FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Donald Trump Swamped With Taxing Situations, Declares MOST UNDRAINING EVER!

Donald Trump’s promise to “Drain the swamp” from Washington, DC, is perhaps his most surreal promise of all. Today, President Donald Trump is campaigning for Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been facing mounting credible evidence of his predatory sexual behavior, especially against teen girls. Roy Moore has proven himself a liar, not that The Don has a problem with that.  With Roy Moore, Donald Trump wants to fill the swamp, officially bringing pedophilia to the Senate. Of course, Trump’s cabinet and advisers are replete with long-time corporate and political insiders. Trumpcare and the Republican tax scam were literally written by corporate tools and lobbyists.  To top it off, the Trump administration is on course to be the most corrupt Washington administration in history.  The Don may make Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon look like an amateur criminal.  As Prez Donald Trump becomes increasingly unhinged, swamped with taxing situations, he arrogantly declares, “MOST UNDRAINING. EVER.” Thus, I have created a free political poster: Donald Trump Swamped With Taxing Situations, Declares MOST UNDRAINING EVER!  Please enjoy and feel free to share with friends and enemies.FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Donald Trump Swamped With Taxing Situations, Declares MOST UNDRAINING EVER!

For another perspective on the “drain the swamp” landscape, try this commentary, Trump Made the Swamp Worse. Here’s How to Drain It:

Donald Trump’s pledges to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington attest to his genius for unintentional irony. Nepotism, egregious conflicts of interest, flights on the public dime to see Wimbledon and the eclipse — the Beltway wetlands are now wilder and murkier than ever.

It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss the swamp metaphor on account of Mr. Trump’s hypocrisy. You can’t make sense of his shocking victory last year without reference to the downward spiral of public faith in governing elites and established institutions. Years of stagnating incomes, combined with dimming prospects for the future, have primed voters for the message that the system is “rigged” and that only an outsider not beholden to the corrupt establishment can clean it up.

In other words, one key to this populist moment in American politics is the link in the public mind between dysfunction in Washington and the economic malaise of the 21st century. An effective political response to this perilous moment begins with the recognition that this link is real — and that key changes in the policymaking process, supported by a major push from organized philanthropy, will be needed to turn things around.

The image of the swamp conveys a profound truth about the American economy. Our predicament of slow growth and sky-high inequality has many causes, but one important factor is the capture of the American political system by powerful insiders — big businesses, elite professionals, wealthy homeowners — that use it to entrench their own economic power. In so doing, they protect themselves from competition, fatten their bank accounts with diverted wealth and slow the creative destruction that drives economic growth.

Four key policy areas shed light on the growth of this political-economic swamp — financial regulation, intellectual property, occupational licensing and zoning. They show that the swamp isn’t confined to Washington; it can also be found in 50 state capitals and countless local jurisdictions.

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In the financial sector, a web of regulatory subsidies sustains financial institutions’ unhealthy reliance on extremely high levels of debt. These subsidies, including policies that strongly encourage mortgage securitization as well as the implicit promise to bail out “too big to fail” institutions, swell profits in the near term while increasing the systemic risk of a catastrophic meltdown in the long run. The result is a financial sector much bigger than the economy needs, chronic misallocation of capital and the diversion of some of the country’s top talent into counterproductive work. Luring people into excessive debt, draining their savings with hidden fees, inflating the next asset bubble — these and other dubious “contributions” by finance to the economy need to be curtailed.

Intellectual property laws are supposed to encourage innovation by granting temporary monopolies to copyright and patent holders. But if those monopolies get too broad and too onerous, innovation takes a hit — and that is precisely what has happened, at the urging and for the benefit of Hollywood, Big Pharma and some interests in Silicon Valley.

Occupational licensing rules at the state level help explain why professionals in the United States are paid so much more than their peers in other countries. Primary care physicians, for example, make 50 percent more in the United States than in other advanced countries, and specialists do even better. State regulations protect the incomes of doctors, dentists, undertakers and optometrists — not to mention makeup artists and auctioneers — while also stifling innovation.

Increasingly severe constraints on building in high-income coastal cities inflate the asset values of affluent homeowners, contributing significantly to rising disparities in wealth. And by making housing unaffordable, they prevent the less well-off from moving to where the good-paying jobs are, reducing geographic and social mobility.

This regressive regulatory swamp isn’t a natural landscape; it grows because of forces in our political environment. The beneficiaries of upward redistribution are always far more organized than those who pay the costs. They can divert some of their artificially high profits into lobbying and policy research that bestow a patina of the public interest on schemes that are, in practice, legalized robbery. Drugmakers, for example, portray even the most modest retrenchment of patent law as catastrophic for American innovation, while financiers warn that any restraint on subsidized risk-taking (through higher capital requirements, for example) will starve American industry of the capital it needs to invest and grow.

