distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


June 08, 2017

Great Bear Politics

In all the chatter about Russian interference in the last election, one question keeps coming up. It’s never fully answered and because of that, the question as to whether or not such interference occurred remains in play.  At this point, it’s like climate change—everyone knows it happened, but how, in what form, and to what end are details the absence of which seem to insulate the president for the time being. That seems about to change with Comey’s testimony.

But that question—why, what does Putin hope to gain, what’s the pay-off?—bedevils people.  Especially people raised on spy thrillers and James Bond and post-Cold War conspiracy porn.

It seems fairly evident that any hacks of voting systems were ineffective in changing ballots or anything so direct.  What is important is the fact of the attempted hacking not the direct results on tallies.  Something was done, but because there does not seem to be the kind of result that makes sense in terms of past history and strategic movements of the sort we expect, the whole thing exists in a murk.

Which was the point.

Putin would like to “restore” Russia to the size and influence of the former Soviet Union.  He doesn’t necessarily want to resurrect the U.S.S.R. politically, at least not in terms of collectivist, Marxist ideology.  That nonsense doesn’t interest him.  He’s interested in power, pure and simple, and the one threat to that is still—the United States.

The telling moment was this whole mess in Ukraine. Not till the threat of NATO membership did Putin act.  Despite what Trump might say, NATO still has teeth. Membership in the alliance carries many benefits beyond simple military cooperation and mutual defense, although that is huge when you stop to think about it—the confidence that the member states will guarantee your sovereignty has tremendous ancillary benefits.  You can act in your own best interests without, or at least with much less, fear that those actions will be crushed by a neighbor. Which is what has happened to Ukraine.

Power and money, at this level, are two sides of the same coin.  The sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama have throttled a potential windfall from the Siberian oil fields.  Ukraine was a part of that.  There is a huge amount of money bottled up because of Putin violating Ukrainian sovereignty.  What he wants more than anything else is to get those sanctions lifted so the oil will flow.

But more than that, in the long run, he wants a free hand in his part of the world. He’s not exporting revolution, that’s no longer part of the Russian identity. He just wants to be a big, bad bear, in charge of his tundra, and able to play as an equal on the world stage. He wants what he possibly believes the West has been keeping Russian from since 1917.

In spite of the fact that over the last three decades we have hamstrung our ability to be a positive force in the world because we can’t see how making money and human rights conflict in the Third World, and because we are unwilling to put a muzzle on our corporations when they go into other countries and poison environments, undercut reforms, and damage the people we think we’re helping, it remains possible for us to actually do what we should have done after the Soviet Bloc collapsed, namely rebuild and stand for justice. We in fact do that, in limited but occasionally spectacular ways, but we rarely hear about any of it and too often we do a half-assed job because of our inability to see our way past our own paranoia and self interest.  (The chaos and mess in Iraq is an example of shortsighted greed undercutting what might have turned out to be a major success, but I won’t go into that here.)

What Putin wants most is for our political will to remain locked up in a struggle with itself over questions of money versus ethical action. We have been doing a reasonably good job of keeping ourselves disorganized and conflicted without his help.  But it is just possible that he sees what we do not yet see, and that is a younger generation coming up that is fed up with this kind of inanity that will put into power people who will act positively.  That will impact the money sector, certainly, but its biggest impact may well be globally with an America once more of the kind that created the Peace Corps and embraced a humanitarian mission. It might create an America willing to call Putin’s bluff.

Of course, it’s not just the United States.  And so we’ve been seeing signs of Russian interference in many elections, most recently in France (where it backfired and where the newly elected president publicly scolded Russia), not with a view to invasion or anything so dramatic, but purely for the chaos resulting that will distract the West from Putin’s actions.  Putin can do nothing but benefit from a West that is paying little or no attention because it is tangled up in petty feuds and ideological mudwrestling.  Undermining our confidence in our own electoral process will only feed that chaos and render us even less effective.

Did Trump and his people collude with the Russians to fix the election?  Probably not, at least not in those terms.  I think Trump really believed he could win without interference.  I think he may have thought he was playing Putin, accepting a hand that would gain him advantage with the Russians afterward.  Did he do it out any embrace of treason?  No, he did it because a deal was on the table and there was a lot of money to be made, and that is simply how Trump sees the world.  If he is impeached over any of this I suspect he will be genuinely surprised.  It was, after all, the Game, and he sees himself a master of that game.

What he will not understand is that his game is the least important one and the one Putin is playing is both more sophisticated and more devious and with stakes Trump just might not understand.

But the bottom line is likely to be, all Putin wants is what he now has.  We’re distracted, we’ve suffered a blow to the confidence in our systems and institutions, and the bitter squabbling over the right to make as much money as avarice demands continues but now with even less intelligent players.

 

So What Do We Do Now?

It has been clear for all of the campaign season and is now becoming clearer that Donald Trump should not be president.  He is temperamentally unsuited to the position, he does not have the working knowledge of how things work in a government, and he is wildly unpredictable.  He is also as thin-skinned as they come.

But so what?  He has been elected.  For better or worse, unless something remarkable happens, he will be president for the next four years.

By remarkable I mean any of several possible legal scenarios.

There is a petition circulating to request the Electors of the Electoral College change their vote. This is possible and, as previously noted, not only perfectly legal but one of the reasons the College was established to begin with.  It is also possible Trump will decide this is a bad move for him and resign.  It is questionable whether this would leave Pence in place. After the inauguration, it is possible congress could impeach him.  There is ample in his background that would seem sufficient.

Addressing just one of these, I could suggest that the Electors do something even more remarkable, and that is to nullify their vote entirely.  Give it to no one.  This would likely force a new election.  We would have to do the whole thing over.

I do not believe we have ever had a nominee winning the Electoral vote with such a gap in the popular vote before,  As the ballots continue to be counted, it is clear that among those who actually went to the polls, Hillary Clinton is the winner.  It would be ethical and legal for the College, on December 19th, to change their votes to reflect this reality.  Will that happen?  I rather doubt it.  I do not believe there is sufficient moral fiber extant to take that kind of a position and it may well be that most of them, aligned with Party the way they seem to be, want this.

