I write letters to the editor of my local newspaper. The newspaper arbitrarily limits letters to 300 words, and the newspaper web site strictly enforces the word-limit. At first I was annoyed, but annoyance turned to satisfaction when my letters became more concise and more effective.
Some of these letters do not reach a newspaper, but all follow the 300 word limit.Tweet
After the 2016 election many people are calling for an end to the Electoral College. Election by popular vote gained support when Hillary Clinton won the most votes. but Donald Trump won in the Electoral College. We are conditioned to believe that the person with the most votes should be the winner. That was not the case in 2016 and in 2000. Why would I want to make a case for the Electoral College?
Government is ruled by political power and influence, and the Electoral College plays a huge role. The Electoral College offsets the population disadvantage in small states by allocating more electoral votes to them. The largest state, California, for example, has about the same population as the smallest 22 states, but the 22 states have 80% more Electoral votes. Collectively, small states have a big political voice in the US.
The Electoral College is unfair by design. The writers of the Constitution worried that the most populous states would dominate the Presidential elections. The same possibility exists today. A popularly elected President might always favor California over Iowa because California delivers more votes. In power terms, the political landscape would be very different without the Electoral College.
Politicians in small states recognize their electoral advantage, so a Constitutional change is unlikely, but the US may yet learn to adapt. Republicans have adapted. They support policies that have more traction in small states, and the policies are paying off, at least until now.
Democrats learned in 2018 that they could win back the House with an issues-oriented strategy. If Democrats add a small state agenda, they could make inroads in small states. A political solution could reap benefits far sooner than a big push for a change in the Constitution that is likely to fail.Tweet
The 2018 midterms were a mixed bag for both parties. The Democratic blue wave washed over many states, but it faced a stubborn red tide in many places. Overall, the blue wave made more inroads, including remarkable gains in the House of Representatives.
Republicans added voting roadblocks in the form of very effective gerrymandering and voter suppression using broad voter purges, complicated registration processes, fewer voting locations, and difficult voter ID rules. These roadblocks probably contributed to Donald Trump's win in 2016, and they remain formidable this year.
Barack Obama and Eric Holder have been attacking gerrymandering in the courts, and the ACLU has been working to make voting more accessible. The courts are often voter friendly, but the legal process is frustratingly slow. In the meantime, the US and the election move on.
Democrats came up with some countermeasures in 2018, and they have made a difference. Democrats ran an issues-oriented campaign, and they took advantage of popular issues generally opposed by Republicans. The issues range from healthcare to gun control. Democrats changed the electorate by energizing young voters that traditionally stay home. Finally, Democrats drew upon a diverse party membership and nominated a big slate of candidates. The new, young candidates responded with many unexpected victories.
There is a simple lesson in the 2018 election. As unfair as the election barriers seem to be, they can be overcome with an issues-oriented message that attracts new voters. Now, the really hard work begins. Democrats need to deliver, even as the Government is still divided.
Democrats should remember the lessons of 2018 when they try to offset the Republican small state strategy in the Electoral College and in the Senate.Tweet
Birthright citizenship has been a part of American law since the 14th amendment was enacted in 1868. If you are born here you are a citizen. A birth certificate is your proof. Nonetheless, birthright citizenship is being challenged by Donald Trump and the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage Foundation Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky's arguments against birthright citizenship fail in two critical areas; the question of jurisdiction and the status of Native Americans.
Spakovsky's case depends on the meaning of the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." in the 14th Amendment. He says it refers to political jurisdiction, so the jurisdiction of illegal aliens and their offspring belongs to their country of origin. Sounds good, until you consider US sovereignty. The US has the power to either grant or deny foreign jurisdiction. Imagine if the US allows the parents to remain in the US, but deports the child because the US doesn't have jurisdiction.
Spakovsky tries to use the 1924 Indian [sic] Citizenship Act to show that the 14th Amendment does not provide universal birthight citizenship. He fails to account for the many treaties between Native Americans in which they were granted self-government, thereby limiting US jurisdiction over tribal lands. Native Americans were denied birthright citizenship, as if they were born in Canada outside US control. The real purpose of the 1924 law was to collect Revenue from erstwhile noncitizens.
The key to birthright citizenship is territorial jurisdiction. Political jurisdiction is for exceptions like diplomats and emmisaries. As the Native American case illustrates, if you are born on land owned and governed by the US. You are a citizen, pure and simple.
Spakovsky and the Heritage Foundation are smarter than their commentary shows. What could be the real reason for holding this fringe-worthy position? I can only imagine the answer.Tweet
Thousands of Honduran citizens are marching North toward the US in spite of resistance by Mexican authorities and an unwelcome posture by the US government. Why would they walk 2000 miles to a country that doesn't welcome them and threatens to send them back to Honduras?
The face of the marchers is a woman traveling with her children. Her husband was murdered in Honduras. Honduras is, at best, a failing country at war with itself and under the terror of warring drug cartels. It has been called the most dangerous country on the planet. That is why they march.
Donald Trump calls the the marchers a National emergency. With no substantiated evidence, Trump says the marchers are accompanied by mideastern terrorists and MS13 gang members. Trump threatens to cut foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and deploy the US military at the border. Trump's rants sound more like a campaign speech than a coherent plan that solves a problem, but that presumes Trump is actually solving a problem.
Trump is trying to solve a border problem, but the problem is elsewhere. The migration problem is in Honduras. People will come to the US as long as they are desparate. The problem is not a National emergency. It is a humanitarian crisis. The problem doesn't lie just on our border. The humanitaian crisis extends beyond Honduras and Central America. It extends to Yemen. It extends to South Sudan. It extends to Syria. It is global, and the US can't solve it alone.
With the world heating up literally and politically, the marches will continue. As long as Donald Trump's vision is limited to a National scope, he will not crack this egg.Tweet
Dirty tricks have been a part of American politics for a long time. Some of them actually happened. Some might just be urban legends. Most are probably legal. All of them are dishonest.
