McConnell May Be Right After All?

If you want to turn the clock back 100 years

Politically-oriented people with outstanding foresight (obviously not including me!) apparently have been playing ‘the long game’ in tinkering with one of the biggest threats to representative democracy: population trends that are eroding the fair and equitable representational dimension of the democratic formula.

The constitutional dictate of two Senators from every state, regardless of population, today gives 16% of the population half the country’s Senate seats, and thus NOW effective control of five of nine Supreme Court seats. [By the way remember that there were far fewer States when that rule was adopted. And, when new States were added this issue was not yet fully visible.]

The likely effect will be further radical changes in the ‘law’ as it applies to women’s rights over their bodies, the independence of a President from interference by the Congress and broadly giving the President more singular authority and power than was ever envisioned by the founding fathers.

What is happening – and will continue unless soon checked at the ballot box – is that a minority of the voters in America are gaining effective control over a significant majority by using the Senate’s very different election process (designed at that time to protect the less populous states from the “mob rule” in the House of Representatives and get them to support the Constitution.).

Because the Senate also has the singular power to confirm the Federal judiciary, that dichotomy in representation extends to the Supreme Court which, as a result, is moving backwards in time to a very different world with regard to powers of the Presidency and rights of individuals.

Moreover, it threatens to thwart the careful balance of power the Constitution envisioned between the three branches. Instead of truly co-equal partners in a democracy, we now face an authoritarian-inclined President enabled by a lapdog Senate, which is itself impeding the Constitutional functions the Founders envisioned for the judiciary. Disproportionate representation of the overall population in the Senate makes this distortion possible – even potentially calamitous.

The ability to foresee this radical shift from majority rule to minority rule was a genius stroke by the Republicans [from their point of view] and largely ignored by the Democrats who blithely proceeded in the belief that control of any one chamber of Congress –such as the House which has the singular power of the purse–was sufficient to protect overall national interests.

Then came the completely unexpected election of a rogue President who only collected some 3 million fewer votes than his opponent – demonstrating also that the Electoral College is infected by the same disease as the Senate issue in undermining/under-counting representative democracy.

What this boils down to is that the Constitutional formula and model, designed with the politics of 1800 in mind, is simply now  working in reverse today and is undercutting the basic cornerstone of democracy which is overall majority rule. Instead of a check on a tyrannical majority, the two-Senators per state rule now enable a tyrannical minority to control not only its own actions, but those of the judiciary.

It also should come as no surprise that slavery, which still lies at the roots of our Constitutional distortions, continues to haunt us in unexpected ways. For example, the classic racism perversely aroused by Obama’s successful election to the Presidency also is no doubt contributing to today’s new dysfunctions.

Just as the compromises of 1787 merely forestalled the horrors of the Civil War, if we as a nation do not firmly address this basic problem at the ballot box, and soon, we may once again soon face a nation perilously divided and risking a very angry population.

The very roots of our democracy are at stake!

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Quiet Restaurants?

 

An Oxymoron?

Apparently it has become a given in restaurants that buzz = noise = happy campers.

That may be true for a lot of eaters – particularly people who are young, eager, energetic, with PERFECT hearing and energized by the entire buzz.

But, there are a lot of folks who do not fit the loud buzz model and are constantly looking for restaurants that have appealing food AND an atmosphere in which they can talk with their companions and hear them without everyone having to shout!

It might be desirable for some restaurants to promote their ‘quiet’ atmosphere, though a lot of us oldies will remain skeptical without some ‘real’ evidence that they really know what that really means.

And/or other restaurants may want to create quieter zones or rooms and actually enforce that result.

Obviously, all restaurants should be free to be as loud as they want. But, if they want and value some quiet for its own sake and to entice clients who appreciate that, they should consistently provide that atmosphere.

Perhaps it would help if an APP were created to assess and report on the quiet atmosphere so that people could have some reliable guidance in advance.

If this idea of quieter eating atmosphere appeals to enough of you, please let me know and I promise to help translate that into a reality?

Happy eating!

Oh My! Oh My!

Have we no shame? Have we no fear?

Susan Collins’ well-crafted but weak-minded Senate speech crystallized the essence of our problem. She took the Republican bait of an alleged Democratic smear and shut down her own independent reputation in assessing what was really at stake in confirming Kavanaugh.

Give her credit for risking the wrath of Maine’s women in 2020 when she faces re-election. Perhaps she has had reassurances about alternative jobs from the Republican leadership. Politics is a nasty business with many currencies.