Which means the elephant is loose in the china shop.  This is going to hurt and hurt a lot.

So what are our options?

It has been suggested we abolish the Electoral College.  It is, however, in the Constitution, so getting rid of it requires a constitutional convention, which means opening the whole thing up to revision.  I personally don’t trust that we have on hand the wisdom to do that.  We see all the time other countries that continually rewrite their constitutions and it rarely ever comes out well.  We might pass a new amendment to nullify it, the way we did with Prohibition, and that would avoid putting the whole thing on the surgeon’s table, but that would also require an enormous consensus across the country, something we’ve been lacking of late.  I don’t think that would work, either.

So here’s a thought.  There is no reason to have the Electoral vote announced at the same time as we’re doing the popular vote tally.  As we are now painfully aware, on that day, the votes just aren’t all in.  Expecting this big complicated mechanism to do all this fairly and honestly in one day may be too much.  Had we not locked in those ballots on the day and waited for the balance of the vote count, we would not have a fait accompli the undoing of which could cause a violent ruction.  Since it is the case that they meet for the final vote on December 19th, we should simply wait till then for any kind of announcement.

There was a time I hated the idea of term limits, but I’m coming around to the notion.  The real damage of this election is in the fact that through negligence and apathy we returned a vast number of incumbents who are set on undoing so much that mitigates the reality that we have been on a course of public pillage which has cost us jobs, savings, security for millions of people who simply do not have the resources to hire the kind of legal help to protect themselves.  Supposedly, that has been the task of our government.  But how can the government do that without some sense of what its constituents want?  We do not vote in sufficient numbers, regularly enough, to place representation in Washington that reflects the reality of our lives.  For whatever reason, Americans have traditionally disliked politics and whenever an excuse presents refuse to participate, even at the most basic level of exercising the franchise.

With that in mind, two things we could change that might make it easier.  First, make election day a national holiday.  That would be simple enough.  Secondly, do what Bernie Sanders suggests, make registration automatic, a birthright.  When you turn 18, you’re registered to vote.

Of course I can see obstacles.  Certain parties have always tried to tie the right to vote to property.  The resistance to things like Motor  Voter registration demonstrates that.  But dammit, that would settle it.  At the time of your majority, you would also receive a federal ID, good for all manner of thing.  If you can’t get to the place to do so, then we should have mobile registration units that will come to you to secure that ID.  I think voter ID laws as they stand are there simply to bar people from voting.  We saw this in Wisconsin in a pronounced way.  So simply make it law that at 18 you are automatically registered to vote and at the same time you receive your federal ID.  In fact, it could be done as part of the whole senior high school process, folded in with yearbook photographs.  Done.  Turning someone with such an ID away from a polling place would then be a violation of federal law.

Another issue is this whole nonsense about third parties.  Here’s a reality.  Third parties have never gained traction in this country.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, because it was never intended that there be parties as such, but secondly because we do not create coalition governments as are done in many places where having three, four, even five parties is normal and the winning party must create a government from proportional parts of all parties.  Here, with the winner-takes-call method we have, third parties do little more than muddy already murky waters.

But a more trenchant reason is that the two parties we do have take in and absorb viable third party concepts and people.  One or the other morphs into what becomes effectively a new party.  Which is one reason talking about what either party was like half a century ago is absurd.  There may be some continuity but rarely consistency.

Given that, what I would suggest right now is for Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Barack Obama to form a coalition to essentially invade one or the other party and begin to transform it in accordance with whatever program they devise between themselves.  We cannot ignore Stein or Johnson or at least not what they represent, they made substantial showings in this election.  But they will never, at this rate, achieve the kind of authority to challenge either major party, certainly not soon enough to do much good.  But by forming a nexus of change within one or the other, they could remake one of the two major parties.  Rather than let it happen as it does by accident, it should be done consciously and directly.  These four represent the chief aspects of what might make a responsive party.  Together, they could be amazing.

Finally, given that we are likely stuck with the situation at hand for the next four years, two more ground level suggestions.  The first, the people in congress are supposed to represent all of us.  Whether you voted for them or not, by law they are still our representatives—our employees, basically.  Treat them that way.  Don’t leave the conversation because they’re not your guy.  Flood their offices with your input.  Tell them what you want.  All the time.  Burn their ears.  They must represent you, that’s how it is supposed to work.  Act toward them as if you had put them there.  You can still work to unseat them and put someone more to your liking in their place, but while they are there make them do their job.

Secondly, since it would seem civics is rarely taught in school anymore, maybe we should start local classes in it to acquaint people with how all this is supposed to work.  Bring the kids.  It has become obvious that too many Americans don’t understand the first thing about the way the government works—or could work if people did their part, which they can’t do if they don’t know how.

We are possibly about to lose a great deal.  We have a government in place that won by a minority of voters.  That is not majority rule it is minority veto.  It may be that such things must happen before we act.  Secession, a Great Depression, the Cold War.  If true, it does not reflect well of us.  The tools are there but we have to turn the dials.

Lastly, there are many people in this last election who were turned away from the polls.  Voter suppression is very real.  But many more just opted out.  They were discouraged, perhaps, by their choices, but that’s simply not good enough.  You play the hand you’re dealt or you end up barred from the game.  Stop waiting to be inspired.  Inspiration is not reason, it is not logic, it is not a substitute for dealing with reality.  It’s not sexy, but when you vote, the fact is you’re hiring an employee to do a job.  The only factors that matter are “Is he/she qualified” and “Do they support the things I support?”  Everything else is a bonus and that merits reelection.  If they fail in their job, your fire them at the next election.  But being swept off your feet by bold rhetoric and substanceless campaign slogans and baseless judgments of “personality” is a sure way to be disappointed—even badly betrayed.  But significantly, keep that in mind—at the end of the day, the president is an employee.  He—or she—works for you.  Handing over your conscience because they dazzle you with promises of brilliance not based on ability or sympathy is irresponsible.

 

 

Electors

Talk is heating up about the possibility that the Electoral College might displace Trump and select Clinton.  I have a couple of thoughts on this.