One of history's early dirty tricks has been a secret for 30 years. New revelations reveal that Gary Hart was set up, and a totally misleading photo was taken for a National Enquirer article. It was all fake, according to an alleged deathbed confession by the late political strategist Lee Atwater. The story ended Hart's political career.
The current batch of election shenanigans are less subtle, but just as effective. In Georgia, thousands of voter registrations are being held on minor technicalities. In North Dakota, Native American voter IDs are not valid because they lack a street address. Native Americans on tribal lands often don't have street addresses.
Florida uses voter registration purges that target Hispanic and other minority neighborhoods. To reinforce the purges, Florida also makes it harder to reregister in the case that voters discover they have been removed. Voter purges are popular in other states as well.
Dirty tricks are not the exclusive property of either party. Both parties have tried to change the narrative, but the current batch of voter suppression techniques are largely Republican operations designed to discourage or prevent minority voters and young voters who tend to oppose the Republican agenda.
Of all election mischief, voter suppression is the most insidious because it is a manifestly undemocratic way to elect candidates who will be responsible for upholding our democratic institutions. I can never trust a candidate who supports voter suppression; not in the campaign and not in public office.Tweet
About all I remember about my first day at college was meeting my freshman dorm roommate. He was taller than I, and he wore glasses. I shook his hand and greeted his parents. He was Polish, like me. It was the only thing we had in common.
How did I get there? I don't remember. My parents brought me, but they left before my roommate arrived, I guess. Was it before or after lunch? I'm not sure. First or second floor? Second floor. Did I go to college?
My most vivid memory of Freshman year was coming back from afternoon classes to watch the old Superman episodes on the lounge area TV. The shows were corny, but they drew a big crowd. When did you eat supper? Not sure. What were your afternoon classes? I can't remember, and don't ask me who the professors were. My most vivid memories were of the stocky character actor who always played the crook and of Superman flying as if he were lying on an ironing board. Did I really attend college?
I really did attend college. I remember the freshman Chemistry lecture when the Professor demonstrated the random motion of gasses with a set of black and white balls all in random order. He shook them up by activating a spinning device. They flew around in the tube until he turned the machine off. The balls settled back in the tube with all the white balls on top and all the black balls on the bottom. There was no explanation. And that is my most vivid recollection of Chemistry. Or was it really Physics class? Was the lecture in the morning or the afternoon? Morning, I think. Where was the lecture hall? On campus, obviously.
Or maybe it was all a hoax.Tweet
Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation is now a strange Kabuki dance. Democrats can't fight the nomination over judicial issues, because they no longer have filibuster power, so they are taking advantage of sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. Republicans like Kavanaugh's judicial bones, but the allegations are a political boneyard. Democrats want more background checks.
Republicans just want to vote. Kavananaugh is innocent. He said so. He's a judge. He has been vetted six times. There is a Democrat[ic] conspiracy. She must be mixed up. etc. Until the gang of four complained. Senators Flake, Collins, Murkowski, and Manchin said they needed more investigation, otherwise they would vote no. So the FBI is fast-tracking a sham investigation meant to clear Kavanaugh.
But what's the rush. There is plenty of time to figure out how to clean up Kavanaugh's image, or maybe find a Kavanaugh clone from the list of appropriately conservative judges. Donald Trump is going all-in on Kavanaugh. He wants Republicans to just follow his lead and vote him in, bigly and quickly.
There is a pending Supreme Court case that might explain why Trump and the Republicans are rushing to judgment. Gamble vs US is a case that threatens the long-standing separation of sovereignty principle between the States and the Federal Government. The Supreme Court could, with Kavanaugh's help, remove the separation of powers and give a President Trump the right to pardon Donald Trump, Jr. in a hypothetical conviction in New York State, for example.
No one knows how the judges will rule on the case, and no one knows how Kavanaugh would rule on the case, but everyone is guessing.
The Kavanaugh confirmation has become a metaphor for the things that are broken in Washington DC. Congress is rearranging the deck chairs while our government sinks into the swamp.Tweet
I write this the night before Prosecuting Attorney Rachel Mitchel asks Dr. Blasey questions meant to attack her credibility before she asks Judge Kavanaugh prearranged softball questions for which Kavanaugh has likely practiced all week. The Republican members of the committee will sit there as they are emasculated by an adept prosecutor and a very brave woman. Republican women take note the next time these men run for office. They could be very beatable.
Many will gauge Blasey's demeaner for honesty and clarity. Those are the ones who don't appreciate the agony and effort she must have gone through in her decision to come forward. Clearly the traumatic event some 35 years ago changed the arc of her whole life. Blasey is terrified, she says, but she has a civic duty. She is truthful until someone determines otherwise, in my opinion.
Deborah Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of exposing his genitals. She is not allowed to speak. Julie Swetnick corroborates Kavanaughs behavior at parties like the one that Blasey attended. She claims she was gang-raped at one of those parties. She is not allowed to speak.
Instead, we should look at Kavanaugh. If he continues to deny that he was there, if he continues to insist that he did none of those things, then he could be lying under oath. That is what we should be looking at. Did Kavanaugh lie under oath? It would be disqualifying.Tweet
The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process is turning into an eerie version of the Clarence Thomas confirmation in 1991. Thomas's confirmation was complicated by Anita Hill's sexual harassment accusations, but the Senate Judiciary Committee disregarded Hill's claims. They shut off corroborating witnesses and confirmed Thomas in a close 52-48 vote. The 1992 election saw a groundswell of women winning Congressional seats.
This time Christine Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault and has thrown the confirmation process into disarray, at least for a while. She wants to tell her story but won't testify until there is a proper investigation and report. It seems fair. Chuck Grassley doesn't think so. He won't order the investigation, and says the Monday hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh is still on.
I don't expect any more closure from the current hearing than the 1991 Hill-Thomas episode. The alleged event remains a 'He said, she said' affair. The other person in the alleged sexual attack, Mark Judge supports Kavanaugh, saying the event never happened, but he won't testify voluntarily.