This unequal battle for the minds of policymakers is particularly damaging at a time when the resources that Congress and the bureaucracy have for independent research have been systematically dismantled. In finance, in particular, Congress has a difficult time hiring and retaining staff with the technical knowledge and experience to assess the impact of new regulations, leaving them dependent on the abundant resources of the industry itself.

In addition, many regressive regulations are made in obscure places with limited participation, such as state licensing boards and town councils in charge of approving new housing. Insiders with narrow interests, whether self-serving professional groups or Nimby neighbors, have the motivation and resources to show up at poorly attended meetings and work the system, often at odds with the general public’s interest in low prices and economic opportunity.

Really draining the swamp means changing the policymaking process to shield it against insider takeover and manipulation. For starters, congressional staffs need to be expanded, upgraded and professionalized. Legislators would then be better able to make their own assessments of complex regulatory issues without having to depend on the biased expertise of industry lobbyists.

Philanthropists need to put their dollars behind a network of organizations to counter the organizational presence of the forces of upward redistribution. The Ford Foundation did this in the 1970s by investing in a network of environmental law firms like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. More recently, the Eli and Edythe Broad, Walton Family, Robertson and other charitable foundations have made similar investments in educational reforms.

Whatever you think of the merits of these causes, the new interest groups funded by sustained philanthropy changed the political landscape in these issue areas, forcing policymakers to recognize that there were, in fact, two sides to be considered. A network of new organizations with the resources and expertise to compete with big banks, the medical lobby and other industry groups could have a similar impact today. Activist groups could show up regularly in all the obscure places where rules are set and make sure that someone speaks up for the public interest.

State and local governments need to institute regulatory review procedures that expose back-room deals to objective scrutiny. While cost-benefit analysis by the Office of Management and Budget is standard for new federal regulations, no such reviews are conducted when states propose to license new occupations or cities stymie new housing construction.

Courts at all levels need to be less deferential to regulatory schemes that — in contrast to environmental or labor regulation — have no justification other than the protection of incumbent interests. For example, courts could force legislatures to explicitly approve expansions in the scope of occupational licensing, depriving licensing boards of the power to do so in shadowy obscurity.

In the political arena, the issues of regressive regulation cut across the usual partisan and ideological battle lines, and so tend to be kept off the agenda by legislative leaders who emphasize issues that hold their caucus together. Libertarian-leaning conservatives and egalitarian liberals need to forge strange-bedfellows coalitions to tackle policies that are simultaneously bad for growth and inequality. In recent years, cross-party coalitions in the states have started to make progress on criminal justice reform. Opposition to upward redistribution can galvanize support for similar alliances on regulatory issues.

The administration of Donald Trump has shown no interest in draining the real swamp that is drowning America’s economy and corrupting its politics. If public-spirited Democrats and Republicans fail to do so, trust in democracy will continue to erode. And the next demagogue who cashes in by saying he alone can fix things is likely to be more disciplined and focused than Mr. Trump — and hence even more dangerous.

POEM: Of Cucumbers and Fences

The punk was going to take
My cucumber
From my fence
So I clutched
My trusty shotgun
And I fired a shot
Way over his head
He scattered like so much buckshot
Having triggered his nerves
Like a fresh kill
Whose life would only ebb
A lessen all-too-familiar to mortals
Missing his heart
By a million miles
Would win me no award
As marksmen
Or neighbor
But sure enough
Would secure
My pride and property
For another day
My generosity unknown
For had he asked
A cucumber I’d have given
In unspeakable modesty
I am the grower of cucumbers
As well as
The builder of fences
And if I can’t have your respect
I’ll settle for your fear
Only growing
Outside my fences

This freshly grown poem sprung from a conversation I had yesterday with a new acquaintance in a coffee shop, perhaps appropriately with a poetry reading occurring across the room.  This poem is based on a story told to me by a self-described spawn of an old hillbilly, now serving as a leader of Libertarians.  Early in the conversation, I was threatened to be taken out back and beaten to a pulp, minus some snot.  This is not the first time I have experienced such a first shot over the bow in a conversation with a new Libertarian acquaintance.  As it was a public place and each of us apparently had some modest respect for the law, we could not compare manhoods directly.  He did confess that his threatening manhood was in fact a joke.  I suspect that there was a small truth to this.