Firstly, this would be perfectly legitimate.  If you need a historical reference, check Federalist #68, which discusses the electoral college and its purpose. Remember, the United States was formulated as a republic, which is not the same thing as a democracy.  The Founders wanted to keep a firewall between The People and their government.  Over the course of time, we have gotten used to the idea that We The People directly elect our national representatives.  We do not, although it certainly appears that way and most folks can be forgiven for believing otherwise.

As constituted, the Electoral College was to be the final say.  The possibility that someone completely unsuited to the presidency drove the Founders to cautious hedging.  The phrase which no doubt will be oft-quoted in the coming weeks till the Electors meet is this one:

“Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States”

What they sought to do was prevent the possibility of a demagogue rising to the highest office, which in many ways seems to have just happened.  But the entire paper is worthy of scrutiny.  for instance:

“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.”

Historically, there have been instances of individual Electors changing their initial votes. There has never been an instance where the College overturned an election presumably won during the popular election.  Needless to say, occasionally there have been presidents elected by the College who lost the popular vote.  Four times before now.

There are two things to bear in mind in the current situation.  The first is the mood of the country.  We had two unpopular candidates.  One was unpopular for perfectly understandable reasons, namely the things that came out of his mouth during the campaign.  The other was unpopular for a variety of reasons that have to do with public perception and the complex propaganda of her enemies.  Be that as it may, the campaign season has been tainted by an excess of irrationality.  We already saw threats of armed uprising by certain groups should the “wrong” candidate win.  We are now seeing mass protests by people who are profoundly unsettled by the one who presumably did win.  The divide is severe and based now as much on wish-fulfillment and the swift justifications of revisionism as on the perception of looming catastrophe.  And now we are seeing a mounting count of popular votes accruing the presumed loser, far more than can be reasonably explained away by statistical error.

It would seem a good time for the Electoral College to exercise its legal authority.

But at what risk?  Civil War?  Riot, certainly.

Which leads directly to the second point.  The Republican Party controls both houses of congress and several high-ranking members have already stated they will oppose anything and everything Hillary Clinton might do, basically a continuance of their stance toward Obama.  What point is there, then, in handing her the election by way of an arcane and untested method if for four years she will be required to do nothing but dodge political bullets, worry over impeachment, and be thwarted at every turn?  As it now stands, she’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.  Had there been any turnover in congress to increase the Democratic presence, it might be worth a shot.

I’m asking questions here not proposing solutions.  We have made someone the Principle who clearly cannot do the job.  We have elected exactly the kind of person the Founders sought to guard against by establishing the Electoral College.  The question is, if they act how will that much change the next four years.

Something to think about.

 

 

Why We Need To Teach Civics

Listening to the debates, not between the candidates but among the potential voters, it becomes clear that for many the workings of our government are a thing of deep mystery and frustratingly obscure. Donald hammered on Hillary repeatedly that in 30 plus years in office she had an opportunity to “do something” about certain issues and she did nothing.

She was a senator and then she was secretary of state.

Neither position affords anyone the power to just “do something” about any damn thing they want.

While morality may not be relative, politics is entirely so.  The problem is this:  you have a hundred people in a room who have been given a problem to solve.  There’s perhaps a right way to solve it, there are certainly wrong ways, and then there’s what each individual wants.

How do you simply “do something” in that situation?

Let’s compound it. Each of those hundred people is working with another set of probable conflicts. There is what he or she believes ought to be done, then there is what the people they represent want done, and then there is what she or he feels can be done.  Each one brings this bag of writhing conflict to the room and the task is to work with the other ninety-nine, each of whom has the same set of problems, to find a solution to the problem.

This is the fundamental nature of representative democracy.

In a word, it is impossible.  It is the human equivalent of asking the centipede how it manages to walk.

And yet.

Add to this the frustration of the constituency, each individual and group of individuals has a different set of desires.  They harangue their representatives to “do something” and get angry when nothing or, worse, the “wrong” thing gets done. Now yet another concern is heaped on top of all the others for the people in that room—keeping their job.

It’s amazing anything happens at all.

And despite what they may tell you, this happens in business, too.  All those moving parts have to be coordinated and, often—because they’re attached to people—assuaged.  So no, a Ross Perrot, a Mitt Romney, or a Donald Trump cannot magically step into this with their “business experience” and suddenly end the deadlocks and solve the problems.  Their “experience” ought to tell them this.  For one, they can’t actually fire the people they have to work with in congress.

If Trump’s accusations that Hillary “did nothing” when she had the chance have any resonance with voters it is because, I suspect, too many voters don’t understand the nature of the country in which we live.  Hillary tried to explain that she worked on several of those things, but if she can’t get people—many of whom in the last several years have publicly committed themselves to blocking any proposal that comes out of either the Obama White House or the Democratic side of the aisle—to go along with her proposals, just what do people think she could do?

That she has accomplished what she has is a minor miracle.

I received civics in grade school. We had to sit through it.  It was boring.  It used to be what was called social studies, which later seemed to morph into some kind of social psychology joined to history tracks instead of a study of how government is organized.  Probably it is taught in some schools still, but it seems not to be as a matter of course.

It’s why so many people are afraid a sitting president can take guns away from people or remove the Second Amendment.  A president can’t do that.  Just can’t.

But worse, it’s why so many people seem to not understand why their personal prejudice can’t be made law.

Frustration can be a driving force for a solution, though.  It seems that public frustration with the intractability we’ve endured in our politics is reaching a zenith and we may be about to witness an historic turn-over.

Ever since Reagan named government as the biggest problem we have there has been a tumor growing in the belly of our civil systems.  He was flat wrong.  Perhaps he was speaking in metaphor—he was an actor, after all, psychodrama depends on metaphor—but if so he delivered it with a straight face that appealed to the impatience everyone feels from time to time at the squabble in that room. With the benefit of the doubt, I believe he would be appalled at the consequences of his rhetoric.  We built the strongest nation in history through government, for good or ill, so just how much of a problem was it?  Depends on where you stand when you ask that question.

Because politics is relative.  Compromise is essential.

