What Are American’s 10 Options For Labor Day?

There’s been much talk recently of coping, of how people dismayed, disgusted and even traumatized by the actions of our President – in office and in getting there – can overcome the debilitating despair that is Trump’s stock in trade.  Here are ten potential coping mechanisms for the Reign of Terror Against Good Sense.

  1. Put your head in the sand and have a good snooze. RESULT – you will get what you deserve and what others decide for you.

 

  1. Rail to anyone who will listen and hope. RESULT—you may feel a bit better for a few minutes before reverting to the norm – the sad, depressing norm.

 

  1. Gather signatures calling for some kind of public action. RESULT—perhaps you may stir some others into some kind of action. You’ll feel good about this, but that good feeling may not survive the next tweetstorm branding women and black people “low-IQ.”

 

  1. Raise enough money to start a lawsuit on Constitutional issues with the best lawyers you can afford. RESULT — a lot of teeth gnashing, delays and perhaps some good ideas emerging.

 

  1. If you are a veteran, attend all sessions and make sure you are heard and help influence the military to do the right things. RESULT — keeps the military from going overboard.

 

  1. If you are gutsy, refuse in writing to pay your taxes to a government that is lying to you and disobeying laws and regulations with your money. People on the right have been doing this for years on the whacko premise that the federal government has no authority to tax individuals. Several of them have gone to jail, though, and none have persuaded a court of the rightness (legal or moral) of their cause. RESULT – potentially many years behind bars and an outstanding tax bill that grows precipitously.

 

  1. Put signs in your front yards or doors telling people that they are being misled by officials who are infringing their rights. RESULT – you’ll feel better telling people where you stand but may encounter cranky neighbors or “cease and desist” letters from your homeowners’ association.

 

  1. Park your car on a crowded bridge; get arrested and use the publicity to be heard. RESULT – you’ll lift the flagging spirits of others as despondent as yourself, at least temporarily, and may avoid a jail sentence.

 

  1. Get a couple of hundred ‘friends’ to hire some busses and go to DC and tie up traffic in front of the White House and the Capital. RESULT – snarled traffic and a long bus ride while the world continues to go to hell in a handbasket.

 

  1. Get a prescription of sleeping pills and spend the next 2 ½ years in a drug-induced stupor. RESULT – likely addiction, but you might escape the most maddening moments of the Trump presidency.

As the list shows, yes, there are things we all can do. What good they will do is less clear. What is perfectly clear, though, is that doing NOTHING will achieve just that. If you believe, as I do, that our President is a danger to our country, and to the very idea of democracy, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something, and keep doing it, and then get your friends to do it with you, and then their friends, as well. Most of all, whatever you choose to do between now and November, make sure you and every right-thinking person you know shows up on November 6th to take the only action that can stop this President: electing a Democratic Congress.

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The Supreme Court And Politics

There is a major difference between our Supreme Court and most other democracies.

Perhaps 99% of the time the Court decides what are primarily matters of legal interpretation – it is the Court’s job to say “what the law is.” The other one percent is purely political. Thus, eight or nine unelected individuals, secure in lifetime appointments, can determine the political fate of 325,000,000 people! And that can have a lasting effect as long as 30 plus years.

Now we have an even worse case coming before us.

A President who is being accused of both illegal and improper actions – which quite likely made the difference in his election – has appointed a man (admittedly a competent lawyer) whose past record underlines his extreme views on impeachment and executive authority, which go well beyond legal interpretation and deeply into the realm of politics.

In a world of balance and fairness, it stands to reason that pending the resolution of the many investigations into the President, the appointment of such a vital Justice should be held in abeyance. It is highly likely that the Supreme Court will be called upon in the not-to-distant future to render judgement on a subpoena of the President to testify before a grand jury; the ability of the Justice Department to indict a sitting President; the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation; or a President’s authority to pardon himself. Whether one or all of these issues appear before the Court, the idea that a sitting justice, appointed by the President in question, would render judgement in the case is offensive to constitutional norms and the sensibilities of a democracy.

Our Constitutional system carefully provided for terms for the political officials—2 years for the House, 6 years for the Senate and 4 years for President. That clearly suggests that the Framers knew it was important to set limits on political power in order not to freeze anything for too long. They clearly NEVER contemplated today’s situation where such limits could be stretched to a breaking point – it is, after all, reasonable to ask whether the nation can survive two more years of the Trump presidency without real and lasting damage.

If there is one powerful argument to suspending Kavanaugh’s confirmation, this is it. Perhaps at least one or two Republican Senators as well as all Democrat Senators might think about this before they vote.

