Voting Rights & Responsibilities

At the very root of democracy is VOTING. Why, therefore, do we tolerate the incredible fact that only about one half of Americans vote regularly?

In addition, Republican politicians at the state and federal levels are actively striving to make it difficult, for many minority groups to exercise this core constitutional right.

It is true that in many places – like most of New York and California — one vote really does not matter because both those States are so overwhelming one sided that, regardless of your side, your vote lacks the import of those cast by voters in more competitive states.

Our Constitution requires an Electoral College to elect our President, which probably does not make sense in the modern world, but as a practical matter can only be eliminated by a Constitutional Amendment – a virtual impossibility in today’s political environment.

Still, if anything like 80 percent of eligible citizens voted, the possibility that a candidate could win the electoral college WITHOUT a majority of the popular vote would likely approach zero.

Therefore, if I were a candidate for President today, I would promise to incentivize every citizen to vote in every federal elections by (a) making election day a federal holiday; and (b) giving every person who casts a ballot a federal tax credit of $100.  

Such a proposal would likely enjoy wide popular support, being both simple and right. It could even spur increased voter turnout in the 2020 election [before taking effect] —which would also increase the likelihood that Congress would achieve that goal in 2021.

That one simple change would side step the obstacles of a Constitutional Amendment, most likely secure a Democratic Presidential victory in 2020, and at the same time RESTORE DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.

See previous posts at https://fawideas.com

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Presidential Election 2020

We already know a lot more right now than we typically know more than a year before a Presidential election.

We know (health aside) that Trump is the Republican candidate. And we probably know who the top four Democrats are likely be: Biden, Harris, Sanders, and Warren.

It’s less certain, but we can wisely surmise that the Democrat ticket will include two of those top four possibilities.

We do not know when and how the Democratic field will shake out, and Trump’s head start on fundraising is a cause for concern. At some point, party leaders will try to stop whoever remains of the long-shot candidates from continuing to syphon off precious campaign funds to a lost cause. We also do not know how far those ‘out of it’ candidates might go to improve their standing. At some point, tossing grenades at the likelier nominees becomes counterproductive, and the imperative of beating Trump must win out.

Still, reasons for hope abound. Trump himself, while perhaps continuing to solidify his support from roughly 40 percent of the country, has yet to show how he might draw support from the other 60 percent next year.

Even the incumbent’s best friend, a strong economy, is failing to lift Trump’s prospects. Now, the economy is showing signs of slowing and trade wars are taking a toll. Financial markets will soon begin to reflect that as well.

It is possible, but highly unlikely, that Trump might pull off one or more foreign policy victories. But, a public weary of the belligerence and braggadocio of Trump’s transparent negotiating style isn’t likely to swallow his exaggerated claims of triumph. No, the North Korean nuclear threat is not “gone.” Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than ever, with no real reason to turn back. And, while Trump continues to tout the billions of dollars “pouring in” to the American treasury from tariffs wantonly slapped on friend and foe alike, most people – even Trump supporters – know that money is coming from American pockets.

Despite these seeming advantages – and an electorate that seems largely “baked in” for a Trump defeat in 2020 — wherever I go people keep repeating that they fear that Trump will be reelected.

It’s an understandable worry. Trump was such a fringe candidate in 2016 – one part celebrity scold mixed with hucksterism and a healthy dose of racism – no one took him seriously, except those tens of millions who voted for him.

There can be only one thing that would allow that to happen: lack of turn out resulting from lack of belief in prospect for change.

It is important to talk about health care, income inequality, taxes, and more. It’s valuable to have bushels of 10-point plans.

What is still missing is a gut-stirring message of change.

If it were not already taken ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’ would be fine. Many would settle for ‘Let’s Make America, America Again.’

I like ‘A World Safe for All Americans.’ It speaks to the fears of groups seeing their rights diminished by the Trump administration and allies in red states (reproductive freedom, voting, and immigration) and touches on the broader responsibilities America has in the whole world.

Spouses v Husbands And Wives

SPOUSES v HUSBANDS AND WIVES

The word ‘spouse’, according to the dictionary, means either the husband or wife of a married couple.

As modern society finally has grown more accepting of the obvious realities of the natural distribution of sexuality and gender among humans, it’s become clear that our language hasn’t kept up with our understanding.

There are a significant number of people whose gender identities conflict with physical anatomy; similarly, a person’s sexual orientation may differ from “traditional” expectations.

It is certain that it has always been so, and only as modern society ‘grew up’ was it feasible for people to come out and declare themselves, with at least some expectation that society would treat them the way ALL humans are supposed to be properly treated.

And, happily, most people in America today are clearly comfortable with the new landscape, and discrimination, while still quite present, is diminishing.

One of the remaining issues has been nomenclature. In the not-very-distant past, “husbands” were always men and “wives” were always women. The trend toward cohabitation without marriage added the term “partner” to the mix (“life partner” if you enjoy being insufferable), and “spouse” allowed us to skirt the issue altogether.  Now, when same-sex couples marry, they may or may not assign themselves “husband” or “wife” roles, but those are, obviously, decoupled from gender, and may or may not be publicly declared.