But I suspect a lot of people don’t actually know what compromise is.  You can’t tear down the bridge and then blame the other guy for not crossing the divide.

It might be useful to remember that the work in question is never “done” but is an ongoing, daily struggle.  Out of it we find a way.  But you can’t circumvent the process just because you think you’re right.  If you are, that will become evident over time.

We might want to remember that.  Civics.  The earlier the better.

July 27, 2016

On History and Loyalty

My mother said something to me once that has informed much of my political thinking in the years since.  Back when Ollie North was being held up as some kind of hero.  “No one wants to tell the truth more than I do” North who worked diligently on Reagan’s behalf to deceive Congress and deliver weapons into the hands of people who used them on schools and clinics.  It baffled me that people could find his actions not only defensible but somehow heroic and honorable.  When I opined that in my opinion he should be court-martialed and shot for treason, they looked at me as if I’d just stepped out of flying saucer and didn’t understand.  “He violated his oath as an officer.”  He made an oath to defend the Constitution.  What he did broke that oath.

A lot of people didn’t understand me.  I certainly didn’t understand them.  And then my mother pointed out, very simply, “Most people can’t be loyal to an idea, they can only be loyal to a person.  Even very smart people.”

Meaning, Ollie was loyal to Reagan and anything else didn’t matter nearly as much. He didn’t have the capacity to see beyond that, to the importance of abstracts—or law.

I’m looking at the Bernie or Bust folks and wondering if some version of that isn’t at work.  They have invested in a man and a movement.  Interestingly, though the man has moved on—like an intelligent, well-informed human being who understands there is more at stake than his success or failure—many of his followers can’t.  It would seem on the face of it that they have been captured by the inverse of my mother’s dictum and have pledged their loyalty to an idea rather than a person, but I don’t think so.

Because Sanders is still championing an idea, one they seem not to get.  That the system must be allowed to work and that right now letting it do so in order to achieve the kind of results that will keep the country from further fragment and possibly see its dissolution it is time to act pragmatically and reasonably.  That the problems we face today are from the system not working and for a very simple reason—people don’t vote.  Sometimes they can’t and that needs to be addressed, but often they just won’t, for any number of reasons.  (I remind people all the time that the Tea Party gained control of Congress based only on around 21 to 23% of the eligible voting public, because the people who might have kept them out stayed home.)  That his revolution is one to make the system work as it should—not destroy it in order to erect a new one.  And with that in mind,  in another four years, you’ll all get another shot.  Or eight.  That’s the way it works.  Bernie’s idea is not that the system has failed but that it has been ignored and poorly used—and we let it happen. But endangering that system right now by abetting the election of a walking clusterfuck could do far more harm, possibly permanent damage that might see that opportunity to bring this to the stage again die.

The other side of the coin is the sheer hatred of Hillary Clinton.  So it would seem that the obstinate, short-term loyalty being shown is still about a person.

A person who is being abstracted out of reality and turned into a symbol while the walking talking breathing man is in the process of being relegated to the bin of Also Ran and treated like an aging uncle who has apparently lost touch with what’s important.

You want the revolution to work, go home and start electing city council members, state senators, mayors.  Start with county commissioners, sheriffs, D.A.s, circuit attorneys, and local judges.  We have become addicted to the notion that for something like this to work it must be top down, even as we’ve been complaining that top down (trickledown) policies are anti-democratic and elitist.  Bernie started something.  It can be brought to fruition through the hard, unglamorous work of electing local representatives and building it from the ground up.

But not if you break the system by facilitating the election of Judge Dredd.

In the meantime, pay attention.  History has just been made.  I know, I know, you don’t trust Hillary.  Has it occurred to you that much of your distrust is a result of lies fed you by the very people you are presumably trying to work against by championing Bernie’s revolution?

That aside, frankly, you don’t have to trust Hillary.  She will be, as all presidents are, an employee.  A public employee.  And you have the power to regulate her job performance through your representative in Congress—if you get out there and elect the ones you wanted.  She will still have to work with Congress, you know, and when the system works as it can—and as it should—she can only do what she is allowed to do by virtue of that system.

In the meantime, an Idea has been made real.  A woman is a viable candidate for president.  This is a symbolic moment and in all honesty Hillary was going to be that candidate because to date she’s the only one who has been able to marshal the necessary forces to make it real.  The next one will be easier, but there has to be a first, and Jill Stein was never going to be her.

You’ve got four or eight years to build the foundation for the next candidate, but that won’t happen if you go home in a petulant snit and piss and moan about how you were betrayed and then cast a protest vote that gets Sauron elected. Classic cutting your head off to spite your neck.

So I ask you, what is it you think Hillary might do that would be so bad it would justify the stupidity of assisting Trump into office?

A rhetorical question.  It is just possible she’s not the terror you’ve been led to believe she is.

All the rest is politics.

July 19, 2016

Unqualified

The clown car rolled into the station, the occupants decamped, and the frollicks began in earnest.  Lots of shouting, foot-stamping, and low-grade denunciations from the podium of this or that.

Trump is almost universally seen by all but the most ardent supporters as unqualified for the office of the president.  We keep hearing that, squeezed in between all the other verbiage being spewed about him. That in fact the only reason for some to vote for Hillary is because Trump is so thoroughly unqualified.

And yet, it would seem that most people who support him have a “Yeah? So?” reaction.

Consider:  that very accusation, leveled by people despised by Trump supporters, makes him all the more appealing.  For many, the very fact that he is unqualified to fill an office which they have believed filled primarily by ideologues of the “wrong” stripe for decades is a bonus.  His very unsuitability in comparison to all others is the whole point.  So hammering on the “unqualified to be president” charge is counterproductive.  You’re only reinforcing what they already know—and approve.

What Trump has successfully managed is to project as counternarrative an image of the ideal outsider. Not only is he outside the mainstream of political circles but he is outside the traditional bounds of informed citizen.  The people to which this appeals most strongly are those who no longer believe in any kind of constructive dialogue.  In their bones, they seem to believe that because they either don’t understand the system or the language of cooperative discourse, they are always shut out of any major public dialogue.  They’re tired of the ongoing discussions because, for them, nothing ever goes their way.