Granted, it is relatively easy to complain from the sidelines about close calls. But when basic democratic ideals and the political health of the nation are at stake, we see the true “stuff” of a politician on exhibit. Consider Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, who probably sacrificed her reelection next month to take a principled stand. Collins flunked badly despite how she shrewdly positioned herself with her last Kavanaugh speech and 45 minutes of what she hoped would be seen as persuasive, thoughtful analysis. A careful listener could quickly tell that she was substituting a lot of words for a thoughtful summary of the big picture. We will learn soon enough whether Kavanaugh votes to overturn Roe v. Wade. This writer will be grateful to be proven wrong. But even if Collins is ultimately proven right about that issue, her shameful performance during this ordeal will leave a lasting stain on her reputation.

Some people like to think that Supreme Court Justices use some kind of mysterious formulas – like ‘the law’ – to find the truth in their marble palace.

The law, sad to say, is not any kind of formula or even language. If there is any truth to be found by the Supreme Court, it lays in the Court’s read of the minds of the American people. One of the most important issues for more than 50 years has been the rights American women have over their own bodies. If one analyzes all our founding documents – from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – it has to be clear that ‘freedom’ must include the rights of women over themselves. Yet it was not until the 1970s that Roe v. Wade finally made that clear AND the law. And to this day over 2/3rds of the American people consistently favor that view. Still, a minority of Americans disagree. And, given the distortion of political power due to small states vs. large (25 states with 16% of the overall population elect 50% of the U.S. Senate) it has become possible for a minority of the people to dictate to a substantial majority a political imperative for half our population – WOMEN.

There is something indisputably wrong with that situation. And it will have to be corrected SOON at the ballot box or it could get really out of hand.

The Republicans have piously and pompously argued it is their right politically to do what they can to reverse Roe v. Wade. It may be ‘sort of’ their right for a brief moment in history.

But in due course the undeniable right of half our population must prevail.

Let’s VOTE our way out of this mess before it gets too late!!

Where Was The Catholic Church In The Kavanaugh Matter?

As a non-religious Jew, I fear being accused of muddying the water with a religious reference to the Catholic Church’s many past and current sex abuse scandals, often many decades old. But, there is an aspect of the Kavanaugh matter that seems to be going unnoticed which needs some sunlight.

The Church to its credit appears to be at least trying to say the right things even though it apparently still has trouble doing the right things in assigning responsibility and sanctioning culprits.

It should not be overlooked that Kavanaugh was attending a Catholic boy’s school when his alleged misconduct occurred. And, today, as he ascends to the United States Supreme Court, he becomes one of the highest ranking Catholics in the United States and the World. He has been treated like several Catholic Bishops and Cardinals have been treated – with very velvet gloves – over the years. (Cardinal Law in Boston was a classmate at Harvard, whom I knew, and though he lost his rank, he never lost the support of the Church.) Do you suppose there is – or should be – special treatment for high rankers later in life after misdeeds are brought to light?

Or do you suppose the Church is so politically focused in the United States that it lays low in criticizing Kavanaugh despite the fact that it is struggling to stay afloat dealing with sexual abuses?

I even know personally how discombobulating such abuse can be. When I was about 14 years old, and on an overnight train from New York to Exeter in New Hampshire, I was sexually accosted by an ordinary man. I was so alarmed I threw a coke in his face and escaped to my berth and shuddered all night. That was 70+ years ago and I have never forgotten the key details. I have told a very few people over the years because until recently it seemed largely irrelevant, yet I empathize with the many men and women who have had even worse encounters.

The United States and the Catholic Church have to come honestly to grips with reality and recognize the phenomenon for what it is and deal with it once and for all.

Episodically, the Senate has acted firmly in setting character standards. Remember Douglas Ginsberg who was forced out of a prospective Supreme Court seat simply because he had smoked pot?

We have to try much harder to be consistent and clear headed about the qualifications – or lack thereof – for the Supreme Court. The glaring fallacy of Senator Collins attempt to justify her vote on Kavanaugh was her reliance on presumption of innocence about Kavanaugh. Presumption of innocence relates to criminal law matters when a person’s freedom may be at stake, not the rare and important privilege of a seat on the Supreme Court.

What was before the Senate just now was much more than sufficient evidence about a man whose lifetime behavior put in question his judgment and fitness to sit on the Court.

In an effort to sway our legal system, the Republican majority in the Senate has twice now in two years abused its position of the majority to both deny AND grant confirmation. Remember Wyoming has 500,000 people and two Senators, California 25,000,000 people and two Senators. The 200 year old system to protect States with few people has opened the door to the few ganging up on a wide majority. That is a clear recipe for a big problem, and it is here NOW. The 25 smallest states contain only 16.2 percent of the population, but control half the seats in the U.S. Senate.

