Process or Policy?

The Chicken and Egg Problem of American Society

Policy is what one wants to happen. Process is how to make it happen.

Democracy is composed of many things – ideals, principles, policies, and an abiding commitment to a fair and open process of repairing and perpetuating itself as the ‘people’ vote.

Democracy as a goal only can grow out of THE process that usefully works the surrounding issues with policies that advance that goal.

The “policy or process” question can be asked when looking at a host of modern problems – immigration, climate change, human trafficking, etc. On any given issue, these problems describe a policy goal, but they are also totally reliant on a solid process of awareness and actions to gain traction towards their goal.

Why is this question even worth thinking about?

The answer is that without a clear understanding of the consequences and differences, both suffer in the absence of the other.

For example, a process without a clear focus and goal likely will spin wheels and nothing more. Similarly a clear policy, for example, to stimulate economic growth, without a clear and well directed process is unlikely to be effective.

Amazing to me, I have found that many people in and around government hold to a simplistic view that all that matters and that will hold public interest is POLICY. It is true that many (most) citizens are interested primarily in outcomes and substance – or a policy – than the process that enables that subject or goal which is dear to them.

There seems to be a view that if there is a clear policy to, say, increase exports, a process to enable that policy must also be clearly understood and will therefore automatically arise and produce that goal. Experience shows that is plain WRONG!

Indeed, the reverse is also true. A process of attempting to stimulate economic growth without the use of the relevant policy instruments (such as taxes, cheap and available money, stimulation of demand) will be incoherent, weak kneed and nothing will happen.

Journalists particularly disparage process as un-interesting because they believe their readers/viewers are only interested in concrete substantive results. What journalists need to learn and encourage is that if process is ignored and maligned the desired results are much less likely to materialize.

When Members of Congress tend to dismiss efforts to recognize and beef up process – or how things can be made to happen – things are far less likely to happen.

All this helps explain how society works – and does not work – at the root of today’s general malaise.

The confusion about and misunderstanding of the TWIN Ps – policy and process – may seem to be simplistic, but it is not.

We need to find ways to enhance and expand a better and broader understanding of this issue to move away from today’s confusing congestion.


Beware Grassley And McConell Et Al

Senators Grassley and McConnell, in your rush to judgment on Kavanagh you are doubling/tripling your party’s political risks, ignoring the lessons of history in a now probably already futile attempt to appoint him to the nation’s highest court.

The limited scope of Thursday’s proposed hearing underscores its limited ambition. Far from a pursuit of truth, your already-declared goal is to “plow through” to a conservative Supreme Court majority. The lack of even trying to investigate ensures a she said/he said standoff which will not satisfy most voters and Americans and will surely reduce the credibility of the Supreme Court for a very long time.

And, if you manage to drive the Senate to a successful confirmation prematurely, you will be exposed after Kavanagh is on the Court to the very real risk of his immediate impeachment for having lied to the Committee – on possibly more than one occasion and more than one subject before he was ever questioned specifically about Dr. Ford.

There is nothing to prevent independent investigators, whether Congress, the FBI or others, from seeking the full story of Kavanagh’s knowledge or involvement in controversies with Dr Ford, the George W. Bush administration – and, more importantly, how he has described his role in those positions during his recent Senate testimony.

Dr. Ford’s allegations, meanwhile, haven’t even begun to be investigated. How confident are you that whatever Kavanagh says next week won’t be undercut in a matter of days, weeks or months by as-yet-unknown evidence? It would in the interests of all concerned to get those facts on the table before proceeding.

It’s understandable, if infuriating, that you’ve been willing to bend Senate rules and smash Senate customs to build a Supreme Court majority that you hope will hold for a generation. What’s perplexing is why you’re sticking with this deeply flawed nominee, who will surely dig your hole even deeper.

Kavanagh is swiftly losing public support, and history conveniently illuminates the cost of being seen as not treating women’s claims of sexual abuse or harassment with respect and deference. From Anita Hill to the #MeToo movement, your party has suffered severely when you haven’t taken women seriously. The Democrats in the Senate rejected one of their own for groping!

Giving Judge Kavanagh a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court will virtually guarantee sweeping Republic losses in November – and may well spark a Democratic takeover of the Senate, an outcome you evidently currently deem to be remote. The damage to the Supreme Court and to the country’s legal system will be just as severe, and last much longer.

Republican Senators, wake up before it is too late! You surely violated the Constitution when you refused to let the Senate have any say on Merrick Garland. Then you shattered the last barrier to a highly partisan, politically-motivated Court: the filibuster. Now you are rushing to judgment, and possibly your own demise.

Have you no wit, conscience or shame?