Senators Jeff Flake and Susan Collins have said that the truthfullness of Ford's allegation would disqualify Kavanaugh, but don't bet on it. Republicans are already discounting Ford's story and touting the integrity of Kavanaugh. This looks like a replay of 1991.
The problem with this scenario: Kavanaugh's confirmation now depends on the alleged actions of two teenaged boys some 36 years ago, instead of Kavanaugh's extremely conservative judicial and political record.
Republicans may yet play bad politics. Ford's desire for an investigation is the action of a truthful person, and Mark Judge's reluctance to testify taints Kavanaugh's denial. Ford will win in the court of public opinion, and it will show up in the November election.Tweet
I heard Donald Trump on a campaign rally tape call the anonymous NY Times op ed an ominous something or other. I'm not sure. If he did, he is probably right.
Many call the op-ed a warning and a rebuke of Trump by picturing a clueless, deranged man. After reading the piece and listening to a CNN word-for-word rendition, I believe the writer is trying to reassure us that, no matter how deranged Trump might be, there are still adults in the room who will protect us. The writer describes a two-track methodology; the track that Trump brags about and the track that the adults are implementing.
The op-ed author is most likely a Republican insider, based on the political tone of the article. He praises lowering taxes and cutting regulations, indicative of someone very loyal to Republican orthodoxy. I can see how one might think that Mike Pence authored the piece, though Pence denies it. Only an idiot would admit to authorship with Trump as his or her boss.
I was troubled that Republicans Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker said they knew about the chaos in Washington, but they offered no solutions as if they tolerated the idea of running a rudderless government with no leader and no accountability. I assume that they and the Republican leadership believe they can control Trump and somehow run the government in spite of him.
Republicans are fooling themselves if they think they can control Donald Trump. No one has been able to control him, not even his father, who sent Trump to a boarding school to get him out of the public eye. Trying to control Trump with a two-track policy is just stupid government fraught with danger. The Trump experiment must end with resignation or impeachment.Tweet
Early in his career Donald Trump gave some investors the false impression that he was already constructing a casino by having earth movers and dump trucks drive around an empty lot and look busy. Since then Trump has become a master of creating false impressions.
The so-called nuclear deal with North Korea is well documented, but the aftermath: Not so much. After signing the agreement, Donald Trump returned to the US claiming that he had largely solved the Noth Korea problem. Soon after the deal was signed, North Korea restarted its nuclear program.
More recenty Trump cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompelo's trip to North Korea. Trump blamed China interference for the stalled nuclear negotiations. Trump's motives are not clear, but keeping Pompeo out of North Korea is also keeping a lid on the North Korea story and keeping Trump's alleged success in the hearts and minds of his base.
Trump's strategy is to move on to the next deal, so that the old problems get sucked into the news cycle, and a revamped NAFTA was a big deal. Only it wasn't a deal at all. The new agreement with Mexico was just a statement of intent. The actual deal is still unwritten. The signed agreement leaves the NAFTA trade rules pretty much in place, except that it moves more auto manufacturing to the US.
Now, the incoming Mexican President and maybe Canada and probably US manufacturers all need to go along with the deal. Not much of a chance, especially if steel tariffs remain. Meanwhile Trump boasts that he is killing NAFTA in favor of bilateral trade deals.
Perception is reality in marketing and politics, but, when mixed with real-world diplomacy, the loss of facts can be very risky.Tweet
Republicans claim there is a Deep State conspiracy led by Democrats and liberals with the sole mission to dump Trump and his agenda. At the same time Democrats and liberals claim the country is run by elite oligarchs who control the Republican Party. Maybe. Maybe not.
There is much debate whether the US is a republic or a democracy. We are a republic with elected representatives. Our government has a strong democratic element. So how is democracy working for us. A review of Washington's response to generally approved polcies might be an indication of how democratic we really are.
Based on these poll results, there is more influencing our government than the collective will of the people. Could it be a deep state conspiracy or a small group of oligarchs? Or is it something else altogether? We should follow the money.
Money drives policy as much or more than people do. Congress doesn't pass anything new in an election year while Washington politicians are preoccupied with raising a war chest for the campaign mostly with dark money from anonymous donors who want to remain in the background. If you follow the dark money, you will find a powerful source of influence on Washington.Tweet
While politicians debate whether a judge will support Roe v Wade, or whether a judge will allow a baker to withhold a wedding cake from a transsexual couple, the President, with the help of Congress, continues to pack the court with extremely conservative judges in a way that is reminiscent of FDR's failed attempt to pack the court with extremely liberal judges. FDR failed in his effort, and the current court-packing attempt should fail as well.
The Judicial Branch beomes less independent when judges lean to one political view over another. They become more predictable, like puppets. The best way to prevent an enabling court is to appoint moderate judges, especially those that raise some objections from both political views. Barack Obama's choice of Merrick Garland comes to mind as an example of a respected judge who wrankled Democrats as well as Republicans.
Congress enabled a one-sided judiciary when they squashed minority influence by removing the filibuster from all judicial appointments, including the Supreme Court. Republican leaders won't relinquish their control. The way out is a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans who could block-vote for or against any nominee.
The Senate should create a bipartisan committee similar to the one that screened controversial nominees in 2005 when the Democrats used the filibuster to block many Bush appointmentees. If the new committee agrees to block a nominee for cause, the Republican committee members would vote with the Democrats to reject the nominee.
The new committee should stay in force until the filibuster of judicial appointments is restored. Over time, the judiciary would become more moderate and more independent.
We are close to a Constitutional crisis created in part by the abuse of long-standing Congressional procedures. The path out of this crisis includes fixing Congress, and we need to start now.Tweet
While growing up in rural Maine after World War II, my experience with black Americans came from TV shows like Amos & Andy or movies like Gone With the Wind. I remember the character Rochester from the Jack Benny Show. None of these portrayals would be called realistic, but they shaped my early experience.
