Who Is Next?

I read recently that about half my 1,000 college classmates are still living, and that a few of us may live well past 100 years. My day lifted!

Today, I saw a notice that about 25 members of a club I belong to in NYC (with about 2,000 members) had died in the past three months. Then I looked again and saw that I personally knew quite well six of those people. I felt like I had taken on a few pounds of lead.

For some time, in an effort to be funny (judgements on my success are mixed), I have been telling people I am planning my 100th birthday — wanna come, I ask?

Every time I curate my rolodex –about once a year–I must write DELETE in about 40 names.

I am now in London visiting for the first time in 10 months, where four of our ‘chums’ – cozy best friends — have died ‘good’ deaths over the age of 90. Happily, we have others, but it takes time to qualify for cozy, and time appears to be both short in supply and randomly distributed.

Obviously, mortality is on my mind.

I guess the accumulation of evidence and historical statistics render these thoughts normal –even expected. I do not know, because this seems NOT to be a topic for everyday conversation.

I would not say that I am depressed. Rather, I think I am more determined than ever to stretch – one never beats! – the odds to see what lies ahead. I would really like to see Trump — and his Republican enablers — beaten to pulp at the ballot box next year, and I am intently curious about who will become the next President, and how.

I don’t yet (and may never) know the ending of those and many other stories waiting to be written. What I do know is that the geniuses actively planning to extend human life forever are doomed to fail if, in the end, they aren’t able to keep enough people alive at the same time to enable us to still have ‘old’ friends!

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Election Day – of the week?

Our election day, for unremarkable reasons, has been set by law, since 1845, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

And, our country has one of the free world’s lowest voter participation rates.

It’s impossible to think those two facts are completely unrelated!

For years people have suggested that we should move our election day to a weekend (with one or two days of in-person voting), or make Election Day a national holiday, to make it easier for many working people to get to the polls without missing work and pay.

Without testing real turnout differences in a number of different places over a period of time, effects of such changes would only be a matter of speculation. But either approach is unlikely to decrease turnout, so why not try? That’s where politics comes in and exposes one of the most odious aspects of modern governance.

There is a basic assumption that making it easier for working people to vote will likely increase the number of working-class voters. Historically, that would tend to increase liberal and Democrat votes.

The result is not only a refusal to make Election Day more accessible to more people, but an active and determined effort to use the levers of government to reduce voter participation (e.g., voter ID laws, reduction of polling places in minority communities, etc.)

The consequence is the undermining of the very basis of democracy, a fair and open election.

How can reasonable rational, purportedly democracy-loving people object to testing the effect of different voting days on voter turnout?

Obviously, the day of an election is not the only important variable in voter participation. It would be easy to test possible changes independently of each other, over several cycles. A voting “window”, as our republic originally had, might allow different states to test different approaches, although it’s uncertain how to prevent a state voting earlier from influencing later-voting states (not a problem back when it took weeks to tabulate and communicate the results).

But plenty of options exist that don’t risk undue influence. A nation that truly embraces its democratic principles should try anything and everything to increase participation in its most basic rite. That we instead use the democratic process and authority of government to manipulate the voting population for political purposes remains a stain on our history.

But For……

The future could/would be different?

When we think about the past, present and future, and their connections –which we should all do from time to time more than we do today—we often assume that there may be repetitive patterns, or cause and effect, or (yes) effects and causes of other mysteries.

Reading a recent and fabulous new biography [Defender of the Republic -David Roll] of General George Marshall, Franklin Roosevelt’s Military Chief of Staff for all of WWII, the foregoing thought came to mind.

Marshall was FDR’s right arm for the five years of WWII. Among the most important things he did was bring Eisenhower to FDR’s attention based on their service together in the Philippines. And, when FDR finally had to decide on the commander of all allied forces for the crucial invasion of Europe in 1943, the President was pressured from all sources to either elevate Eisenhower or ‘demote’ Marshall. It became clear to most people that if Marshall had asked FDR for the assignment (which he refused to do on principle, which was consistent with his lifelong characteristic of always doing the right thing the right way), it now appears in the most reliable sources that FDR would most likely have named Marshall.

The argument not to change a winning team apparently won the day for Eisenhower. Marshall himself, always the obedient general, NEVER, before or later, uttered a word on the subject.

We all know what happened after that.

Eisenhower managed the fall of Germany with a minimum of mistakes and kept USSR east of Berlin.

And Marshall, with Admiral Leahy, effectively accomplished the same goals in the Pacific.

Subsequently, Truman asked Marshall to save China (impossible!). Then, Truman made Marshall Secretary of State, where he crafted what became known as the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and avoid another China.

 In the meanwhile, Eisenhower became a pleasant and comfortable “hidden hand” President for two terms.

OK, but where does the ‘but for’ come into play?

Likely, if FDR had ‘demoted’ Marshall to be head of the invasion of Europe, Eisenhower would never would have become President, a position which history shows has been the just reward of a grateful nation to the General who won on the field a BIG war (as with George Washington, of course and then Ulysses  Grant after the Civil War).

If that had happened, there might never have been a Marshall Plan, which was born largely from Marshall’s China experiences as well as his earlier strategic involvements with Europe, which set the course of post-war history for half a century.

There is no rational reason to believe that anyone at the time –including FDR— might have thought about the but-for in making the decision on Eisenhower v Marshall in 1943.

 But, it is clear today that Eisenhower’s post-heart attack, weak second term lessened Republican leadership at the time and opened a door to a political turnover in 1960. In hindsight, the Kennedy/Johnson years led to major Pacific issues which continue to haunt us today. [That should NOT be taken as blaming them.] Indeed, the world today likely would have been quite different, if Marshall had been President.

