Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Black Gun Owners: The Best Path to Gun Control?

That's not a rhetorical question.  I'm hear to tell you that I think the answer is yes.

I felt that way even before I saw this article in the Washington Post, about a post-Trump-election rise in the level of gun purchases by African-Americans, even as gun sales were falling among white purchasers.  The increased number of gun purchases during the Obama years among whites, and the subsequent increase in the level of armed violence against young African-American men (and the resulting fatalities), make the Post article the least surprising piece I've read in a long time.

And I'm happy that what the article reports is happening.

If history teaches us anything (and it can, frankly, teach us quite a lot if we're willing to admit that we need to learn), it's that periods of peace among nations, and among peoples within nations, depend on a balance of power.  The more evenly power, including and especially firepower, is distributed throughout a society, the lesser the temptation there is for one group to attempt to subjugate another. And, when you stop and think about it for a moment of two, isn't that the argument that gun rights advocates make in the first place?  That private ownership of guns by citizens is necessary to reduce the temptation governments might have otherwise to subjugate their own people by force?

Personally, I don't completely disagree with that argument.  I don't think that, Antonin Scalia notwithstanding, the Second Amendment was created for that reason, and I certainly don't think it requires every citizen to have an arsenal that could outfit an entire battalion of soldiers.  Actually, the Second Amendment is a tricky platform on which to build an argument for unlimited handgun or rifle ownership.  The Amendment only refers to "arms."  Well, then, don't I have a constitutional right to a nuclear arsenal?   Maybe that's what I need to feel really safe.

Frankly, when you consider the level, intensity and duration of white racism in this country against African-Americans, I'm surprised that there isn't more advocacy for an H-bomb in every black household.  However, if the Post article is a reasonable guide (probable), more conventional firearms seem to be good enough.

I mean, seriously, what is the white gun-owning community going to do?  Advocate for more stringent regulation of gun purchases?  Admit that the adoption of the Second Amendment had as much to do with the ability to hunt down runaway slaves as it did with militias?  Stand up and say "OK, you've got us.  We were flaming hypocrites all along.  Can you ever forgive us?"

I wouldn't bet on any of those alternatives becoming reality.  If the last one did, however, I would hope and expect the answer of the African-American community to be something like "No thanks, we'll just keep arming ourselves.  After all, it's good enough for you.  And we promise not to be trigger happy when your kids wear clothes we don't like."

The Good-And-Bad Dynamic Of Politics And Culture

In a free society, it is both natural and desirable for politics and culture to influence one another. The basic philosophical foundation of our government, that power should be divided and yet function in a co-dependent manner, is one that can be found outside of government itself. Sometimes, our culture provides those who govern with a means for inspiring the public, or at least making an emotional connection with it.  Think about the Kennedy Administration and "Camelot," or the Carter Administration and "Annie."  Sometimes, the dynamic works in the other direction; the culture finds a way to take aspects of the political climate and turn it into art--or, at least, into entertainment.  It therefore was not surprising that, when Carter was elected, that ABC created and (briefly) aired a TV series that was meant to celebrate, in its own way, the new president's Southern roots.

As someone deeply interested in politics and culture, I have a strong appreciation for this dynamic. At the same time, in the present political climate, it's all too easy to imagine the perverted results to which it can lead.  As it turns out, however, one doesn't have to use any imagination at all.

HBO has let the world know that it has under consideration a potential series called simply, and as of the moment, "Confederate."  At this point, it is little more than a proposed title and a concept, the latter being a species of what has come to be known as "alternative history."  Alt-histories, literary and otherwise, are essentially build around the question of how subsequent events would have played out had a given historical outcome not happened (or, at least, not happened they way they did in fact happen).  Perhaps the best known of these is "The Man In The High Castle," which describes what happens to a particular set of characters in a world where Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire won World War II, and more or less divided the United States as territories of conquest.

So it is proposed to be with "Confederate."  But, as this article in The Atlantic points out, for all practical purposes, the South did win.  Apart from the end of slavery, the Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union, their leaders and citizens given full citizenship, and they were still allowed to treat former slaves as second-class citizens, even while building the monuments to the "Lost Cause" that are at the heart of clashes such as last weekend's conflict in Charlottesville.

Even worse, the larger culture glossed over the sin of slavery by portraying the South as some sort of rarefied, gallant society where slaves treated as property somehow got better treated that "wage slaves" in the North.  "Gallant Cavaliers and their Ladies Fair," I believe, was the terminology used in the opening credits to the film version of "Gone With The Wind," a book written to explicitly mourn the loss of antebellum Southern society.

Does anyone doubt that the racism embedded in the very concept of this proposed series is meant to serve the same purpose it served in Mitchell's book and in its film version?  For that matter, does anyone doubt that the white nationalist currently sitting in the Oval Office made HBO think that now is the time to revive the sickening romanticism many still feel for a society that was evil at its core, and did not deserve to survive, much less win?

What would have happened if the South had managed to become a separate nation?  Slavery would still have somehow died, one hopes.  To think of it going on for centuries, debasing all who came into contact with it, is insane.  To try to turn that thought into entertainment is beyond insane.  At the very least, they should consider a new name for this series if it ever becomes reality:

"Trump Country."

The Beatable Larry Hogan (And Why He Needs To Be Beaten)

This article in the online version of The New Republic makes a surprisingly compelling case for the "beatability," if you will, of Larry Hogan, the unlikely Republican governor of Maryland.  Basically, it focuses on the fish-out-of-water nature of Hogan, a former businessman who largely wants to cut taxes more than anything else, operating in a state with a strong politically blue climate.  He doesn't speak out in cases where speaking out would put him at war with that climate and, on those occasions when the Democratic supermajority in the Maryland General Assembly overrides one of his vetoes, he just says nothing.  Just as he does when Donald Trump or other national Republicans do or say something that might compromise his popularity among Democrats or independents (or even Republicans), Hogan just gives his best what-me-worry imitation of MAD's Alfred E. Newman, and shines it on.

The result?  According to one survey, as mentioned in the TNR article, Hogan is the second most popular governor in the country.  His re-election next year would seem to be all but re-assured. Except for the fact that there were some peculiar dynamics at work in his 2014 victory.

Hogan ran against an inept Democratic candidate, in a year when the national Democratic party was at a low political ebb and had no candidated for national office on the ballot to energize the largely Democratic voting base.  His focus?  Martin O'Malley's alleged "40 tax hikes," most of which were fee-for-service increases such as the ones pushed by Hogan's Maryland political godfather, Robert Ehrlich during his one term in the governor's chair.  (The less said about Hogan's national political godfather, Chris Christie, the better--for now.)  And here's the kicker:  even with all of this going for him, Hogan just squeeked by in the popular vote with a margin of victory of less than 4 percent.

None of this is going to work for Hogan in 2018.  The national climate will no longer be dominated by six years of weariness with Barack Obama; it will be instead burdened by two years of despair generated by Trump.  There will be a U.S. Senate race to galvanize the bases of both national parties, and to force Trump into the political debate at the state level, something Hogan has dreaded for months. And Hogan's re-election campaign will need to be a part of that debate.  If he wants to spend all of his time on debate stages saying "I have no answer for that" or "I don't need to have an opinion on that," he might as well do what his 2014 Democratic opponent, Anthony Brown, did for one of the debates that year:  fail to show up altogether.  Sure worked well for him, didn't it?

But the TNR article overlooks one area of Hogan's administration where he most definitely does have an opinion:  his relationship with the city of Baltimore.  And that opinion is most definitely not a positive one.

Even back in 2014, if one read carefully between the lines, it was painfully clear that Hogan's comments about "getting spending under control" and "rolling back those 40 tax hikes" were code for balancing the budget on the backs of the citizens of Baltimore, a jurisdiction where the problems of poverty, and the public expenses required to address those problems, were higher than they were anywhere else in the state.  The voting population of the city was overwhelmingly Democratic, and rapidly shrinking, and therefore of no practical political assistance to a Republican running for statewide office.

Above all, without putting too fine a point on it, that population was overwhelmingly African-American.

I tread carefully in saying what I say at this point.  I have no reason to believe that Larry Hogan is racist personally.  He has an Asian stepfamily, as I have a Jewish one.  He also has an African-American Lieutenant Governor, as did Ehrlich.  But it's false respect to Hogan's tolerance in this area, including his denounciation of the white nationalists in Charlottesville last weekend, to pretend that much of his Western Maryland and Eastern Shore constituents have a great deal of fondness for the population of Baltimore and its needs.  How much of that is about race, and how much of it comes from other factors, I am not in a position to say.  But I have had far too many conversations in both parts of the state to pretend that the feeling isn't real.