 Compounding the matter: some couples eagerly embrace the traditional nomenclature, while others find it a stifling symbol of oppression from which they are desperate to have new choices emerge. Both are valid viewpoints, and most couples, whatever mix of gender and orientation they bring to the table, can readily agree on such things.

The bigger problem is the people around them who insist on applying old terms to new realities, much the way people still “dial” a phone number. I grew up in a world where most people fit neatly into boxes, and the few who didn’t were outcasts.  But in our brave new world, the boxes are of infinite variety, and which one(s) you fit in is for you to decide and declare. We keep hoping for new words and new pronouns, but what we really need is a new understanding; our job is simply to accept people for who they are. If they’ve declared a label for who they are, honor it. If they haven’t, don’t try to give them one, or many.

Today, couples may declare one another “husband” or “wife,” but many choose to not lend credence to what they perceive as gender stereotypes. We’ve easily settled on “spouses” or “partners.” No doubt new words will come along – consider “rom,” a play on romance that is also an acronym for the “rest of me.” It speaks to the essence of a relationship, where “husband” and “wife” speak to either the genders of the relationship or the roles each person assumes within that relationship.

Today, we ask people what gender pronouns they prefer (he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs). In the future, all gender references will likely disappear from the language – problematic vestiges of a bygone era. And while grammarians will cringe at the thought of a world in which everyone is a “they”, it will also be a world in which everyone is “us.” That seems worth the tradeoff.

Until that day, perhaps modern language could be clarified and the words husband and wife consigned to the trash bin, and ALL married people would become simply spouses!

WHAT DOES A POTUS REALLY DO? How and why?

When I was in my late 20’s and loving my work as a lawyer/ investment banker for a large NY investment banking firm, I was summoned suddenly by THE Senior Partner, who said “Frank, I want you to take over the Investment Management Department.” Our brief conversation went something like this:

ME: “Thanks, but that is not what I want to do!”

SP: “I don’t think you heard me correctly. I was not asking you; I was telling you.”

ME: “If I can continue with my deals at the same time, and see that what needs to be done actually gets done, I should consider it.”

SP: “That is all any good exec ever does. OK and thank you!”

By now you’re no doubt wondering what on earth this personal story has to with a POTUS?

Answer: Everything!

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An executive first needs to see/establish what needs to be done; set out a process to address those needs and then follow up sufficiently to ensure that it gets done.

First, Presidents have very little time to spread over a large world, and it is difficult for anyone to do many serious things simultaneously.

Second, even the most experienced, well-educated and smartest Presidents cannot possibly know, or even learn, enough about any one subject to make a useful difference on a personal level compared with the experts around them. 

Third, their primary job is to hear out solid well selected advisors, weigh conflicting opinions and, ultimately, make good choices.

The well-kept secret is that most ‘Presidential decisions’ NEVER actually reach the President. They are thrashed out by the Cabinet and staff experts at lower levels.  When and if a consensus emerges, if the President agrees, that is promulgated as a Presidential decision.

If no consensus can be found, then the President is fully informed and has to use his/her wits to ask a lot of tough questions and come to a final decision.

Effective Presidents must begin by painting in broad strokes, outlining goals and ambitions on critical issues like taxes, war and peace, tariffs and economic leadership that his team can use as the framework for developing specific plans.

While I am not a real expert in how a POTUS does or should work, I have seen it up closely, read about it a lot and talked to many people who have been far closer to a working President.

What I have learned is that the job of a POTUS is more like that of an orchestra conductor – bringing myriad pieces/instruments, individually insignificant in themselves, together for a greater purpose. For example, the conductor need not know how to play the violin, but she does need to know how to make a violinist play the violin properly in concert with dozens of others, as well as other instruments.

Effective Presidents must be broad gauge managers of large complex processes (like some Governors and other large institutions), which no one can do well enough alone, thoughtfully and properly.

The nature of the job, ironically perhaps, should have served as a bulwark against the worst instincts of our current President. With vast stretches of “executive” (read, television) time throughout his day, his legendary disdain for reading, and an apparent allergy to learning, the simple truth is this President doesn’t deal with real issues seriously very much at all.

Mercifully, our government can largely carry on without him, almost certainly to better ends than would be achieved by his more active and substantive engagement in his job. But that is not enough.

For this reason, I am amazed at how little the new candidates for POTUS talk about how they would go about the job they are pursuing and mostly know very little about.

We should be asking ALL of them a lot of tough questions. If all they have are lame, minimal answers we should draw a line through them IMMEDIATELY.

The candidate who takes the best orchestration approach – who also likes to read and learn, who values the counsel of experts, and who acknowledges the limits of their own ability to know and do everything —should be our next President.

People can and should know what they stand for, whether they have instinctive voter appeal and whether they are electable.

But, first, last and always do they know how to do the JOB!?

WHAT TO DO BETWEEN 5-7 PM?

