Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Law of Stupid Consequences


Unintended consequences: outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen.

~American Sociologist Robert K. Merton

To understand the law of unintended consequences, look no further than the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (obviously named by someone who did not appreciate the value of a catchy acronym like CARES) or “stop and frisk.”  Both had legitimate goals, bringing down the crime rate, especially in inner cities where Black Americans were more likely to be the victims of violent crimes.  However, these purported beneficiaries, in too many instances, instead became casualties of misguided or overzealous law enforcement, leading to the current push for criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then, what is the difference between unintended consequences and stupid consequences?  When it comes to stupid consequences, regardless of a law’s initial objective, proponents should have known there would be negative outcomes prior to passage or implementation.  How?  History!  The same adverse aftereffects were observed and documented in a similar situation once before.

Which brings me to the most recent example, Donald Trump’s rescinding of an Obama-era rule to combat housing discrimination.  Yesterday, during a speech in Midland, Texas, he laid it out in black and white (pun intended).

You know the suburbs, people fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home.  There will be no more low-income housing forced into the suburbs. … It’s been going on for years. I’ve seen conflict for years. It’s been hell for suburbia.

First, for any action to be subject to the law of stupid consequences, it need not be worthy to start with.  Definitely the case in this “bullhorn” to Trump’s base.  Of course, as with don't confuse the issue with facts - Willy Wonka | Meme Generatormost Trump claims, the facts undercut his argument.  First, the July 2015 rule said nothing about forced low-income housing.  It clarified data requirements to determine whether there was persistent housing segregation within a jurisdiction.   Any deficiencies in data collection needed to be addressed if the city or county sought additional federal housing assistance.  Second, and more damning, the median housing value since announcement of the rule has risen from $215,715 in July 2015 to $271,768 in July 2019.  (Can you say 25.9 percent?  I knew you could.) Does anyone want to guess where the price of housing has risen the most?  Ooo! Ooo! Call on me: I know, I know.  Suburban America.

Believe it or not, that isn’t what makes Trump’s war on low-income housing stupid.  The unintended victims of this policy are (drum roll) suburban households. How I do I know this?  In 1996, I was part of the team at the National Governors Association that worked with the Clinton Administration and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson to identify potential barriers to implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, more commonly known as welfare reform (because the vice-president for acronyms had that day off also).

At the time, my title was policy studies director for economic development and commerce.  Participation by someone with those substantive responsibilities made sense.  Without more jobs it would be difficult to justify terminating public assistance to current welfare recipients if there were no jobs for them to fill.  Some things are obvious.  What was less conspicuous were some of the added employee expenses if the available jobs were located some distance from their homes.  You know, like in the suburbs.  In particular, transportation and child care.

These facts of economic life have not changed in the 24 intervening years.  If there is not affordable suburban housing, inner-city residents working at suburban based businesses are still strapped with transportation costs and the additional child care expenses associated with the time it takes to commute from home to work and back.  Those costs are often subsidized by the employers and (you guessed it) passed on to the consumer.

Ask white suburban residents if they think it makes sense for them to pay higher prices to subsidize inner-city residents’ child care and transportation costs.  My guess is most would say, “Of course not; that would be stupid.  Why would I ever do that?”

Because Donald J. Trump doesn’t want minimum wage employees to live anywhere near their places of work.  Maybe there’s an acronym for that.  How about IDIOT (Intellectual Dereliction In Our Times)?

For what it’s worth.


Black and White America


TRUTH IN ADVERTISING ALERT:  The title of today’s post is another instance of “bait and switch” promotion.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING ALERT #2:  I began drafting this post on July 7.   And as is often the case, I had no idea where the discussion would end up.  Many times the act of putting pen to paper (another Dr. ESP anachronism), rather than documentating the creative process,  becomes the impetus for further further exploration, restating the initial thesis and finding more unrelated connections.  All of which eventually results in the concluding question or declaration.

The Americans at heart are a pure and noble people; things to them are in black and white. It’s either ‘rawk’ or it’s not. We Brits putter around in the grey area.