My point:  as a Governor, and therefore as a politician, Hogan is forced to take that negativity into account to maintain his popularity and his power.  Obviously, the riots in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray gave Hogan an unforced opportunity to punish the city for its failures in the area of public safety.  Equally obviously, those failures have continued to the present day, without any help from Hogan at all.

But Hogan's penny-wise, pound-foolish response to all of this has proved him to be more bean-counter than business man.  Even the most thrifty person in business understands that, sometimes, you need to spend money you don't have to both deliver services and generate revenues for your customers.  You take out a loan to build a new factory that builds a new product that makes people's lives better and soon, the loan is paid off while the factory enhances your bottom line.

That's the way businesses used to think.  Not today.  Everything is all about cut, cut, cut, cut, and, when all else fails, cut some more.  Thus, Hogan throws away $1 billion in federal transportation money and over a decade of planning, and cancels the Red Line, which could have been the beginning (with the Metro and light-rail) not only of a true metropolitian rail system for Baltimore, but the beginning of an intercity system between Baltimore and Washington, DC, with free transfers between the two.  Anyone who has seen what the Metro has done for the D.C. metropolitan area and the District itself knows that such a system could literally help bake a larger economic pie for everyone in the state.

One could go on and on along this line, beginning with the cancellation of the planned new state center for Maryland public employees.  But this, as much as any other reason, is why the beatable Larry Hogan needs badly to be beaten next year.  Maryland needs and deserves a governor who understands that a healthy Baltimore is the key to a healthy Maryland.  Divide-and-conquer politics have come close to destroying our country; we desperately need to keep them out of the Free State.

Ross Douthat Rewrites History

I have, for the most part, tolerated Ross Douthat's presence on the New York Times' Op-Ed pages. One could easily do worse in the search for conservative "balance" to a paper's opinion section. And, between David Brooks' neverending search for goodness and mercy in all of us, and Bret Stephens' wholesale rejection of climate science, it has sometimes seemed as if worse was exactly what the Times was trying to do.  In any case, Douthat writes well, occasionally gives points to the other side, and has, for the most part, been fairly resolute in his status as a Never-Trumper.

But, like most Never-Trumpers on the right, Douthat can't quite resist the temptation to use this period of Republican dominance with which we have been cursed in an attempt to score a few unearned points for his side.  Even if it means using a little reverse hagiography in the process.

In this case, the subject of decanonization is John F. Kennedy.  In what appears to be a badly misguided effort to make Donald Trump's threats to incinerate North Korea seem, well, not-to-bad,
Douthat's column attempts to reconstruct the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis so that readers will believe that Kennedy was the real bad guy from start to finish.  His congenitally belligerent instincts, in Douthat's retelling, led him from slandering Richard Nixon to botching the Bay of Pigs invasion to placing Jupiter missiles in Turkey so that Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union were all but begged to sail first-strike missiles over to Cuba.

There's just one problem with all of this.

It didn't happen that way.

The belligerence that led to those thirteen days in October of 1962 did not come from Kennedy.  It came, in fact, from Nixon and his anti-Commie fellow travellers in the early days of the modern conservative movement.  Kennedy, astute politician that he was, understood the need in the nuclear age to co-opt the "toughness" issue, and he did.  That was what led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and required (over Kennedy's better judgment) the decision to place the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Neither the invasion nor the missiles were actions by Kennedy on his own; they were actions taken out of short-term political necessary in a climate he neither wanted nor created.

Somebody needs to send Douthat a copy of Robert F. Kennedy's "Thirteen Days"; it would improve his understanding of the history of this period.  It would also help him appreciate the Kennedy brothers' commitment to maintaining a respectful, truthful, even-keeled dialogue even with our seemingly most intractible enemies.  I have enough respect for Douthat to believe he can learn.  I despair of that ever happening with Trump.

And, Before I Leave Charlottesville For Now ...

... one more thing.  And it's not about Trump.  It's about all of us.

"Like it or not, and I hate it, the battle has been joined."

I wrote and published those words in this blog nearly two months ago, in the aftermath of the shootings at a practice for a charity baseball event between members of Congress.  If you or anyone else think that those shootings comprise an isolated, never-to-be-repeated moment in our culture, I am forced to tell you after last weekend, then think again.

The march on Charlottesville by white nationalists was largely fueled by a recent trend across America to take down statues and other monuments to the Confederacy.  Needless to say, those who still believe in the so-called "Lost Cause" are not happy about losing their "safe spaces" for expressing their hatred of anyone who isn't them.  And never mind, for the moment, how ironic it makes their criticisms of leftist college students who want to be protected from such expressions with safe spaces and trigger warnings.

I have, frankly, never understood why these monuments exist in the first place.  We, the people of the United States are almost certainly the only nationals around the world that allow public commemorations of an armed insurrection against that nationality.  Call it "heritage" and "state's rights" and even "Northern Aggression" if you must.  None of that claptrap rhetoric disguises the fact that the insurrection was treason motivated by a desire to treat humans as chattels.  It neither erases history nor diminishes the First Amendment to remove these ugly items to historical societies and museums.  It simply removes them from places of honor and public participation in society, where they do not belong.

The effort undertaken by cities to do the right thing by these items has hitherto been peaceful and marked by due process, public debate, and a respect for the interests of everyone.  If you're a white nationalist, however, none of that means anything, becuase none of that has anything to do with the America they believe in.  That America has been defined for them by Nazi Germany:  blood and soil.

That is why they are willing to use violence at the drop of a Trump to take control of what they believe, exclusively, is their country.  And the response by the majority, in Charlottesville and elsewhere,  shows that it has concluded what I concluded long ago:  that the time for peaceful demonstations is over.  Tom Courtenay, in one of most famous roles, might agree.  Especially when official law enforcement appears to be split on how to respond:  either do nothing, or plot the unthinkable.

While the rest of us ponder the question:  is it unthinkable any longer?

The Most Dangerous Nazi Wasn't In Charlottesville

His name is Donald John Trump, the Terrorist-in-Chief who somehow managed to win a presidential election against the clearly lesser evil with a minority of the popular vote.

And, although he wasn't in Charlottesville last Saturday, he might just as well have been.  These are his people.  They are, in fact, the minority that is spread out over enough states to put him in the Oval Office.

To take a step backward from the anger and the carnage (to use a favorite Trump word) that left three innocent people dead, and an entire community mortified by the stain placed upon it by a public demonstration of white nationalists marching through their streets chanting the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil," it's worth asking:  why now?

Racism has always been a feature of American life, including American political life.  And it's hardly a secret that one major American political party (not mine) has spent decades manipulating American racism, successfully, for its own benefit.  But a key to that success has always been keeping public, blatant displays of racism bottled up, so that mounting a frontal assault against it has always been difficult.

All of a sudden, last weekend, it was out of the bottle, never to return.  And boy, oh boy, were a lot of dog-whistling Republicans embarrassed.

They said all the right things, when asked by the media to do so.  They made sure they complied with the demands of the digital age by taking to social media (Twitter in particular) to clarify that the Charlottesville tragedy can only be blame on white racism that cannot and should not be tolerated.

I read many of those statements.  As words, they are all that can be said, and credit goes where credit is due to those who said them.  But will they stand by them, when the going gets tough?

And, by "tough," I'm referring to next year's midterm elections.

In this context, I am reminded of a quote from the late, great James Baldwin, who would not have been surprised by any of the events in Charlottesville, or many of the ones related to it:  "I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do."

What's significant here is what the Republican Party, and the elected officials affiliated with it, do not do.

And that is to renounce not only the poisoned fruit that desecrated the streets and the peace of Charlottesville, but the poisonous tree that allowed them to feel free to desecrate.  The tree that has sunk its roots at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

All of this nonsense about how the history and the responsibility of the office would force Trump to "pivot," and all of this additional nonsense about how the "guardrails" of the American political system would keep his proto-Fascist tendencies in check, has finally been exposed as the nonsense that they are by Trump himself.

In his first public statement about Charlottesville, Trump attempted to place the blame "on many sides."  This despite the fact that one side clearly initiated not only the hatred, bu the violence that flowed from it.  The same embarrassed Republicans who verbally denounced the hatred and violence then denounced Trump, forcing him (48 hours later) to bury a slightly more pointed condemnation of racism in an otherwise upbeat assessment of his inability to destroy the Obama economy.  So far as Trump's reputation in this and all matters related to race, the damage was effectively done, beyond all undoing.

And no one--absolutely no one who made any attempt to honestly investigate Trump's character on this and other issues--had any reason to be surprised.  After all, his racism both before and during the campaign was about as well-documented a thing as anything can be.

