It Is What It Is

In a recent brief conversation with a well-known Democratic senior citizen, we were commiserating about the current state of affairs in DC and wondering what might be done about it when he said, “It is what it is.” He went on to say that there was nothing to do about it except regret that so many Democrats abandoned Clinton.

I have known this man a long time, and I respect him and his political instincts. But I now worry that his current view of the political world is a problem.

So what exactly “is what it is”?

Closing our borders to people and imports; backing out of important trade arrangements; demeaning federal judges; continuing to refuse to release his tax returns; signing executive orders without essential input from experts; announcing baseless disturbances in Sweden; and huffing, puffing and tweeting.

When our nation formed around 1800 the one thing our forebears wanted above all else was to avoid any kind kingdom. They feared the sort of uncontrolled executive that Trump seems to want to be.

The result was that we developed a new tri-partite governmental arrangement that was intended to prevent the formation of an uncontrolled and uncontrollable executive branch. Consequently, we deigned to avoid the well-established parliamentary method of governance.

The leaders of our executive branch can and have often come from the outfield (as opposed to left field). Trump is not the first president without experience in Washington, though, unlike many former presidents, he was well known as a real estate mogul and tv entertainer before he began to campaign for the job.

In the past 100 or so years, we have had some sad examples of the need for candidates who are well enough known in governing circles to have been vetted before they come before “the people” for voting. Those who were not weeded out due to proper vetting often did have effective and seductive voices and got elected despite the sad and important fact that they lacked some important combination of the brains, experience and temperament to be a president.

Perhaps we should rethink the process of how we select our president.

We know now that the Founders had a lot on their minds when they struck the compromises that were essential to creating our Constitution, compromises that today seem absurdly wrong and inapplicable. (For example, for the purpose of counting citizens in states, slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person.) It should be clear today that our Constitution is nowhere near perfect, and should be reexamined given the facts of the modern world. Going back to selecting presidential candidates, for example, there are several solutions to the problems we now face. To do that we first need to overcome my friend’s statement that “it is what it is” and address the need for change.

Accordingly, why not have a national referendum to ask the question: is the country interested and supportive of a new Constitutional Convention to address the many course corrections our system needs today?

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Jump on Trumpgate Fast!

Ready, set, go! David Brooks knew what he talked about! Trump will be gone inside of the year!

I apologize for dragging you into more Trumpmania. But, I am not the faucet out of which it pours.

Flynn was the metaphorical “room” that was broken into. The standard intelligence surveillance of such conversations is the tape on the door. The fact that he was too stupid to know/remember that he was being listened too is perhaps as bad as his cover-up and the misconduct itself. His lie to Pence is beyond belief. The WH effort over two weeks to hush it all up and hope it would go away now implicates everyone, including Trump himself.

The succeeding steps that will end in Trump’s resignation are probably only weeks away.

Brooks not only predicted Trump’s early demise, he also predicted how.

The Faustian bargain made by the Republican leadership is now fast coming due. If those leaders cannot extricate themselves from their bargain with Trump, they are surely doomed.

The American public, including Trumpites, will have no stomach for a President who will be proven to have conspired with Russia to his personal advantage without regard to America’s greater interests.

Exactly how this plays out is not yet precisely clear.

First, a special prosecutor is obviously inevitable.

Second, the impeachment process will begin.

No doubt as the intelligence/communications history is more and more unpeeled the process will inevitably speed up.

The big question remains.

The effect of all this is that it likely will turn out that we had a corrupt/invalid election. There is nothing in our history or constitution to offer a natural and easy solution.

Obviously, Pence has to go out with Trump, which means that Ryan is constitutionally next in line. But, putting Ryan in the white house does not completely set right the consequences of Trump’s crimes. This was an election won by a popular vote margin of about 3,000,000 Democrats, despite Russian interference.

Therefore, it appears to me that Ryan should become “acting President” pending a national referendum on whether or not to hold a special election for president.

If the referendum says no to a special election, Ryan should be President for the rest of Trump’s term.

If the referendum says make a redo election for the balance of Trump’s term, the new fun starts.

I predict that the candidates will be Biden and Romney, because they both are already well known, trusted and well equipped. The new election could be as soon as Memorial Day. In the meanwhile, Ryan would work with Trump’s cabinet under tight control.

I know, I know. There will be screams from all sides that we do not do that kind of improvising.

But, whenever you get tough cases without precedent, you simply have to improvise. And, I urge anyone to offer an alternative and better suggestion.

This will be a bonanza for the press and fascinating for all us observers.

From Ashes to Ashes – Or What?