Where Are You General Marshall?

In June 1948, Europe still lay in the shambles of WWII and the US government was still at sea, having long prepared for war with no real plan of what to do after to help put the world back on its feet.

General Marshall, who had helped steer FDR and then Truman in planning the whole military effort, was invited to Harvard to give the commencement address and to receive an honorary degree for his amazing service.

His speech, which initially went largely unnoticed, reviewed the state of the world (mostly rubble) and concluded that if the US hoped to win the peace, the best plan was to start by putting all of Europe back together with a major rebuilding program.

He did not proclaim any plan as such, but he laid out the facts and scored a bull’s eye with the idea that the US could not afford to assume that Europe could take care of itself alone, as we had with dire results after WWI.

Within weeks of his commencement address, the nation realized that Marshall had outdone himself, and spoken essential wisdom. Hence, his ideas became known as the Marshall Plan, and he now is regarded by many as the wisest man of the 20th Century.

Our current ‘war’ is of a very different sort from World War II. The mal-distribution of global wealth has created a world of haves and have-nots that underlies much of modern anxiety about the state of affairs in the world.

The imbalance underlies resentment of refugees, or even ordinary immigrants and people seeking asylum (they’re taking ‘our’ jobs). It engenders a lack of confidence in institutions, which seem to stand by idly for the most part. And it provides the flame for the tinderbox of hatred, prejudice and religious fervor that seeds both domestic and foreign terrorism.

It is not too soon for a modern day Marshall to help us think through a strategy to help put the world back on a path to peace, prosperity and good will among most people.

Yes, that is a tall order. But without sensible goals and plans it probably is not possible.

The basic issue is that the allocation of resources/wealth among the global population of about 7 billion people is more visibly out of kilter perhaps than ever before. Take the US distribution as exhibit A.

Trends In Family Wealth_1989-2013

Source: Congressional Budget Office, “Trends in Family Wealth, 1989-2013

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that “the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent rose from just under 30% in 1989 to nearly 49% in 2016, while the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33% to less than 23% over the same period.”

That has resulted in several different kinds of pressures and conflicts, with little or no strategy to address the problem. The basic pressure conflict is between haves and have nots. That appears in many forms: taxation; education and all forms of opportunity.

These disparities are most apparent in migration patterns. Overpopulation around the world tends to create incentives to leave – a lack of safety, education, health and welfare naturally encourages people to seek out new opportunities.

The richer countries, which in the past relied on inward migration for growth and innovation, are increasingly pulling up their ladders to ‘protect’ the folks already in their tree house.

Another consequence of inequitable wealth distribution among people and countries is isolationist trade policies. The disparate distribution of wealth creates disparities in the distribution of work and resources which, in turn, often leads to quotas and tariffs. Which, in turn, lead to retaliation and, if left to fester, in turn leads to trade wars. Contrary to recent assertions, there simply are no winners in these disputes.

As these factors and pressures drift around the globe they create political conditions that are destabilizing and frequently lead to challenging the status quo of democratic and authoritarian governance alike.

That is where we are today.

The United States, Europe, Asia, Russia and even China are all feeling some internal, change oriented political pressures to address the external pressures bearing on them because of the global destabilization of migration and resource distribution.

What might be done globally to address these problems?

One possibility is a global fund to assist supporting living standards around the globe, addressing the human and financial issues in such a way as to rectify the consequences of some of the imbalances we have been discussing.

Such a fund could be managed, perhaps like the World Bank, for the purpose of reducing the pressures and incentives in given countries to abuse existing imbalances to the disadvantage of neighboring countries.

A fund that assessed, say, $25 for every person in a developed country and $1 per person in developing countries would generate $60 billion annually (the U.S. share would be roughly $8 billion – pocket change in our $3 trillion budget). Add in a 1% assessment on all global exports and imports and you get an additional $159 billion for a total of almost $220 billion.

That’s roughly 8 times what the U.S. currently spends on foreign aid annually.  And while it won’t make everyone wealthy, $220 billion could begin to reduce some of the pain in the world and ease some pressures that threaten to boil over into chaos or worse.

The money, admittedly, is likely to be the easy part. Left unanswered at the moment is how and where to spend it, and who decides.

I already have some ideas indicated by World Bank history. If any reader has any bright ideas I will be more than happy to see them and, if used, will give appropriate credit if the source wishes.

Stay tuned!

A Decisive Moment Of Change

This week’s legal developments in the Manafort and Cohen cases mark the moment when the whole Trump matter will move largely from the legal domain to the political domain.