Why do I care enough to WARN you about what you are trying to do as it most likely favors Democrats?

The answer is because I care about the integrity of our whole political process and the credibility of our Federal Court System.

You seem to have lost your way in the fog of Trump politics!

She Says – He Says – We Says

She: He attempted to rape me.

He: I never did such a thing.

We: Memory can be tricky, but her version is very credible, backed by corroborating evidence. He now admits to a lot of youthful drunkenness. Definitely have the FBI investigate and then reopen the hearings.

How does this end?

The FBI should be able to untangle the knot of conflicting statements and uncertain memories including that of the male friend present. If the evidence ends up supporting his version the nation gets a tainted justice for his life, if the evidence supports her version, he is toast.

It is conceivable that he was so drunk he never had a memory of it – not unusual. But when, and if, he ultimately recalls it in the face of dispositive recalled evidence, if he apologizes and withdraws, he just might be able to keep his present position?

Worse, what if he ultimately acknowledges it yet apologizes and seeks to dismiss it as simply a youthful indiscretion and refuses to withdraw? Would the Senate, which has proven itself spineless in confronting the President, suddenly change course and tell Trump to “try again”?

Otherwise we would we get a new Supreme Court Justice, deeply flawed and forever tainted?  In a perfect world, it’s obvious the Senate would demur.

It’s also obvious that this is NOT a perfect world, and readily apparent that this guy was a mistake from the start for several reasons.

We should not be surprised at this situation.

It is perhaps the most long lasting mistake coming dumped on us by Trump to date.

Trump’s End Game?

With Paul Manafort’s plea-bargain with special prosecutor Robert Mueller, it appears that President Trump’s maneuvering room has shrunk significantly. In agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, Manafort has joined the ranks of Trump’s (sort-of) lawyer, his chief financial officer, and several others in deciding the personal cost of protecting Trump has grown too steep. In other words, there are now a plethora of people legally obligated to give Mueller whatever goods they might have – on Russia, tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign finance and wherever else Mueller’s team might be digging.

With the walls closing in, what are Trump’s options?

  1. With little left to lose, he might seek to fire Mueller NOW, or immediately after the midterms. Indeed, the slightness of Trump’s legal team (in size and expertise in these sorts of matters) suggests Trump was never going to let the investigation advance too far;
  2. Pardon himself and use the ensuing legal battle to ride out his last two years in office;
  3. Go “Full Nixon” and offer to resign to avoid criminal indictment or impeachment;
  4. Double down with the true believers in the hopes that it will be enough to avoid conviction in a Senate trial;
  5. Abandon the base and sidle up to Schumer and Pelosi in the hopes that his cooperation on issues dear to Democrats will make them favor him over his vice president;
  6. Call Putin and ask for asylum, and a chance to build his long yearned for Moscow Hotel;
  7. Ask Pence to resign, appoint Hillary Clinton as VP and then resign;
  8. Hold out as long as possible while raising as much money as possible for his re-election campaign, then resign and transfer the $80 million + to his charity (or, if regulators shut it down first, to a new one he controls); or
  9. Some combination of all of the above.

In other words, Trump’s options are as confusing as he and his Presidency have been.

Deep down, what Trump really wants is to emerge with his reputation – as he sees it – for sincerity, honesty and good intentions INTACT. That is, obviously, impossible and beyond his psychological capabilities in any event.

He also wants very much to be seen as the brilliant, VERY RICH deal maker beyond the reach of the law for anything he has ever done. No tax returns ever. No financial statements ever. No apologies ever.

All this presents him and his advisors with a tough agenda going into end game thinking.

In all likelihood the end game may be more confusing than the preliminary rounds we have been watching all along!!

“The Law”

Above or Subject to?

At this precarious moment in our nation’s history, perhaps the biggest question facing us is whether anyone is above the law, or all are subject to it.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in previous writings and before the Senate committee considering his nomination, has made it quite clear that he believes that Presidents should be free from the distractions of investigations and indictments. He also believes that Presidents can pardon themselves. His reasoning apparently is that IF Congress wants to ‘deal with’ a rogue President, its only Constitutional remedy is simply impeachment for ‘high crimes or misdemeanors.’

Unfortunately, a lot has changed since the Constitution was written, and even without allowing for changes in what constitutes certain crimes and misdemeanors, Kavanaugh’s reasoning is sorely deficient in today’s world.

For example, if Congress was about to impeach and try a President for treason (like agreeing to go soft on Russia if they helped elect him in exchange) and that President then pardoned himself for his treasonous ways, could that President successfully deflect the impeachment?

In the light of his writings and testimony, it is hard to imagine today’s Supreme Court nominee sitting and ruling on that question.