I remember one black man who lived alone in a woodsy cottage. He created the most amazing hooked rugs that depicted scenes from rural Maine.
I also read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I didn’t get all the way through Huck Finn. It was repetitive. The dialects were confusing. I didn't get it.
A couple years ago, I tried to read Huck Finn again. It makes more sense now, and I have a different perspective. Among the scenarios and the poetic descriptions of the Mississippi, Huck Finn weaves a story about the relationship between Huck and Jim. It starts with Jim as the runaway slave and ends with Jim as Huck’s friend and equal.
As onerous as the N-word is, there is a reason why the word appears at the beginning of the story, and there is a reason for its absence at the end of the story. The presence of the N-word and the absence of the N-word mirror Huck’s attitude toward Jim.
Despite Mark Twain’s protestations, there is a message for everyone in Huck Finn's story.Tweet
It seems that everyone has an opinion on the relative freedom of the press these days. Some of that talk is making news. CNN journalist Jim Acosta questioned White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the press was the enemy of the people. Sanders would not answer the question. Maine columnist Cynthia Dill defended Sanders and questioned Acosta's motives.
Acosta's persistent questioning of Sanders had a purpose. Acosta was trying to create a John McCain moment by provoking Sanders into admitting that the Press, while it often disagreed with the President, was sincere in its efforts to be accurate, but Sanders wouldn't bite.
Meanwhile Donald Trump drones on about how he is a victim of the press and how the press pushes fake news on everyone. Trump insists that purveyors of fake news are enemies of the people. Where does that leave the press, and what are Trump's motives?
The Press remains free, though much of the press coverage of Trump comes from replays of Fox News interviews. So what is the problem?
The problem with the fake news charge: Too many people believe it. The fake news claim has been made the requisite one thousand times, so it has become true. When people believe that the news media spews nonsense, they stop believing that Russia is messing with our election process. They stop believing that the immigrant children problem is still an issue. They stop believing.
Instead people start believing in the nonsense of QAnon and its outlandish conspiracy theories. They start believing that a group of globalists will take over the world. They start believing that three million Mexicans came across the border to vote for Hillary Clinton. They believe anything.
All of this is taking place while we argue whether CNN is fake news.Tweet
Congress could learn a simple lesson from standard accounting procedures for depositing daily receipts in the bank. The accounting procedure is a multi-step operation full of checks and balances and lists and totals, but the last step is the most important. Someone other than the cashier reconciles the bank deposits with the daily receipts. Everyone likes and trusts the cashier, and everyone wants to keep it that way. The simple rule: Make it easier for the cashier to be more company-serving than self-serving.
Like the cashier, the President should not be self-serving, at least from a personal perspective. Congress is responsible for overseeing the President, and the President should follow some basic rules of order. Making international agreements is a great example. The traditional approach starts with experts from each country in a negotiation process that exposes strengths and vulnerabilities. The agreement moves to the next step only with the President’s approval. This process is open, transparent, and reviewable. Congress can advise and consent or reject the agreement.
Donald Trump has taken the unusual approach of negotiating directly without a preliminary process and without known goals. Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin used Trump’s lone wolf approach. Apparently there was an agreement. The Russians described one, but the agreement has no credibility. Trump’s cloak of secrecy makes any alleged agreement unverifiable.
With no verifiable agreement, Congress can’t perform its oversight role. Without oversight and without a check on the Executive Branch, Trump is a king. Congress needs to resurrect its role as the President’s traffic cop. Congress should block any executive action coming from the Trump-Putin meeting until Congress better understands what the hell is going on.Tweet
The history of Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, from the 18th century to the present time is a story of subjugation by Russia under the Tsar and by Russia under Communism. The Baltic States strongly prefer their independence, and they have taken steps to protect it. They joined the EU and NATO during the 2003-2004 period. If only the Baltic State seaports were not so important to Russia.
In 2014 the Russian bear awoke from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They began a campaign of restoring their lost influence by making inroads in the Ukraine and by annexing Crimea. In 2017 the Russians raised concern in the Baltic States by carrying out military exercises near the Baltic border.
The Baltic States depend on Article 5 of the NATO agreement as a deterrent to Russian aggression. An attack on the Baltic States, according to Article 5, is an attack on all NATO countries, including the United States. But don’t confuse words with reality. The US has the most powerful military force in the world. NATO forces outmatch Russian forces when the US plays a dominant role, but Russia is more competitive and NATO is less aggressive when the US stands aside, as Donald Trump has threatened to do.
Vladimir Putin’s actions show that his goal is the restoration of Russia's political borders to those enjoyed by the Soviet Union prior to 1991. Only NATO and the US stand in his way. Trump is helping Putin by his complaints that NATO is obsolete and by his position that the US won’t defend countries that won't protect themselves.
Trump’s policies align with Putin’s goals too perfectly to be a coincidence, and that should concern everyone.Tweet
Trump’s performance at the meeting with Vladimir Putin could be his biggest blunder. Trump clearly and openly chose Putin's word over US intelligence reports of Russian meddling. Trump's pronouncements echoed Putin at every turn. Trump’s pro-Russian words brought smug grins to the faces of Putin and his cohorts. The poker game was over. Russia won the pot. Russia owned Trump.
Republican criticism of Trump was swift. Even the pro-Trump Republicans were in damage-control mode. John McCain said it best: "Today's Press Conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory." However, Newt Gingrich's comments were just as noteworthy. He called Trump's performance "the most serious mistake" of his Presidency. Gingrich added, "President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin."
The criticism worked. Trump tried to clarify his statements in prepared remarks by admitting he misspoke. He fixed his remarks by changing one word, "would" to "wouldn't", but this change didn't fix anything. Trump now accepts US intel reports on Russian meddling, but he never says he agrees that they are true. And Trump never recanted his approval of Putin's request to investigate US citizens. Trump continues to follow Putin's lead. Only one word changed. Nothing else changed, except that Trump's remarks are even more bizarre.