This is not Trump’s doing but he has tapped into it very well.  He knows his audience.  Tell them you’ll put up a gigantic wall to keep foreigners out, any attempt at examining the merits of that proposal will be met with impatience and derision. “We don’t care about your ethics or even your cost-benefit analyses, we like the idea of a wall, so stop telling me it won’t work or shouldn’t work or—more to the point—that I have no right to feel that way!”

Trump won the GOP nomination very simply, by appealing to those who are fed up trying to understand “processes” or “paradigms” or “dynamics” or the intricacies of a system they feel—often correctly—is bent on screwing them, by telling them that he will be their John Wayne and clean up the town.  Which usually means gunplay and some form of segregation.

Yes, it does come directly from the implicit “Make America White Again” which is the essential motor in his campaign car.

The reason this never works and only succeeds in making a lot of other people extremely angry is that it is a fantasy.

And Trump knows how to play this. His wife’s speech at the convention, clearly cribbed from Michele Obama, is a seriously twisted example of cultural appropriation that compares well with anything George Orwell might have come up with.  An anti-immigrant candidate’s Eastern European wife steals a speech from an educated native born black woman and represents it as a model of what the GOP should strive for.  This is done without the least hint of irony and the floor erupted with glee at the profundities they heard.  Which they had heard before and, as with just about everything else attached to Obama, rejected.  Rejected without any consideration as to content only with regard to who was saying it.

Of course, if Trump’s presumed policies actually went into effect, his wife might have trouble staying here.  He’d have to give her a special pardon.

But his base doesn’t care.  Melania will be fine, she can stay, because what they want more than anything is the power to say who fits and who doesn’t.

Hence the comparisons to Nazism.  The Green Card will become the new Yellow Star.  What’s in your wallet?

Shifting to the other side, the lukewarm support for Hillary is in some ways based on the exact same set of criteria.  Qualifications.  She may well be the most qualified candidate for president we have ever seen.  On paper, I cannot think of any presidential candidate ever who brings more preparedness to the office.

And that very thing is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Because America has developed, over many decades, a culture that exudes contempt for professionalism, especially in politics and especially in someone who is the wrong kind of person.

The reason Melania Trump’s plagiarism (and let me stress, I don’t for a second believe Melania did that, her speech was written for her, but someone knew exactly what they were doing) will pass through the Trump base without stirring a leaf of indignation is because Michele Obama should never have been able to make it in the first place.  She’s the “wrong” kind of person to be smart and powerful.

So, in similar fashion, is Hillary Clinton.

Now, if she were a man…

How can I suggest that?  Because the kind of subterfuge, oligarchism, and political insider creds for which she is being criticized is shared by just about any career politician who has moved for any length of time at those levels of power.  Dig deep enough, you can find exactly the kinds of shenanigans of which Hillary is suspected, but in the main none of it ever gets before a Senate committee, because in the main all of them are men and the overwhelming majority are white.  It only becomes actionable when the status quo is threatened, and here the threat is to the gender bias that should have gone away in the Seventies.

At it’s simplest, the choice is this: we have a candidate who will effectively execute the office of president and run the country; and we have a candidate who will run the country into the ground.  The funny thing is, both of them are in equal measure cheered and reviled over the exact same question of qualifications.  One is amply qualified, the other is profoundly unqualified.

As for the direction of the country, I suggest that the important elections this year are not for the presidency.  If Hillary wins—and I suspect she will—she will be overseeing a political landscape that will either be in chaos or will be in the early stages of serious reform.  Her job will be to keep it together in either case.  Because it will be in congress that the real changes need to be made.  If we send the same congress back, Hillary will simply be there to be blamed for the same stagnant nonsense Obama has been putting up with.  If, however, we see record voter turnout and a massive overhaul in the Senate and the House, then a great deal of repair work will start, and that will be messy in a different way.  I’d still rather see Hillary there that Trump.

One thing, though, that has to change—our indifference to education and our suspicion of ability.

Oh, one other thing—we need to vote.

Come Again?

The evangelical embrace of Donald Trump is, to my mind, one of the most bizarre aspects of this election cycle.  The pretzel logic by which these endorsements come defies Oedipus.   If there had been any doubt before that the Christian Right (which is in substance neither) is dedicated to any program that will see the established order overturned to make room for their brand of idiocracy, this would be it.

Because the only way this makes sense is to see Trump as the prophesied  Anti-christ who will bring about the Apocalypse and prepare the way for His return.  Back when Bush was in the oval office, it came out that a umber of “advisors” were pushing his Middle East campaigns because it comported with their view of biblical fate.  Whether Bush himself bought into this is a matter of conjecture, but some of the people whispering in his ear did.

So whatever the evangelical right claims to believe about Trump, on its face  they can only hope to gain one thing—the demise of the secular state, either through mismanagement, revolution, or the intervention of heavenly hosts.  Trump, if his rhetoric is to be believed, will bring a wrecking ball to the office of president and, lo, chaos shall follow.

Jerry Falwell must be grinning in his grave.

I listened this morning to such a booster on NPR describe in glowing terms how he “knows” Trump and sees a man ready for repentance.  Wouldn’t that be a feather in their cap, to convert a man like this?  And his serious ineptitude is a bonus.  This is a flawed, fallen soul who will fail and in failing come to the lord and all these sycophants will be waiting with prayers and possibly militias behind them to move into the gap left behind by broken institutions.  Trump, they must imagine, will preside over the end of the secular United States, thus bringing on the Last Days and the salvation of the world!

Because such people say “Jesus” every third or fourth sentence, people are loathe to see them for the empty suits they are.  Well, some people.  I suspect most people find them…odious.  But it’s hard sometimes to condemn the mouthpiece without being seen to condemn the apparent message.

On the other hand, if, as might be possible, Trump has been playing the part of the Big Guy in the ultimate reality show, and is doing all this in order to bring the vermin out of the woodwork and completely disrupt the Fundie poison that has been sickening our republic since Reagan brought the Moral Majority into mainstream politics, then these fatuous rubes are playing into his hands with the wide-eyed fecklessness of a kid at Christmas, participating in what could be their ultimate loss of any political credibility.  Trump is making them all look like the fools they seem unable to understand.

