, have gone so far as to call for abolishing the federal minimum wage altogether.

On taxes, Congress is also working directly against the needs and wishes of working and middle-class families. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, the issue most animating Capitol Hill right now, is a thinly veiled effort to pass massive tax cuts for the rich — to the tune of $ 346 billion over 10 years exclusively aimed at households with incomes over $ 200,000.

What would the rest of the country get in return for this massive handout to the already wealthy? Well, about 23 million people would lose their health insurance. And it would pave the way for an even more comprehensive set of tax cuts for the wealthy. Ugh.

Hopefully Washingtonians of the east coast variety will take a look to their namesake brethren in western Washington for inspiration. Congress is heading tragically toward deeper inequality, a path riddled with unnecessary harm for working people. It’s not too late to change course.

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The New Predators in an Old Mortgage Scam

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

Mike Gallagher double-checks the address on his smartphone and walks up the cement steps of the brick two-story house on Detroit’s west side. He rings the doorbell, and after waiting a minute knocks loudly on the door. A dog barks and a shirtless black man in his mid-thirties cracks open the door.

“Good afternoon. I’m Mike from the Home Savers group. We’re talking to people who have a land contract from Harbour Portfolio. Is that your situation?”

“Yes,” says the man, whom the visitor may have just woken up. He cautiously looks at Mike, who is white with unruly short white hair.

“A lot of people are finding these rent-to-buy loans may not be such a good deal. Sometimes they’re worse than being a tenant, since you have to pay for all repairs and maintenance. But you don’t build any wealth until you make the last payment. How long is your contract loan?”

“Thirty years.”

Gallagher learns the man’s name is Antoine and that he paid $ 30,000 for a house that Harbour Portfolio bought for about $ 6,000. Antoine has paid $ 410 a month for four years. He works a night-shift job and has struggled to make the payments.

“If you miss a payment, all this money you are putting into the house will be lost,” Gallagher cautions. “They can evict you, without the protections a homeowner often has.”

Read the full article on The American Prospect’s website.

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Now Eric Trump is Accused of Stealing from a Cancer Charity

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(Photo: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock)

It’s a tough time to be an heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune.

Well, no it isn’t, but Donald Trump Jr. is dominating the news cycle over his admitted collusion with Russia over the 2016 election. And he’s not the only Trump kid making life harder for himself than it has to be.

Before we get into what the Trump kids have been doing with their time, let’s first acknowledge that life as a Trump is pretty dang plush. If they do absolutely nothing but wait, they’ll have more money than they could ever spend in a dozen lifetimes.

The president’s stated fortune, $ 10 billion, is a bit larger than Forbes’s estimate, $ 3.5 billion. But no matter how you define it, he’s a very rich man and his family is firmly in the top 0.00001 percent of wealth holders.

Tiffany Trump appears to be the only one to truly understand the virtues of laying low. Her only major headline in recent months focuses on her recent vacation (or average Tuesday, to a billionaire heiress) on a yacht in Italy.

Ivanka Trump has mostly stayed out of the news as well, albeit under very different circumstances, as one of her father’s closest advisers in the White House. Her only negative press in recent months involves allegations of poor labor conditions at supplier factories for her personal shoe brand — not a small scandal by any measure, though a depressingly familiar one in the workings of global capitalism.

So, what has the other Trump kid, Eric, been up to?

Read the full article on Newsweek. 

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Can Trump Actually Cut (Good) Deals on Diplomacy?

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(Photo: Nyord / Shutterstock)

American beef is now available in China — as a result of a deal that Donald Trump made with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In exchange, Chinese chicken is now available in the United States.

Seems like a fair deal — hats off to Trump.

Oh, except that there are a few important caveats to the quid pro quo. The chicken can only be cooked. It won’t be labeled as coming from China. And consumers won’t even know the name of the brand that will market the birds. So, if you’re worried about eating chicken produced in a country with notoriously lax food safety regulations and inspections, stay away from that box of drumsticks in the freezer aisle.

But here’s perhaps the most idiotic part of the deal. The chickens that China cooks have to be sourced from the United States, Canada, or Chile. Chickens can’t fly long distances. But these particular chickens are jetsetters, flying as much as 12,000 miles one way from Chile to China and then another 7,000 miles from China to the United States.

Sorry, Donald: As deals go, this one’s definitely a zonk, as Monte Hall would have put it.

Donald Trump based his campaign in part on his ability to make better deals. He lambasted trade pacts like NAFTA and promised to do better. He criticized the Iran nuclear agreement and promised to do better. He challenged the terms of alliance arrangements with Japan and South Korea and promised to do better.

So far, however, the Trump administration has either left previous deals in place (NAFTA, Iran, alliances) or simply pulled out unilaterally (Trans Pacific Partnership, Paris climate deal).

Now, nearly a half-year into his term, Trump needs to demonstrate his dealmaker cred. He’s just returned from the G20 meeting in Hamburg where he’s touted his agreement on Syria with Vladimir Putin. It’s not yet clear whether this ceasefire will stop the fighting in Syria or whether it will turn out to be another crazy chicken deal with its ridiculous stipulations.

