Trump’s bigotry, fearmongering will make America weak again

By Robert Mann

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” For years, Donald Trump showed us that he is a bigot. So why is anyone surprised when his policies match his hateful rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, black people and others?

His two most controversial executive orders since taking office — banning Muslimsfrom seven Middle East countries and ordering a wall to deter Mexicans from entering the United States — reflect the hatreds and irrational fears that motivate Trump.

If you were listening, you heard Trump launch his White House bid with an ethnic slur. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” said in June 2015. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

If anyone was unsure if Trump was an anti-Mexican bigot, he settled that in June 2016 when he attacked the federal judge who presided over the class-action fraud suit brought against Trump University. He called the judge “a hater” and obsessed about the judge’s ethnic background. “He’s a Mexican,” Trump said in one interview. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”mawa

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, of Mexican heritage, was born in Indiana. That Trump believed his ethnic heritage made him unfit to preside over the lawsuit is textbook bigotry.

Trump’s bigotry is not limited to Mexicans. He and some top advisors have made ignorant, offensive remarks about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump saidlast March, indicting an entire religion, including 3.3 million Muslim Americans.

After the horrific December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. (waged by two Muslims, one of them an American citizen), Trump demanded “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Not long after that, Trump entertained adding a nationwide Muslim registry to his proposed ban. When challenged on the constitutionality of this, a Trump surrogate pointed to World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as legal precedent.

One of Trump’s top advisors, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seethes with anti-Muslim hatred. “Islam is a politicized ideology,” Flynn said in a speech in Dallas last August. “It hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” Flynn went even further, saying Islam is like “a cancer.”

None of this even touches the most persuasive evidence of Trump’s bigotry and racism — his disgusting, years-long campaign to persuade the country that former President Barack Obama was not an American.

So, what does this mean for the United States under Trump? A few observations:

Continue reading on at this link:
Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Faith, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Folksy GOP bromides won’t solve Louisiana’s budget crisis

By Robert Mann

Have you noticed how politicians often compare government work to running a household or small business, especially when revenue declines? “If our families or small businesses begin to run a deficit, we don’t have many choices,” former state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, (now a member of Congress) wrote last year about Louisiana’s chronic budget shortfall. “We tighten our belts, cut unnecessary expenses, and make whatever changes are necessary to balance our budgets.”

It’s as if dealing with money problems in either endeavor — business or your family — is nothing more than making a few painful-but-obvious decisions.

That’s the simplistic approach state Rep. Lance Harris, the Republican House leader from Pineville, takes toward the $304 million mid-year budget shortfall he and other lawmakers will address in a special legislative session Gov. John Bel Edwards plans for February.

On Jan. 19, Harris released a one-page document he portrayed as a plan to eliminate the need for a special session to prevent deep cuts to healthcare and education. “If this were my business,” Harris tweeted, “this is how I would solve the mid-year deficit.”

And what is the Harris plan? A cut of 8.12 percent (and, in a few cases, 4 percent) applied across the board to almost every state government department. Those spared cuts in Harris’ “plan” include higher education, Veterans Affairs, Social Services and retirement. Those not spared include the state’s public-private hospitals, prisons and public schools.

What Harris portrays as a plan is using a budgetary meat cleaver to hack away set percentages from the targeted department, regardless of its mission or the vital services it provides. Despite his invocation of shrewd business acumen, Harris’ approach — indiscriminate cuts — is not what a smart business leader would do.

A CPA friend of mine, who advises businesses on budgeting and strategic planning, observed that an across-the-board cut to fix a business revenue shortfall is often the wrong approach. “You might be ignoring things that need to be cut by 100 percent,” the CPA told me, “and there are things that you might need to increase to help you make your business run more efficiently.”

For example, one might spend more on document management software to achieve net cuts by eliminating more costly photocopies. Cutting software and photocopies by the same amount might reduce spending but could damage the business. A more creative approach might yield real savings and a more efficient operation.

An effective business owner wouldn’t look only for spending cuts, but also smart ways to increase revenue. You might double down on advertising or hire additional sales staff to increase profits. Some businesses also might adjust their prices to account for inflation or lagging demand. And if the company had cash reserves — analogous to the state’s Rainy Day Fund — you might dip into it to get through hard times.

That’s the savvy budgeting and management practices we expect from our political leaders and that is lacking from Harris and his Republican caucus.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Trump owes Putin, big league, and that makes him illegitimate

By Robert Mann

Watching the president’s swearing-in every four years has always seemed like a civic duty. I have tuned into the broadcasts of 10 inaugurations since 1968. And I’ve attended two others (George H.W. Bush in 1989 and Barack Obama in 2013).