We already knew that Cohen paid (and was reimbursed for) hush money to suppress potentially damaging information just before the election. What wasn’t known until Tuesday is that his actions were directed by Trump. As Cohen’s attorney rightly noted, if it was a crime for Michael Cohen, it must, by definition, be a crime for the President, as well.

That raises front and center the matter of the question of an indictment and trial of a sitting President. There is no clear black letter law that prohibits such an indictment. However, the Justice Department has had a policy for about 50 years that it does not believe such a process would be proper, for fear that the President could become so beleaguered by overeager lawyers and citizens that he/she could not perform adequately as President.

That view has something to be said for it, despite the fact that it runs head-on into the basic Constitutional point that no one—including a President—can or should be above the law.

The Justice Department’s view embraces the point that if a President becomes an un-indicted co-conspirator, that could automatically be the basis for the House of Representatives to take up the question of whether the issue rises to the level of ‘high crimes or misdemeanors,’ which is the sole Constitutional standard for impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate.

All of the above works perfectly well IF the House and the Senate have the brains and gumption to put the Country’s interests ahead of Party and any members’ risks of reelection.

But, if the Congress fails to perform its Constitutional duties (as appears likely in this case, at least before November) then the Special Counsel should not be constrained from indicting and trying that President without regard to political considerations.

If such a trial found such a President guilty, the special counsel could raise the legal question before the Supreme Court that a high crime and misdemeanor had been committed and the Congress had failed in its duty.  At that point the Supreme Court would surely be on the spot and the Country would see what they are made of when they are beyond fear and favor. If that does not work??

It is hard to predict what the public would think of such a situation. But it seems quite clear to me that our populace is not enamored of corrupt leaders, and quite likely that a stand-off with a convicted President and a recalcitrant Congress on one side against the special counsel (and public opinion) would leave the country a few inches away from either despotism or revolution.

At that point somewhere – somehow – wise and/or strong heads and hearts will emerge and lead the way into the future.

Luck to us all!

First Amendment

Most people roughly know what the First Amendment means.

They tend to think of it as giving them the right to tell their neighbor he is a big dumb jerk for driving over their property and gives him no recourse. (It doesn’t.)

A few people know that there are some limits to First Amendment rights, such as crying FIRE in a crowded theater when there is none. That example of a rare exception was from Oliver Wendell Holmes in a Supreme Court decision around 1900.

Newspapers and other forms of journalism believe correctly that the First Amendment confers on them not only the right, but also the power, to learn and disclose what citizens have a need and right to know about what government, the for-profit, and not-for-profit sectors are doing which might have impact on their lives.

The area where the First Amendment may be the least understood is the right of government officials to speak out about the actions and/or inactions of other public officials—including in particular their superiors.

Our Constitution is clear –no one, including and perhaps especially the President, is above or exempt from ‘the law’.

In the case of former CIA Director John Brennan being unilaterally stripped by Trump of his security clearance, all Brennan was accused of was criticizing Trump. There are established procedures by which certain appropriate officials can remove a security clearance for cause, such as if the holder has violated the rules of national security. None of those procedures were followed in the Brennan case.

If the Congress does not sanction and reverse Trump’s action, we will be one step closer to losing a constitutional freedom and one step closer to an authoritarian society.

If that is making America great again, I will eat my dirty socks in Times Square on New Year’s Eve!

Salt Water – Fresh Thinking!

I have known, for 75 years, that I love spending time in the summer months on the coast of Maine in a small town. Everything about it is refreshing and different from living in New York City.

I now am discovering that it also clears the space and cobwebs between my ears and helps bring alive interesting thoughts and ideas that I had not plowed up before!

Since the November 2016 Presidential election we have all been facing a menacing picture of a tribally-driven society upsetting people everywhere, as it was way back in 1860 in the run up to the Civil War, when THE issue was basically slavery.

Many people now talk about how so many people who have so much good stuff in common (like simply being residents of the USA) can stumble into the seemingly inescapable trap that plays on a few differences that really are not at all basic to what we all do have in common.

To begin, about 10% of Americans were born abroad and another 30% have at least one grandparent born abroad. The overwhelming majority of us, of course, have forebearers who came to this country from elsewhere, differing only in how long ago the trek was made. How can it be possible that so many Americans, who owe their very existence as Americans to immigration, now want to pull up the ladder and stop such future immigration? I guess the answer is pretty simple—now that I am here I simply want to keep it as is! They seem to forget that it is people like them who made America like it is now, and if they change that process, America will not change and grow as it has in the past.

