Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Donald Trump: Three articles look at hypocrisy, the economy and gender in the 2016 election

The incoming Trump administration is such a concern on so many fronts that most of our collective airtime could be consumed by the disturbing ideas and people he is placing around him. Better journalists will make better sense of it all, but there is nevertheless still much to be said.

This blog entry looks at analysis by three writers, E.J. Dionne and Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post and Glenn Harland Reynolds of USA Today, that is significant both on the politics of Trump and the Republicans, but also on some underlying dynamics that this election revealed.

Dionne, in a November 27th opinion piece entitled "An ethical double standard for Trump -- and the GOP" asks the obvious question that will undoubtedly dog Republicans on the Hill for quite some time: Donald Trump's myriad of conflicts of interest and his ethically challengeable decisions have prompted no calls for investigation from leading Republicans. Why not? Dionne's piece opens ...

Republicans are deeply concerned about ethics in government and the vast potential for corruption stemming from conflicts of interest. We know this because of the acute worries they expressed over how these issues could have cast a shadow over a Hillary Clinton presidency.

He goes on to quote accusations made by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) against Clinton and her foundation, and notes their silence to date about Trump and his.

While there will never be a satisfactory answer as to why the Republican party turned a blind eye to Trump's self-dealing, eventually the voters will start asking questions. That's actually likely to happen sooner rather than later, given how things are proceeding even before the inauguration, and once that happens, the whole house of cards may come crashing down very quickly. 

Jim Tankersley notes in his November 22nd piece "Donald Trump lost most of the American economy in this election" that although Hillary Clinton was victorious in less than 500 counties nationwide in 2016 (compared to Trump's more-than 2,600 counties), her 500 counties accounted for 64 percent of America's economic activity in 2015. Citing data compiled by the Brookings Institution, Tankersley offers this cautionary observation

This appears to be unprecedented, in the era of modern economic statistics, for a losing presidential candidate. The last candidate to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college, Democrat Al Gore in 2000, won counties that generated about 54 percent of the country's gross domestic product, the Brookings researchers calculated. That's true even though Gore won more than 100 more counties in 2000 than Clinton did in 2016.

And the article continues

“This is a picture of a very polarized and increasingly concentrated economy,” said Mark Muro, the policy director at the Brookings metro program, “with the Democratic base aligning more to that more concentrated modern economy, but a lot of votes and anger to be had in the rest of the country.”

In some ways the most interesting of the articles is this final one by Glenn Harland Reynolds in the November 24 edition of USA Today, "Men to America: Thanks for nothing." In it, Reynolds examines the role that gender played in the election, but comes at it from a different angle. His starting point is an article that appeared in the Fiscal Times that he quotes from

A key indicator of American male decline is the gender ratio at U.S. colleges. According to the Nation Center for Education Statistics, women accounted for 43% of enrollees in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 1972. The other 57% were men. Forty years later, the ratio has flipped. In 2012, the latest year for which actual data were reported, women made up 57% of the college population, with men representing the remaining 43%. Further, NCES projects that the gap will widen by 2022, when women are expected to reach 61% of the college population. If that projection holds, America will have roughly 14 million female college students and only 10 million male college students.

That trend has been visible for decades, but its meanings are now becoming apparent. The article goes on to cite that men are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in the workplace. 

And this is where it gets interesting.

Outside of high-end tech jobs, men have worse employment prospects and are more likely to be laid off. In fact, after the financial crisis, there was talk of a "man-cession" because men were hit so much harder than women," according to a Bloomberg article on the subject.

Why is this significant for the 2016 election? Understandably, Hillary Clinton focused on what this election meant to women, the breaking of the glass ceiling, and the arrival of a female to the highest office in the land. What that missed was that economic pain is being felt unequally between the genders. Women are outperforming men both in school and in work, and the economy is shifting away from jobs that men traditionally have done well at, the dirtier, heavy jobs in manufacturing and construction, towards jobs that women traditionally have done well at, human-related jobs, where person-to-person contact is especially valued. So when Donald Trump promises to spend money on infrastructure, men hear, "and there might be a job in there for me." When Hillary promises to spend money on health, well-being and child care, men hear, "there's probably no job in there for me." Given the sexism and rage that Donald Trump exhibited on the campaign trail, it's no wonder there was solid support among a group who were used to calling the shots, but now only sense that they are falling farther and farther behind. As a general statement, men are falling farther and farther behind, and the con man was able to sell them a hope they will never be able take to the bank. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

24 Hours of LeMons with The Cosmonaughts

On a cold rainy day in early October, thanks to Dave Allan, I was invited out to a garage in Medford, MA to talk to a group of people working on an old beat-up Toyota MR2. This car was actually comprised of two cars - a 1986 Toyota frame, with sections of a 1987 one welded on to it. The team was about to put a 1996 engine from a completely different car into it.