The other day when the Mueller report was expected shortly, and the Trump era looked possibly to becoming a thing of the past, I asked my wife of 69 years what we would do between 5-7 pm daily when for the past two years we had sat together mesmerized by CNN to learn the latest horror stories.

She said what we used to do. But, neither of us could remember what that was?

It was then that I recalled a French story about a married man who for years had a lady friend he visited quite regularly on weekdays between 5-7 pm on the way home from his office. Suddenly his wife up and died and the lady friend suggested that perhaps it was time for them to marry.

He said without hesitation, “Impossible, what would I do between 5-7?”

These dilemmas seem related except for the difference that the Frenchman apparently looked forward to and enjoyed his 5-7 time.

If only? Only if?

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FIASCO

As a grandfather of nine grandchildren—three of whom who have already finished their educations as part of a third generation in the same college, including two doctors and a lawyer, and six more on the cusp of college—I have learned more than I ever imagined was to be learned about the whole tricky process of college admissions.

First, the good news. The recently reported serious frauds that distort the wheels of the admissions process perversely  is GOOD NEWS because it indicates clearly that the system has been working pretty well, by excluding some very dubious folks, with exceptionally bad judgment, who believed they had to game and corrupt the system to overcome it for themselves. That is a genuine positive aspect of otherwise terrible news.

At the same time former Harvard President Larry Summers has now observed that the admission systems inevitably benefit some more than others by recognizing factors such as special sports abilities and what they call ‘legacy’ issues where some people, who have a serious history of helping Harvard (not just with money), because they have been part of the Harvard family over time. Evidently, Harvard has thousands more kids who are academically qualified than they can take and, therefore, they have no choice but to make tough choices and decisions. Happily, Harvard was not one the colleges that got scammed.

The scandal also, happily and usefully, uncovers several serious soft spots in the admissions process that can be pretty easily addressed:

  1. The ability for people to ‘sit in’ for students is appalling – knowing how it was done should help the College Board and others better prevent it.

  2. The ability to bribe testing companies by jiggling and inventing scores also should be easy to stop by only using ‘unidentifiables’, or two random people, with access to the process of recording or transmitting scores.

  3. Giving serious admissions priority to secondary sports is no doubt excessive. If colleges can afford to waste these spots on phony athletes, perhaps the number of athletic scholarships allowed under NCAA rules is too high.

  4. Major sports do present a problem. Increased transparency and special procedures for approving any exceptions to academic qualifications can help.

Our modern world has spawned a great many new rich and famous people whose only real lacking may be their difficulty in breaking into what they see as an inaccessible, charmed circle that they want for their kids. These are people for whom money has long opened doors, and who became accustomed in many of the worlds they succeeded in to simply ‘buying’ success. In the process they are both hurting themselves and their children.

The ‘legacy’ issues are touchy and difficult, but so are the special skills and talents that all schools are looking for.

Part of the problem is also that some intermediaries, who make their living by advising ambitious and rich people (who incidentally never learned the rules of the road in private education), saw a new way to get their job done effectively and easily, and also make more money for themselves at the same time. That said, there are a lot of very legitimate ‘advisors’ who would ABSOLUTELY NOT engage in those rotten shenanigans that most people know without thinking is plain wrong.

Bottom line: it is a scandalous and salacious story BUT by itself should kill and cure the problem, which is good for all of us.

Unfortunately, some innocent people have been, or will be, badly burned in the process. It remains to be seen, for example, what will happen to the girl who got a soccer ‘ticket’ without ever having played the sport. She almost surely would have known what was going on.

The other people who knew, or should have known, that they were cheating will get what they deserve, AND they also should be thanked for their stupidity in helping to cleanse the system.

MANAFORT’S LIGHT SENTENCE?

People seemed astonished (appalled, for many) that Manafort got off unexpectedly lightly, receiving a prison sentence of just under four years for a host of crimes including tax evasion and fraud.

There may be something –not on the surface—behind that.

To begin with, we must remember that judges have GREAT discretion in arriving at a sentence to jail. Their assessment can take into consideration almost anything and everything starting with the Defendant’s demeanor, the risk of appeal, etc.

In this case the Defendant was pretty ugly, and the Judge was clearly not amused.

Yet, there are two other cases and sentences yet to come.

And Manafort is about 70 years old and apparently in poor health.

And, there is the ‘threat’ of a pardon hanging over the case.

All that leads me to think that the Judge cleverly tried to thread the needle to make a sentence that would stick, BUT not so long that Trump might feel he owes his ’friend’ a get out of jail card –which might end up hurting Trump more than it would help Manafort.

After all, we know that Trump’s key question is how something plays with his base.

The base would probably favor a pardon, BUT it might bring down the house.

This way, almost everyone wins: Manafort gets a light sentence; Trump will say ‘see even the Judge did not think he was so bad!’ and Mueller gets Manafort locked up. We the people, in the meantime, continue to hold our noses and hope something, anything, happens soon to rid us of the foul stench of this administration!