Trump's one word repair job brought on a parade of former Republican critics who echoed support for Trump and were assured now that his statements were "clarified". Congressional Republicans have abetted Trump in probably the most devastating lie in American history.
If the Republicans are going to lie about losing American Sovereignty to the Russians, why wouldn't they lie about more mundane things like taxes or tariffs or healthcare or the fate of immigrant children?Tweet
Some Detroit schools are bad enough that even students are mad. They are suing the Federal Government over such poor perfromance by their schools that the students would do as well if they never attended. Their suit, however, was dismissed by Federal District Judge Stephen Murphy, who said he needed guidance from the Supreme Court.
Federal law and the Federal Constitution don't have explicit education guarantees. Those guarantees are found in State Constitutions. The Michigan Constitution has such a guarantee, but, unlike most states, Michigan only guarantees access to education. The Michigan courts say the Detroit kids have access to schools and won't hear the complaint.
The Detroiters appear to have a case. Compared to a nearby mostly white neighborhood, the Detroit schools in question are dramatically substandard. The schools even have a rat infestation problem, according to the kids. At least on the surface, a discrimination claim can be made.
Delivering good education is not like delivering an ice cream cone or a new sofa. There are many factors contributing to school performance including; teachers, educators, students, parents, the community, and the wealth of the student's family. Wealth expands opportunities for extra-curricular activities such as weekend sports, ballet lessons, music lessons, etc. Wealthy people apparently have more time and more opportunities to enrich their children.
Maybe the Detroit case is focusing on the wrong problem. Maybe the kids would be better off if they jazzed up a community center and encouraged civic-minded volunteers for help. It might not cost as much as you'd think.
Detroit is not the only place with troubled schools. Poorly performing schools is a national problem looking for a national solution. Maybe there are other kids who could use better access to extra-curricular activities.
In any event, the rats need to go.Tweet
The inspiration for this essay comes from the book How Democracies Die (HDD) by Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews uses the relationship between President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill as an example of collaborative legislative practice that has been lost. While they disagreed, they always tried to close the deal.
The art of compromise and civility has been mostly abandoned. HDD marks the end of civility with the rise of Newt Gingrich, who advocated a more combative form of politics.
Gingrich's combative governance reinforces the belief in party superiority. Combative governance uses extreme measures that tend to destabilize government. Two extreme measures are partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression laws. Both methods artificially help ensure the perpetuation of the party's control in Congress and State legislatures.
Once it is entrenched, reversing the combative approach is very difficult, because change needs the approval of the dominant party, which will resist giving up its authority. Change is even harder when the dominant party also controls the Presidency.
Our current predicament includes a legislature that has abused and then abandoned the filibuster, for example, because winning is now more important than governing. The current domination by Republicans in Congress and in the White House only compounds the problem.
Reining in Washington is now the responsibility of the Supreme Court and the voting public. Voters should elect people who will restore congressional norms and restore Congress's role as a check to the Executive branch. The Supreme Court should reconsider its votes on voter suppression laws and partisan gerrymandering, because they destabilize our democratic institutions.
We have a crisis in Washington that was fostered by an uncivil approach to governance. If we repair Washington without restoring civility, then nothing will change.Tweet
The news is preoccupied by Donald Trump's draconian zero-tolerance policy used by US government border officials in their attempt to lower the flow of Central Americans into the US. The Central Americans, meanwhile, keep coming because they fear for their lives if they stay in their own countries. They don’t see any good choices.
American politics is consumed by immigration. Democrats and Republicans have such divergent solutions that they can’t seem to compromise on a plan, and when they get close, Donald Trump rejects it. Trump seems to prefer chaos, maybe because he rules in the land of chaos.
Meanwhile commercial trucking vehicles keep coming into the US from Mexico, largely unchecked. Some of them are chock full of immigrants. The CBS news show 60 Minutes replayed the immigrant smuggling news story. The Border Patrol manning the truck lanes does what it can, but it is undermanned and under pressure to keep the trucks moving. Too many trucks get through with human cargo.
If I wanted to smuggle criminals across the border, I would not have them approach a legal port of entry and declare themselves to be refugees. There are too many legal impediments, and I would not want my cargo identified and logged in. I would try a different approach, like stuffing the people in trucks driven by willing Americans.
The US government is putting too much energy into stopping refugee families while the more dangerous human trafficking goes on elsewhere, with much less public scrutiny.
If Trump really wants to shut down immigration, why does he waste his time terrorizing children, when there are bigger fish to catch?Tweet
During the 2016 election, Barack Obama described Donald Trump as lacking temperament to be President and called Trump uniquely unqualified. Now we know that Obama’s warnings went largely unheeded by Trump's followers. The strategy failed.
Three aspects of Trump’s temperament are in play today. First, Trump reacts to advice and counsel the same way anyone would react to fire ants at a picnic. Trump ignores all advice except his own. Second, Trump will do and say almost anything to win. Third, Trump resorts to bullying tactics almost instinctively.
Trump is showing his warts with the new immigration wrinkle. Probably the most important thing in Trump’s life is his wall on the Mexican border. He wants to win, and he will sacrifice children to get his wall, especially if the children are sons and daughters of immigrants. Trump is using the zero-tolerance immigration policy to bully Democrats into conceding Trump’s wall and other restrictions on immigration favored by his base.
Short of impeachment, there is only one way to manage Donald Trump’s frequent spells of bad behavior; Congressional action. Congress has the power to control Trump. Congress needs to send a message to Trump that the lives of children should not be exploited in the making of legislation. Fixing and passing a compromise version of the Keeping Families Together Act would send that message. As I write this no Republican has shown any substantive interest.
It is clear, that Congress cannot persuade Trump to do anything, and Democrats can’t do anything without Republican support. A few Republicans have spoken out against the consequences of the zero-tolerance policy, but talk is cheap. Talking won’t work with Trump. Republicans need to remember that their primary purpose is to manage the President, and they can’t do it by just talking.Tweet
The Electoral College is a puzzling piece of statecraft that befuddles Americans and keeps us unique among nations. Many want to scuttle the Electoral College and elect our President with a popular vote. It is a good idea, but it comes with consequences.