This time, however, it was my moral duty to ignore Donald Trump’s swearing-in. It’s a small act of defiance, but I could not take part in normalizing this abnormal presidency. I could not pretend his swearing-in was anything but a travesty.

I agree with what Eliot A. Cohen, a respected conservative authority on national defense, wrote the other day, “The beginning of wisdom will be to treat his office with respect, but him with none, because it will achieve nothing, and because as a human being he deserves none.”

Trump may legally be the president. He is not legitimate. I’m not arguing that he had no right to take office. Instead, I rely on one widely accepted definition of the word “legitimate” (“in accordance with recognized or accepted patterns and standards”) to assert that Trump is an illegitimate president.

Why? I could cite, for starters, GOP voter suppression efforts in several key states, Trump’s admission of sexual assault, his refusal to release his income taxes and his massive financial conflicts of interest. Much of that makes him ethically bankrupt, if not morally illegitimate.

But one set of facts is more than sufficient to explain Trump’s illegitimacy: His election resulted from what the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency (and many Republican leaders) consider a brazen, multi-pronged attack on American democracy by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And, they’ve concluded, Putin hacked our election in an attempt to help Trump.

Trump’s associates may or may not have coordinated with Putin. (The FBI and five other federal agencies are reportedly investigating this and other allegations of collusion.) But they were clearly accessories after the fact.

Trump and his staff — several of them with ties to Russia and Putin — knew the intelligence agencies suspected the Russians of hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. And they celebrated and trumpeted every salacious, ill-gotten detail released by Russia’s online handmaiden, Wikileaks. Trump even encouraged the Russians to hack Clinton’s personal email account.

Whatever the reasons — and I hope the FBI and congressional investigators will uncover them — Trump is deeply indebted to Putin. And it shows. Since his election, he has criticized or attacked President Obama, Clinton, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. John Lewis, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Meryl Streep and the cast of the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.”

He has not whispered an uncharitable word about Putin or Russia.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Barack Obama’s amazing grace

By Robert Mann

Among dozens of moments that define the historic, consequential presidency of Barack Obama was his moving eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

Pinckney and eight of his parishioners had died days earlier, victims of a young man’s violent racism. It was a day that justified cries of rage and retribution from those in attendance. Obama, instead, appealed to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

“This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace,” Obama said of the murders in the church’s basement. “The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymns, the one we all know — Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

Obama ruminated further on grace and admonished mourners to focus not on their anger but, rather, on redeeming the tragedy. In particular, he urged banishing the Confederate flag (with which the killer had posed in a photograph) from the state’s Capitol.

“I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace,” Obama said.

Obama suggested Americans also could find grace in the midst of pain by entering into a serious dialogue about our country’s history of racial division. “If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

And then Obama broke into song, leading the mourners in the first stanza of the hymn, written in 1772 by the Rev. John Newton, a former slave-ship captain. It was a stunning and emotional moment, one I will never forget for what it represented about what Obama and his presidency meant to the nation.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Indivisible: Protecting progressivism in the Trump era

By Robert Mann

During almost 20 years working in the U.S. Senate, I learned how simple acts — a phone call, a letter, a face-to-face conversation — can influence a member of Congress. When I worked in Sen. John Breaux’s Baton Rouge office, we sometimes took 100-plus phone calls a day on an issue. That was a tiny fraction of the state’s population, but we let the Washington office know we were being inundated.  Those calls and letters turned heads and often made a difference.

Consider how public outrage this past week forced clueless House Republicans to drop plans to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. These Republicans surrendered quickly because they feared their constituents’ wrath.

For weeks, friends have asked me what they can do now that Donald Trump has won the White House. The answer I’ve arrived at: We should work to stop Congress from doing Trump’s bidding. That must be the priority of every committed progressive.

And now a new online publication describes how to do it. “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” published by several former congressional staffers, reminded me of the importance and efficacy of an organized resistance movement. These staffers have performed a public service in illustrating practical steps citizens can take to resist Trump’s racist, corrupt or self-dealing proposals.

The authors found inspiration in the methods of the Tea Party movement in 2009. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” the authors write. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.”

While rejecting the Tea Party’s bigotry, “Indivisible” advocates “a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.” In progressives’ favor is Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity. “He does not have a mandate,” they observe. “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

How? By pursuing a local strategy that targets members of Congress and a “defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.” These two tenets come straight from the Tea Party’s decentralized and locally focused movement.

“Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources,” the authors found. “Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.”

Just as important was the movement’s defensive character. “The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress (MoCs) on their home turf,” they write. “While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama.”