Moderate Republicans, if any actually remain in the Party, have been scratching themselves, trying to get the funk off, seeing what is nothing less than the distillation of everything the GOP has been moving toward, supporting, and embracing since 1979 rise up out the swamp and shamble toward the convention.  Because of the Tea Party, because of the Christian Right, because of the supposed constitution fundamentalists—because, really, all these elements have been bought and paid for by the moneyed interests who would love to see the federal government either completely emasculated or safely conjoined to Wall Street—and the unholy growth of the thing Eisenhower warned us about back in 1960, the GOP is a caricature of what it once was.  It has become a haven for the intolerant, the small-minded, the regressive, the xenophobic.  Perversely, I think, not because they actually hate but because protecting the rights of the marginalized, the other, the outgroup requires a strong government dedicated to civil rights.  And they have set themselves in opposition to a strong government purely because it is strong.

And the Religious Right has cheered them on because they see, whether admitted or not, a strong government as a barrier to their preferred template for the country.  If the government says you may not discriminate against anyone based on their religion—or lack thereof—then they have no real power to aggressively convert.  When you let people make up their own minds, many, maybe most, will do things you just don’t like.

It’s been a close-run thing for them all this time.  They had to couch their intentions in rhetoric that played well to an audience not wholly sympathetic.  They couldn’t just come right out and say what they wanted.

Till now.  They think they have their shot.  Trump’s their guy.  So the gloves are coming off.

I think they’re in for a serious shock.

…and now a word from the stupid

President Obama has announced his supreme court nominee.

A couple of things.  Merrick Garland is not, as claimed by the current spiel from Mitch McConnell and company, an ideologue.  There is a track record of bi-partisan endorsements dating back to the 90s to so testify.  No one who has ever worked with the man has ever called him an ideologue.  This is not open for dispute.  He is a jurist and from all the evidence a man of integrity.

Two, while they keep bringing up the Biden Rule, bear in mind the Biden Rule was a statement on what the Senate is constitutionally required to do and, further, an opinion, one which the Democratic Party has never adhered to even when it sounded like they might.  There was no vacancy to be debated at the time when then-Senator Joseph Biden made his statements.  But even if one wishes to use that as some kind of defense,  it is nevertheless a fact that the Biden Rule was never adopted as A Rule.  Republicans certainly opted to disregard it and history shows that it has never proven a hindrance or an error for a president to nominate for a vacancy during his last year in office.  Now that it appears likely Obama will choose someone who could as easily rule against the GOP agenda as for it, they bring it up and try to make it sound like there is precedent.  There is no precedent.

McConnell’s assertion that the president should allow the People a voice in such a selection is disingenuous.  The People did.  They re-elected Obama by a considerable margin.  This is simply an opportunity for him to fulfill that confidence and do the job for which he was elected.

So they have no precedent.  They have no moral ground for blocking this.  They are risking committing political suicide, in fact, which suggests that they are not listening to their constituents but to their paymasters.  There are several matters before the court this year which, had Scalia survived, might have gone in favor of the Right Wing agenda.  With Scalia gone, that certainty is no more.  They hope a Republican will be elected.

On that, though, all of them have come out against their Party frontrunner, Donald Trump.  If he becomes president, according to their recent comments, it will be a disaster.  So they won’t get what they want even if the GOP takes the White House.  They must secretly hope Hillary or Bernie wins.  But if that happens, then their nominee, certainly in the case of  Sanders, will be even farther from their ideological hopes.  Unless they intend, if Hillary wins, to mire her presidency in endless specious “hearings” about presumed “crimes.”

All of which tells anyone with half a brain that all they want is to block government from functioning at all.

Of course, if a Democrat wins in November and they retain control of the Senate and agree to advise and consent, then the problem must have been an unwillingness to work with a black man.  Ideology we can assume will not change, at least not sufficiently to matter.

On a personal note, I suspect this will get them drummed out of office.  The Robertson-Scalia court has handed down some of the most regressive decisions in the past two decades.  Just to name one, Citizens United.  I will not exercise here the problems—the moral problems—with that decision.  It is bad jurisprudence.  It is a mockery of even the thing the Right purports to defend, namely the importance of the individual.  It negated that importance by allowing a functional redefinition of what constitutes an individual.  They claim not to like Socialism, but that ruling allowed a form of aggregate personhood which elevated private aggregates to a virtually autonomous condition operationally akin to a kind of collectivism.  That it exists as a privately-held corporate entity does not change that fact that now we actually have some “persons” more equal than everybody else.

Whatever one may feel about the past seven years, in this President Obama has history, logic, and morality on his side.  It’s his job, his duty, and frankly his privilege, and it is the Senate’s job and duty to advise and consent.  History and tradition and even logic are against them, because likely they will have a harder choice of nominees this time next year.  What they are doing makes no sense at all.  It is posturing.

Which is growing very old.  They’re making the Democrats look better than perhaps they really are.

 

December 15, 2015

Bang!

We’ve had a banner year of in terms of bizarre homicides.  I could say that all homicide is bizarre, but somehow when it involves people who actually know each other it seems more…expected, I suppose.  Tragic, shocking, but after a little thought you can see how it happened.

So-called mass shootings are another matter. These are exercises in mindless spleen-venting on the part of people who are then portrayed as mentally ill, “radicalized,” or some variation of misanthropic moron, either an ideologue or a racist or sometimes just someone who has reached the end of the apparently short string by which life was hanging.  Collectively we try to make sense of them.  For most of us, this is like making bricks without straw: work the material all you want, it’s just mud in the end and nothing that holds up. We just don’t know.

Into this once more we have another round of what has since 1968 been a cyclic iteration of the Gun Control Debate. The question arose on the federal level during Prohibition when gangsters were running around with Thompson machine guns.  The police argued that the ownership and use of such weapons outside the military represented a public danger, and limitations were duly enacted, but this was by no means the first instance within the borders of the United States when possession of firearms by private citizens was an issue of law.  And to be sure after the Civil War the question had teeth in the face of Reconstruction policies and the subsequent reaction of the defeated South to the condition of free blacks.  There is ample in our history to make a case that the idea of restricting access to personal firearms is a matter of oppression.  Hence these arguments cannot be quietly put to rest.