But the unchecked power that Republicans now wield in Washington and around the country is the undeniable result of that racism.  As I noted, Trump is simply the logical conclusion of decades during which barely-closeted racism swallowed any chance of making progress on the problems all Americans face.  And even Fox News is willing to come out and say that Trump has no qualms about reaping the benefits of racial politics.  Doesn't get more blatant than that.

On the other hand, if all of those Republican officials and supporters meant their Charlottesville condemnations with every inch of their beings, there are two things they can do:

Dump Trump, using either the impeachment process or the 25th Amendment.  And guarantee that, no matter what, next year's midterms and the 2020 presidential election will be held on time.

To paraphrase Mr. Baldwin, I'm watching what you do.  And I'm hoping, for the sake of healing in Charlottesville and beyond, that I can ultimately believe what you've said this past weekend.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why Do They Still Hate Jimmy Carter?

This question came to mind through an Op-Ed catechism in the New York Times recently.  First, as part of a broader analysis of the contemporary Republican Party's ability to win elections but not produce results for the American people, Ross Douthat decreed that Mr. Carter, the last president elected by the old New Deal coalition of Democratic voters, "got nothing done."  Second, in response to this statement, Carter's former domestic policy adviser, Stuart Eizenstat, wrote a letter the Times published that listed Carter's many achievements in office.

The "got nothing done" analysis by Douthat is curious on its face.  After all, the conservative critique of Carter back in the day was something to the effect that Carter was destroying America by pushing it too far to the left--in other words, the same sort of rhetorical drivel they have been delivering for the past 70 years, up to and including today.  You can agree or disagree with that rhetoric--I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how I feel about it--but you can't say it's the same thing as getting "nothing done."

On the other hand, Eizenstat's entirely accurate and concise description of Carter's accomplishment's in office only begs my titular question even further.  Usually, the answer you get are (a) stagflation, and (b) the Iranian hostages.  Both of these crises were outgrowths of bad foreign policy decisions encouraged by conservatives that had the effect of making the United States unusually dependent on oil-producing (i.e., Arab) countries for the maintenance of our way of life.  And the hostage crisis was deliberately manipulated, and even prolonged, by Republicans and their conservative supporters for purely partisan purposes.

And Carter devoted much of his presidency to ending that dependence, describing the struggle to do so as the moral equivalent of war.  As we subsequently saw on 9/11, it was in fact the literal equivalent.

I think the ongoing Carter-hatred is based largely on a recognition even by conservatives that the critique of Carter that emerged during the 1980 election campaign was and remains a gargantuan lie--and that this lie is coming back to haunt them, now that their own coalition is fracturing just as the New Deal coalition fractured during Carter's term.  Despite that fracturing, Carter pulled off a number of significant legislative and diplomatic accomplishments, accomplishments that still benefit the American people even today.  Trump, meanwhile, apart from one purloined Supreme Court seat, is bereft of anything that could be called an accomplishment--unless attempting to install a kleptocracy in the White House counts.

And yet Trump, like Carter, clearly appears to be a president of preparation for a major change in the politics of this country.  The question is, can the Democrats produce a Reagan to make that change a reality?  I wish I had a positive answer to that question.  I pray that such an answer will emerge before 2020.

Mitch McCONnell, Contra Deum?

One is seriously forced to wonder.

McCONnell does not lack for ambition.  His ambition--his only ambition--is and always has been to accumulate as much power as he can in the Senate.  The only limitation on that ambition is an apparent lack of ambition to become President.  One is forced to wonder whether that comes from an honest appraisal of his own limitations, or from some sort of character flaw (perhaps a recognition, which Donald Trump clearly does not have, that as President he would be forced to care about people in whom he has absolutely no interest at all.  A leader of a legislative body has a broad ability to set an agenda; an executive responsible for the day-to-day administration of public business will find his or her agenda-setting ability limited, often by what we used to call, in legal terms, acts of G-d.

But G-d does indeed work in mysterious ways, sometimes inserting His will into the legislative process.

Consider the fact that the Affordable Care Act only survived repeal by a single vote.  Consider further the fact that said vote was cast by a man, John McCain, who sadly has been given a diagnostic death sentence while the repeal debate was in process.  Consider still further the fact that Senator McCain, through a lifetime of military and civilian public service (the former of which included torture at the hands of the Viet Cong) has benefited from public forms of health insurance that are as generous as they are comprehensive.  And consider also the fact that McCain, never shy about being at the center of events, clearly relished what might be his last chance to make a major difference on the national stage.

I think it's entirely fair to view McCain, in this instance, as an instrument of divine intervention.  G-d saw in McCONnell a man who is, in his present position, a clear and present danger not only to the interests of the American people, but to democracy itself.  And, when the very health of the American people, the federal government's most sacred responsibility along with public safety, was directly endangered by McCONnell's ambition, G-d used an American hero one last time to save his country.

Which means that Mitch McCONnell, who has spent the last seven years firing broadsides at legislative processes and traditions for the sake of his own overweening ambition. now, in a very real sense, has John McCain's blood on his hands.

How much more blood will he shed before the American people cry "Enough"?  And how much longer will a righteous G-d allow His justice to tarry before not only McCONnell, but all of us, experience a taste of wrath that we cannot nor should not be able to stand?

As I said at the beginning, one is seriously forced to wonder.

A Common Enemy For Capitol Hill--And America?

I may, at some point in the future, regret typing this or even thinking it, but doing so seems inescapable after the finale of the health care repeal debacle:

Is peace about to break out in Congress?

As much as I despise Mitch McCONnell, and I take a back seat to no one in doing so, I give everyone his props, so I'll give him his.  He tried to top The Great Supreme Court Theft with an attempt to cobble together a repeal of the most successful health care legislation in American history, one that would deprive millions of people of the ability to pay their medical bills.  He hoped to do so in a way that would prevent those people from realizing that they were being shafted, until it was too late--and that would then allow him and his colleagues to blame it all on the Democrats.  And it came within a single vote of working.

We are, I guess, obliged to John McCain for his willingness to take his obvious distaste for Donald Trump and his love of being in the spotlight and use both of those characteristics to throw a monkey wrench into McCONnell's plans.  This is said, of course, with due respect for his medical condition, which no doubt played a role in his decision to throw that wrench.  (There's another way of looking at how his health played a role in this drama, but I'll save that for a later post, perhaps.)  We own far more, perhaps, to the independence and integrity of two Republican women, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who stayed focus on the facts and the potential for harm to the voters who honored them with the opportunity to represent their interests.  Their contribution is well summed-up here.

And we especially owe a debt of thanks to the 48-member Democratic caucus, whose members decided, with the change in public opinion about the ACA, to grow something resembling a spine and not cave in to either conservative threats or mainstream media pressure to somehow "move to the center."  (That I almost definitely will have something to discuss in a future post.)   All of them made the case for keeping the benefits of the ACA in varying ways, but none more dramatically than Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.  Like McCain, she faces a deadly battle with illness, and she pulled no punches in using Republican sympathy for her plight as a broadsword against their attack on American health care.  If you have doubts about whether the U.S. Senate can still be a place for legislative heroism, you owe it to yourself to look at this.

But, ultimately, I think that the for-now-at-least demise of Obamacare repeal efforts can be credited to a highly unlikely source.

Donald John Trump, the well-known performance artist currently pretending to be the 45th President of the United States.

Trump's singular, signature combination of corruption and incompetence, and the scandal-a-day pace at which that combination has taken control of the government and our everyday thinking, is finally taking its toll on what the public thinks about him, and the extent to which it is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Take a look here and here; after just six months, his popularity (or lack thereof) is close to Nixon/Watergate levels).  It would take very little to actually get it to those levels.

Is it possible to look at the collapse of the health care repeal as a sign that Congress is finally paying more attention to the attitudes of voters than to the deference still given by the mainstream media to Trump (still expecting him to "pivot" someday)?  Despite the closeness of the final of the three votes, I think the answer is "yes."  It took every ounce of McCONnell's manipulative ability to get to that closeness, and still it failed.

But my confidence is based on something else.  Since the GOP debacle on health care, there has been a sudden outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

A bill, overwhelmingly approved, to enact new sanctions against Trump's favorite country, Russia. Another bill, also overwhelmingly approved, to prevent Trump from making any "recess appointments," which will hamper any attempt to end current investigations of his Administration by firings.  Even a somewhat wary, but real, effort to see if fixes in the ACA can be made which both Democrats and Republicans can accept.