~David Bowie

Donald Trump seldom tells the truth, but when he does, he is usually spot on.  One example was during the March 18 White House briefing on the coronavirus, when Trump labeled himself a “wartime president.”  That he is.  Since declaring his candidacy in June 2015 he has been at war with:

  • Immigrants
  • The Truth
  • Science
  • Members of His Own Administration
  • Judges Who Follow the Law
  • The U.S. Intelligence Community
  • NATO
  • The News Media
  • Barack Obama’s Legacy, and now
  • Members of His Own Family

And as of the Fourth of July, he is at war with history, taking on what has become known as the “cancel culture” movement.  When in fact, the term “cancel culture” more appropriately applies to the way American history has been portrayed since the arrival of the first Europeans on the North American continent.  Rather than “puttering around in the grey areas,” much of what my generation was fed in social studies classes was a sanitized version of our culture with more more attention paid to a chopped down cherry tree than slavery.

The story of America, for most of its existence, has been painted in black and white.  The earliest white spaces are covered with tales of adventurous sailors who mastered the Atlantic Ocean, colonists as white as the powdered wigs they donned bringing civilization to a “savage” frontier and soldiers, who armed with an overwhelming advantage in firepower, cleared the landscape of indigenous people.

NOTE:  This is where the July 7 draft ended and today’s thoughts begin.

For too many years, examples of what fills the black spaces in this metaphorical portrait of the United States, were few and far between.  Then, as is so frequently the case, events that alter the historical landscape come from the most unexpected places.  Until four days ago, I would have asked, “Who would have ever imagined the death of an unknown 46 year-old truck driver and security guard would make America confront the lasting legacy of slavery and Jim Crow?”  To some extent, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of those sworn to protect and preserve, not kill us, focused on the present and future.  How could this still happen in 2020?  What do we do now?

Something was still missing.  What was the intersection between where I was heading three weeks ago–the history of America in black and white–and the seismic shift in the attitude of many, particularly white Americans, about the lingering effects of once viewing African-Americans as first property, and later, as second class citizens?  And as suggested above, the answer came from the most unexpected of sources, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.  While Donald Trump and his apologists accuse those who question how we first allowed and continued to tolerate the honoring of traitors who violated their oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution, Cotton is the one who has made cancelling culture a cause celebre.  Not simple by opining about his view of America’s chronology, but attempting to legislate it.

On July 24, Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020 which “would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts.  Schools that teach the 1619 Project would also be ineligible for federal professional-development grants.”  For those unfamiliar with the project, the series was published in the New York Times in August 2019, 400 years after the first slave was brought to the New World.  It is a detailed narrative about slavery in America and its consequences.  Staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, who pitched the idea to the Times editorial board, has since been awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” and a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.  Editor-in-chief of the Times Magazine Jake Silverstein described the series  as an opportunity to  view American history through a different lens “by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.”

Who could possibly argue a constant re-examination of history is a bad thing?  You guessed it, Senator Cotton.  In a July 26 interview with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writer Frank Lockwood, Cotton doubles down.

As the founding fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.

So, as I research my forthcoming biography of the Arkansas senator titled I Wish I Wasn’t in the Land of Cotton, I plan to ask him the following questions.

  • Senator, I Googled the question, “Which founding fathers described slavery as a necessary evil upon which the union was built?”  The only name associated with the quote is yours.  Can you clarify which founding father made this claim and when?
  • Senator, even if the founding fathers had said that, wouldn’t a more appropriate answer be, “They were wrong then.  And they are wrong now.”
  • Senator, why did you take the phrase “on the course of its ultimate extinction,” out of context and add the phrase, “the union was built in a way?”  At the time he delivered what became known as “The House Divided” speech, upon accepting the Republican nomination for president in June 1858, Lincoln said that America faced two futures.  One in which the South prevails and slavery is legal in all states.  Or one in which the “opponents of slavery will arrest the  further spread of it, and place it when the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction.”
  • Finally Senator, if you subscribe to the idea “the union was built in a way to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction,” why do you oppose removing the statues of men who violently opposed that course?

Which brings us full circle to the topic of looking at American history as being either black or white and its relationship to one other issue du jour which has flooded the TwitterSphere, “cultural appropriation.”  Conservative publications were quick to criticize Democratic congressional leaders for donning ceremonial Kente cloth during a press conference at which they announced proposed police reform legislation.  According to Forbes contributor Seth Cohen, “In doing so, they meant to honor Black lives. Instead, they appropriated African culture.”

