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


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?

The Sum Of The Parts


As many very smart people struggle with understanding and explaining the problems of advancing sclerosis in modern society, it has begun to be clearer that if we fall prey to an inevitable expectation of complexity, we will be falling into a trap from which there will be no escape.

Complex solutions to complex problems simply create more complexity! That in turn tends to accelerate the congealing of the very processes we need and want to uncongeal.

So where can we go to look for ways to unravel the knots in our world which are strangling our society?

We probably should look deeply into our history as humans as well as how we start training our children –even as they begin to walk and talk.

Do you remember as you graduated from scooching to stumbling to walking on your own, you were taught to take one step at a time on your very own?

Perhaps those were the first steps you were taking in the misdirection’s we find ourselves in today.

 If every step we take in our lives is simply for ourselves, we will tend to care much more for our own interests than anyone else’s.

If we do not learn early enough in life that our steps need to be taken in the context of everybody else’s, we will naturally tend to go off on our own and let the other guys fend for themselves as well.  

The suggestion implicit in this observation could be a simple practical step in the direction of getting our fellow society members to approach their lives more collaboratively with everybody else.

That might in turn get us all attuned to making society work for everybody –not just a lucky few.

This is how it might work.

Instead of showing babies they want/need to learn to walk, we should show them that they need/want to walk with the other kid/s.

Then we ‘import’ the neighbor’s baby and get them TOGETHER to scooching to stumbling to walking together like two drunken sailors.

Scooching was fun, and a scooching race can make the Indianapolis 500 seem tame in our own living rooms.

There are alternatives to teaching/learning collaboration in the modern world BUT they are all complicated and as a result are unlikely to make any significant progress.

One example would be to devote curriculum time to collaboration in kindergarten. That would require reteaching teachers etc. Expensive and unlikely to accomplish much.

But, if we could get involved at the very start of life, many more kids could grow up with collaboration in every pore of their bodies and we just might be on a new path to a more collaborative world??   

The Core Of The Democratic Party


The 20 odd current candidates range from the far left—Sanders and Warren–to the center – Buttigieg and Harris and in between over a dozen interesting, able people without much visibility to garner attention AND then there is Joe Biden who is familiar to and trusted by virtually all adult Democrats paying attention today.

If we drill into the core of all those creditable people, we will find the same basic instincts and values: respect for all Americans; the belief that health care is a human right; respect for the market and tax system and to distribute the country’s wealth fairly. Obviously, there are tweaks to the left or right among the candidates, to distinguish themselves for obvious reasons.

We all—more-less know that what matters most is to WIN the election.

It is already clear that to do that we need to avoid the extremes to attract the widest group of voters possible.

And, to do that it is increasingly clear that we need to embrace the most well known and trusted possible candidates.

Biden is clearly aging AND he also appears to have good enough health to win the election and restart the process of governance that the Democratic Party and President Obama left to the country in 2016.

His running mate will also be crucial –both to attract more voters and to learn how to make the Presidential process work for the good of the whole country.

I hope we can turn more of our attention as we weed out the ‘extra’ candidates, to the best possible choice for a person to be able to succeed Biden.

There are several very interesting possibilities for that role, when we can get past the clearly mistaken belief that the candidate must be someone exciting and new.

If that person existed at all, we would surely know who it is by now.

So let’s refocus on reality and get back on the basic, imperative task at hand!

A New Dimension To Health Care

Primary care is where [as the word primary says] health care begins and hopefully ends for a great many folks, because the problem either was addressed promptly or was not too serious but did need a ‘band-aid’.

As with most things involving large populations, the first stage –and perhaps most important— is the weeding out stage which enables the succeeding phases to be more efficient and effective by focusing the more trained and experienced doctors to spend ALL their time working on what they were especially trained to do—not just doing the weeding out.

The new, and now rapidly growing, problem is that doctors and community health centers

[which see most people in need of help first before they go to hospitals]

are watching their populations of primary care doctors age and retire and at the same time they are having a VERY hard time rebuilding their essential base of primary care physicians.

There has long been a preference for doctors to go to densely populated areas where they can specialize easily with enough population to feed them with their type of cases.

The problem has gotten worse with the training in med schools focusing student interests in specialization. And, the ability of specialists to attract enough economic support to work, and to live the lives they want, they are led to ignore smaller less populated communities.

There are various ways this problem can be addressed in the smaller less populated areas.

The problem is that there are strict medical rules about what doctors can and can not do.

The consequence is that it is becoming more and more very difficult for local medical facilities to see all the people who “need to ‘see’ a doctor”.

A simple answer is to get more doctors. Unfortunately, that simple answer does not work the way the system operates today. That is not where enough doctors want or can afford to go. And those local communities—with rare exceptions—can not afford enough doctors to cover even their smallish populations.

A less simple, but in most cases, workable solution is to change doctor/assistant ratios. There are lots of new positions in medicine – physician’s assistants [PAs] as well as nurse practitioners [NPs] for example.

What is needed now is a top down and bottom up review of how best to utilize the skills and training that are already available and, in the system, and could be redeployed more efficiently. 

The aim here should be less what can not be done than what can be done. Solutions are always better than NO!

Where previously a local center ‘needed’ four or five doctors, but cannot get or afford 3, if they had 3 PAs and/or 3 NPs –one or two doctors could, most of the time, cover all the needs of that community.

But, frequently those local medical facilities do not have a strong enough voice to change the rules to enable them to provide that service.

Once again, we see ourselves governed by what sounds like rigid ‘union’ rules and sometimes even greed, at the expense of providing health care to their populations.