One thread is the presumed constitutionality of the matter.  The 2nd Amendment is seen by many to guarantee unrestricted access to firearms.  Strict Constructions line up in odd combinations with Survivalists, militant preservationists, and others to claim the Founders meant exactly this.  On the other side are those who argue they did not.  The fact is, it’s an open question.  A good deal of American law was based on English Law and Blackstone’s Commentaries served as an often unacknowledged guide to the writing of local and state ordinances as well as hovering in the back of all the conventionists’ minds while drafting the various state constitutions and the federal constitution.  This is one reason so many early state constitutions look so much alike, even in language.

What did Blackstone has to say about possession of arms?

5. The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defense, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute . . . and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765

Right there we see the basis of our legal understanding and the problem with clarification.  Under due restrictions.  Blackstone—and presumably most if not all the Founders—understood that some regulation was necessary.  But by pairing it with a right both Blackstone and the Founders left the issue vague enough to result in precisely the argument we now have.  I wrote a piece about my interpretation of what the Founders were thinking here.

Recently I saw this debate once again where the minds of the Founders was being analyzed for both pro and con.  I thought to chime in, then held back.  I realized suddenly that it simply doesn’t matter what they had in mind.

People will take what they want from the Constitution, just as they do from the Bible, and use it in any way that serves their personal view of how the world ought to be.  The vagueness—assumed vagueness—of the 2nd Amendment in this regard allows for the evolution of civil construction to suit a changing situation.  The whole Constitution is like that.  “What does it mean?” is open to interpretation as long as the issue is recognized as fundamentally important.

(Scalia is simply wrong in his view that the Constitution is not a living document, that it is somehow set in stone and inviolate.  If true, that makes it all but worthless.)

The intent of the Founders, however one wishes to construe it in practice, was to guarantee that the armed power of the state came from the express consent of the people.  That the “king” was not to hold that power exclusively to the detriment of his subjects, but they would hold it to keep the king in check.

How they held it was and is open to debate and certainly open to reformulation.

In that regard, we should also remember that the United States has traditionally been a state opposed to the idea of standing armies and until WWII, when our current arrangement of maintaining a large federal armed force came into acceptance, we raised armies at need.  Consider this from Teddy Roosevelt’s Sixth State of the Union address:

“Our Regular Army is so small that in any great war we should have to trust mainly to volunteers; and in such event these volunteers should already know how to shoot; for if a soldier has the fighting edge, and ability to take care of himself in the open, his efficiency on the line of battle is almost directly Proportionate to excellence in marksmanship. We should establish shooting galleries in all the large public and military schools, should maintain national target ranges in different parts of the country, and should in every way encourage the formation of rifle clubs throughout all parts of the land. The little Republic of Switzerland offers us an excellent example in all matters connected with building up an efficient citizen soldiery.”

And by the way this was one of the primary functions of the NRA before its lobbying arm expanded to dominate the entire machinery of it.

But the fact is, the situation has changed and we are not talking about abstract political philosophy but about with access to military style weapons and head’s full of junk going out and popping off at targets of opportunity because they think their world is ending.  Or they want their 15 minutes.  Or they didn’t take their meds.  Or they overdosed on paranoid social media and Fox News.  Or they think—

And we have a multi-billion dollar arms industry that thrives on this stuff, because every time it happens people run out and buy more guns.  Naturally they don’t want to see restrictions.

But to argue that restrictions are in some way a violation of the Founders  intent is not only a narrow and self-serving view but beside the point, because for the most part the people making that argument wouldn’t change their mind if they could be proved wrong.  This is religion for them and like people who insist that Leviticus supports their view of the present world and its ills they will interpret it as they want.

Just as those who find the 2nd Amendment a vestigial piece of antiquated nonsense that perhaps ought to be expunged.

The Founders certainly never intended us to be hamstrung by what they did.  The world is a different place—technologically if not politically—and refusing to sit down and try to find a solution to a problem because “the Constitution says” would likely strike them as absurd.

And childish.

I don’t believe any rational person feels the guy who shot up the Planned Parenthood clinic  is mentally or morally qualified to have had unrestricted access to weapons.  To defend his ability to have them because you think it means you can’t have the same access to the same weapons is a troubling and frankly myopic attitude.  We have a real problem in this country with firearms in the hands of people who, with just a little thought, we know shouldn’t have them.

The people who shot up San Bernardino are a different matter. Sane but definitely operating out of a different playbook than the rest of us, one built on self-justifications, paranoia, and perhaps a bit of political vulgarity that made them feel outside the scope of ordinary avenues of communication.  The fact is, anyone could do this and we have no way of knowing who might or when or why. It would be nice to think we could predict with certainty, but we can’t, so other solutions should be sought.

However, the debate must be had before we can come to any solution.  But stop using the Founders as an excuse.  Be honest—this isn’t about them.  It’s about us.

Mania and the Resignation of Reason

Speaker of the House John Boehner is stepping down.  Old news by now, I know, but I’ve been looking at some of the responses and his own statements in the wake of the decision and while this is not a new opinion on my part I have come to the conclusion that a sizable element of the GOP, especially in the House, are simply batshit crazy.  I no longer believe they have an agenda.  As long as it’s not The Other Guy’s program.  When they announced back in 2009 that they intended to do anything to obstruct Obama, regardless, it was annoying but easy to assume that the more rational members of their party would temper their zeal and business would get done as it should.  And that’s been more or less true.  There are procedural tactics that have always been used by the opposition to appear to reject a policy while allowing that policy to proceed.  The GOP has been relying on them more and more so that the People’s Business can get done even while they must look to their base and present a facade of uncompromising opposition.

Boehner has been wrangling this circus now for almost 5 years.  His rhetoric has often made it seem he is one with the BSC contingent (Bat Shit Crazy people) while his deft handling of floor votes, positions, and other alignments of planets has seen more accomplished than one might expect.  But it’s a shell game and he knows it and it must be wearying to have to continually lead with a false face.