They are called The Cosmonaughts (https://www.facebook.com/TheCosmonaughts/), and Dave, Chris, Christina, Rob and Fred race this car in something called The 24 Hours of LeMons, a play on the name of the world famous endurance race held every June in France, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here is my interview with the four of them (Fred, the fifth team member, was not available at the time).  I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at this very special part of auto racing and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I opened a Chinese fortune cookie and it said ...

Right now, we are snagged on the fulcrum between resistance and acceptance. No particular direction is clear. The steady march of time will deal with some issues, for better and for worse, but there also will be decision points along the way. People's judgment and character will emerge. The starting points are not auspicious, but there still are many unknowns. Some defiance is required but the endless warring must also end.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Week Is a Lifetime in Politics

November 7, 2016

November 16, 2016

I'm with her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Man Without Qualities

What better name for Donald Trump? The man without qualities. As I watch his people surround him, Rudy Giuliani with his rictus grin, Mike Pence with his frosted frozen hair, Steve Bannon just begging to be caricatured, I think to myself, these are his Clown Princes, his Hollow Men.

It is my hope some cartoonist will start drawing these men soon. And let's not leave out Kellyanne either. Bannon as wart hog, Conway as giraffe, Giuliani as beluga whale, you get the idea. Indeed, I think it's time to revive Orwell's Animal Farm, and star all these people in it. An Orwellian story for Orwellian times.

I emailed my friend Mark Roberts in London a few days after the election.

These are dark days in America. The worst elements in our society feel it's finally "their turn." I think we will endure this. In fact I am sure we will, but it's a shameful episode for an otherwise great land. We will have much answering to do in decades to come. 

He wrote back with this ...

I reopened The Man Without Qualities on the tube this morning, for the first time since Tuesday, and this was the sentence that greeted me:

    In the long run it [mankind] revokes everything it has done, to replace it with something else; what it used to regard as a crime it regards as a virtue, and vice versa; it builds up impressive frameworks of meaningful connections among events, only to allow them to collapse after a few generations.
That novel, of course, was written in the 1930s and is set in 1913. Courage, mon brave.

Yes, we all need a little courage, and some determination too. It is irony when Germany becomes the the strongest bastion of democratic values in the Western World, and the United States is just a pariah nation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thoughts on November 9th, one day after the election

Words are hard to find. The impact of what we've just experienced, and what we're about to experience, gives one pause.

A friend joked that yesterday's outcome was "disappointing," and added "hope he doesn't tank the markets," to which I responded:

Yes, hope he doesn't tank the markets ...

  • Or limit First Amendment protections on free speech ...
  • Or create a Deportation Force ...
  • Or try to screen all Muslims ...
  • Or punish women who have abortions ... All of which he has called for or alluded to during his campaign for the presidency. 

Our best hope is that Donald Trump ends up something like Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who made his country into a laughing stock.

The larger point of this election has been made already by many -- the split in the American electorate is so striking. Many repudiate elites as a way of expressing their fear, anger and frustration over their diminished role in the world. "An unmistakable rejection of establishment" is how British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn put it, but to my mind, it is Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and the fomenter of the Brexit vote who may have described the U.S. election best when he released this statement:

"Today, the establishment is in deep shock. Even more so than after Brexit.  What we are witnessing is the end of a period of big business and big politics controlling our lives.
Voters across the Western world want nation state democracy, proper border controls and to be in charge of their own lives.
I commend Donald Trump for the courage with which he has fought this campaign and I look forward to a closer relationship between the USA and the UK.  We now have a President who likes our country and understands our post-Brexit values.
Prepare for further political shocks in the years to come."

Those of us who do not ascribe to Farage's philosophy of statecraft and leadership in a complex world ought nevertheless to listen to his words carefully. In two recent elections, in two very like-minded nations, voters by narrow margins have chosen the Farage-Trump path.  We are in this time and this place. We ought to see it as clearly as Farage has spelled it out for us.