During the Revolutionary War, the colonists considered themselves to be a confederation of separate states cooperating for the purpose of freeing themselves from British control. They succeeded but the confederation they set up did not.
The US Constitution fixed the flaws in the Articles of Confederation that preceded it. Two fixes designed to keep large colonies in check were the Electoral College and the addition of the Senate.
Both fixes still do their job. Large states like California are underrepresented requiring over 700,000 citizens per electoral vote, and small states like Vermont are over represented requiring 200,000 citizens per electoral vote. Senators coming from the least populated states control half of the Senate votes but represent only 16% of the US population. The small states are extraordinarily over served.
We may call ourselves the United States. Our armed forces fight and sacrifice for one country, but we are still a loose confederation of states in many ways.
We blame our politicians for a lot of the division in our country, but our system of government also contributes to the divisions because the political system drives the ground rules under which politicians operate.
If we change the way we elect our President from an Electoral College process to a direct election by popular vote, we will move some of the power centers from small states to large states and from rural areas to urban areas. Our nation will change in ways that we don’t expect, but I think the time for change is here.Tweet
If you have been convicted of a federal crime and feel that you deserve a pardon, you can file a request to the US Pardon Office. The Pardon Office takes its work seriously. They review the reason for the pardon. They check arrest records. They check credit status. They check the seriousness and circumstances of the crime. They check character references. They check personal background. They check current status. They check the level of community service. Any approved pardon that sustains this kind of review should not be up for debate.
There is a reason for the high level of review in the pardon process even as the Constitution doesn't explicitly require it. It is best described in a 1927 Supreme Court decision that sets the modern standard:
“[a] pardon in our days is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is a part of the Constitutional scheme. When granted it is the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.”
The primary purpose of a Presidential pardon is to serve the public welfare.
Four out of five of Donald Trump’s pardons were not reviewed to determine the impact to the public welfare, because Trump bypassed the Pardon Office. Trump's pardons appear to have political motivation, but the threat to use pardon power to stifle the Russia probe definitely has political motivation.
President Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon did not get a full review either, but the pardon brought closure to a dark period in US history. Trump should not pardon any Russia probe target, because it is far too early for closure in this current dark period in US history.Tweet
The rise of Donald Trump’s brand of nationalism brought two problems to the surface looking for solutions – climate change and the exploration of Mars. Both problems resolve themselves better when they are approached with sincere international cooperation. The political and technical problems by themselves call for international solutions, but the political ramifications make international-based solutions necessary. It was in the context of these two problems that Yuval Harari’s Ted Talk on nationalism and globalism spoke to me.
Harari distinguishes between nationalism and globalism by the problems they solve. Besides climate change, Harari suggests that the Internet, Bioengineering, and Artificial Intelligence are all problems better suited to a global approach, because the solutions all have international scope. He points out, for example, that people who favor nationalist doctrines are more likely to be climate change deniers.
To my surprise, Harari points out that wealth inequality is a global problem. Wealth inequality can’t be fixed by tax policy alone or by imposing tariffs. American companies will take advantage of cheap foreign labor at the expense of American workers. If you want to stop American companies from manufacturing in South East Asia, you need to negotiate a treaty like TPP that calls for higher wages and better working conditions in South East Asia as a criterion for a trade deal.
Harari is asked if we will go back to the nationalism that stoked the fires of World War I and World War II. Harari suggests that humans are capable of that much stupidity. It seems that nationalism is better suited to the problem of starting a war.Tweet
I am not a fan of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Voters need to study all the candidates more than they do now in regular elections. Winning an RCV election process after finishing fourth in the votes would create the same kind of dissatisfaction that occurred in the 2010 election.
The RCV initiative started after conservative Paul LePage was elected Governor in 2010 without a clear majority in a five-way race. LePage received only 38% of the votes. RCV was conceived as a way to get around the Maine Constitution’s rule that the plurality candidate is the winner in statewide elections. In 2016 a people’s referendum made RCV the law in Maine.
After the Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory ruling that it would find RCV unconstitutional, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that defers implementation of RCV until 2021 and provides time to fix the Maine Constitution.
Supporters of RCV reacted to the legislation by initiating a people's veto referendum designed to save the new voting measure. The vote will be on June 12.
The Constitution needs fixing. I suppose that the framers of the Constitution, being frugal New Englanders, decided that one election was good enough. In today’s more complex society with a fractured electorate, plurality winners are no longer good enough.
We now have time to make a change to the Constitution by adding runoff elections in selected cases when a plurality winner occurs. With all its problems, at least the results of a runoff election are clear and unambiguous. The majority candidate wins. The losers just need to try harder the next time.Tweet
Moas and dodos are extinct birds with a lot in common. Neither species was capable of flying, and both species lived on remote islands, isolated from predators until humans invaded their island paradise. Each bird was virtually extinct in less than a hundred years after humans arrived.
The remoteness and isolation afforded these luckless birds kept them alive for years but did not prepare them for the deadly change created by the arrival of a super alpha predator. The changing world did them in.
One of the major change agents of the 20th century is Robert McNamara. After his controversial role in the Vietnam War, McNamara headed the World Bank. It was there that McNamara made an impact. He made raising global poverty a priority as a way to avoid ruinous wars. Sound familiar? Under his leadership the World Bank became a driving force in that effort. McNamara left the World Bank in 1981, but his poverty program continued.
Poverty has not been defeated, but great progress has been made. Worldwide poverty dropped from 42% in 1981 to 11% in 2013, about the same as the poverty level in the US. The world did not eliminate poverty, but the so-called third-world countries have almost disappeared.
Donald Trump is leading us down a path of nationalistic isolationism. He is retreating from the global activism started by George H. W. Bush with NAFTA and continued by each succeeding President. Much of that involvement is a direct response to the emerging world marketplace fostered by McNamara and the World Bank.