I know a father and daughter who have extreme disagreements over all aspects of Trump. They are both lawyers; both are bright and well educated, and stubborn. Obviously they have blood in common; culture in common and family bonds that often help bridge differences. The daughter is dutiful and despite her anger at her father she regularly helps him out. Put that story in your pipe and smoke out how that dichotomy arises and persists.

As one digs into what explains these differences in specific cases a few interesting things pop up.

Certainty vs doubt. Perhaps there are some people born to be certain about everything they think they see and others born to be cautiously doubtful. Doubt is essential throughout life because it protects us. If more people valued doubt, there obviously would be fewer people rigidly certain. The overall result could be that more people would realize that Mother Nature gave us two hands for good reasons—on the one and on the other?

Religion varies a lot. Some religions are more rigid than others. They all propagate beliefs and beliefs can become the basis of dogma. Dogma too often is a substitute for rational thought, and compels people into an Us vs. Them mentality that is not helpful to a pluralistic society.

Memory is essential – most of us know that if we do not remember history we are destined to repeat it. That assumes that we know some history in the first place. Some people who have ‘poor’ memories do not hesitate to contradict themselves, yet they are upset when they are contradicted.

Vocabulary is essential to communicating and thinking carefully and clearly. Some people are quite poor at this and do not recognize that another person who is both repetitive and simpleminded may not be making sense.

These four elements/characteristics of human process lie at the heart of how our population has been susceptible in recent times to what seems like tribalization which increasingly becomes divisive and hostile.

Most of us can survive with less than our share of good sense. Fewer of us can survive with less than our share of good luck. A lot of self-made people believe that they had both good sense AND good luck. They also have a tendency to appreciate other purely self-made people rather than people who used education and establishment values as their route to success in life.

How do we bridge these kinds of gaps which seem to be at the root of a lot of today’s misunderstandings?

First, it will not be easy or fast.

Second, we ALL have to be willing to try.

Last, we will need to be scared into it, either by the ramifications or by the sniffs of bloody conflict.

I HAVE SEEN OUR FUTURE!

It is WOMEN!!!

I am tempted to leave it at that. But it may need some explanation to some folks.

Women—and we must remember that broad generalizations have many exceptions—at large are much better prepared in today’s world to lead a democracy, particularly in The United States.

Why a democracy? Families in the main are micro democracies where things get ‘worked out’ not simply dictated. A lot of men work in largish organizations which tend to be hierarchical and commanded.

Women’s experiences in ’running’ homes often accompanied by full time jobs in larger organizations — is much more useful and relevant to running political processes outside homes.

We have had 200+ years of experience with men at the helm. Though we have been slow to learn the value of women leaders, we are truly ready NOW!

The number of women running for Congress this year has risen significantly. That may be partly because polls indicate their chances are better than ever. Most of them have military experience along with family life and other rigorous professional training. Many of them are downright amazing people—one woman I have met has had about 40 had 10 years in the Marines flying helicopters in combat, is a trained lawyer and has 4 children. A supportive husband that assists with family life does not hurt. While it is true that most of our Presidents in the 20th Century were quite well qualified, as we are moving into a different world things point more towards women as our salvation in this country.

Who Is Fit To Be President?

Strange stories appear almost daily.

A man named Michael Avenatti best known as the lawyer for Stormy Daniels—porn star buddy of Trump—has appeared with her a lot in the press lately and now says he is eyeing a run for President in 2020.

Why not Stormy herself?  She looks even better to the male eye and she even seems to be quite bright and clever.

Granted the 1st Amendment gives ALL Americans a right to put their names forward for President—or anything for that matter—but that does not mean that anyone—including the press—has any duty to pass the message along.

Perhaps when we someday get around to fixing flaws in our Constitution we might put on the list some base requirements for a person to be a candidate for President—such as having been a former member of the House and Senate, Governor, or mayor of a city of at least 1 million people.

That way people can find some relevant starting record to base a judgment on a potential candidate.

Trump of course would not have qualified, and Avenatti could have spared us this blog and his own embarrassment for such a stupid idea.

Except thanks to him for bringing the idea to mind.

If we the people heed it!

A 100 Year Thread That May Save America

In 1895 a man named Sears decided to compete with Montgomery Ward.

Sears was a genius at writing deliciously seductive copy for his catalog which, thanks to the introduction of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) spread across the whole country. Until WWII Sears dominated the retail business in the United States. His first big break out came when he popularized the bicycle just before 1900.