Mind you, I am no fan of Mr. Boehner’s policy stances, but he is far more a mainstream politician than appearances suggest, and he is fed up.

Such has been clear to anyone paying attention for a long time.  He has been undercut, encircled, compromised, and used by the BSC contingent and he has from time to time let it show.  Personally, I think he should have taken the high road and called bullshit on these people while he still held the gavel, but who knows what else he has had to deal with that is not public knowledge which may have stayed his hand.  Certainly he’s talking about them now.

The question I have, and have had for some time, is: what is it the BSC faction wants?  What is it they think they’re going after?

The end of welfare?

The privatization of everything the government does?

The cessation of taxation?  All of it?

The building of a military on par with the levels of World War II?

Complete return of all internal policy to the individual states, regardless of constitutionality?

The establishment of a state religion?

The end of any discussions about things that seem to impede the headlong rush toward American hegemony and domination?  (Including climate science, minority and women’s rights, economic justice, environmental science, and judicial reform?  This list could go on and includes just about everything that constitutes a criticism of business as usual.)

I look at the list, by no means complete, and all I see is a lot of flag waving in the wrong direction and rejection of reality.

No wonder the rest of the world is looking at us in dismay, wondering what ever happened to the Wise America that seemed imminent in the post WWII era.

Boehner is calling bullshit now on his colleagues who, by his assessment, seem to have no clue what this country is all about.  Of course he’s not saying it quite that way, but that’s what it amounts to.  They are living in a land of fever dreams and non sequiturs, refusing to compromise over the simplest things because they believe compromise leads to—

What?  I see vague, indistinct fears voiced.  Socialism?  They don’t appear to know what that is.  If they actually believe Obama is a socialist, they clearly have no idea.  But even so, they seem unaware that we’ve been using socialist tools since the 1930s and what do you know, our spines are still straight, our knuckles do not drag on the pavement, and a good number of us can think.  We have become the largest economy on the planet (whether you believe that’s a good thing is another matter, but the point is they think it is, so how has socialism been a problem?), the most powerful military force in history (again, mileage varies on how one feels about that, but they see this as a positive), and until we started enabling the top 1% to suck all the money out of the economy, we had the highest standard of living on the planet, even while incorporating those evil socialist programs.  Of course, they (the BSC faction) believe that if we’ve slipped on that a little it’s because of those socialist programs, not because they’ve been doing everything they can to enable the pillage of our national treasure, but the problem is they still talk about things as if we still had that position in the world and that we’re about to lose it.

Causation is one of those scientificky concepts they seem not to grasp.

But I don’t know what kind of country they think they’ll have when and if they get their wishes.  From the evidence, I don’t think most of us—including them—would like it very much.  They have no vision that I can see.

What I see is a lot of nativist warmongers who think by handing over the keys to the kingdom to the top 1% everything will be marvelous for them.  They remind me of Grima Wormtongue.

But I believe they are caught up in a mania.  They have no program, because that requires reasoned deliberation, and that has become an enemy to them.  They are headlong rushing toward the eradication of the institutions and people they think are their natural enemies, but it’s panic-driven.  It’s like some dark, twisted form of Beatlemania.  Reasonless and ultimately empty, but in this case even the music sucks.  They are a mob.  You speak reason to them and they do not understand.

They have been told so often and for so long that America needs to be great again and they seem never once to stop and ask what that would look like.

A job for everyone?

No divorce?

Minorities in distinctly small numbers who are nothing but grateful just to be here?

Men calling all the shots and women reduced to sex toys and brood mares?

God plastered all over everything, especially those things that should exist unquestioned?

Industry and invention but no actual science?

And what about all those people who simply don’t fit that kind of construct?

Well, that’s what prisons are for, I suppose…

A large part of the problem is that too many of us, even those of us not charter members of the BSC contingent, live too much by labels.  Even when we seem to be on the “right side” of an issue, very often we don’t know what’s in that issue.  This makes it difficult to argue effectively against people who don’t care about any of that but just want to win.  Win at all costs.

We have some serious issues that don’t get any real air-time.  The presidential debate was a demonstration of how little any of these people  are even aware of them.

For instance, whatever your feelings about the causes of climate change may be, the fact is we’re seeing it, and one of the consequences will be a dramatic redistribution of potable water.  This is already happening.  None of those people even raised the issue.  Of course, we’ve been told our real concern is oil, and consequently we’ve seen this horrible practice of fracking take off, to the quick benefit of  certain shareholders, but also to the gradual detriment of water.  Now, there may well be a lot to be discussed on either side of that issue, but it doesn’t even raise a blip on the radar of presidential campaigning!

For another instance, we have a growing number of displaced workers and a shrinking pool of traditional jobs to absorb them.  If anything gets said at all, it is couched in terms of entitlements and lazy people without a single nod to the fact that we are building our own replacements and jobs are simply not there.  No discussion of it at all on the level of local communities devastated by standard Big Business practices that often obliterate local economies.

Oh, can’t talk about that!  That implies a need for Regulation and we all know that regulation is inimical to growth.

Bullshit.

But my point is, these kinds of things, which are real and current and need to be dealt with do not get a reasonable public debate because we’re so damn caught up about someone’s fucking email account or whether angels are real.

I did not side with Mr. Boehner, but he has my sympathy.  He has probably felt like the only rational person in the room most of the time.  He has been bludgeoned by stupidity.

The problem, however, is that the GOP is losing its reasonable members.  They are becoming increasingly shrill because the BSC faction thinks it’s winning because people like Boehner throw up their hands and walk away.  You can only be in the same room with idiocy for so long before you begin to doubt your own sanity.  But it is that shrill, loud whine of lunacy that most people hear and it has the unfortunate attribute of overwhelming everything else.

It would be nice for a change if the quiet, thoughtful ones would stop demurring in the face of what is becoming criminal irrationality.  I kind of like a two-party system, but in order for it to function properly both parties must have credibility.  Right now, judging by the rhetoric and who they have running for the top position, the GOP has no credibility.  Not with me, anyway.  And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 

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