The New Yorker recently ran an intriguing article on how the very rich are planning to cope with an Armageddon. Their ideas are diverse.

One plan is to move to New Zealand or Australia, as in Neville Schute’s On the Beach. Both countries are so remote that some people just might survive, at least for a while, after a global holocaust.

Other types of plans involve caves and tunnels stocked with everything required to extend life, presumably to make a comeback in some way at some point.

The article does not go into much detail about the various kinds of scenarios that might be encountered and, of course, those differences are crucially important in assessing how the different goals survivors might have in mind could be realized.

So let’s assume some rough “facts”:

Over half the people in the United States are already dead. The infrastructure of the country has collapsed completely. There is only a little electricity being created, except from water power. Transmission of electricity also is very spotty. Gasoline for cars and trucks is barely available. Schools are closed more or less permanently. Food and potable water are in very short supply and are rapidly becoming more scarce. The internet is basically shut down, and computers and phones cannot be charged. Such a scenario should not be too hard to imagine.

Yes, it is possible that slowly, over several generations—say 100 years—something resembling the world of today might reappear, hopefully better from lessons learned. However, the path to be trod to that world would be for sure much more challenging and difficult than the last 100 years.

But if you were 8 years old, or 18 years old, or 38 years old, or (heaven forbid) 86 years old, what do suppose you might be thinking? Young children, who cannot/should not think for themselves, particularly in such circumstances, need to be looked after. Even if parents and grandparents have little future in today’s sense, they have a duty to protect their young, particularly if they intend to step aside. What forms does that duty take?

Is the life that these rich doomsday preppers imagine possible? Is it worth the incredible struggles that will be unavoidable, even after the preparations are made? Who else or what else is out there that one knows and cares about for them to travel with on that ghastly voyage?

My best guess is that, long before any stockpile to extend life is depleted, rational thinking will likely to take command of those so called ”privileged” citizens; they will have to ask what comes next—when and how will they go on?

Recently, a new way of freeze-drying platelets from whole blood has been found and government is beginning to stock pile them for possible use in the event of a mass radiation event. Yes, it is a government duty to anticipate terrible and remote events, and we should be sure there are sufficient platelets to care for a radiated population.

But what about the remaining population that is simply realistic and wants to join their already ‘fortunate’ dead friends in avoiding “opportunities and challenges” that may lie ahead.

Will there also be enough cyanide capsules to go around with such unusual demand?

Should we be certain that is available that too?

And, while we are at it, what can we do to ensure that our so-called ‘elected leaders’ do not lead us blindly, stupidly and with ‘alternative facts’ to the brink of our world’s end?

Cities Recover from Disaster – Faster than People

This past weekend looking for a bit of distraction from the anxiety leading up to the Super Bowl football game, we took a couple of days to visit new young friends, met on a trip last spring, in their hometown New Orleans. We had been there years before– long before Hurricane Katrina—and were interested in seeing what was happening with the recovery.

It has long been know that places– like cities—rarely simply evaporate completely, though they may go through long periods of decline, they belong, usually for a geographic reason, and in due course they become reinvented/reincarnated and –like Philadelphia for example —recover and become even more vibrant and interesting in new ways.

New Orleans is just such a place.

It sits astride the entrance to the great Mississippi –with all the economic benefits of straddling that port. It has been America’s place where French pride, language and love of food prevail. It has had its share of intrigue including Aaron Burr’s aborted efforts to buy and sell the Louisiana Purchase, which led ultimately to the death of Alexander Hamilton and the ostracism of Burr.

In more recent years the ‘low lying land’ behind fragile water barriers became home to many disadvantaged citizens, many of whom became completely displaced after Katrina.

Today the population of New Orleans is still well below pre-Katrina days yet the city has begun to show big signs of revitalization and recovery. The younger population is thriving, and education enriched at all levels. And, the city at large has developed the most interesting, well presented WWII museum in the United States.

Those who think of New Orleans primarily in terms of Mardi Gras, jazz, great food and parties will not be disappointed, but it is also becoming more and more a generally great destination city.

We bumped into several other couples from cities like Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit who like us had simply come to New Orleans just to ‘hang out’ and have fun –some with a carful of eager kids.

Indeed New Orleans took a pummeling from Katrina but it appears to be beyond simply recovering and is breaking new ground as a modern and lively city.

Yes, we all have a natural fear of disaster, floods and downturns. Of course, the flip side of that are the benefits of the recovery process. The pain and suffering of the very poor is never distributed fairly and must never be forgotten by the fortunate. In this case, happily, quite a lot of those hurt the worst, by total loss of their homes, have also come out better off by relocating to safer places and access to new and better work.

Add New Orleans to your check list of places to visit before the next Super Bowl game.