So, where is the outrage when Tom Cotton appropriates what can only be described as the American experience by Blacks from 1619 to 1865 to justify his claims it was “necessary.”  I look forward to Cotton’s foray into cinema with his production of White Men Can’t Build Nations.

Lone Ranger | Lone Ranger Wiki | FandomHowever, the ultimate misappropriation of culture comes from none other than Donald J. Trump.  Remember when the man “in the white hat” was the hero who came to the rescue.  The villains wore black.  This convention was popular between 1920 and 1950, and though not specifically racial in nature, “filmmakers expected audiences would understand the categorizations.”  (Source:  Investigating Information Society)  In the case of the Lone Ranger, he even wore a mask before it was mandated.  Now that’s what I call a positive role model.

Trump's 'Make America Great Again' Hats May Not Be Made in America ...In case you have not noticed, the current occupant of the White House may be perpetually orange, but he has switched the hue of his cranial attire.  When Trump pinned his hopes of re-election on RED states, he would always wear a similarly colored MAGA cap.  But as those once reliable jurisdictions turn more purple or even blue, Trump feels the need to more closely identify with his only remaining demographic.  Presto, the new ALL WHITE cap, a clear case of a bad guy appropriating the good guy culture. Ironically, Fortune magazine reports the WHITE version, while assembled in the United States, the material is made in RED China.  Xi whiz, who could have predicted that?

The Lone Ranger must be spinning in his grave.  And Tonto, too.

For what it’s worth.


President Biden

Conventional political wisdom says Americans are reluctant to change horses in mid-stream.  Twice in the 20th century, voters re-elected increasingly incapacitated commanders-in-chief when the country was engaged in World Wars.  This axiom certainly applies to global conflicts which depend on continuity, particularly in terms of relationships with foreign allies.  Additionally, potential challengers have been hampered by the unwritten rule it is unpatriotic to criticize the president when military personnel is in harm’s way.

In 2020, we face a truly different situation.  Yes, we are at war, a war for the health and safety of every citizen, a war to protect the rule of law and a war against hate and bias that divides the nation.  It is, for the most part, being fought within our own borders.  Even when it comes to global issues such as the pandemic, our historically reliable allies are not looking to the United States for leadership or assistance.  As we know, they prefer we stay as far away as possible.  Americans are not welcome in Europe, Canada, Mexico and even the Bahamas.

Budowsky: President Biden would end Trump's COVID-19 Katrina | TheHillIf the polls are close to accurate, voters are indicating they want a change.  If so, we do not have the luxury of waiting 100 days until the election, much less another two and half months until the inauguration.  Therefore, if I were Joe Biden, my message to the American people would be the following.

Leadership abhors a vacuum and, if Donald Trump isn’t going to fill it, I will.  Not on January 20th.  Not even on November 3rd.  TODAY!  And, in that spirit, I am suspending my campaign in favor of governing.

I am pleased to announce, Dr. Anthony Fauci, after resigning from his current position, has agreed to chair my coronavirus task force.  CDC has graciously offered to continue giving Dr. Fauci and his team access to whatever data resources they need to monitor the situation.

I have informed WHO director general Tedros Adhanom we will re-establish reciprocal relations with them and health experts around the world to share data and best practices.

Dr. Fauci will hold regular public briefings and, if asked, appear before congressional committees.  And while I realize I do not yet have executive powers under the Defense Production Act, I have created a national pandemic supply chain council comprised of business and medical experts.  The council will be charged with insuring adequate supplies of personal protective and testing equipment and their distribution to wherever and whenever they are needed.

Maybe you are wondering how we are going to pay for this.  Today, we filed incorporation papers for the National Pandemic Response Trust  (NPRT), a charitable 501(c)(3) which will handle all receipts and expenditures.  I also instructed my campaign staff to transfer all campaign funds for advertising and travel to the NPRT.  And I asked every PAC that supports our campaign, including anti-Trump coalitions such as The Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump, to do the same.