They have opened the door wide to comparable abuses by a Democratic majority in the future to further tamper with the system.

That will likely lead to even further diminution of the standing of the US Supreme Court and further weaken the last solid leg supporting democracy.

What is The Matter With Us?

Have we lost our bearings in the digital forest?

We seem to have more or less two halves in our country. Both lay claim to being the only true Americans. Yet, both halves claim to celebrate our freedom of speech and expression and our economic success; both are (or were) proud of our leadership in the world; both support our military power; both celebrate our Constitution and democracy.

So far, so good. That seems like a solid foundation of values that should, in theory, bring people together. But in reality it plays out far differently. Consider:

  • One half sees immigration as dangerous and harmful. The other half see it as a great source of our innovation and economic success.
  • One half seems to believe that women should not be free to protect their own bodies. The other half believes it should be a matter of free choice for each woman to get the help she may need to have or NOT have an unwanted child.
  • One half wants a tax system that primarily allows them to accumulate an ever larger share of our national wealth. The other half believes the tax system should achieve a better balance between the poorer half and richer half.

This list can go on and on – to no helpful purpose.

The big question is what are the barriers of understanding and/or misunderstanding which seem to prevent better communication and understanding between these two halves? What, if anything, might help bridge those barriers? Here are a few thoughts:

GREED: Is surely one, and, more troubling, one about which it is doubtful that much can be done. It is at the root of our capitalist system [and human nature] which a large majority still appreciates. If one’s greed is dominant, it is unlikely that empathy gets much attention.

CIVICS EDUCATION: A lot can and should be done in this realm, but it is not. Far too few Americans really understand our constitutional and legal systems, our political processes, and the history that has shaped both.

PREJUDICE: Is deep rooted and often rises from some local or religious doctrine or beliefs. This can be addressed in many ways, all far better than we’re achieving today, primarily by bringing disparate individuals together.

EXPERIENCE and LACK OF IT: When a person’s horizons are limited – geographically or intellectually – they tend to see, believe and understand only what is within those horizons.

JEALOUSY and AMBITION: People are prone to compare themselves with people they see and hear about on TV and the silver screen. From that, they either envy those other persons, which irritates them, or they are envious and want to be like them. When this is not easily done through their own market place efforts, people may turn to political expression as an outlet for this desire.

These two worlds today coexist more and more uneasily. They are becoming more compacted, independent spheres whirling around in space entirely free of the other’s gravitational pull.

Perhaps there is something in the Universe that pushes people, as well as planets, stars and galaxies further apart over time? Is it possible there’s a kind of “dark energy” operating on humanity the way it operates in the cosmos? The more we learn about the Universe the clearer it becomes that, over time, the forces that influence the motions of galaxies will fade as the distance between them expands. Eventually, our nighttime sky will be devoid of stars entirely. Is that also the fate of our human, earth-bound clusters?

If we could better understand the cosmic rules for living creatures the same way we’re coming to understand the rules of the universe, we just might learn how to intervene and find ways to draw disparate spheres of people back into some sort of collective understanding.

The fact is that that despite the clear differences between groups, there is much more in common between our two halves.

HOW ON EARTH CAN WE FIGURE THAT OUT?

A World Of Games

An anonymous op-ed sounds like an oxymoron.

The editorial pages of the NY Times are sacred, receiving (and deserving) the deepest consideration. Clearly the decision to run an anonymous op-ed was made at the highest level and very carefully by very smart people.

The Times choice to do this had to include an understanding that doing so put the paper on the line as a full ‘player’ in today’s political and news games, a role newspapers typically try to avoid, and one that places more than one target on its back.

While the public spectacle of it all has faded in the glare of other news, reporters are scrambling to uncover the author – none working harder than the Times’ own journalists. That, by itself, may be another new game to carefully watch being played.

To an avid reader, it may appear the Times has decided that the time has come to actually enter the game, to better protect journalistic independence.

One has to assume the Times knows full well who the source is, but also why the source was interested and willing to run the obvious risks that are involved for her/himself and the Times.

Perhaps the source was/is on the verge of quitting anyway, for good reasons, and wanted to amplify the significance of that action by creating suspense.

That raises the questions of whether the source is, at the moment, lying about not being the source to let the tension continue to build up. That could make the whole thing boomerang because the source would inevitably lose a lot of credibility.