Common enemies can be powerful unifying forces.  Communism was such an enemy for the three otherwise disparate elements of the modern Republican coalition:  military hawks, libertarian tax-cutters, and the Religious Right.  Does Donald Trump have the potential to be that kind of a common enemy for Congress and, ultimately, the American people.  Is it therefore possible that there is, in some sense, a higher purpose in having his odious presence in the White House?

Only time will tell.  My greatest fear is that Trump, as he feels more and more cornered, will be more and more tempted to respond by lashing out--perhaps even "going nuclear" in the most literal sense. So, if we can and will pull together to save ourselves, none of us should waste any time.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

As For Your Right To Choose ...

... take that seriously as well.  Because it's being undermined.

Two of my greatest frustrations about the outcome of last year's presidential election are (a) the demonstrable interference in the election by Vladimir Putin and various agents of either the Russian government or Russian-based businesses, and (b) the voters who sat at home sulking that Bernie Sanders wasn't allowed to be the Democratic nominee, and otherwise being furious over Hillary's alleged sabotaging of his candidacy.  To them, there was no Russian sabotage; Hillary was the one who was the true threat to democracy.

I've always wanted to ask these people why, if Hillary-related sabotage was the reason behind Bernie's failure to win the Democratic nomination, did Bernie then turn around after the primary season and endorse Hillary?  If there was real sabotage that cause real damage to the process, and Bernie is the stand-up guy his supporters say that he is, why then did he not stand up to Hillary and denounce the damage? Is it possible because, even if some members of the Democratic National Committee tried to undermine Bernie (and I concede that there is evidence of this), isn't it possible that it never got far enough to damage Bernie?  Or that it happened without Hillary's knowledge or support?

It doesn't matter to these people.  All that matters is the purity of their point of view, which must never, ever, be sullied by facts.  Including that facts that have emerged, are emerging and are continuing to emerge about the Russian connection.  It pains me to say this but, quite frankly, this makes them in my mind the left-wing analog to Trump supporters.  Which means that, with the help of Trump supporters, they are contribution to the destruction of the most successful free society in the history of the world.

In fairness, I don't think they mean to do that.  I think that most of them truly believe in the best values of this country, and expect us to do more to live up to them.  On that, I agree with them 100 percent.  But we live under a system of government that is designed purposefully to thwart attempts at dramatic change, unless supported by large majorities.  That is why incremental change within our system is the only kind that is truly possible.  If you're made about the influence of big-moneyed interests, fine.  Be angry. Fight the influence of money in politics every way you can.

But don't sit at hope waiting for the perfect cause, the perfect party, or the perfect candidate.  We ourselves are not perfect people living in a perfect world.  And in our highly imperfect world, we now have a president who is actively trying to take away your right to vote.  Thankfully, nearly all of the states are standing up against it.

But that's for now.  The future is not guaranteed, and neither is democracy.  Sitting at home doesn't preserve it.  Voting for candidates who can win and advance your values does.  Never lose sight of that fact.  And never fail to heed it.

For Those Content To Sit On The Sidelines ...

... I have one word of advice:  Don't.

I realize I say that, having just declared myself possibly ready to leave the Democratic Party over its signature combination of fecklessness and betrayal.  But that is not an excuse for doing nothing.

It never is, of course.  But that's never been more true than it is now.

You see, there are two fundamental rights each citizen in a democracy has.  Two rights that are essential to the effective operation of a free society.  Those are the right to know, and the right to choose.

And both of those rights are under massive, unprecedented assault by the Trump White House and the Republican Party's unobjecting support of him.  As well as their supporters.

I'll start by inviting you to look at this.  It's the column from which I admit to lifting the phrase "the right to know."  Well, I didn't lift it.  I took the liberty of paraphrasing the late, great Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate era, who spoke of "your right to be informed." However it is phrased, the right exists.  Information is what empowers us to make the right choices, the ones that citizens in a democracy are empowered to make and responsible for making.

The media, in whatever form (legacy or digital) plays an essential role in providing that information. This is why they're referred to as the fourth branch of government.  This is why they're protected by the First Amendment.  And this is why any government action hostile to their interests should always be viewed with the deepest suspicion.

Usually, those hostilities are perpetrated by people and organizations that have the common sense to do it covertly.  But Donald Trump cannot, and probably never will, be fairly accused of having common sense.  He is, I am sorry to say, the type of New Yorker who will punch you in the nose if you even look like you want to do the same to him.  And so, in his dealings with those media outlets that he perceives as not worshiping him sufficiently, you get episodes like this.

Or, in reporting accurately in the public interest about someone prominently connected to one of Trump's constituencies, you get stories like this.  (This one, by the way, is really fascinating; I suspect I'll have more to say about it in a future post.)

This is why you should never take "your right to be informed," as Bradlee put it seriously.  He took it seriously enough that he risked his career and the Post's reputation on getting to the bottom of Watergate.  And he did.  We should always be grateful.  And we should all, always, be equally vigilant.

Why I Just Might Leave The Democratic Party

If you've read what I have to say in this space even once, you can pretty easily guess which side of the partisan divide I stand on.  I was raised by New Deal Democrats, got involved in Democratic politics as a teenager and, after a few early adult years in which I was unaffiliated, became a regular Democratic voter and contributor in the late 1980's.  I'm 60 yeas old, and can therefore honestly say that I've been a Democrat most of my life, which is a respectable length of time.

But all of that might be about to change soon.

Let me explain.

My ambiguity as a young adult came out of a feeling that the Democrats were stuck in a 1960s time warp when it came to relating to the American voting public, and had lost the ability to connect to middle-class voters.  I was happy to vote for Jimmy Carter twice, because I felt he was someone who could articulate traditional Democratic concerns about economic and social justice without sounding like either a hippie or a Bolshevik.  But, in part for precisely that reason, the party turned on Carter and ultimately helped to give us eight years of Ronald Reagan, a con artist who helped pave the way for today's con artistry.

I responded in 1984 by casting a write-in vote for then-Senator Mark Hatfield, the only time I've ever voted for a Republican in my life.  It was a straight-up protest vote and, now that I have a more mature perspective on protest votes, I regret doing it (with due respect to Senator Hatfield).  As flawed as Walter Mondale was in many ways, he would have been a better President that Reagan; at least he would have been awake and alert most of the time.

When Bill Clinton came along in the 1990s, I felt completely confident about voting for him, in spite of his undisciplined personal life.  Here, I thought, was another Carter, someone who could talk about Democratic values to Republican voters in a way that could win elections consistently.  In his first two years as President, that's exactly how he seemed to operate.

But then came the Republican midterm landslide and, after that, Clinton seemed hellbent on caving to the Republicans on one issue or another.  Gone, with "welfare reform," was the guarantee that we would look after our neediest citizens.  Gone, with "criminal justice reform" was the possibility of a truly fair sentencing process.  Gone, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, was the possibility that Wall Street would turn into a casino (and we all know how that turned out).  And much more, all for the same of not being impeached.  And he got impeached anyway; nobody knows how to say "thank you" quite like a Republican.*

The Clinton experience, combined with eight years of Bush/Cheney (or should I say Cheney/Bush) pushed me back from the center and more toward the left, even as the country has seemingly drifted further and further to the right.  When Obama was elected, I thought that the moment I had waited for in politics all of my life had come.  For the first two years, tangible results out of Washington seemed to prove that.  Then came a decade where Republicans, playing a long game with a thousand sword cuts, took control of everything.

And now, with Republicans in charge of government at the federal and state levels, and the Democrats little more than a regional party, facing a government that looks increasingly like a South American kleptocracy, what do the Democrats do?  How are they going to keep my vote and win back the country?

With listless slogans like this.

"I mean, have you seen the other guys?"  Seriously?  The other guys are the ones in charge now.  Are you really that afraid to say what you stand for?  That's your fighting faith?  "We're not the worst choice you could make?"  Whoever came up with this should be fired.  And the same is true for whoever approved making this idiocy public.

I'm sorry to say, however, that it gets worse that that.  Much worse.

Charles Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader and the principal Democratic capo in the world of Wall Street fundraising, is working with none other than Ted Cruz to enact a bill that would criminalize any attempt to lead, participate in, or even so much as to inquire about a boycott of Israel for its settlement activities on the West Bank.  The bill provides for a minimum penalty of $250,000 and maximum penalties of $1 million and 20 years in prison.  Think about that.  Twenty years locked away for simply asking about a boycott.  No less incredible is the fact that this bill has 237 House sponsors and 43 Senate sponsors.  You can read about it here.

