PAST IS PROLOGUE–WITHER RUSSIA?

Whoever would believe that New York’s The Metropolitan Opera would break new ground with contemporary social commentary in presenting a new Opera?

It hardly can be an accident that the old, but now new again, opera PRINCE IGOR by Borodin first played in 1890 in St Petersburg would be brought back to life just as the Winter Olympic Games are running in Sochi Russia.

This terrific production runs through the trials and tribulations of the history of an imaginary Russia set in 1185 that has been repeated many times since and has themes familiar to everyone who has ever read about Peter the Great, Catherine, the Mongols, Rasputin, and the Revolution.

Pride—and false pride— and love of country, coupled with an inability to see oneself the way others do, runs through this well told story dramatized with fantastic singing.

Now the Russians are trying again to put their best face forward with great athletes, fabulous architecture as well as organization and good sportsmanship.

The President of Russia who must have other important things on his mind–like Syrian poison chemicals–seems to be ever present even to help celebrate a Gold medal by an adorable 15 year old Russian girl figure skater.

He has made no secret of his commitment to the success of the games to the point of being everywhere all the time. One is reminded of Peter the Great who exhibited the same powers of persuasion and energy in his efforts to break Russia away from its insular and isolated state by bringing it into focus in Europe in his time through both war and peace.

If one is curious about the future of Russia in the world, it is helpful to be mindful of the analogies of the past. The arc of the story in this opera suggests that power leads to megalomania, which leads to being crushed, and that leads again to resurrection.

It is not -obviously–made clear where the Russian story is right now. The current threats of terrorists are suggestive of swoops by Mongols.

Peter’s efforts to make Russia big, modern and powerful regardless of all obstacles come to mind in watching Putin’s megalomaniacal insistence on claiming all the credit for the spectacles in Sochi.

Perhaps some of Russia’s most famous historical characters like Igor and Peter have become scrambled in the modern world.

After all the President of Russia seems to combine aspects of Peter and perhaps his own forbearer Ras-PUTIN?

Where does that lead us now?

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The Tyranny of Partisanship

What a sad spectacle the country is witnessing out of Washington today. A small portion of Republicans is holding their party hostage to a very narrow and even mean spirited agenda. Now, the Democratic leadership in the Senate is striking out on its own in blocking important trade legislation proposed by the President.

Unspoken, but controlling most of the process, is the “need” of most of our elected legislators to [1] insure control of their body in Congress [PERKS]and [2] protect themselves from primary opposition simply to stay in office at all costs [PAYCHECK].

Their ability to free themselves from the bondage of partisanship and address the substance of the many issues that need to be dealt with has been so diminished that there are moments when one wonders if we might be better off with either no Congress or an all-volunteer group who have no dependency on those jobs?

In a completely rational moment (difficult to find or hold) it is indeed obvious that those people are also normal people in important ways–they have a deep seated need to keep their jobs. Sadly an all-volunteer Congress would be unwise because we should not be governed only by people who do not have to make a living.

So the consuming question should be not how to stop gridlock, BUT how to change incentives for all representatives that would discourage gridlock, and encourage a process of dissipating the tyranny of partisanship.

There is a worthy group working on expanding a group of members from both houses using a No Labels banner. It could become a kind of supra third party bound together by independent nonpartisan thinking and efforts. So far they have been unable to address any BIG issues under their tent. More power to them!

There are several states – and it is the states themselves that have sole jurisdiction under the Constitution over all voting processes -that have OPEN primaries so that allvoters can vote in all primaries. Therein lays an idea that could help cure one of the big problems which is fear of primaries dominated by small groups of super partisan voters. Why not let both parties have a say in the selection of both parties’ representatives.

All those representatives speak for ALL the people in their states-districts. That would also lessen the adverse impact of badly motivated gerrymandering of districts. Today about 80% of the 435 House seats are a 60/40 split between one or the other major parties which also contributes to the tyranny of partisanship. Open primaries might, just might, begin to break down that schism which is at the root of gridlock.

Another idea, that should certainly appeal to folks who favor term limits, would be to limit any Senator to two terms and House Member to 6 terms but they could continue to stand for reelection to serve thereafter without pay. That would discourage people from hanging on simply for the pay. Those members however, would be qualified to start collecting their pensions and keep their health benefits.

A lot of the country sits around and bemoans the gridlock. BUT there has been very little thought given to what gives rise to it and what might be done about that.

I know that most of the time ideas like these never get anywhere.

Does that mean we should all sit quietly and simply moan privately?

So I am moaning publicly! Sorry!