Trump’s pivot to a more isolationist attitude may seem safe and familiar, but it is as doomed as the dodo, because it refuses to fly with the rest of the world.Tweet
Donald Trump’s decision to drop out of the Iran nuclear deal is based on a clumsy lie. Trump wrongly implies that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear bomb. He bases his lie on Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu’s disclosure of Iranian malfeasance that actually occurred as much as 15 years ago and took place before the Iran deal was even negotiated. In fact, the revelation of Iran’s secret program was a major reason for making the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Trump knows he is lying, as do the other members of the Iran deal, including UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China. They know it is a lie, because Iran has been open to a robust inspection process, and Iran has kept its part of the bargain. Iran has not tried to cheat on the deal.
Iran also knows that Trump is lying. Iran says it will try to remain in the deal with the five remaining signers, but if the deal doesn’t hold, Iran intends to restart its uranium enrichment program. In simpler language, if the deal fails, Iran will build a bomb.
Trump can’t let Iran build a bomb if he wants to maintain any influence over North Korea. If Trump wants a shot at the Nobel Peace Prize, he needs to have a successful negotiation with North Korea and he needs to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions bottled up as well.
Those pesky sanctions against Iran could uncork the bottle. Trump needs to ignore his own bluster and implement weak sanctions against Iran -- sanctions that will not hurt Iran but might appease his base.
Trump is playing a dangerous game, and he is the novice among a slew of veterans. Unfortunately, he is the one with the biggest gun.Tweet
Two weeks ago, I commented on a positive review of the book The Creature from Jekyll Island. I noted that the reviewer is associated with the John Birch Society, a very conservative organization, and I was called out on my ad hominem statement. I questioned the reviewer’s politics instead of his review.
The Creature from Jekyll Island is about the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. I needed to find out what this book, which has an ardent following, is all about. After reading some of the drama, I skipped to the chapters on the economics of currency. The book waxes about the positive values of the gold standard and blames inflation on our current currency also known as fiat money. I saw the connection between the John Birch Society and this paean to economic ideas that don’t work.
My initial comments on the Creature book seem like an ad hominem argument on the surface, but the book is political as is the John Birch Society. My review of the book’s contents is consistent with my initial reservations. I am not a fan of the book or the John Birch Society.
I may revert to the messenger more than the message sometimes, but the king of the ad hominem argument is Donald Trump. He questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship. He referred to Ted Cruz as ‘lyin Ted’. He attacked ‘Little Marco’. Then he went after ‘crooked Hillary’. Trump called the former FBI chief James Comey an untruthful slimeball. He accused the FBI leadership of bias against him even though the FBI arguably contributed to his victory. Donald Trump consistently attacks the messenger and not the message.
The real problem with an ad hominem attack: It turns an honest debate into a popularity contest.Tweet
The March 26 issue of The New Yorker contains Jill Lepore’s article about Rachel Carson and Carson’s environmental activism. Carson was a marine biologist with a unique affinity to the sea, but she is best known for her book Silent Spring, which lamented the environmental destruction caused by DDT.
Carson’s activism helped launch a flurry of environmental bills including: the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Silent Spring was also instrumental to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
The makers and purveyors of DDT worked in a world full of chemistry labs and books, and the scientists felt they could manage nature. They didn’t understand that robins are vulnerable to DDT through nature’s food chain, and we are as vulnerable to DDT as robins.
The Trump administration is working hard to scuttle 50 years of environmental progress. Besides rolling back government programs on climate change, the administration is attacking a broad range of programs including: clean water regulations, car emission standards, mine waste disposal rules, protection of endangered and threatened species, and air quality standards.
In a parting shot to Rachel Carson’s legacy, EPA chief Scott Pruitt recently removed landmark scientific studies on the health impacts of air pollution and pesticides from consideration when making new rules.
How ironic that Donald Trump’s administration is trying to resurrect the oil-friendly 1960’s and Rachel Carson, dying of cancer, wanted to write another book. LePore ends her article with Carson’s own words:
“We live in an age of rising seas. In our own lifetime we are witnessing a startling alteration of climate.”Tweet
Republicans kept insisting that $20 trillion is way too much debt. Then they passed legislation that immediately shot the debt to $21 trillion. Republicans tend to perpetrate myths about the National debt.
The first myth: $21 trillion is just too much debt. Claiming that $21 trillion is too big totally discounts the effects of inflation over the years. I remember when 2 bucks bought 6 gallons of gas. Thanks to inflation 6 gallons of gas now costs about $16. In 1960, an average family earned about $6700. Today, the average family earns about $59,000. Inflation lowers the buying power of the dollar, so $21 trillion is smaller than it looks.
The second myth: Austerity reduces debt. While austerity reduces debt in a typical household, the same trick doesn’t work in government. Government spending props up the economy so reduced spending leads to a shrinking economy and lower tax revenues. In the end, austerity fixes nothing. Look at recent history. Austerity is failing in Greece. It is failing in Italy. It is failing in the UK. Austerity will fail in the US.
If the debt is still scary, it can be fixed with a simple change. Change the currency to a new dollar that is worth ten old dollars. The price of gas would be about a quarter and family income would be about $5900. The debt would be about $2.1 trillion. Society would continue to function as it does today only with different value markers.
There is just one problem. Donald Trump would not be a billionaire.Tweet
Donald Trump’s latest whipping boy is the nation of China. Trump complains that the $500 billion trade deficit with China needs to be fixed, and he claims that tariffs on Chinese goods are the answer. Trump overstates the trade deficit with China. It is actually about $375 billion. Putting the tariff debate aside, the large trade deficit with China isn’t as big of a problem as Trump makes it out to be.