That such a bill could even be filed in the first place is a tribute to the lobbying power of AIPAC, which lobbies on behalf of what it perceives to be Israel's interests.  Apparently, from AIPAC's perspective, subverting democracy is now in the interests of Israel, and anyone who says otherwise is an anti-Semite.  Including, one guesses, the Reform Jews who spearheaded the founding of the state of Israel as a safe haven for Jews and Palestinians alike.

The Democratic Party, at this point, from my perspective, is a party that stands for nothing and falls for everything.  Unless this trend gets reversed, pronto, my change in registration to independent can't come fast enough.  And they can forget about my money, unless it can go to progressive candidates and causes.

Am I doomed to become a protest voter once again?  Maybe.  But I'll have been pushed by the Democratic Party, every step of the way.

*Yes, I know that the Glass-Steagall repeal came after the impeachment trial.  But it was still part of the same basic dynamic:  Clinton, worrying more about being loved by Republicans than serving the people who elected him.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Silver Bullet That Could Kill Trump's Support

Thirty-six percent.

That's where Donald Trump's popular support has bottomed out.

But it's holding.  Seemingly nothing can budge it any further.  And this phenomenon has the folks in legacy media spellbound.  They send reports out to Trump country to find out how Trump is able to retain his hold on these people.

What do they find out?

Not much.  To these folks, all of the stories about the chaos and corruption in the Trump White House is so much media noise, Washington nonsense, or whatever winger cliche works at any given moment.  Doesn't matter to them.  Their guy is Making America Great Again, signing executive orders, giving fiery speeches, ticking off all the people they love to hate.  That's all that counts. They voted for him partly because he was white (unlike the other guy), but also because he promised he would bring all of the good blue-collar jobs back. They count on him to keep his word when it comes to that.  They know it'll happen, sooner or later.  It's only been six months.

Only six months.  But, as it turns out, things have been happening on the jobs front. The blue-collar jobs front, that is.

They're continuing to leave.

Remember that triumphant moment during the transition period when Trump went to Indiana and boasted about saving factory jobs from leaving for Mexico?

Guess what?

They're going anyway.  And the company's keeping all of the state aid that it got to keep the jobs here.

There's your billionaire hero for you, folks.

Another year of that, and not even racism will be able to keep you in the Trump camp.

Mitch McCONnell, Fortune Teller

Who knew?

Mitch McCONnell, Senate Majority Leader, and thus-far failed co-captain of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, can foresee the future.  Or, at least, he can when his ability to count votes depends on it.

As you know by now, McCONnell has, for the past several months, been engaged to repeal (and, possibility, replace) the ACA through a so-called "stealth" process that involves no hearings, no attempts at bipartisanship, no input from anyone in his caucus that is a woman, and no disclosures to any member of the public as to what health care in this country might look like once the repeal-and-replace (or repeal-only) process might look like.  Except, of course, for horror-show predictions from the Congressional Budget Office, which are quickly dismissed by conservatives as "fake news."

And all he has to do, because the budget reconciliation process is being used, is get 50 votes.  Not 60. Not even 51.  50.  Because, of course, he's got the Vice-President's vote in his back pocket.

But it hasn't been easy.  It turns out that talking about repealing Obamacare is one thing for Senators, and making actual voters in their home states suffer for the sake of "keeping their word" is quite another.  Why, they might forget all of the lies that they were told about Obamacare and discover that not only does it work, but losing it would be painful.  For their friends.  For their families.  For themselves.

So, then, what does Mitch do?

He puts a scarf on his head, gazes into his crystal ball, and tells wavering Senators that the cuts to Medicaid recipients will never really happen!

I mean, it must be the case that he can do this because he has a crystal ball.  Because, otherwise, it would just mean that the Republican bill is not really an effort to make America great again, but just a rank exercise in cynicism and self-serving hypocrisy focused entirely on next year's midterm elections.

And that can't be the case.

Can it?

Trump, The Muscovite Candiate Unmasked

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, as more and more information became available about Donald Trump's financial ties with Russian interests, and as Trump, while denying the existence of such ties, heaped words of praise upon Russian President Vladimir Putin, an unsettling question emerged in the minds of many (mine being among them):  is Trump the real-life equivalent of "The Manchurian Candidate," the title character of the 1962 film (and the 2004 remake), a person who has been manipulated in becoming an agent of a foreign power, even though perceived by the public as an American hero?

Trump himself, unsurprisingly, was not particularly honest in addressing this question.  He denied having any business dealings in Russia, even while evidence of such dealings slowly began to accumulate.  Since his election and inauguration, that process of accumulation has only accelerated, to the point at which former FBI director Robert Muller is now acting as an independent prosecutor investigating Trump's Russian ties, among other related matters.

One of those related matters, of course, is the extent to which the Russians used cybertechnology to meddling with the votes and the outcome of last fall's election.  At the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany earlier this month, in a private meeting that reportedly did not even include Trump's own translator, Putin allegedly assured Trump that no such meddling had taken place, and even offered to work with Trump to ensure that it would not take place in the future.  In return for Putin's reassuring, unverifiable words, Trump gave Putin carte blanche to intervene in the Syrian civil war in any way that he wanted.  Further, and perhaps even worse in some ways, he gave him carte blanche to continue to suppress and assassinate his one people, upending decades of American foreign policy dedicated to the advancement of human rights.

OK, you tell me, who got the better of the deal here?  Only the most die-hard of Trump voters would say yes.  As a matter of fact, some of the saner member of Trump's own party are saying no, and pushing him to act more like he's the President of this country, not Russia.  But, instead of taking the advice of people whose self-interest (and the interests of the nation) depend on helping him, Trump chooses to sail even deeper into the limitless depths of his ignorance and arrogance.

Much more recently, Trump has gone so far as to not only hint at firing Muller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but also to inquire into the extent of his office's power to grant pardons.  As in, can he pardon himself, if he has to?  In particular, he hinted that Muller should not investigate any of Trump's businesses.  If you think after hearing that hint that there's an innocent explanation for Trump's refusal all though last year to release his tax returns, feel free to inquire about this bridge I own.

But perhaps the most direct evidence of Russian attempts to interfere with last year's election came when it was revealed, and subsequently substantiated by direct evidence in the form of e-mail communications, that Donald Trump, Jr. took a meeting with a Russian lawyer under the pretext that the lawyer possessed damaging information about Hillary Clinton that the Trump campaign could put to good use.  Trump's son, as it turns out, was being totally bamboozled; the lawyer had a different agenda altogether.  The information about this meeting should have been turned over to the FBI; instead, it became just another one of numerous foreign contacts that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law (who was also at the meeting) "forgot" to report.

Art of the deal, my foot--either one of them.  Who falls for such an obvious attempt by a foreign power at gaining access to the American political process?  And who honestly believes that, in the fishbowl of international politics and Web-based journalism, it would be possible to be part of such an attempt and yet expect never to be caught?

I believe that this article holds much of the explanation.  Trump, his family, his closest followers and, to a degree, the people who voted for him, are all afflicted by that peculiar form of narcissism that Americans are prone to display, especially in dealings with foreign nations and nationals.  Our perception of our "exceptionalism" leads us to believe that we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world, even though the principles behind our system of government had antecedents in European philosophy and history.  Couple that with Trump's silver-spoon pedigree, and the sense of entitlement that it nurtured in him, and you have all of the ingredients you need for self-love to self-inflict a disaster for everyone in this country.

Sadly, in the process, our idealism about what America and the rest of the world should be like, which is very much linked to our narcissism, is sacrificed in the process because Trump regards our ideals as little more than words, empty vessels to be given away at will for the same of short-term gains.  As the Vanity Fair author explains, it is those ideals that offer our best defense to the level of foreign corruption that Trump and his cronies have invited across our borders.  Our borders! He's the last person who should be talking about weakening this countries borders; he may have already allowed the Russians to erase them.  And they certainly aren't shy about letting him know--or us--know it.

Donald Trump, the Muscovite Candidate.  It's not a movie.  It's the reality that surrounds us.  It's the reality that may devour us.

A Few Words Of Explanation

I didn't write as much in June as I normally do and, as you can see, I'm off to a somewhat late start for July.  The main reason for this is something I discussed in an earlier post.

The surgery that my oldest granddaughter had in late June went as well as could be expected.  She stayed in the hospital for a few days less than was originally expected--ten days instead of two weeks. One happy consequence of that stay, given when it occurred, is that she and her parents got to see the fireworks in downtown Baltimore on the Fourth of July from the Johns Hopkins Childrens' Center, a tall building that, by virtue of its location, commands a view of the Inner Harbor from which the fireworks are launched.