As a postscript, I can't help but notice two corpses on the floor:
  • The Republican Party has once and for all been killed by Donald Trump. It is no longer a vessel into which a political philosophy has been poured. It is now a name only, and that name has lost its brand identity. [For more on this, I recommend this excellent article by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal.]
  • The Republican Party's cousin, the post World War Two order of nations, with the United States in the lead position, also died yesterday. It was also killed by Donald Trump and the voters who put him into office. Isolationist nations do not lead. They do not follow. If they are lucky, the do not get attacked. In classic psychological transposition, Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. was "the laughingstock of the world." What he will accomplish over the next four years will turn his dark vision into reality.

The responsibility of the Left and of progressives is not to whine or make platitudes about moving to Canada. Their job is to regroup, reorganize, rethink and find a path forward where their values can commingle with dissenting voices. I suspect that if the Democrats really tried to re-attract those proverbial blue collar workers in the Upper Midwest, they would be confronted with sentiments that New York  or Massachusetts or California Democrats would find very hard to swallow. Therein lies a conundrum. Bernie Sanders may be helpful here, since he was the closest to being able to speak that language. 

Some argue, notably Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center on Twitter this morning, that an innovation economy will fill in those lost jobs in places like Michigan or Ohio. That seems more pipe dream that reality to me, given the different type of worker each of those jobs attracts and retains, but it's a pipe dream worth testing out. We on the coasts are decidedly without creative ideas when it comes to those we claim to speak for. In some ways, it's the tyranny of demography that grabbed us.

The bigger worry is that this election is really about identity, and all the awful things that humans do to gain or maintain a position of power, dominance or control. That is a tougher nut to crack.

And in my final, darkest, gloomiest note, I cannot help but observe that on this date, November 9, 1938, the Nazis instigated Krystallnacht, the destruction of Jewish homes, schools and businesses throughout Germany in which 100 Jews were killed. It was a heinous act, but worse, it was a signal of the violence to come. Germany has spent the last 70 years trying to undo that damage.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Spirit of Liberty

Today is Election Day in America. It is a celebration day. We participate in the act of choosing our leader and by exercising the privilege of that franchise, we reaffirm our credo that we are a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

It is a heartening day after so much darkness. Long lines of voters waited hours in Philadelphia last night to see President Obama introduce Hillary Clinton at a rally at Independence Hall. The symbolism of the location couldn't have been better. 

When I first got interested in politics, the talk was all about the apathetic voter, disengaged and uninterested in participating. 

Happily, that is no longer the case. Voter turnout continues to rise. People are re-engaged. They realize their vote matters. Democracy, for all its weak points, is still getting healthier. Contrary to common wisdom, this election is no exception. 

Donald Trump will, I sincerely hope, be defeated at the polls today. Still, his darkness and shadow will loom long over our land. If he did anything, he proved that the underpinnings of freedom itself can be tested. It is then up to the People to defend them through the processes and procedures we have agreed upon to rule ourselves. This is one of the things this election will be remembered for. Still, his brand of hate has frightened us all. 

It brought to mind the words of an ancestor of mine. Like others in my family, I hold with pride the name Learned Hand. He was a distinguished American jurist and member of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York for many years. He had a precise, penetrating and supple mind that he used to understand the issues of law and society. A towering figure on the federal bench, he was often referred to as "the tenth Justice," implying a stature equal to those on the Supreme Court.

In 1944, during the height of World War Two, Hand gave his most famous remarks at an event in New York's Central Park called "I am an American Day." That speech was given the name "The Spirit of Liberty." 

Never did I think that Hand's words would apply to a moment in American history that I lived through. They seemed just a part of the past, relevant to the perils of fascism in Europe and the huge sacrifices Americans were making at home and abroad to rid the world of this scourge. On this, I was wrong. These last 18 months have shown that his words are as relevant now. He spoke about events of his time, but he also spoke about ideas that transcend time. It is worth us reflecting on his attempt to understand what it means to be free and what Americanness confers on us, for those of us who have the privilege to call ourselves that today, and those who wish to join that club tomorrow.

Here is Hand's speech, "The Spirit of Liberty," as it was delivered in 1944 in New York City:

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.
What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.

Go vote! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day tomorrow: here's a silver lining

When I stepped out of the shower, I paused for a moment. It's the day before Election Day, and I'm wondering if an apocalyptic fury is about to be unleashed on the earth through its appointed agent, Donald J. Trump.

Then I had a more positive thought.

There may be a silver lining here.