The classic expression that ‘no one is above the law’ began somehow, sometime around the time of our Revolution when Americans wanted to get away from a royal king who WAS THE LAW and treated us accordingly.

While the precise ‘above or below the law’ language never found its way into the Constitution, it is deeply and inextricably embedded in all that it did say, and the many writings explaining and defending the Constitution that preceded its ratification.

The notion that a rogue President might pardon him/herself is so repugnant to our founding ideals that it is almost unbelievable that any American could or would tolerate it, regardless of politics.

There are a lot of reasons why Kavanaugh should NOT be confirmed but this one is dispositive.

Where Is The Center Of The Universe?

Nearly 2,000 years ago, in an extraordinary feat of scientific exploration, Claudius Ptolemy developed a geo-centric notion of the universe that accounted for the motion of stars and planets in the skies, while placing EARTH firmly at the center of it all.

He was, of course, colossally wrong, but it took another 1,400 years before Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated conclusively just how wrong.

The history is well-known, but may offer lessons for our polarized times.

The center of every individual’s universe is themselves – a kind of homo-centric parallel to Ptolemy and Copernicus.  People naturally view the world as revolving around them. The only perspective they physically own is their own, centered in self and watching the rest of humanity revolve around them.

But even Copernicus didn’t get it quite right. It took the likes of Einstein to reveal that, universe-wise, everything is in constant motion, with every asteroid, planet, star and galaxy tugging on its galactic neighbors near and far, a galactic ballet operating on a scale that defies human understanding.

That, it turns out, is an apt model for considering human relationships. The primary human instincts – reproduction and survival, competition and greed – led us to gather into tribes, primarily because building communities offered the best chance of both sex and survival, while providing vast opportunities to exercise our less-desirable traits.

Just as the planets depend for their survival on the motions of other objects, humans depend for their survival on the actions of others. As we coalesce into like-minded tribes, we are unknowingly disturbing the delicate balance that keeps the world afloat!

The challenge then, is to figure out realistic ways to encourage more individual people to find and use their instincts of sex, love and friendship to balance their instincts of greedy competition?

First, see ‘new’ people as windows into exciting new opportunities that can enhance positive instincts and needs.

Second, try to see competitors as potential partners and enhancers.

Third, belonging to diverse groups often open eyes and ideas for more opportunities.

Finally, remember that, in the whole great continuing human experiment, we really, truly need each other.

Can you imagine 7 billion people pulling together on the oars of Earth to find our way to the nearest planet?

I want to be on that boat!

It cannot be far away.

Neither A Blue Tide Nor Red

What we’re really witnessing is a rising tide of Americans concerned with democracy and its future.

The devoutly wished-for blue or red tide in November’s elections will not come about – regardless of the outcome.

While a Democratic House is probably the likeliest outcome – and the only one that can forestall the republic’s collapse, the hidden import of this year’s elections is the possible emergence of a new breed of political leaders, neither enamored of nor beholden to the ruling class of politicians in Congress today, and to a person eager to transcend mere partisanship. While many – but not all of them – come with the “Democrat” label, they have serious differences with their party’s’ platform, priorities, and approach.

A recent series of articles about the interesting new faces running for Congress gives us real hope for the future. There are more women running than ever. There are many heroes – men and women – whose military service has compelled them to pursue public service through other means.

Their reasons for giving up great careers to run for Congress have one thing in common. They are largely fed up with Red and Blue and they feel that they can put their experience to work finding solutions to today’s tough problems by working together with all their colleagues, regardless of party affiliation.

They are an amazing bunch and it really looks like many of them will succeed.

This is an off-year election and it may take until the next Presidential election to see their numbers become large enough to create, in effect, a real NON party bloc in Congress. In the House, where even small groups of like-minded legislators can exert influence greater than their size, these new mavericks could become a [the?] leading group of politicians in the USA.

For all the talk of a new party (or many) over the last 40 years, the two-party dichotomy has handily persevered.  It may be that we have been too focused on the old way of doing things.

The new way, unfolding today, may become known as the ‘People’s Party’. They will write their own rules and reform the largely stagnant and sometimes malevolent way the Congress has gotten us into today’s mess, by working as insurgents on the inside.

This year we may see about 100 of these new types of Representatives – at all levels of government – and perhaps that number may double by 2020. A next step will be to see the same thing happen in the Senate, which will potentially see its first stage in 2020.

Though a majority of the States – as States are more Red than Blue – there are a large number of people in ALL States who are just plain fed up with colors and want their Representatives AND Senators to represent THEM and not some party primarily trying to perpetuate its powers and prerogatives.

That is the happiest thought I have had in quite a while!