Meanwhile, the United States desperately needs to sit down and talk with North Korea to avert war in Northeast Asia. It has to help patch up relations between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors. And it has to find some way to repair ties with Europe in the wake of Trump’s resolute efforts to alienate German and French leadership.

This is the bare minimum of negotiating that the administration needs to do. More ambitious and urgent deals, such as another climate pact or a way for America to rejoin the existing one, are obviously beyond Trump’s interest or understanding. At the same time, Trump’s ability to make any deals in the present is complicated by the deals he or his associates might have made in the past, particularly with the Russians.

But for the sake of world peace, let’s assume that Trump can do something positive. It’s been all too easy to see what Trump minus looks like. What about Trump plus?

Dealing with North Korea

On July 4, North Korea crossed a red line that Trump drew in the stratosphere. At the beginning of 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to launch a successful ICBM within the year. Trump tweeted in return, “It won’t happen.”

Now that North Korea has successfully tested something that approximates an ICBM — in reality, it would be difficult at this point to imagine the Hwasong-14 accurately reaching a target in Alaska — Trump must decide how to proceed.

The Trump administration could continue to ignore North Korea — the very strategy it has criticized the Obama administration for adopting. It could go to war, which would be a catastrophe as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Korean peninsula could tell you.

Or Trump could go with door number three.

North Korea likes to make deals, and it bargains hard. It tries to extract the most money or the most ironclad guarantees from both allies and adversaries. It also sometimes breaks agreements. That, alas, is all too common in geopolitics.

In 1994, the United States managed to retard North Korea’s nuclear program by supplying heavy fuel oil and promising to build two light-water reactors through the Agreed Framework. North Korea secretly pursued a different (uranium enrichment) path to the bomb, while the United States and its partners never built those nuclear reactors. Deal off.

Between 1992 and 1994, Israel attempted to pay North Korea about a billion dollars to stop it from exporting missiles to the Middle East. North Korea even agreed to allow Israeli inspectors on North Korean soil to verify the agreement. The United States, however, blocked the effort. Deal off.

In 2007, because of a deal reached at the Six Party Talks, North Korea began to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions and the removal of the country from the U.S. terrorism list. But a year later, disagreements sharpened over inspections, North Korea grew more recalcitrant, and the incoming Obama administration failed to engage immediately to sustain momentum. Deal off.

What kind of deal would North Korea consider at this point? Of course I’d like to see North Korea mothball its nuclear program. But because of its fear of regime-change efforts, North Korea probably won’t agree to give up its deterrent capability. The United States could still attempt to freeze North Korea’s program as is and explore a moratorium on long-range missile tests (which Pyongyang maintained from 1999 to 2006). The real question is how much sweetener Washington will have to add to its offer, and what that sweetener will look like.

Trump has proven that he gets along great with dictators. For once, he should put this talent to good use.

A Deal with Doha

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was a terrible choice for secretary of state for many reasons — his lack of diplomatic experience, his conflicts of interest in the energy sector. But if there’s one place in the world where he should be able to exploit his modest capabilities, it’s the Persian Gulf. In the wake of the falling out between the tiny sheikhdom of Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Tillerson is on his way to the region to see if he can help sort things out.

It’s not going to be easy. Not only does he have to deal with Riyadh, which has presented Doha with a long list of frankly unreasonable demands such as the closure of Al Jazeera, but he also had to do battle with his own administration. President Trump has indicated his own supportfor Saudi Arabia in this conflict even as his underlings in State and the Pentagon are desperately trying to patch things up. Qatar, after all, hosts Al Udeid airbase (and 11,000 U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces) and plays a key role in the fight against the Islamic State.

So, first task: Get the president to stop tweeting on the issue. It’s not that difficult. Qatar’s banishment was a full month ago, Trump is easily distracted, and he’s now busy defending his son from charges of colluding with the Russians.

Second task: lower expectations. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announcedlast week that “we believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify.”

Third task: connect with the most promising mediator. Kuwait is the go-to country in this regard. It has remained neutral in the Gulf showdown. It has also tried to mediate other conflicts in the region, such as the war in Yemen. It’s the first stop on Tillerson’s itinerary.

Fourth task: apply leverage. The United States can threaten to reduce Saudi arms sales — which would be an excellent idea anyway — and it can threaten to move its base away from Qatar. Indeed, Washington holds a lot of trump cards in this game.

But first, Tillerson has to maneuver Trump out of the game. To clean up the Gulf mess, I’d choose a former oil exec over a former reality TV star any day.

Reset with Europe (and Russia?)

A picture in The Washington Post shows Donald Trump sitting alone at a table during the G20 summit as other participants socialize behind him. Here is America, in the “solitude of its power,” having “ceased to draw other nations to itself,” as Jean-Marie Colombani wrote immediately after 9/11in his famous Le Monde article “We Are All Americans.”

Of course, Trump supporters will see a very different photo. Snooty Europeans! And there is our defiant president, sticking to his guns and continuing to declare at every turn that America is first.