During her hospitalization, my wife, with some help from me, watched our youngest granddaughter to enable her parents to focus their attention on her sister.  My stepdaughter and son-in-law are caring and dedicated parents; they alternated spending each night with my oldest granddaughter, and have done everything humanly possible to get her through all three of the surgeries she has had on her heart.  On the last Saturday of June, my wife and I took our youngest granddaughter down to see her sister and her parents.  The six of us spent time together in the very large, well-supplied playroom, where I allowed my oldest granddaughter to beat me at Monopoly Jr..

She has now been out of the hospital for two-and-a-half weeks, and just started day camp this past week.  Since her discharge, she has been under a number of dietary and activity restrictions which should be lifted as time passes.  If all continues, as we hope and pray, to go well, she will start kindergarten this fall.

All of these surgeries that she has had are palliative in nature.  There is no "cure"; the closest thing to that would be a full heart transplant, which she may have to undergo in another ten years.  But, hopefully, the surgeries will enable her to get more oxygen in her blood and allow her to grow and function more normally.  One thing she has going for her is that she is a tough little girl; she even refused to take prescription-strength pain killers although she was in very real pain.  If that counts for anything--and I believe it counts for a lot--she has a lot going for her, even with her heart condition.

And something else she has going for her are not only the doctors, nurses and other staff members at Hopkins, but the many family members, friends, co-workers, and others who helped out during a very trying time for all of us, whether with actions for words (and prayers count as both).  Our sincerest and inexpressible thanks to everyone.

And now, back to the news, fake and otherwise ...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Where Should G-d's Law Be Written?

As you can see by following this link, the latest effort to use the power of government to promote all or part of the Bible came, quite literally, to a crashing halt.  In a relatively short span of time, too.

Two aspects of this are interesting.

First, there's the whole idea promoted by religious conservatives (and their secular partners in blasphemy) that the power of the state should be used to promote theology.  And not just any theology.  Their theology.  Whether those who disagree like it or not.  The "logic" behind this routinely cited is that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and therefore the power of the sword (whether held by a Federal or state hand) is fully justified in keeping it that way.

I could, at this point, launch a screed about the failure of many of these "Christians" to translate other aspects of the Bible into public policy.  Caring for the poor, and the strangers and sojourners within our midst, are among those aspects (to say nothing of the ever-present problem of winking). But that's not even the most significant problem with this whole Ten-Commandments-in-government-buildings trend.  Neither is the fact that, like it or not, this nation was not founded as a "Christian" nation.  Read the Preamble to our Constitution.  Find any "Christian nation" references in there? Didn't think so.  And, even had you done so, there's always this to chew on.

There's a more important question to consider, however:  where should G-d's law be written?

Well, a superficially plausible answer would be on and in houses of worship.  Perfectly reasonable, and utterly, utterly superficial.

Let's step back for a moment and ask the question:  What does the Bible say?

In fact, this is something that orthodox Christians and Jews can agree upon:  G-d's law is ultimately meant to be written on and in our hearts.  Take a look, and note that the word often translated as "heart" in the Bible is more correctly understood to mean "center"--that around which every other aspect of our lives revolves.

That is why the First Amendment to the aforesaid Constitution prohibits either the establishment of religion by government, or the restraint of freely worshiping.  Religion, first and foremost to the Framers, was meant to be a choice.  Nothing else could truly be called religion; in fact, it can only be described as tyranny.

And the second interesting thing about the Arkansas story?

As I've said before, a war in this nation has been brewing for some time, and now both sides have joined it.  This is a fact none of us should celebrate (I surely don't).  But it is one we all must now face--and join together to find a better way.  Hopefully, G-d's.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is It Time For Us To Guarantee An Income?

My answer to that is yes.  A qualified one.  Because I would go much further than guaranteeing an income.

Let me explain.

I have felt for a long time, and have written here about those feelings several times, that the so-called "welfare reform" law from the 1990s was a perfect example of cutting off our economic nose to spite the political face of traditional liberal politics.  Indeed, from my side of the political fence, the only real reason for doing it in the first place was political.  A moderate-to-liberal Democratic President, threatened with the prospect of being investigated into impeachment proceedings, needed to throw a bone to the first all-Republican Congress in 40 years.  He admitted that he didn't like the bill he was signing.  But he decided that he liked being re-elected more than he disliked the bill.  So he signed it.  (And got impeached anyway, for the constitutional equivalent of jaywalking.  I mean, it's not like he sold his office to fill his hotels, if you know what I mean.)

A bit more than a decade later, under an all-Republican government, and after a cornucopia of tax cuts and deregulation, the nation almost drowned in another Depression, despite a record level of military spending that should have helped guarantee full employment.  Why?

Well, the aforementioned cornucopia had a little something to do with it.  The American financial system was seduced by it into a casino of fraud and debt, one that collapsed when the frauds were exposed and the debts could no longer be paid.  But make no mistake:  there was something else going on.

Consumers, the real drivers of our economy--the real "job creators," if you will--had less money to spend.  And that is in no small part because we forgot, in our overeagerness to punish "welfare frauds" that did not exist to the extent many people believed, we forgot that welfare recipients were also job-creators.  They spent their money.  They kept businesses in poor neighborhoods afloat. They generated tax revenues, and helped cities and states balance budgets, giving other businesses the confidence to expand and create even more jobs.

As the Nobel Prize-wining economist Paul Krugman is fond of saying, my spending is your income, and your spending is my income.  (Thereby proving that he knows more about economics than Ayn Rand, to say nothing of your typical conservative economist.)

But a guaranteed income offers a way of fixing this problem in a way that might be politically palatable.  Even to conservatives.

First of all, by definition, it would not be means-tested.  It would go to billionaires as well as zero-aires.  And it would not be subject to taxation.  This slays two conservative objections:  excessive taxation, and the creation of a class completely dependent on government.

Second, it would not be restricted in use.  An individual could treat it as either disposable or as investment income.  As the former, it offers a way of lifting people out of poverty without the creation of a bureaucracy dependent on the existence of that way--again, overcoming a potential conservative objection.  And as the latter, it would enable money to be invested in a wider variety of ways than is currently possible with so much of the money in existence being controlled by a handful of people.  This is what is meant by the motility of money:  money has a greater impact on the economy when it moves from one individual to another.

Third, and what should be most important from a conservative perspective, it has been shown to be practical.  I remember when I first got into political debates in high school, conservatives would identify themselves to me as people who believe in things that work.  Well, if this is still the case (and, in this day and age, I sometimes wonder), they should all be in favor of a guaranteed income for all:  it has been shown, again and again, to be extremely practical.

But there's one more thing to consider:  American exceptionalism.

Americans, and American conservatives in particular, don't like the idea of handouts.  And, from a certain perspective, that's what a guaranteed income essentially is.  It runs against the grain of the American soul, which emphasizes the moral as well as the financial value of employment

Well, in that case, why not supplement the income, or perhaps even replace it, with a guarantee of a job for everyone who needs it?  That's something that could be financed in a number of ways, including tax credits.  And not everyone would need to look for such a guarantee; they would already have other means of supporting themselves.  As for financing the guaranteed income, it doesn't necessarily require a new income stream.  I suspect that it could be financed in a number of ways, through the elimination of wasteful defense spending as well as closing corporate loopholes.

And it might also be financed from existing block grants for welfare under the reform law, which many conservative states have redirected toward purposes other than helping people find work, like balancing budgets and paying off political patrons.

Sounds too good to be true?  Why not give it a chance and find out?  Last time I looked, that approach was called "the American Way."  Perhaps it still is.

When The Poltical Is The Personal

In my previous blog post about the current Republican health care debacle that may, or may not, be foisted upon us, I made an unintentional omission, one that I would like to address here.

George Will, in the context of writing about Down's syndrome, once wrote that that an opinion-maker with a personal stake in an issue had an obligation to the public to reveal that stake.  He then discussed revealed that one of his children has Down's syndrome, a statement that earned him both my sympathy and respect.  For that matter, I happen to agree with his position as it relates to revealing a personal stake in issues about which one comments publicly.  I do so now.

My oldest granddaughter, who turned 5 a week or so ago, was born with a series of congenital heart defects:  a pair of conditions known as criss-cross heart, and transposition of the great vessels, in addition to a leaking mitral valve.  Had she been born a few years earlier, she might not have survived outside of her mother's womb. However, thanks to medical advances, and to a handful of children's hospitals with the knowledge and skills needed to treat these conditions (in this case, the Johns Hopkins Children's Center). she has beaten the odds and made it (knocking on wood) through three surgeries, the most recent of which was this past Monday.  I should add that all of this is purely palliative care; there is no cure for the conditions she has, and the path forward for her almost certainly involves a heart transplant at some point.