While this poem is written in the first person, much like Adam or Cain and Abel, the story is of his proud hillbilly father.  Those who know me would expect that it wasn’t my own story, except inasmuch as it is all of our’s story.  I find the juxtaposition of a prideful swagger all-too-familiar with violence and a genuine down-home generosity as intriguing as it is commonplace.  The true conflict is between pride and generosity — one of which can be defended with violence.  Both the pride of the gardener, with his fence and shotgun, and the punk who dares steal from another’s labor, begs for something more, a deeper generosity.  Sometimes a punk’s taking is innocent, as from a garden meant for all, that garden of eatin’ of which we have all experienced.  Many times a punk’s taking is a lazy pride asserting that all is theirs for the taking, without regard to their neighbors.  Of course, the gardener’s pride can lead him to mistake himself for the Gardener, the giver of all, who possesses a generosity overwhelming any value-added we may contribute by our labor.  The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, curses us with a fruit of awareness that competes with an all-encompassing awareness of the Gardener.  That competing awareness is the builder of fences, which both cuts ourselves off from the one garden and cuts others off with our fences.  The birth of private property possesses us.  Scarcity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, yet our profits remain strangely unfulfilling.  We look to grow fears outside our fences faster than thay grow within.  We learn to plunder with ease, not work, generous abundance.  And plucked from the vine such fruit dies.  Many a firstborn son has been planted at the hands of fearful gardeners a tempting to secure puny labors.  Such Abel-bodied young men stand as a testament, a very old testament, to the Cain-do attitude of private profits.  The first fruit is offering your best to God and neighbor.  The only sin: hoarding your first for yourself, and offering only your excess to God and neighbor.  What is it that would steal our hearts?  All fruits, and gardeners for that matter, die; only first fruits are born again and again, turning death into life — an offering Abel to banish fear, and transcend scarcity.  The fence between life and death is only the fence we truly know and fear.  And everyone knows: it takes a thief to know a good fence.  If you should cross a thief, or perhaps two, generously invite them in, or scarce join them.  May there be one fate shared: good for all.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

It’s the Greed, Stupid

It’s the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

It's the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

It’s the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

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This cool design does not rely upon puns or complex twists.  This design is another tip of the hat to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Of course, for those that been around for little while, you’ll recognize that this is a takeoff on the presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid”.  His Republican opponent, Pres. George H. Bush, was dealing with yet another economic turn downturn produced by the soon-to-be named “irrational exuberance” and casino economy that inevitably cycles into booms and busts.  Some things never change.  It almost goes without saying, since we worship the economy, that moneymaking by either corporations or by people in the form of jobs is perennially issue number one, and number two as well.  If you don’t think that we worship the economy, the next time you hear a news report or read a newspaper, just substitute “God” for “the economy” and it will make a lot of sense.  In this case, in this design, the simple twist is a substitution of “greed” for “economy.” This hones in on the normative driving force of the so-called neutral or generic economy.  The 1980s resulted in the coining of the phrase “greed is good.”  The inevitable logic that led us to such a stupid conclusion is centered around the idea that the economy is the ultimate provider of good in our society, i.e., our god.  This is why we must constantly serve the economy, feed the economy, and make it our ultimate focus. My simple definition for what constitutes one’s God, is what one values the most, what one serves over and above other potentially competing values.  It’s interesting to note, that in the 10 Commandments, while God commands us to serve God first, God does not claim to be the only god.  There are plenty of gods to choose from.  A companion to the incredible confusion that would lead us to say something as stupid as greed is good, is Western civilization’s quest for objectivity or neutrality.  Unfortunately, this perennially leads us to the conundrum of talking about what we value most while trapped in an underlying worldview that denies that any one thing is actually better than another.  This quest for ultimate objective reduces morality to simple if-then statements, neutering any morality.  This is the Achilles heel of denying subjective reality.  Just because something is subjective doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means I can’t be pinned down in some definitive empirical way.  Objectivism in our culture, and current political environment, is probably best represented by Ayn Rand.  Ayn Rand and her ideas are idealized, even idolized, by folks of the libertarian variety.  There is great force behind these ideas, that is, if you don’t mind ignoring the metaphysical violence that inevitably results.  Another term for objectivism is scientific reductionism.  In both objective reality and subjective reality some things follow other things; there is an order to the universe.  Those who have ears to hear, and those who have a heart listen.  A contemporary case in point would be Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.  Many folks with a libertarian sentiment find Ron Paul’s political philosophy very attractive.  In my judgment, his judgment is largely negated by his gross inhumanity that frequently crops up when he takes his political philosophy to its logical conclusion.  For example, in denying health care for those who need it and cannot afford it, quite literally saying “let them die”, reveals forcefully that his God is not about caring for one another, or caring for creation as a whole, but raises each individual to the status of a god, and is forced to accept the ensuing violence that is inherent in such an inhumane philosophy.  If the individual is a god, not subject to any higher power, then individuals are condemned to be at war, and civility, in its best sense, will be run roughshod over, necessarily so.  Bringing this all back to the economy, greed is not good.  To have to even state such a truism is a testament to the sickness from which we currently suffer.  The idea that greed is a legitimate organizing principle for society should be offensive to anyone with a heart.  Of course, if being heartless is not a barrier to living one’s life fully, then go ahead and follow this mechanistically violent path to its logical conclusion.  I guess my concluding point would be that logic reaches a conclusion before life does, and that to continue living, that is to not reduce ourselves to being some mechanistic robot, we need to transcend logic.  This is the realm of the heart.  This is the realm of God.  By living fully into this realm, logic need not be tossed out, it merely serves a higher purpose, a humane purpose, a godly purpose.  May it be so!