It sure gave the Patriots a leg up with us this year!

Today’s Reality is Not Simply a Bad Dream?

In 1905, George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Today, I am struck by the sense that we are repeating past mistakes that we have foolishly ignored.

Last year, I read Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 and was struck by the similarities between today’s America and Hitler’s Germany. I do not mean to suggest that Trump is exactly the same as Hitler, but I worry that what is taking shape in today’s Washington is a similar ascent to power of a very worrisome person.

Like Hitler, Trump was barely elected, yet immediately moved to consolidate power. Both men created “alternative facts” and found powerful ways to discredit the press—compare Trump’s appropriation of “fake news” to the Nazi’s embrace of the term Lugenpresse. Hitler fetishized the military, stifled dissent, and viewed certain groups as subhuman. Trump shows dangerous inclinations in all three directions, though his favorite enemies are Muslims not Jews.

As Hitler rose, Germans elites (including the conservatives who saw Hitler as little more than a pawn) told themselves that it would not go too far, that the people would turn on Hitler, that the country that had produced Goethe, Kant, and Bach would never assent to be ruled by an authoritarian buffoon. There were many early opportunities for Germans to turn on Hitler and stop his rise—the remilitarization of the Rhineland was opposed by many in the military; the horrors of Kristallnacht were ignored by the authorities—but he was not stopped.

Today, well-meaning friends offer me words that are intended to be soothing. They tell me to relax, focus on the Super Bowl, and remember that this too shall pass. They assure me that our public institutions are stronger than Germany’s and that we will be ultimately stronger as a people once Trump is gone.

But I have no doubt that the Germans were telling themselves the same things throughout the Thirties. Many undoubtedly waited for some hero to emerge and lead the resistance to victory and return German politics to normalcy. But, if everyone assumes that one more body at a protest will be meaningless, there will be no protest. If everyone counts on the emergence of a hero, a hero will never emerge.

What America needs is to be SHOCKED out of complacency. We need what the Germans needed but never received before 1945, when the country was smoke and ruins.

Waves of civil disobedience or strikes across the country could wake Americans to the danger. We can still send a message to the Republican Congressional Leadership that, as David Brooks put it, the “Faustian bargain” they have made will quickly come due in the next election, if they do not impeach Trump promptly.

To all that may hear these words, I beg that you heed the thought that ignoring or attempting to wish it all away is a dangerous state of mind!

Incompetence Trumps Trump

I know, I know! I promised NOT to wallow in Trump. But I had no idea what was ahead! So, if you want, ignore this—at your peril!

Things are happening awfully fast and overtaking rational comment in proper sequence. But, we gotta hang in and fight!

We are faced with an imminent crisis. Exactly when, how and what, that crisis will be remains to be determined, but waiting, patiently or not, is not the smartest way to proceed.

Obviously, there is a lot of chance in how and in what order things may happen.

What we – the American people—can and should do is, of course, not yet clear, except for one thing—we must all be willing to risk something by speaking out, acting out and not worrying about simply keeping our heads down and “hoping against hope” that someone else saves our bacon. That is what happened in Germany in the 1930s and that history is all too clear.

We all had a good lesson this week in how to behave when Sally Yates, Acting US Attorney General, refused to enforce or defend Trump’s preemptive Executive Order barring travelers from majority Muslim nations. He fired her—simply in writing with no warning or call—and replaced her with a more compliant civil servant. She was guilty simply of saying what she obviously believed, and what her oath requires of her—that she had not been consulted and “was not convinced” that the order was constitutional. She was doing what Attorneys General are supposed to do in our system; be independent, act independent and follow the law and constitution.

In all likelihood Trump’s order, if properly crafted, vetted and organized –despite its odious intent—probably could have passed legal muster. But in his rush to use his executive power pen/sword he blundered badly –possibly irredeemably?

Our system sometimes seems clumsy, awkward and sluggish. Today, it seems haphazard and trigger happy.

Now we see several Federal District Judges and Yates on the front lines of the battle breaking out.

They alone probably cannot trigger the full scale landslide need to clean the White House. David Brooks today called attention to the Faustian bargain that the Republican leadership has been sipping from. He rightly pointed out that if they are not careful they may become political history in 2018 and 2020. But we all cannot afford to wait too long.

Our task is to move a step further than good demonstrative gestures such as the Women’s March after the inauguration.

We must mobilize civil –in the dual meaning of that word—disobedience to create enough disruption in enough places to cause enough pain to gather an overwhelming support to move the leaders in Congress to actually take action to save their own skins –and ours while they are it.

This will not happen without risking many things and some people.

Enough already!