Needless to say, all of the medical treatment she receives is very expensive.  Fortunately for her and the rest of us, she has two wonderful, incredibly dedicated parents with first-rate health insurance. More importantly however, in her case, the Affordable Care Act (hatefully known to some of you as "Obamacare") outlawed insurance bans for pre-existing conditions and lifetime insurance caps on the amounts paid for health care.  Without those reforms, my granddaughter's health care road might well be an impossible one for her to travel.

It is precisely why, on a personal level, the political shenanigans and game-playing in the media on an issue as vital as health care is for everyone beggars belief.  Do these people have no thought for the impact their game-playing has on the rest of us?  Mitch McCONnell suffered from polio as a child. Does that give him no ability at all to relate to children like my granddaughter?  And these people--I'm tempted to say something stronger than "people"--had the colossal gall to talk about "death panels" in opposing Obamacare.  Their so-called bill, which would repeal the reforms that benefit my granddaughter (among others) is nothing but a giant nationwide "death panel."

Shame on them.  And shame on all of us if we don't fight them with all we've got.  My granddaughter's life may depend on it.  Perhaps the life of someone you care about will as well.

Actually, Mr. Lasswell, It's The Other Way Around

A few weeks ago, a graduate student at the London School of Economics named Charles Lasswell had an essay published in TIME magazine chastising the Democratic Party for not making the most of its current state of powerlessness, by not going beyond the we're-not-Trump banner to describe how they would actually lead the nation if they once again had the opportunity to do it.  Playing it safe--and, worst of all, from Mr. Lasswell's perspective, relentlessly mimicking the end-of-history, capitalism-is-all framework of politics from the 1990s--is not going to extract the Democrats or the country as a whole from the rut into which the current President is driving us.

I'm inclined to agree with much of what Mr. Lasswell has to say, at least on the surface.  In particular, I appreciate his noting the fact that more young people voted for Bernie Sanders than for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.  It reinforces my thesis that politics, more than anything else, is generational.  The Obama campaigns, and subsequently the Sanders campaign, were the voices of a new generation, one with a renewed faith in the power of government to make the lives of the governed better, and with a deep appreciation of the urgency in our present condition to unleash that power more fully.

Where Mr. Lasswell goes astray, however, in discussing politics as entirely or fundamentally as a top-down process.  To borrow from and paraphrase another president who did much to inspire young people, ask not what the Democratic Party can do for you; ask what you can do for the Democratic Party.

And what you can do for the Democratic Party is this:  pay Republican voters the compliment of imitating their political behavior, by getting involved with party politics on an everyday basis. That's how democracy works best, when the process is as close as possible to the people who are most affected by it.  That means stop paying Jill Stein the compliment of only showing up every four years. Frankly, it means more than showing up at the polls every two years.

It means getting involved in the day-to-day mechanics of party operations and decision making.  It means getting involved in government at the least sexy levels, like school boards (the ones that decide whether your children will be studying fantasy or reality).  It means some very old-school, but very effective tools called hard work and sacrifice.  It means getting away from the virtual reality of social media (yes, me too; blogging's not enough) and into the actual reality of the political process. It means compromise, disappointment, and the occasional loss.  As Winston Churchill once said, it's the worst system in the world.  Except for all the others.

The Democrats don't need to be lectured, Mr. Lasswell.  They need to be engaged.  So get going, you and your generational colleagues.  Your country and your future need you.  NOW.

Mitch McCONnell: The Only Thing That Matters Is The Game

The title of this post is taken from an early version of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Road Show," back when it was called "Bounce" and played at the Kennedy Center in Washington.  The show is about the Mizner brothers, Wilson and Addison, in the early 20th century; the latter an architect who designed the city of Boca Raton, Florida, the former a born con artist who sold much of the real estate his brother designed.  Coming from a song entitled, appropriately enough, "The Game," the song enables Wilson to let us know what really gets him out of bed in the morning:  the thrill of the con, the vicarious joy involved in getting away with "putting on over" on others, regardless of the cost to them.  And the artist?  By the time his or her victims have caught on to what's happened to them, he or she is off to the next con.  The game is essential.  The consequences for others aren't.

If you've been with me for a while, it should be no secret to you that I consider the current Senate majority leader to be a con artist.  This is why I refer to him routinely as Mitch McCONnell:  a not-so-subtle tribute to his essence.  The only truly interesting thing about him, as with all con artists, is the answer to an important question:  how far will one of them go in putting one over on others, regardless of the self-inflicted consequences.

In McCONnell's case, we can now put a more-or-less exact number on it:  one million.  That is the difference between the number of people who would lose health insurance under the House version of repealing and replacing Obamacare, and the Senate version of that bill cobbled together by McCONnell and a handle of senators (all Republicans, all male) in secret.  A big difference in one sense, but an inconsequential one to anyone with a heart for the millions of Americans who will lose health insurance if either version of the bill becomes the law of the land.

Beyond that number, we can add another number to it  100.  That is the percentage of McCONnell's brazenness when it comes to the gap between his words and his deeds.  McCONnell has been in the Senate for decades, but only become its majority leader after the 2014 election season.  Prior to that time, he had managed to convince a large number of chattering-class members that, considerations of partisanship aside, he deeply respected the legislative process as it has existed for decades in the so-called World's Greatest Deliberative Body.  In fact, during the 2014 election process, he made a point of complaining about how the then-Democratic majority had subverted that process, and that he would make a point of restoring it if the election flipped control of the chamber.

No one should have taken that viewpoint seriously, given what we know about McCONnell's unprecedented use of the filibuster rule, as minority leader, to deny then-President Obama not only a number of significant legislative accomplishments, but also a large number of judicial appointments to the Federal bench.  In hindsight, that should have been a sign of the shape of things as they would subsequently come.  Nevertheless, for a majority of voters and pundits, it wasn't.

And so, McCONnell as majority leader showed us exactly what he though of Senate traditions, and so-called "regular order" generally, by a long-shot gambit to keep a Supreme Court seat open for a year in the hope that a Republican president would be able to fill it.  He won.  "Regular order," due process, the right of Obama to offer a nomination to the Court, and perhaps constitutional government itself, all lost.

As bad as all of this was and is, the current debacle over repealing and replacing Obamacare is far worse.  To begin with, there was the decision to use the budget reconciliation process to move forward, thereby eliminating the threat of a Democratic filibuster.  Never mind the fact that conservatives had criticized Democrats for enacting the ACA in exactly the same way; it was now time for revenge, and revenge is sweetened by using the tactics of the enemy.  Besides, to break a filibuster, they would need to offer concessions to Democrats in exchange for cooperation, and President Chump's base would never accept that.

Next, there was the secretive process of drafting the Senate version of the bill, without public hearings or any opportunity for the media--and the public--to examine and debate it.  As previously noted, women were specifically excluded from this process, despite the impact it might ultimately have on the care of many of their female constituents.  Finally, there was the finished product itself, unveiled days before a snap-vote was scheduled to push it across the finish line.  Somehow, all of this was enough for Senate Democrats and the media to grow something resembling spines, and slow the process down long enough for people to discover what had been written in secret.

And boy, when they did, were they less than excited.  Less than 20% of the public supports this monstrosity.  Not even the ACA has ever polled that badly.  Has that stopped McCONnell?  Well, maybe a little bit, since the vote has now been delayed until after the Fourth of July.  But not really. Even now, he's wheeling and dealing to make the bill marginally less worse, or to at least find new and more exciting cosmetic ways to disguise its badness.  Anything, anything, to get those 50 votes (with Vice President Pence ready to break the tie).  Why, he's even raised the threat of--shudder!--cooperating with Democrats if he can't get those 50 votes!

Amazing.  Using the threat of the democratic process, so that you can accomplish your ultimate goal of subverting it.  And, in the meantime, the goal of serving the American people, like the rest of Republican thinking, has been reduced to little more than a bumper-sticker.

But, that's what happens when the only thing that matters is the game.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Overlooked Benefits Of The Draft

The Op-Ed pages of the New York Times never fail to yield something that provokes my thinking in a positive way (and, of course, much of that ends up here in this blog).  Here is a very recent example.

I did not turn 18 until 1974, a point at which the American involvement in the Vietnam conflict was winding down.  But I vividly remember going with my mother to register for Selective Service (i.e., the draft), and, while signing in, seeing the signatures and information of some of my high-school classmates.  I found myself wondering what it would be like to actually be drafted, to serve in uniform, to put myself in harm's way.  At the time, I'm forced to admit it was not an appealing concept.