The non-Trump GOP is going to need some friends after this election. Regardless of the outcome, their party has basically been split in half. The group that includes fascists and racists and misogynists will pull a lever for Donald Trump. That is, Donald Trump, the Republican. But there is another faction too, all the Republicans who couldn't stomach him. Only some of them were willing to stand up to him, others were too cowardly to, but all of them share a strong dislike of everything that he stands for.

As it turns out, Trump supporters bear no resemblance to the establishment wing of the party so it's very uncomfortable that they all have to huddle under the same tent. How does a Republican party choose its identity over the next four years?

It is my belief that tomorrow the majority of voters will not choose Trump's direction for America. Nevertheless, the GOP is saddled with a strong faction within it still wishing to blow up the system as we know it. Others in the party must attempt to refashion a politics that can at least make a case for itself. Those people include the House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham and former GOP nominee Mitt Romney and all the Bushes. Whatever other issues the GOP has, and it has many issues, the first order of business will be the internal conflict about to commence once Trump has been dispatched. The general will be gone, but his army of voters will remain. That civil war will be vicious. All of the daggers will come out.

Establishment Republicans will need allies if they are to win, and if they are smart, they will seek some accommodation with Democrats where they can. They must rally towards the center and hope they find friends there.

In that sense, they couldn't have found a better president than Hillary Clinton. She is nothing if not centrist and the repeated assessment of her is that she is not only willing but also quite able to work across the aisle to get things done. This fact will give her the upper hand against such a weakened foe. [Of course, we can have a healthy debate whether the political center is where we need to be in this country right now.]

Whether the GOP chooses this route, and whether Clinton and the Democrats are willing to accept any olive branches, is yet to be seen. Our partisan past doesn't point to success in the near future. But if the GOP is going to exist at all, they will need a new way of talking to people about issues. Let's see what they do. Heck, we don't even know who the next president will be.

In the meantime, there is another reckoning coming due. It is the reckoning that we in the broader society must also engage in, about how we view each other and about our systems and about what impact technology is having on us. Here are three areas that need our attention that also offer the opportunity to make improvements, so I share them with you now:

  1. Gerrymandered districts: This political quagmire has proven just how destructive this division has been to us. As I posted in my recent blog about Hillary Clinton, the complete isolation of Democrats from Republicans and Republicans from Democrats means there are precious few opportunities to work together on issues. It's only when the voters demand it that the pols act on it. And the voters in single-party districts are demanding exactly the opposite - take no prisoners. Thankfully, this is actually an issue we can do something about, but as a political organizing problem it is a massive one.
  2. Facebook: In the same way that gerrymandered districts separate us, Facebook does too, allowing all our thoughts to be broadcast to a like-minded world. When there is no pushback on issues, it only confirms my belief in the accuracy of my observation. This is not a good thing. Group think is basically what Facebook is about, and people tend to know mostly like-minded people. The good news here is that (and I'm projecting here, based on nothing but my own hopes) Mark Zuckerberg might be convincible to address this issue. How? That's another matter that will need cooperation from a corporate media giant that everyone uses.
  3. Cable news networks: As the cheering section for various ideologies, cable news seems to play the same role only in a different way. I am less of an expert here, since I watch very little TV. I will let others address this issue. 

And that's it for my noise today. Tomorrow is Election Day and the fate of the republic is at hand. I do not say that lightly or with a hint of irony. So let me repeat it: The fate of the republic is at hand.

Therefore ... Remember to vote, and if you care for your country, vote for Hillary!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Concord Drives Electric

The Teslas lined up under the solar panels that provide shade and collect energy from the November sun. A few feet away is the new Thoreau Visitors Center.

On Saturday, "Concord Drives Electric" brought cars out to the Walden Pond parking lot to celebrate electric cars and the people who drive them. Mass Energy was there to tell people about their Drive Green program which offers very good deals on certain vehicles including the Ford Fusion Energi and the Chevy Volt. Speaking of the Volt, the sales team from Quirk Chevy was there to tell all about the new Volt, a car that gets up to 53 miles on pure electric and then supplements that with a gas-powered power plant.

As electrics show up on the road more and more, these get togethers happen more frequently. The goal is to allow owners to join together, but also to inform potential buyers of the qualities and capabilities of these new cars out on the road. Next week, this road show will return to Belmont where people will be able not only to view the cars, but also to test drive them as well.

Friday, November 4, 2016

I'm With Her

Needless to say, I'm With Her.

That's no surprise, but she's managed the madness well during this campaign and fought endlessly and tirelessly not only to save her own skin, but to save ours too.