Nike footwear tells a different story. Nike generates $21 billion selling footwear worldwide. Nike makes the footwear in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. While Nike contributes to China’s trade surplus, its non-US sales account for about 60% of footwear revenues. Nike’s markup over manufacturing costs for footwear sold outside the US about covers the trade cost for footwear sold in the US. Sure, Nike sends a lot of money to China, but it recovers most of it from other countries offsetting the trade imbalance with China. So what’s the problem?
One problem is China’s substandard working conditions and low wages. During the 1990’s Nike became a leading example of sweatshop abuse at its Asian factories. After some very public protests, Nike changed its tune enough to acknowledge its problems and improve its factories. However, problems still remain, and Nike still takes advantage of substandard working conditions and low wages. Nike likes the arrangement in China because it makes Nike more competitive in the worldwide market.
Trump claims that tariffs against Chinese imports will make a difference. Don’t count on it. Companies like Nike have a market base large enough to absorb the extra cost for goods sold in the US. Tariffs may satisfy Trump’s base, but tariffs will only lead to higher prices. Who knew? Trade and tariffs are really complicated.Tweet
I recently tweeted about David Shulkin’s dismissal from the VA and suggested that outsourcing services would not improve the VA. Unfortunately, my tweet was inelegant, and I received some pushback. One critic reminded me that 25% of returning veterans suffer from PTSD. The comments brought me back to an event that I witnessed 40 some years ago in a bowling alley.
On that night a young man stepped onto the bowling lane and aimed his ball at the pins. As he took a step toward the foul line, a loud bang resonated through the building. Another bowler who was older but not wiser purposely dropped his own ball. The noise rattled the younger bowler. He approached the older man red-faced and yelling. His teammates and family constrained him when he lifted his own ball and tried to throw it at the instigator. The young man was led out of the alley. His bowling was over for the night.
Another bowler standing next to me knew more about the two antgonists. He said in a low voice. “Why does he keep doing that?” He was referring to the older man, the instigator.
David Shulkin is out at the VA, and a large-scale outsourcing strategy is likely to begin. The VA has had its share of problems, but I think its main goal concerns the veterans. I fear that an outsourced VA will be more like the older bowler and less like the teammates of the young man, the one who needed the most help.Tweet
Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, but Ronald Reagan really got things started by greatly increasing the number of arrests for drug-related crimes. The 1980’s also saw large increases in prison terms for drug offenses. The war on drugs changed many lives but it did not stem the rising tide of drugs in America.
Now Donald Trump wants to double down on drug enforcement by making the sale of drugs a capital offense and by increasing anti-drug enforcement. The checkered history of anti-drug enforcement since the Reagan years has not worked, and Trump’s booster shot will probably fail as well. It is way past time to start addressing the problem instead of the politics.
A sound alternative to incarcerating drug users are more drug rehabilitation centers, but do they work when only 1 in 5 patients remains sober? While drug rehab programs don’t have great statistics, they match up well with other rehab programs and generally improve the lives of those seeking treatment. Drug rehab programs may be frustratingly ineffective, but the alternate way to get out of the drug cycle is an overdose.
Drug overdoses have always been a problem, but the frequency of overdoses started to skyrocket around 2010, and the rising number of deaths may have been caused by a change to the new gateway drug Oxycontin. In 2010 Oxycontin was reformulated, making it harder to crush and snort the drug. The new formula and subsequent restrictions to the manufacture and sale of Oxycontin led users to other, cheaper drug sources such as heroine.
Fixing the drug epidemic will need a balanced approach between vigorous, legal enforcement and drug rehabilitation programs. It will take time, but it will take longer unless we close Pandora’s box of codeine-based pain-killers made for the mass market.Tweet
Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed liar now that he admitted to a group of donors in Missouri in which he told Justin Trudeau that the US has a trade deficit with Canada when he had no idea what the facts were. He just made it up, he said. When Trudeau objected, Trump defended his lie by making up timber and energy numbers. One undeniable truth about Donald Trump: He is a damn good liar.
The actual trade numbers makes Trump’s lie more interesting. The US has a $23 Billion deficit in traded goods but a $25 Billion surplus in traded services. Trump’s lies mostly exposed his complete ignorance and lack of preparation about trade between the US and Canada.
Trump also told the Missouri donors that Japanese regulators dropped bowling balls on American automobiles to keep them off the market. Trump later claimed that he was joking, but observers noted that Trump’s demeanor didn’t indicate joking. It doesn’t really matter. Trump’s history of torturing the truth is so well established that everything coming out of Trump’s mouth gets fact-checked.
Trump’s lack of veracity makes him a dubious diplomatic negotiator. His lack of credibility will make any favorable outcome in the NAFTA negotiations unlikely, potentially leading to US withdrawal from NAFTA with a consequential loss of trade and jobs. Trump’s lack of credibility will also make a favorable outcome to negotiations with North Korea unlikely, potentially leading to a war in the worst case.
Trump has lied himself into a corner with virtually no way out. I do not see any good ending if Trump insists on playing a leading role in US diplomacy. I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
Postscript: Kathleen Parker suggests in her column (3/20/18) that the conversation between Trump and Trudeau might not have happened.Tweet
When we moved we joined a new bank. It was the friendliest bank, at least according to the bank. They had lollipops and free pens and a coin sorter that was free to bank customers.
The coin sorter featured a friendly game. If you guessed how much money you were sorting, you got an insubstantial gift like a refrigerator magnet that had the bank’s phone number on it. We used the coin sorter a couple times. We always guessed the value, but we were never even close. There is an art to guessing the value of a pile of coins. Count them first.
On about the third visit to the coin sorter there was a sign indicating it was no longer available for use. We were curious, so we asked the manager why they pulled the coin sorter. He said that commercial customers were abusing the privilege, so they had to discontinue the service. We continued on as customers, but we took our coin sorting business elsewhere.
A few months later I noticed a small article in the paper. The friendly bank was caught skimming a small percentage off of each batch of coins. The bank was pretty safe as long as the customer didn’t know the exact value of the coins. I then understood the purpose of the little guessing game. The bank wasn’t quite as friendly any more, and it probably never was.