Having read the Times' piece, however and, otherwise in retrospect, I'm forced to agree that the author is 100% correct.  Mandatory service, whether in combat or in other forms, is a great leveller of Americans from all backgrounds, and perhaps serves as a way of tempering the political desire to use combat as a way of scoring electoral points.  I'm also forced to agree that reinstating mandatory service is probably a political non-starter.  A shame.  It might provide a number of not-so-obvious benefits, such as reducing the general level of friction among Americans with different viewpoints, and helping young people searching for a personal and professional identity to find one.

At the risk of grinding my professional ax, and that of my wife, I'd also like to point out one other overlooked benefit of mandatory service:  the opportunity to travel, to learn about other cultures and to share those cultural experiences domestically.  Once upon a time, we were at war with the Vietnamese people; now, many of them are here, working in a variety of roles to claim a share of the American dream.

As the long-term outcome of a war that painfully divided this country, and many of its families in particular, there is a measure of solace in the Vietnamese presence in America today. Our way of life is a lot stronger than we think.  This is why, for my wife and me, the current state of the immigration debate in this country is a tragedy and a disaster.  If war does nothing else in a positive sense, it does teach us that there is more to humanity than ourselves.

Even if reinstating mandatory service is a non-starter at this point, it would be a worthy goal for an ambitious leader, or perhaps a new generation willing to reinstate in this country a sense of common purpose, of obligation to one another and to the rest of the world.  I don't look forward to that happening while Trump is in office.  But, maybe, one day ...

Stabbing On Stage--Violence Or Justice? Depends On Who's The Victim

The shootings in Alexandria two weeks ago, the subject of my previous post, unleashed (as I noted) a wave of fake news by the right-wing press about left-wing violence.  As I also noted, the Alexandria tragedy is, thus far (knock on wood) an isolated cased, in contrast to the waive of shootings by white males of young, mostly male, mostly African-American over the past eight years. And, by the way, does anyone doubt for a second that every one of those young African-American men was, effectively, a surrogate for Barack Obama?  That's what so-called "stand-your-ground" laws are really all about; standing one's very white ground against the progress of the oppressed.

But never underestimate the paranoia of the American right, or its talent for self-publicity, no matter how hypocritically or stupidly executed.  This summer's Public Theater productions of Shakespeare in Central Park included a recently-ended production of "Julius Caesar" done in modern dress, with Caesar and Calphurnia made up to look like the Trumps.  This led the conservative noise machine denouncing the Public Theater for encouraging violence against the First Family and conservatives in general, and even to an incident in which people attempting to peacefully watch the production almost had their night ruined by a pair of Internet trolls looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

Why all of this?  Well [spoiler alert], Caesar is of course assassinated in the play.  But anyone who has even seen or read the play knows that its point is not the endorsement or glorification of assassination, but the exact opposite.  Conservatives used to revel in their knowledge of the classics; now they revel in their utter ignorance of them, as in the case of the trolls.  Corporate sponsors, unfortunately, are not much better; two of them withdrew their support for the production after the "controversy" surfaced.  It's not much more encouraging to know that the captains of what's left of American industry don't know how to read, either.

But perhaps the richest irony in all of this is the fact that, not too long ago, a modern-dress production of the same play was done with a Barack Obama stand-in as Caesar.  Not only was their no right-wing outrage over this, but one of the corporate sponsors of that production was one of the ones that withdrew their support from the Public Theater production.  Not to name names, but it'll be a very cold day in July before I fly on Delta Air Lines again.

Once again, it's OK if you're a Republican, and you're the oppressor, not the oppressed.  Never forget that.  They sure as hell don't.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Like It Or Not (And I Hate It), The Battle Has Been Joined

I have warned many times in this space that we as a people have for some time been headed to a state of civil war.  In fact, I suggested in a recent post based on election-related events in Montana that this war had already started.

Well, it takes a minimum of two opponents to make a shooting war.  And eleven days ago, on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, the other side finally shot back, as a deranged gunman who had supported Bernie Sanders opened fire on members of Congress and others as they were practicing for a charity baseball event.  The gunman lost his life; his would-be victims were more fortunate in that all of them survived, thanks in no small part to the heroic efforts of Capitol Police who were on the scene because Rep. Steve Scalise, one of four who were injured, is part of the House of Representatives leadership.  Fortunately, Scalise's condition has been upgraded over the past eleven days from critical to serious to fair.  I pray that he and the others will fully recover, as many of us already have prayed.

But, even if they do recover, it still leaves us with the fact that, after a long string of violent incidents and threats by those on the right against those they thought of as easy targets on the left ("snowflakes," I believe, being the epithet of choice), it appears that the days of easy targets are over.

Make no mistake.  If there is one person out there like the Alexandria shooter, in a nation of 300-plus people (and at least one gun for every one of them), there are many, many more.  And they will not be deterred by the prospect of death.  Desperation will do that to people.  If an incident like this is any indication, I fear that we many not have to wait very long for the next Alexandria.  I do not stand along in thinking this way; John (son of Norman) Podhoretz, no one's idea of a bleeding-heart liberal, recently made much the same point I have made about the level of division in America.

Let me be as unambiguous about where I stand on all of this as possible.

I do not condone violence.  I do not advocate violence.  I cherish our democratic ideals and institutions, and I pray that they will continue to serve the nation and the world for many, many centuries to come.

But ideals and institutions are only as strong as the commitment that they receive from the people--from all of the people.  It has, however, been obvious to me for decades that one side of our political divide lives by those ideals, while the other is content to pay them lip-service.  Lip-service that has disguised the libel, the threats, the behind-the-scenes manipulation, the outright bribery, and the damnable lies for which, in the name of the Republic for which all of us should stand, they and they alone are solely responsible.

For years, the practical aspects of the relationship between Democrats and Republicans have best been summed up by many through the running gag in the comic strip "Peanuts" in which Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick, but pulls it away just as he is about to kick it, causing him to slip, fall, and feel foolish.  Over and over again.

We saw this happen once again, sadly, in the aftermath of the Alexandria shooting.  While Paul Ryan attempted to take a bipartisan tone of congressional unity and support for the victims, and Donald Trump was once again using someone else's tragedy to call attention to his foolish self, Democrats once again issued calls for unity and bipartisanship, taking yet another run at that fickle football.

And, unsurprisingly, it got pulled away from them again.

It got pulled away by the anonymous phone calls to congressional Democrats, threatening them with thinly-veiled promises of violence

It got pulled away by the Georgia Republican Party, which bragged about how the shooting would help them win a special congressional election in Georgia.  (Sadly, they were right).

It got pulled away by the return of Hillary-hatred, pumped up to the level that Trump pumped it up during the campaign (when he suggested a "Second Amendment" outcome for the election).

It got pulled away by ridiculous suggestions that the shooting reflected some kind of epidemic of leftist violence.

Really?

Oh, to be sure, there's been an epidemic, all right.  But one would be hard-pressed to honestly call it "leftist" violence.  More like "rightist" violence--or, to truly put cards on the table, racist violence.

Think, for a moment, about the dozens of victims of gun violence during the Obama years.  What did many of them have in common?  Did someone say "African-American"?  Well, that would be me, because, if the other side was equally honest, they would use a less-attractive phrase.

I sum it all up in a single name:  Philando Castle, gunned down by a police officer while he was peacefully and lawfully sitting in his car committing the unpardonable crime of being a black man with a lawful firearm.  If the word "black" could honestly be removed from that sentence, the NRA would be (no pun intended) up in arms over his fate.  The fact that they are not speaks volumes about the real motives of the NRA and their fellow-travellers.  The fact that the National Review (again, no commie-pinkos here) denounced the shooting speaks volumes about how much Castle's tragic death undermines the entire conservative position on guns.

But it won't stop conservatives from pandering to gun-toting voters.  I'm reminded by this fact of a quote by Lenin, to the effect that if the Communists announced a plan by which they would hang all capitalists, the capitalists would trip over each other to sell the rope.

And thus, we have one of the targeted members of Congress advocating already for yet-looser gun laws.  We also have another one who voted against background checks wanting to know more about the background of the Alexandria shooter (you might have known, you fool, if you hadn't cast that stupid vote).  We have yet another one denouncing DC gun laws while simultaneously admitting that the threat of guns is the reason that Republicans aren't holding town halls during congressional recesses.  And, of course, we have one of my personal favorites, Senator Rand (named after Ayn) Paul neglecting to take off of Twitter a seemingly embarrassing-in-light-of-recent events quote.

Or did he neglect it?  Maybe the threatened loss of gun voters outweighed the embarrassment.

Perhaps the most honest comment from a congressional Republican is this one.  Yes, it's no longer safe to chase the gun vote.  Like it or not, and I take a back seat to no one in hating it, the battle has been joined.