Since she's a Clinton, I fully expect a low-grade simmering headache of minor scandal throughout her presidency, scandal that will be followed by poor decisions on her part that will be rewarded with heretical persecution by Republicans. It seems to be where we are right now.

I am too harsh on her. She has endured these last twelve months with a steely-eyed determination and clarity that speaks very well for her time in the Oval Office. She is wise, not a fool. She has experience and a demeanor that shows she knows how to use that experience to inform her decisions. In other words, she learns from her past, if at times she also repeats it. Her campaign has proven that she is tactically and strategically sound. She is cautious if not conservative, almost certainly too conservative for Bernie supporters, but she will come as close to finding the political center of American politics as anyone could in these very demonized times. She will not be surprised by what she finds on the political landscape either, and even will come across a periodic lemon tree where she will be able to make some lemonade from lemons she finds there. In other words, we are about to experience another Clinton presidency.

Any capable opponent could have turned that last observation into a liability for Hillary Clinton. Her real-world opponent cannot however because he is categorically unqualified and entirely unfit for the job he seeks. Donald Trump is an unwitting tool of Russia, a comment that expresses two of his many bad attributes: he is unwitting and he is an agent of a foreign government. To name another, he's been endorsed by only one national newspaper, that of the Ku Klux Klan. Those are the people in the white robes who hang people from tree limbs. No other news room will touch him, not even Republican ones in Alabama and Texas. He incites violence with his casual references to violence, then denies it. He is anti-democratic in his calls to jail his political opponent and his flirting with nullifying the outcome of the election, as if he were some Mexican drug lord taking to the hills.  He's a fraud who will soon be sued for his fraudulence. He is a liar who has no compunction about his lying, which makes him pathological, I believe. His hotels sit half-empty now because he is so hated. If that is what he does to his own brand, imagine what he will do to his country. And in case I forget, let's just say it now: he also may be a child rapist. That has yet to be determined in a court of law, but given everything else we know about him, let's err on the side of caution and say that he is. If facts prove otherwise, we'll be surprised, but graciously accept the judgment of the court.

Most disturbing in this election to me is that a strong 40 percent of the voting public are willing to pull the lever for a man who has all those vile attributes and many more. What that says about the Angry White Male I do not know, and what that bodes for the Republican Party I know even less. Their internal struggles are just beginning. They must ask themselves, can neo-fascist white supremacy coexist with traditional conservatism? The answer is "no," but how the GOP leadership handles this political razor blade will tell us a lot about the long-term prospects of the party in the 21st century.

The other culprit in our current political malaise is gerrymandering. Those districts, separated into reds and blues, have walked us down parallel cul-de-sacs separated by an insurmountable wall of distrust. There, Donald, is your wall. It's already been built.

Thankfully, this is a problem we can do something about, though it will take some courage and some political leadership of a type that is in very short supply right now.

In the meantime, I'm With Her. She will make a great president. She has already proven that. The other alternative is too dire even to contemplate.


Note: To see more about political polarization in Congress, check out this amazing graphic of trends since the 1950s --

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Port Landing opens its doors today, residents move in, community is built

Today at Port Landing, the first residents move in. Since they broke ground on the project a year ago, developers Sean Hope and Jason Korb have turned a sandy, vacant lot with a long, painful history on Harvard Street in the Port neighborhood of Cambridge into twenty units of affordable housing in a city that so desperately needs it.

It's been a long road for the team, but people finally will be moving in to the building they built. Sean and Jason should be understandably proud of their accomplishment. They are providing much needed housing, but they are also building community. I, for one, wish congratulations to them both.

Yesterday I had the chance to spend some time over at Port Landing and I snapped these photos. I share them with you here.

Port Landing, as seen from Harvard Street

Final preparations

Port Landing, the view from Moore Street

Port Landing

Port Landing

The view down Harvard Street

Sean Hope and Jason Korb team up to deliver affordable housing in Cambridge

One of the units

 As I mentioned, on September 21, 2015, they broke ground on this project. Here is the photo I took and the post I wrote about them then:

September 21, 2015 groundbreaking. The team contemplates the project that will be.
I just want to take a moment to recognize Sean Hope and Jason Korb -- two people making a difference in Cambridge. Today, they celebrated the groundbreaking for Port Landing, twenty units of affordable housing they will deliver on a site that had a long, checkered past in the Area 4 neighborhood. It's nice to see a new generation, firmly rooted in this city and committed to addressing its challenges, who are bringing positive change and making a real difference in the lives of everyday people. Congratulations to them both.