Shortly after WWII, a man named Walton started Walmart. He had figured that Sear’s success with its catalog business had blinded it to the need for many more stores away from the biggest population centers. He also figured that with more efficient and stricter inventory management, as well as lower prices that resulted from that, he could beat Sears at its own game. He was right, though it has taken more than 50 years for Sears to fail.

As we turned the corner into the 21st Century (and Al Gore invented the internet), another retail upstart named Bezos imagined mass retailing via WIFI with remote shopping and next day delivery. Bezos is today the richest person in the world, having shoved aside both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

What is the 100 year thread? It is not simply selling things. It is HOW to go about doing that as efficiently and effectively as the mechanics and process of the world at large make possible.

If the managers of those sequential companies had remained on their toes, with their eyes wide open, it is quite likely that passing the torch of leadership would have looked quite different. There really was nothing that the successor companies did that the predecessors could not have done IF they had been awake and tried.

Simply put, succeeding generations of business managers have a big advantage in life. Their predecessors gradually became smug and complacent and lose their ability to see changes in the world, which they once had taken advantage of when they started out.

OK – what does this tell us about our world today—not just about selling/buying things—but about how our world can deal with today’s new changes in our political process?

What are the threads of that story?

Americans easily fall in love with buying things—particularly if it is easier, cheaper and fun. With only minor exceptions this is a primarily an American phenomenon.

It is tempting to say that the one thing that is not for sale is love or state of mind. But that is not really true. Today there are online dating and many other ‘soft’ skills about human behavior not just involving sex.

Perhaps the merchandising/retail conglomerates could conjure up some ‘love thy neighbor’ offerings. Imagine discovering that your closest neighbors love the same things you do!? A field day on your block!

If I could subscribe to something like a big brother/big sister program to get to know personally people anywhere and better understand how they think and the reverse, I would do it in a flash.

The thread of the retailing story of the past century is that it may have the potential to pull us out of today’s political nose dive.

The common denominator of all Americans is that we are consumers at heart and we are ready to buy peace on earth and good will to all people.

Who/where is the next forward-thinking retailer who will package that for us?

Friends – Acquaintances – Enemies

In the days of the former Soviet Union, prominent Soviet journalists, business people, and even bureaucrats would confidentially tell Westerners that they had many acquaintances but very few friends.

When asked what the differences were, the answer was scary.

The main difference was that, in the Soviet Union, there were things you could only tell your closest true friends – like your sister – because they could get you killed.

An acquaintance could be one who may know where you went to school and that your favorite color was purple. But they could not (should not) be trusted to know anything at all about your economic and political life.

An enemy could be just about anyone who could/might use any information about you to gain for themselves even some small advantage.

Therefore, it was critical for everyone to keep their circle small and keep their head down.

When asked by a Westerner how a stranger could know whether any Russian was a Soviet spy, the answer was very simple: one can never be sure, THEREFORE one should simply assume that everyone might be a spy and act accordingly.

They, and we, have all come quite a long way since those days. The numbers of friends and acquaintances has increased a bit. But in societies that have autocratic tendencies, most people should still be careful to keep their affairs close and simple. It does not take many outright street shootings in public in Russia today to remind most people to be very careful to conceal their likes and dislikes.

Our current political climate in the United States has become a bit more like Russia’s than we would like.

Your political opinions are still quite unlikely to get you killed in the United States, but the rate at which Presidential appointees are being fired and forced out, seemingly almost randomly on a whim, is suggestive of how that process starts to get out of control.

Our current President has clear authoritarian tendencies and has gone after more than a few people who have had the audacity to challenge him. In fact, the streets of DC are metaphorically littered with stray bodies of people he has scattered in his of tweets.

Some of the recipients of his displeasure—such as the former Secretary of State—had the lack of caution of saying to someone that Trump was an idiot. Gone!

If that cabinet officer had followed the Soviet rules of caution, he might still be in office—except that he was also promoting publicly a diplomatic opening with North Korea, which it now appears Trump viewed as his exclusive Nobel Peace Prize province?

It appears that we are reaching a point where it may be wise for more politically active citizens to monitor themselves carefully to limit their utterances lest those sounds/words come back to haunt them in unexpected and unpleasant ways.

While that may not be an explicit attack on the 1st Amendment, because we would be voluntarily limiting ourselves, the effect is the same and would bring us to a very dangerous moment in our history.

It is not too soon to become aware of this new insidious assault on our freedom of speech.

I am particularly aware of the problem as I write this blog because despite being 87 years old, who knows? And, believe it or not, I have occasionally found myself reining in some of my thoughts and ideas.

That is not a healthy sign ­- at least to some of you?