There is a case to be made that more fore-thoughted decision making at that time might have/ could have/ should have taken all those possibilities into consideration. One can speculate along many and varied lines. But reasons for thinking along those lines should be encouraged.

The unfolding of events after World War II, while perhaps not ideal, were generally beneficial to America’s interests, and it is not necessary to criticize Eisenhower’s execution of the war effort and post war efforts,  whatever his subsequent shortcomings in political office.  BUT it does serve to illustrate the utility of ‘but-for’ thinking in making major, important decisions with potentially very long term implications.

Removal vs Impeachment

A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE

Instead of seeking to impeach a President — and thus forcing all the members of Congress to make difficult political choices regarding their own re-electability — the Constitution could/should have a provision to have a second crack at a sitting President and Vice President under stringent but realistic possible conditions.

One would think it ought to be possible to impeach under the current broad standard of high crimes and misdemeanors. But, with conviction in the Senate requiring a 2/3s vote, that quite vague standard (as we see now it) makes that option effectively impossible.

There are valid and important reasons to make impeachment very difficult.  But perhaps the Constitution always needed an extra clause, a ‘reset’ button roughly akin to the “no confidence” votes in parliamentary systems to allow political reassessment — even in the absence of high crimes and misdemeanors — to correct obvious mistakes or address changing circumstances.

To stand any chance of success, a provision allowing the nation to “start over” would have to remove the decision from sitting elected federal officials (Congresspeople and Senators), whose severe partisanship and political self-interest inevitably and unavoidably distort such decisions.

The Framers rightly viewed the States as the political units closest to the people. Why not let them make the call? For example, if the legislative bodies of states with a majority (or even supermajority) of the nation’s population and the Chief Justices of those states voted in favor of a new election, then the sitting US President and Vice President would have to stand for re-election (or not) in, say, 90 days from certification of the vote. Alternatively, the threshold would automatically remove the President and Vice President from office, making the Speaker of the House President for the remainder of the term, or if more than 2 years were left in the term spark a special election.

That would, of course, be very difficult to accomplish under all circumstances. It would, however, remove the process from Washington, D.C. to the States, where the connection between voters and the legislators is sufficiently different to consider the removal of a President in a less radioactive way. It would also give the country another possible way to correct a serious mistake made in the previous election (or, it should be noted, overcome election tampering that might be discovered only after the fact).

Granted this idea runs into the same basic problems of Constitutional change that we have with the electoral college and impeachment provisions.

The fact that it would add a new dimension to the Constitution could be helpful and it is based on using a truly democratic tool to solve a very big problem for which there is no solution practically available today.

I do not expect that this will ever be relevant to Trump, except that he gave rise to the need. And if (God forbid), Trump were re-elected in 2020, most of us would be in Canada and Australia and cease to care!

No More Triggers

Where is an Anti-NRA?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has historically had one serious power —MONEY — to oppose politicians who might possibly threaten the Second Amendment’s misinterpreted right for anyone to bear arms, of any type or destructive power AND their devious and deceptive insistence that ‘guns do not pull the trigger, people do’.

Well over two-thirds of our national population disagree with the NRA, yet year after year the NRA beats politicians who support control guns, with the money they raise from gun makers and gun huggers.

So where is a No More Triggers (NMT) — an openly anti-gun opposition?

If one percent of Americans contributed an average of $10/year to such an effort, that would amount more than $300 million, instantly creating a heavy counterweight to the NRA’s political sway.

Why hasn’t it happened? That question has lingered in my mind for years.  Existing efforts (Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, the Parkland students’ group, and others) are both scattered and focused on vital legislative and educational efforts. What’s needed, however, is a corollary political movement, one focused on candidates for office rather than legislative hearing rooms, and directly engaged in making the case to voters.

Maybe some new genius like Tom Steyer or Jeff Bezos could better use some of their money and selling ability to seize this opportunity as a real step toward ridding our nation of the horror of mass shootings?

Biological vs. Psychological Imperatives

The basic imperatives in human behavior for survival of our species, through eating and having sex, appear to have had an edge over other competitive imperatives like ‘strength through togetherness’ from the very beginning of humanity.

At the same time, ‘strength though togetherness’ today appears to be having a weirdly perverse effect in that we seem to have more and more human actors doing their best – albeit in different ways – to destroy it. Whether it’s mass shootings, less lethal but equally odious nativism, or even climate change deniers, it almost appears as if all those people are working against the survival of our species. Why?

That may be the biggest question of our time. It is not easy to penetrate the many layers of confusion in human behavior to reach a basic understanding of the reasons humans undermine their very own survival when survival itself logically must still be the singular, basic biological imperative.

Those imperatives almost by definition have never changed in 200 millennia –even as psychological imperatives have clearly evolved to match technological and societal advances.

Many recent mass shooters have been motivated by racial animosity, and much of the more generalized racism emerging in our country is driven in part by peoples’ fears of “others” taking what is rightly “theirs.” To such twisted minds, climate change, resulting primarily from more and more humans taxing the world’s resources, represents such a taking on a vast, existential scale. Can violence be far behind?

If survival is now dependent on fewer humans doing less damage to the planet, the basic biological imperatives that have governed all human history to date will have to take a back seat to forces we don’t truly understand yet , and if we do not figure it out pretty soon we might just miss the boat and go down with the old survival flag waving in the sunset!

But, if we can become more aware of the new imperatives, we may be able better to adjust to our new circumstances.  For example, we do know better ways to limit population growth and carbon emissions than mass violence and tribalism.

A good place to start concentrating would be to increase our commitment to those means to reduce short-term pressures such as border concerns.  From there, perhaps we have to grow to understand that, where climate change is concerned, we’re all in it together, on a global scale, and our fates are inextricably linked to our ability to achieve common cause, if our species is to survive.

This all boils down to the simple, but difficult to comprehend, fact that our world has been turned upside down?