Finally, I have asked the National Governors Association to partner with NPRT to recruit and train contact tracers in every state in anticipation of the need for a containment strategy in the event of continuing outbreaks.

Following the e-bola pandemic in 2012, the Obama administration created a playbook in anticipation of just this kind of situation.  We know what we need to do: we just need the will and commitment to follow through.

I know what some of you may be thinking.  This is pretty risky.  Could it result in Donald Trump’s re-election?  Maybe.  But I always believed good governance is the best politics.  Now is the time to prove it.

There will be time to debate policies and programs.  But first we must make America whole again.  That means defeating this pandemic, the only guaranteed path to an economic revival.  Today, I dedicate all my time and energy toward that end.

Instead of asking voters to imagine what a Biden presidency might look like, show them.  Who knows? It might even resonate with voters in Missouri.

For what it’s worth.


Anatomy of a Lie


In normal times, Donald Trump’s Thursday night interview with Dr. Marc Siegel on Fox News would have been on the front page of The Onion. It was a parody of George Carlin’s monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” This satirical version will henceforth be known as “The Five Words You Have to Say Over and Over on TV.”   I understand Trump’s rendition of “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.” is great theater.  But it should not have been the headline from Dr. Siegel’s audience with the king.

If we had a living, breathing press, someone would have picked up the fact Trump’s version of his experience in MoCA Land could not be true.  Consider the following three excerpts of Trump’s rambling response to Dr. Siegel’s question about his cognitive acuity versus that of his opponent Joe Biden.

So the last time I was at the hospital, probably a year ago, a little less than a year ago, I asked the doctor, I said, is there some kind of a cognitive test that I could take? Because I’ve been hearing about it. Because I want to shut these people up.

I said to the doctor, it Dr. Ronny Jackson, I said, is there some kind of a test? An acuity test? And he said there actually is and he named it whatever it might be.

So I said, yes, I said, person, woman, man, camera, TV. Okay, that’s very good. If you get it in order, you get extra points. If you’re — okay, they’re always asking you other questions. Other questions, and then 10 minutes, 15, 20 minutes later they’d say, remember the first question, not the first, but the 10th question. Give us that again. Can you do that again? And you go person, woman, man, camera, TV.

A colleague at Miami University, a professor of business legal studies, always reminded me, “It you want to understand a situation, build a timeline.”  Therefore, when it seemed something was suspicious in Trump’s narrative, I did just that.

July 25, 2013 – March 28, 2019
Dr. Ronny Jackson’s term as Physician to the President.  (Source: Wikipedia)

March 28, 2019
Dr. Sean Patrick Conley becomes the Physician to the President following Jackson’s nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Jackson’s nomination was withdrawn following revelations of his addiction to alcohol and over-prescribing drugs. (Source: Wikipedia)

November 18, 2019
President Donald Trump made a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham put it, to “begin portions of his routine annual physical exam” on Saturday. But there are indications the trip wasn’t as routine as the White House would have the public believe.  (Source: VOX.COM)

Do I even need to point out the telltale lie?  If he took the test during a hospital visit “a little less than a year ago,” Ronny Johnson could not have been there.  He had not been the President personal physician for eight months prior to the alleged date of the cognitive assessment.

But that’s just the most obvious falsehood.  Anyone who has taken the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) knows the memory exercise involves five totally unrelated terms.  For example, version 7.1 of the test, asks the the subject to repeat the following:  Face. Velvet.  Church. Daisy. Red.  There is no way any version would include both the words “man” and “woman” or “camera” and “TV”.

You can always tell when Trump is lying because he is always hedging his bets.  In this case he gives three different time lapses before he was asked to repeat the five words.  First, 10.  But in his stable genius mind that is not impressive enough.  So it becomes 15, then 20.  If Kayleigh had properly prepped him for the interview, he would have known the instructions clearly state, “Do recall after 5 minutes.”  And of course, there is NO extra credit if you get all five.  In Trump world, extra credit is a “figure” of his imagination.