The next question in the guessing game is what is meant by a ‘senior’ WH/Administration official. That could make the game much more complicated particularly if the source is a barely-known person.

The whole game is full of unknowns and the unknowable.

And it is clear that barrels full of Trump officials are scratching their heads and covering their butts, while Trump rages about the unfairness of it all.

It might transpire that the source will never be revealed, or we may hold out hope that someday, possibly after Trump himself is old news, the author will reveal him or herself. Without insight into the identity or even importance of the source of the op-ed, we are all free to read our own meanings in it.  Some reasonable people see it as evidence that the Times has ‘lost it.’ Others, perhaps less reasonable, lump it in as one more piece of “fake news” from a “failing” pillar of old media. A few, either delusional or visionary, believe the Times is way out ahead of us mere mortal observers, throwing down a gauntlet in defense of the role of the press in holding elected officials accountable.

The waiting is exciting!

Talk About Un-Due Process

Our Constitution was designed to define the ‘process’ that drives and manages our democracy.  From that came our precious expression ‘due process’.

Other than the Bill of Rights, basic ‘policy’ is barely mentioned.

Our forefathers clearly understood the difference as evidenced by what they provided in the Constitution. Their understanding appears far better than today’s many sanctimonious Senators who carry the Constitution in their pockets but apparently have obviously never really fully understood it – or did not want to!

In the past three years we have been witness to shocking un-due process in regard to the ‘advise and consent’ provisions for the Senate over Supreme Court appointments.

With nine months left in his second term, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Garland was by ALL accounts an extremely well qualified judge with a moderate temperament and record. The Republican leadership in the Senate strongly did not want a moderate justice to replace the originalist firebrand Antonin Scalia, so they simply refused to have any of the traditional hearings for the nomination, which then languished until Obama left office.

There are many lawyers today who still hold the view that by refusing to follow the constitutionally required confirmation process, Republican leadership denied the Country, as well as the Senators of both parties, their right, as well as requirement, to advise and consent – which amounts to an unconstitutional violation of due-process. Some hold that, as a consequence, the Senate effectively waived its duty and right to consent, and Democratic Senators could have raised that waiver, and its consequences in court, which could have put that seat into limbo.

That matter would surely still be in litigation today. When resolved, the question of failure to act at all could have settled the issue for once and all time of the Senate’s specific obligations to act in a timely way in such matters. And such litigation likely would likely have left the seat in legal limbo – not filled and not fillable, until resolved. Thus sparing all of us the horrifying spectacle of today’s opposite and rushed, flawed nomination confirmation process.

Now comes another vacancy and Trump appoints a man coincidently from the same DC Circuit Court as Garland. Kavanaugh also appears to have excellent legal credentials but also has been strongly criticized for fierce partisanship (evidenced in his recent testimony) as well as with suspect integrity. And as everyone in our country now knows, he stands accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions.

This time around, the same Republican leadership took the opposite tack from the Garland nomination, endeavoring to “plow right through” with hearings and votes. The rush to beat the November 6 election clock by denying the Senate both many relevant documents and a complete FBI background check, they committed un-due process. That leaves a real possibility to hand a possible new Democratic Senate majority an opportunity to play the Garland delay game again and again in reverse until Trump is gone.

The Republicans convened a KANGAROO hearing of Kavanaugh and his accuser; with pre-determined plans for a final committee vote the next morning and many Republicans publicly declaring they believed Kavanaugh over his accuser even before either testified.

At least, that was the plan until Republican Senator Flake whose vote was essential, demanded a further FBI background check as a condition for support on the Senate floor and obviously depending on that outcome.

We all know that what goes around comes around. And that is where we are today!

What we have been witnessing is an endless un-due process throughout ALL of this matter.

Un-due PROCESS in performance of constitutional duties is just as subject to judicial review as any other constitutional issue. Recent history demonstrates conclusively that “advice and consent” has been twisted for partisan purposes. To be fair, this probably started with the Democratic blocking of the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987, so there is enough blame to go around, though that does not make it right].

Now, apparently the distortion of this constitutional requirement threatens the integrity of the Court itself.

The present members of the Supreme Court today may not be disposed to interfere, [and separation of powers theories do undoubtedly make it treacherous legal territory]. BUT, if this matter does reach the present Court and they have an even  split vote, this particular appointment in question could NOT be confirmed and the seat would remain unfilled unless and until this nomination was withdrawn and a new candidate nominated and confirmed.

That would effectively put the matter where it really belongs into the hands of the people in the 2018 and 2020 Presidential elections!

Luck to us all!!!