Indeed, Jeffrey Lord in a CNN commentary, gives Trump 11 out of 10 for his performance at the G20 (because of the apparently inadvertent reference to the movie This Is Spinal Tap, I initially took Lord’s piece to be a satire). “Count on the president’s supporters seeing this as a great win — a win in which Trump stayed true to his campaign promises to put American interests above all else,” Lord writes.

Trump has made no real effort to bridge the distance between himself and European leaders. Indeed, his only other stop in Europe was Poland, where he could commune with a similarly far-right government that hates immigrants, the media, and an open society. The Polish government obliged by bussing in loyalists who could be counted on to cheer a world leader in which only 23 percent of Poles have any confidence.

From adulation, Trump then traveled to consternation. Even otherwise conservative politicians like the UK’s Teresa May have been appalled at Trump’s maladroit moves at the global level. The assembled leaders of the G20 probably would have preferred if Ivanka had substituted for her father throughout the entire proceedings instead of just that one short seat-warming occasion.

In a direct rebuke to Trump’s dangerous and delusional approach to environmental issues, the European Union and the rest of the “G19” issued a final communiqué reaffirming their commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change. It will probably be the last G20 meeting Trump has to worry about — the next summits will be in Argentina, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking when he was sitting by himself at the table. Or perhaps he was daydreaming about firing all the other G20 leaders.

The focus of media coverage, meanwhile, was the sideline meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Controversy continues to swirl over what the two might have said, or promised, concerning the charges of Russian interference in the U.S. election. But let’s take a closer look at the deal-making.

Putin and Trump capped several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations when they announced a ceasefire in Syria as the UN starts up its seventh round of indirect peace talks. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why this ceasefire is flawed. Every previous attempt at stopping the bloodshed has failed. This one covers only one part of the country. Iran did not participate in the deal. Russian police are slated to monitor the ceasefire, but Israel has already said that it doesn’t want Russians across its borders in Syria. It’s a win for Syria’s murderous leader, Bashar al-Assad.

But peace has to start somewhere. So, let’s provide some muted applause for the deal. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Syria. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Trump’s foreign policy, and Tillerson can use the political capital in both Doha and Pyongyang.

But beware of the fine print on any deal with Trump’s insignia on it. For a businessman who routinely swindled his contractors and filed bankruptcy to escape from his monumental mistakes, the “art of the deal” is all about looking out for number one.

And let’s be clear, number one is not America. It’s Trump himself.

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Hazardous to My Mental Health

mental-health-depression

(Photo: Shutterstock)

I’m one of the 43.8 million people in the United States who has a mental illness – anxiety and depression, to be specific.

I’m also one of the 20 million people who was able to get health care through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. In addition to making general health coverage more accessible, that law increased access to mental health treatment for millions.

I, along with millions of others, could lose access to my insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. And that would literally be bad for my mental health.

That’s exactly what would happen under the Obamacare repeal bill the House passed this summer, and under the bill the Senate’s considering now. After weeks and weeks of hearing Senate Republicans claiming the bill won’t hurt anyone, we now know that’s not true. In the scoring of the bill it released this week, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 22 million more people would be left uninsured by 2026 should this bill pass.

The bill would deeply cut Medicaid and create a system of federally funded tax credits, less generous than the ones Obamacare provides, to help people buy private insurance.

But it would also offer states the option of allowing insurance companies to opt out of required certain benefits Obamacare requires, such as maternity care, cancer treatment and, you guessed it, mental health care. That means many of us would pay more, maybe a lot more, for plans that cover less.

Some other things the bill would do? It would defund Planned Parenthood for a year; give insurance companies the ability to charge older adults five times as much as younger people; and take away tax credits from plans that offer abortions. It would also cut taxes for the wealthy. By a lot.

And here’s the real kicker: All of this was drafted in secret.

So, who are the winners and losers if this bill is passed? The winners are pretty obvious: wealthy people and insurance companies. The losers? Pretty much everyone else, a long list that includes people who need access to mental health care. People like me.

It’s been less than a year since I first started receiving mental health treatment, but that doesn’t mean my illnesses started less than a year ago. In fact, they began to form in my early childhood and progressively got worse as I grew up.

I never reached out for help, partly because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, but mainly because when I was finally ready to take the big step into therapy, I couldn’t: I didn’t have health insurance.

Enter Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but it gave me and my family access to health care we otherwise would never have been able to get. It allowed my brother to receive treatment when he broke his ankle. It allowed my dad to get better when he experienced chest pains. And it finally allowed me to reach out for help and receive treatment for mental illnesses I had tucked away out of fear and embarrassment.

This is the first time I’ve been open and candid about my struggle with mental health. And I feel the need to write about it because of the danger this health care bill would spell for me and the millions of Americans struggling with mental illnesses.

In a time where mental illness is already stigmatized, access to health care should become easier, not more difficult. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the opposite will happen – that people with mental illnesses won’t get the help and care they need due to lack of insurance.

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