MoCA: A Test to Assess Mental Capacity - Health and Wellness AlertsDuring the interview with Dr. Siegel, the one thing on which Trump chose not to elaborate was the portion of the assessment when the subject is required to name three animals.  If everything he did talk about was false, one can only imagine his response to that exercise.  “Hmm.  The second one is Mitt Romney.  The third one, don’t tell me.  He used to be in cigarette commercials wearing sunglasses.  Does he vape now? And the first one?  Of course.  He’s always been a lion.  Just like I do.”

Behold, the musings of a “stabled” genius.  And I would say it’s way past time to put this horse out to pasture.

For what it’s worth.


What’s In a Name?


The internet is ripe with teasers.  Mixed among the actual news stories on many sites, you can find advertisements disguised as titillating celebrity exposes or “never before seen” historical photographs.  My personal favorite is “wardrobe malfunctions,” which includes a still photograph displaying Elizabeth Taylor’s smallpox vaccination from the movie Cleopatra.  Who knew doctor Edward Jenner, who discovered the immunizing effect of mild doses of the disease, was of Egyptian origin going back to the first century B.C.E?

Roger Stone calls black radio host Mo'Kelly racial slur in interviewMajor media outlets such as the Washington Post generally shy away from such come-ons.  Yet, I have to admit I was intrigued by the headline in this morning’s New York Times, “Roger Stone Uses Racial Slur on Radio Show.”  First thoughts?  Roger Stone using a racial slur is hardly what one would imagine as news.  And which far-right media outlet was trying to keep up with Alex Joneses?

Let’s start with the relevant facts.

  • Stone was speaking with the African-American host of “The Mo’Kelly Show,” Los Angeles-based Morris W. O’Kelly.
  • During a discussion of Stone’s recently commuted jail sentence, the guest is caught on mic telling someone else in the room with him, “I’m arguing with this Negro.”

The Times reports:

When Mr. O’Kelly asked him to repeat what he said, Mr. Stone let out a sigh, then remained silent for almost 40 seconds. Acting as if the connection had been severed, Mr. Stone vehemently denied that he used the slur.

Now there is more than enough evidence to accuse Roger Stone of being a dyed in the wool racist, but this is not one of them.  At worse, it confirms that when he and his emancipator Donald Trump say, “Make America Great Again,” they are talking about the America of the 1950s.  The term “Negro” may be an anachronism; it is not a slur.

Would the United Negro College Fund keep the word in its name if the board of directors thought it disparaged those it seeks to aid?  Would Martin Luther King have used the term 15 times in his August 1963 “I Have a Dream” oration at the Lincoln Memorial?  Would King have cautioned the nation, “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights”?  Never once did I hear an African-American tell a white person, “just because brothers use the term among themselves, don’t assume it’s okay for you to use it.”

Every time the debate re-emerges over the proper nomenclature for different people of color, I am reminded of a conversation I once had with the only Black person I was close to growing up in the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s.  Her name was Luttie Overby.  In 1925, she moved from her Durham, North Carolina home to Richmond, Virginia to take care of my then three year old mother and her two siblings so my grandmother could go back to work following her husband’s death.  She lived with my grandmother in an apartment on Monument Avenue (yes, that Monument Avenue) for the next 42 years.  To understand their relationship, Luttie was the female equivalent of Hoke Colburn and my grandmother was Miss Daisy.

Luttie was born in 1896 and lived to the ripe old age of 94.  In terms of race relations in the United States, imagine what she observed and experienced over her lifetime from the dark days of Jim Crow to the election of an African-American Douglas Wilder as governor of Virginia.  Which brings me back to that one conversation we had.  Luttie always referred to herself and her friends as “colored people.”  One time, after Black American became the preferred reference, I joked with her, “Luttie, you know you’re not colored any more, you’re Black now.”  To which she replied, “Jaybird (her nickname for me), I was colored when I was born and I’ll be colored when I die.”  Makes one wonder if there are spirits of a generation of Lutties who still hold court in the NAACP’s board room.

As Shakespeare might say, “A person of color by any other name is still a person, and surely deserves the same rights and privileges in life, regardless of the term they prefer to describe themselves.”   So, while I may be disappointed, even angry, folks like Roger Stone remain cloistered in a bygone era, I do not find his use of the word “Negro” nearly as offensive as his use of the word “this” as in “this Negro,” which tells us much more about his attitude toward Mr. O’Kelly.

For what it’s worth.