The authors suggest replicating three Tea Party tactics: “Showing up to the MoC’s town hall meetings and demanding answers”; “Showing up to the MoC’s office and demanding a meeting”; and, “Coordinating blanket calling of congressional offices at key moments.”

Continue reading on at this link.
Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Let them hear your voices: How to contact your Louisiana U.S. senators & representatives

By Robert Mann

As I write in my Times-Picayune | column this week, “preventing a racist plutocrat from reversing years of hard-won social and economic progress — or, worse, bumbling us into a war — won’t be easy, but the Tea Party’s success in 2009 provides a roadmap worth following. “At the very least,” I added, “our members of Congress need to hear from us, constantly.”

The Louisiana delegation’s office phone numbers, in Washington and at home, are listed below. I’ve also listed their mailing addresses. Print this out and keep it handy. Now, let’s start calling and writing.

To write your U.S. Senator a letter:

Senator (name)

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

To write your U.S. Representative a letter:

Rep. (name)

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy

Washington: (202) 224-5824

Metairie: (504) 838-0130

Baton Rouge: (225) 929-7711

Lafayette: (337) 261-1400

Lake Charles: (337) 493-5398

Monroe: (318) 324-2111

Alexandria: (318) 448-7176

Shreveport: (318) 798-3215

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy

Washington: (202) 224-4623

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (1st District)

Washington: (202) 225-3015

Hammond: (985) 340-2185

Houma: (985) 879-2300

Mandeville: (985) 893-9064

Metairie: (504) 837-1259

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (2nd District)

Washington: (202) 225-6636

Baton Rouge: (225) 636-5600

Gretna: (504) 365-0390

New Orleans: (504) 288-3777

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (3rd District)

Washington: (202) 225-2031

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (4th District)

Washington: (202) 225-2777

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham (5 District)

Washington: (202) 225-8490

Monroe: (318) 322-3500

Alexandria: (318) 445-0818

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (6th District)

Washington: (202) 225-3901

Baton Rouge: (225) 442-1731

Livingston: (225) 686-4413

Thibodaux: (985) 448-4103

To write Donald Trump at the White House:

The President

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Louisiana Politics, News Media, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

In John Bel Edwards, Louisiana finally has a full-time, effective governor

By Robert Mann

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s eight years of misrule set a low bar for leadership. It’s no wonder his successor, John Bel Edwards, cleared that subterranean hurdle during his first, eventful year in office.

That Edwards would eclipse Jindal wasn’t in doubt. As long as Edwards shows up for work, he’ll outperform his predecessor, who behaved as if Baton Rouge was the last place he wanted to be. The surprise near the end of Edwards’ first year in office is his resilient popularity as he cleans up Jindal’s fiscal mess.

It is no understatement to suggest Jindal bequeathed Edwards the worst fiscal crisis in Louisiana history. “It is something I inherited,” Edwards told me during an interview at the Governor’s Office on Dec. 20. “It is my responsibility to fix it, but the people of Louisiana fully understand I didn’t create the problem.”

Edwards acknowledges the public might “not like my prescription, but I think the diagnosis is obvious to everybody.” The diagnosis is a chronic, $2 billion budget shortfall, plugged with temporary taxes.

For now, the public understands the crisis is a vestige of foolish and dishonest budgetary decisions by Jindal and his legislative handmaidens. As early as next summer, however, voters might decide the problem belongs more to Edwards than Jindal.

I asked the governor, “When does this become John Bel Edwards’ mess?” He deflected the question. “We really have to fix this problem more than fix the blame,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of people know how we got where we are, but the most important thing is getting to a better place, and that’s what I’m working on every day.”

That “better place” means a reformed tax system generating revenue to support the government’s fundamental responsibilities, especially those gutted or neglected under Jindal. This includes health care, education and roads and bridges.

“I think most reasonable thinking people know that it is not true, as some say, that we don’t have a revenue problem,” Edwards told me. “We do have a revenue problem, and we should always try to spend in ways that are smarter, where we can root out waste, fraud and abuse.”

But deep cuts to education and health care, Edwards argued, don’t come without a severe cost. “We should [cut where we can],” he said, “but we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that we can withstand huge cuts and still have the state that we want to have that affords people opportunity for a better life.”

While the revenue crisis will test Edwards’ leadership, the new governor’s performance during several other crises during his first year might also be responsible for his impressive 63 percent job approval rating. He was a voice of calm and confidence in the chaos following the June shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer. He reprised his role as reassuring leader later in the month after three law enforcement officers were killed and another three wounded by a lone gunman near the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana flood, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment