Monday, May 15, 2017

The State of the State

Friends,
 As you may already know, I am returning for a couple of lectures in June. I want you to get ready for them, should you be able to attend, by thinking or reading up on two main areas of interest.
1. We will be talking about the Supreme Court, and how the election of President Trump may affect the composition of our aging Court. Circumstances may create 1-4 openings in the next 3 years, and if the Senate maintains the D-R balance, and the nuclear option, those nominated will be confirmed. What happens if the Court shifts dramatically (from 5-4, 4-5) to 7-2 to the "right?"  What issues, having  been decided in the past, rise from the dead? Think about that.
2. The second lecture focuses on the issue of compromise, on the gridlock, on the inability to govern (pick you trite, tried and true metaphor. What I want you all to think about is the why it seems that we cannot agree on anything? Is this something new, is this a problem that has been recently made, or is this instead an American tradition? Is compromise possible, desirable?

We will have some fun teasing those issues out in full, as much as 2 hours can be full.
People always say, " I can't tell you how excited I am..." and then they proceed to tell you exactly how excited they are. It's like, "sooner rather than later" which to me means, simply, soon.

I am excited to see you all, and to reconnect soon.

Kurt

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Why Hillary Lost

News flash.
McClatchy, a respected news and polling organization released a report last week that confirmed two other previous reports, one by the New York Times. In the report, data analysis showed that in several of the key swing states (enough to win the electoral vote) the number of Trump voters who had previously voted for President Obama was enough to swing the election. In other words, it was former Obama voters who moved to Trump that gave him the victory in that state and its electoral votes.

Think about that, Sure there were broad swaths of disaffected voters in all parts of the country, and in the mostly red states they were legion.  But those states would have gone either red, or blue, as they have done historically for years.  The key swing states were the tipping points. Those voters, many of whom identify as moderate, or independent, voted for President Obama and President Trump.

Now, the data analysts don't tell us why they did that, which of course, it the key question.  Perhaps that is too hard to pin down- was there a general disaffection among large swaths of voters, was there a singular dislike of Hillary Clinton, was there a mood that Washington does not work that pushed them to support the "outsider?" These are questions that remain to be answered.

And perhaps it does not help to try to find out.  I saw the bumper stickers of President Obama in 2008 proudly displayed on the Priuses (or is it Pree I) and pickups alike, only later to be half torn off as those voters' hopes turned to disappointment.  People often regret their choices, but rarely offer up the truth when they are protected by privacy.

What we are seeing today is a Congress back where it was, deeply divided, unable to achieve consensus, failing leadership, raking in millions to protect their positions in the next election.  A president who is unorthodox (I am being more kind than I can even imagine), careening from one apparent crisis to another (though, interesting how every event today is magnified in to a crisis by our media). And an electorate (that's us folks) who wash  our hands like Herod because of course, we are pure of heart and susceptible to deceit.

The fault of all of this, the dismay, the despair, the fear we feel, the fault dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Kurt

PS. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements on a special lecture duo.  We may just be seeing each other sooner than you think.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What next for Congress?

Sorry for the delay- I was indisposed for the last two weeks, in court, experiencing first-hand the workings of the civil law system. And I can attest that the system is a conglomerate mess.  But, that is a story for another day. Or book. (My old agent called me out of the blue and we had a nice chat- so he has me on yet another project).

Speaking of messes- what is going on in Congress?  The Republicans has a numerical advantage, enough to get legislation passed, but except for slight efforts around the edges (which help everyone, losers oppose and gain support, winners win and gain support, and the rest of us sit wondering how any of it helps us in our daily lives.)

The pending budget crisis (read: raising the debt ceiling because no one, and I do mean no one, cares one whit about ever paying back what our country has collectively borrowed over decades), approaches yet again.  President Trump demands money for his wall, and Democrats, realizing that they always have the advantage opposing cuts (they are real and hurt), will stand firm.  Not on principle, but because they understand the dynamics always favor avoiding short term pain for long term gain.

The budget problems have grown so immense that we gloss over their significance.  But I think that they demonstrate the fundamental and growing realization that we have a government that does not govern.  Every decisions is kicked down the road; numbers dont matter, and there is no sensible way to measure if a program succeeds or fails.  Every program, once created, generates its own acolytes, and they mobilize to hold tight to every cent. In each annual budget that follows, the beginning numbers start at last year's ending figures, insuring increases.  Each agency insists that  every program is essential, every jet engine or toilet seat necessary for the safety and security of the Republic.  No cut (which in DC parlance means that the number arrived at is not as high as the one we first asked for, and of course, we asked for an inflated number  so we could call our increase a cut) is possible, because since that loss of dollars will cause cancer to run rampant, ISIS to rise in your neighborhood, and the air to become do dirty it will choke out the sun.

We delude ourselves and lose faith in our leaders, and then, each election, re-elect them at higher and higher rates.

Are we at the end of governance? Is every bill passage a success? Can we even measure the value of what we do, because we do not know the purpose of what we want?

The seeds of collapse are sitting right there. All it will take is one budget crisis pushed to shutdown not for days, but months, or for one T-bill sale where no buyers show up.  And we may not be all that far removed from either.

Kurt

Monday, March 27, 2017

Governing in the Age of Obama-Trump.

The failure of the health care repeal-replace-fix-alter-redo whatchamacallit has a thousand mothers. But as Democrats celebrate, and the new announces that the first 100 is the worst 100 and that Trump is over and.. what, we can go off and celebrate, let me bring you back to reality.
Nothing in politics is ever as it seems, and the media, for some odd reason, never look father than their nose.  Let's assess where we are:
1. Obamacare lives on. As it adds trillions to the debt and family budgets with higher premium costs and limited reduction on medical expenses, there is little doubt that unless altered, and altered pretty radically, there will be very few private insurance companies left to provide insurance. What will be left is the massive increase in medicaid eligible (where the vast majority of newly insured are going) and a continuing problem for anyone who needs to buy insurance for themselves and their  employees.
2. If that happens, then the entire program will be reexamined.  You cannot enforce a "penalty-tax" if the person has no option to buy anything.  The Court will strike down the rule, and the enforcement fails.
3. Remember, the bill failed not because it wasn't being luxuriant enough for  the Freedom Caucus Republicans but because it wasnt fiscally conservative nor market oriented enough.  You think the next option up will be less conservative?
4. So, where we are is on the path to a collapse of the medical insurance option under the bill, and a massive realignment of insurance premiums for not merely those affected now, but for every employer and every employee in the US.  When unions and professors and companies and Universities see 20-40% annual increases in that part of their budget, something has to give. Higher tuition? More cost share for employees? Higher deductible, co-pays, less coverage? Shifts to more employee controlled (and paid for) coverages?
5. And the Republicans will still not understand. A week after the ACA passed, I wrote  a short piece proposing this solution: Pass a bill that required the agencies and companies affected by ACA to enforce it "exactly as written." Remember all of the exemptions, changes, delays that occured in the first  two years? Nope, you wrote it, voted for it, that's your baby.  The entire bill would have collapsed, or the people affected by the bill as written, would not have had their hurt delayed.

And the collapse of President Trump is not (sorry to be such a wet blanket) imminent. Our government, our system, is designed to provide means for strong presidents to succeed, and means for weak presidents not to fail. So, until President Trump figures out that he is only in charge of people and ideas that move with him, supported by the people, and that those must get through a system full of opposition, and that you cannot make a deal with each member like you could with a business partner because some of them, many of them do not want your deal and will not suffer from its failure.

Let's see how much and how fast President Trump can learn this new lesson, this new paradigm.
The art of the deal in government is compromise, but on your terms, and deftly, often labored over months, years, until the exact right moment when you see the light and push and idea into the void.
Who ever thought you could sum it up in 17 words?
Kurt

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dem Assault on Gorsuch Resembles NKorea's Latest Rocket Launch.

Well, either I missed the entire point or our national politicians have entirely forgotten how to ask questions in a congressional hearing.  Watching the Dems flail at Gorsuch has been, even with Sen Franken, not even a little amusing. Hobby Lobby, protecting the little guy, supporting corporations... this is the terrain that Dems have chosen on which to do battle with the conservative Court?

And they have, so far as I can tell, not even mentioned natural law, which I consider the most significant clash with progressive ideals available. What would Gorsuch say to this: "Would you please describe your position on how natural law, and do define that for us, should and would affect your decision making as a justice on  the Court?

Then tease out in every way how that idea would affect the current issues of the day. At what point do those rights attach? (The big issue of course, is the concept of natural must define the  concept of person hood, ie. life  begins when?)

And natural rights, but to corporations? If corporations are not natural they do not have those rights, and then, those rights must come from government, and then could be restricted? (Campaign spending, speech, religious liberty).

The problem is that our political leaders are not prepared to fight that fight. Where is Sen. Moynihan, Senator Paul Simon-- our Senate is filled (with apologies to my home state) with Carl Curtis's and Roman Hruska's. Good people no doubt, but think an original thought, never.

So, Gorsuch is a shoe-in, and the only question is whether the Dems make the Reps avoid cloture or make them use the nuclear option. I think they will not do that here- despite their anger at the Obama snub last year, because it is always the next fight that matters. And the next fight, especially if it is Justice Breyer, or Justice Ginsburg. Because the next justice could determine the course of the court for the next generation.

Or not, as we know. You just never know.
Kurt

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Natural Law Debate: Predilections and Predictions

Neil Gorsuch, by all accounts, has been an excellent judge, and has not left much of a paper trail that stirs up controversy. That should be no surprise given the history of confirmation hearings since the Bork failure.  Any judge contemplating a move up the judicial ladder (and yes, people do plan for their futures long before they become judges) strikes a balance between their philosophy and their written opinions and published articles.  To become an advocate for any judicial position puts that potential nominee too far out there to become a nominee in our current divided climate.

Nominee Gorsuch has a background in natural law, having studied at Oxford under John Finnis, a leading scholar on the natural law philosophy. So, you are about to hear a debate on that legal philosophy intended to confuse you, strike fear in your heart and make Gorsuch look like a radical nominee.  It is unfortunate, because natural law has been one of the leading legal ideas in our history for over a century, waning and rising on the economic tides of history.

Fundamentally, natural law is a system that posits that the law's legitimacy rests on the moral values intrinsic to human nature."If a law is unjust considering those values, it really is no law at all" would be the most direct statement of the natural law principle.
[You can find a pretty good summary of natural law at : http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/SocialSciences/ppecorino/ETHICS_TEXT/Chapter_7_Deontological_Theories_Natural_Law/Natural_Law_Theory.htm

The principle is worthy of discussing, but unfortunately, our current politics constricts every discussio into a soundbite.  You will hear the defenders and contenders of Gorsuch conflate past cases, about property rights v. workers rights, to contend that natural law is an anachronism befitting of the white old men of the 19th century, and damning to our multi-cultural, progressive sensibilities.

But consider this debate on the Court: Are there any moral principles derived from human nature that should form the foundation of government action? (All law is derived from governments action; that is not in serious dispute. The source of the power granted to  government to implement law is another story.)
I have asked this question, in a different form, to the class numerous times.
Are there any universal truths?

Consider the debate on the Court going something like this: Is slavery ever moral? If it is not, why, what is the principle that supports our position? Is that the value of every human life, the right of every human to decide for themselves their course, their path, for good or ill? Is that right universal to every living human being, without  regard to capacity, ambition, personal goals?
And then, after a slight pause, heads nodding in progressive approval, of course, that is fundamental to freedom, that the rights of each of us are derived from our innate humanity, given to us by God our creator.....
Then, someone raises this question: When, if that is true, does that right begin?

With every legal issue, the rub comes in the implementation. And the complications become clear as the answers more difficult. Unless we abandon consistency, the very principle that our law is supposed to provide to the polity. If our law is not consistent, what good is it.

Pay attention to the upcoming debate, if only to discern how it is used by both sides to obfuscate the facts. A good healthy debate about natural law principles would force the citizens to come up with some very hard answers for issues we have dumped off on the judicial  branch, and perhaps allow a reckoning among disparate views long thought impossible.

Kurt

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Undoing the Undoing of Affordable Care

Hail Blogistas!!
So, by now, you have received the note announcing the return of this blog and you have returned to find 3, yes THREE, blog posts waiting for you and your analysis.  I am posting this Sunday night, and it will be shorter, mainly because the availability of information is sparse.

The Republicans, who have had 8 years, more or less, to battle against Obamacare, passing bill after bill to repeal it, secure in their knowledge that their bills would never become law, are having a time of it.  They are finding out the dilemma of repealing a law that creates a program for millions. Call it an entitlement if you wish-- you could make the same argument with the capital gains tax, but once a program is in effect, and there is a continued constituency for it, the entire dynamic about repeal changes.

Abstraction in politics is wonderful at creation; deadly at repeal.  It is great to describe the benefits of programs you make, to espouse their successes before they become successes, and to deny any harm they might do.  No one can prove the effect of the program before it begins, and OMB reports are dry and easily ignored tens days past publication. Who cares, who pays attention?

But a face on a program, a name and a story about  how the program removed, taken from the person, who now has a face, a family, a problem you can not only describe but see, well, that puts the process into limbo. And people can quantify the results of the repeal. People can crunch numbers and see who's in and who's out. And the pressures on the legislators who must make the decisions black and white, jump out at them, especially if they reside in their districts.

So, once again, the health insurance and health care and costs and prices and availability and deductibles and co-pays and every nook and cranny of every issue rises up and constricts the will of Congress to act.  It amuses the political elite of both persuasions, or perhaps now there are more than two, but they dont worry much about paying for insurance.  For so many Americans, the fear is not that something will get done, but that once again, whatever gets done or not, will be such a mess things will only get worse. And the people long for competence, and straight answers.

We watch as the repeal unfolds and doubt, if  my  sense of the polity is accurate, most of us are not confident that even as the sun rises an hour different than it did last week, things will get better.
That is the crisis we are facing even greater than the rising cost of health care and health insurance.

Unless we face that, apart from the politics of the moment, none of this will matter.

Kurt


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Executive Action and the Living Constitution

Good day class,
So, more about emails, and contacts with Russians, and now, a story that during the campaign, the Obama Administration used the FISA Court to wiretap Trump Tower, ostensibly to look for and uncover illegal contacts that Trump officials or the candidate himself might be having with foreign (read Russia) officials.  CAVEAT: We do not know if any of this is true.

What I do want to discuss is the connection between the expansion of executive action, and the power of the executive branch, and the theory and value of a living constitution.

Those two may seem unrelated, and one can make the argument that they are very different uses of power by distinct branches.  Executive power, the use of the Administrative agencies to implement the law Congress passes is essential to modern government.  We cannot expect, for example, Congress to draft regulations to implement a change in the tax code.  In passing the law, Congress gives to the Executive Branch and the agencies, with their tens of thousands of employees, the power and duty to write regulations which must pass through hearing and comment periods, to put into effect the mechanics of implementation.  This is a well-accepted and constitutionally permissible use of executive power. You may not like the power of the bureaucracy, but no modern government can operate efficiently without it.

What binds the bureaucracy is that the regulations it writes and administers must be done, and only be done, to effectuate the general power and specific authority Congress has directed it to use to put into effect the  broad goals and specific objectives iterated in the law passed by Congress.

Jump to the vision of a living Constitution-- the principle best espoused today by Justice Breyer, that the Constitution was never intended to be a document frozen in time. That it is the duty of each generation to understand the contemporary values of the polity, and to take into account all of the changes that have occurred, and to mold the values of the Constitution to meet those changes.  The justices are bound by the words of the document, but are not prevented from adopting positions that appear (literally) no where in the document, because the document itself anticipates, authorizes and authenticates this evolution.

Now, what is the connection?

On their face, both the use of executive power and the ability of the Court to write decisions not hidebound by the moral and political strictures of 1789 seem to be sensible approaches to the problems of modern America.

But what if the balance between the branches (separation of powers) or the balance between the people and their government (popular sovereignty) gets out of whack? What happens if one of, or all of, the three branches get lazy?
Let me take two examples, and let's start with "A."

ACA: the passage of the health insurance overhaul and its initial five years of implementation are a perfect example of the sharp dissonance between legislative action and administrative implementation. (I am not talking about  the website- that was simply an example of the failure of government and people). What I am talking about is how the health care law was rewritten numerous times without a single congressional vote.  Recall, if you will, the myriad of exemptions, the granting of waivers, the reallocation of tax funds, the expenditure of public funds to prop up failing coops and failing insurance companies, all done ostensibly to "make the law work."  None of these were authorized by Congress, except, if you take the language of the law.  Congress, incapable of reaching consensus, chose to give the executive branch broad authority to write regulations to address issues that came up.  Genius, you might say.

Ok, where does that authority stop? Could the administrators write regulations to grant exemptions to every third American who lost their doctor, or lost their plan, kind of like a National Health Lottery, where, if dissatisfied, you could draw your plan out of a hat and see if you won?  What about those poor insurance companies who took the chance on the plan but ended up with a whole bunch of sick insureds that cost them too much profit? Can't we all just give a lot? Congress wanted this to succeed, and we all know how little Congress gets done, so, c'mon, can the administrative branch fix the law and make all those poor Congressmen and Congresswomen feel good about themselves?  Imagine how the collective psyche of that body would suffer without our help.

The problem, of course, is that Congress may or may not have wanted those administrative actions;  it may or may not have debated those issues; it  may or may not think them appropriate to the overall objectives of the legislation.  The law wasnt passed not to fail, it was passed to address the problem of the uninsured and the rising costs of health care.  (Guaranteeing the financial success of insurance companies hardly promotes the cost controls of the local hospitals fees for inpatient ibuprofen.)

Congress, having washed its hands of the law, (or half of Congress in this case), now abdicates its fundamental duty: once passing the law to address a problem, Congress has a duty to oversee its implementation to insure that  the law is working as expected.  It is not a permissive activity; Congress must do this.

Jump to the principle of a living constitution. The broad concepts are the same, though the players are different. The founders gave us broad principles, but left much of the canvas blank.  They expected that the central player in that drama, the story of the changing Constitution, would stay engaged. But that player has, like Congress, taken its work as being done in 1789, with ratification, and has decided to let the other players take control.  The President considers his responsibility for those central constitutional questions complete with his (I will add the pronoun her when Americans elect a woman) vetting and nomination of a justice. The Congress considers its work as done with the confirmation of each justice.

And off we go. We often hear the lament of the disabused. Wow, did Justice Warren turn out to be not what we thought.  Can you figure out Justice Kennedy?
Listen carefully to what they are lamenting: this justice didn't vote the way  I would have. He or she didn't express in that decision my political or moral or economic views He doesn't represent me.

No kidding.
The concept of a living constitution promotes the view that the Court should and does act as a representative branch of government; that the Court is but one more body to validate our individual views. (I don't say collective, because much of what the Court has done is to protect the minority views- which, is to say the least, a vision of living constitutionalism that defies the concept of popular representation.)

But the player most important to the entire process has "gone fishing." Off for the weekend, or decade, or century.  The people themselves, who were central to the entire conception of judicial review, have decided to take a break from their role in preserving the institution of judicial review and judicial supremacy, and in that, have delegated their responsibility to .... to.... to whoever wants it.  And over the law century, it has increasingly become the Court itself that has taken it on.

The living Constitution is much like the double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. It has taken on the mantel of progress; Justice Breyer proudly demonstrates that the value of a constitution that evolves distinctly through the views of 5 votes, of which is is one, means that it can move forward, into progressive modernity and make the lives of Americans better.

Martin Luther King, Jr said, and believed, that "The moral arc of the law is long, but it bends toward justice." But when we, the people themselves, allow another body to define what  justice is, we should be aware how precarious the permanence of principle.

Second letter A: abortion.  If the evolving constitution fundamentally reflects the movement toward what most of the people want, if it is bound not by the old, staid, stale word of the founders, but instead by the movement of the polity toward the values and views of the age-- if that is true, then when the opinion polls take a turn, on such issues as, oh, abortion, is it not perfectly appropriate, nah, even required under the principle of an evolving constitution, that a court toss out precedent and move the law into the modern day?

Many current opinion polls show that the majority of Americans oppose abortion.

How's that for evolving public standards of decency? What is Justice Breyer going to say when the arc of the law bends back again, as it has done over and over, not like piece of steel, but instead like smoke trail of a bottle rocket. When it bends back again to a very different position? Will the living constitutionalists be on their feet arguing for precedent, or keeping to tradition (as in 1973 Roe v Wade tradition). What binds the Court is the value of change, and change founded on the value of change may not be to your liking.

I hope I have made the connection, but as the hearings for the newly nominated justice begin, watch the language of the two sides.  The originalists will be slying positioning the nominee to accept the emerging majority opinions (probably if they are bold enough, using Justice Breyer's own words) and the living constitutionalists will be advocating for stasis and permanence and precedent (using the words of Justice Scalia-- they won't use Justice Thomas's words I'll wager, but they could) to box the nominee in.
And they will all fail, because the only thing that boxes the Court in, in any real way, is the power of the people themselves to define the values of the world they live in, and wish their laws to be constrained by.

Our system works best, when it works at all, when all the players are on the stage, acting their parts, and not off in the audience, or more likely, at intermission early getting a beer.

Go get 'em tigers.

Kurt


Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Return of the Blog


I have been having this dream, after what seemed to be so long a period of dreamlessness-- it came back not long ago, and it now seems to invade all my sleep.  I'm alone and it is dark, too dark to see. Suddenly, I sense this weight on me -- a pressing weight on my chest, then my head. I struggle to evade it, but as I roll around and push away, I feel this sand, something like sand, and it is coming from above, as though I am laying helpless at the end of a dump truck as it unloads. To save myself, I turn over, digging out from under, but then, I sense a sucking, pulling force beneath me. I am caught - from above the sand piles on, from below, the quick sand sucks me down. There is no way out.

Fortunately, at about that time, I wake up, covered with too many blankets tangled around me by my own restlessness, but no threat to me in the light. I look around, breathing that sign of relief, as the new day tip-toes into my windows.

Dear Class,

First, let me say that I have missed you all more than I can express. That old Irish wish you sent me off to Nebraska with has kept me safe and well, but I am punch drunk from talking to myself. I am no match for my own challenge and sarcasm- and I long to be in front of you good friends talking and discussing and questioning each other.

This is something, right? I never anticipated the tumult of the primary season we all got to experience week by week and then, it got even weirder. Election night was, well, unbelievable.  I thought about my prediction that neither would win the election, and will freely admit, that being half right is no consolation.  I will tell you, despite my long-held belief that a person's vote is entitled to be cloaked in secrecy, that I did not vote for Donald Trump. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. Voting in Nebraska, of course, (where I knew that the Republican nominee would win 3 electoral votes -- even the 1st District this year went true to form) by third grade) one could say I risked nothing by casting my vote for who I felt was my best choice.  But I have always believed that casting my vote was both a very personal choice and a very public duty, and that I should always try to pick that person who best represented the ideals and values that I strove to achieve and that Americans needed.

And Americans, stuck with their Electoral College system (oh, yeah, you forgot that it was and is your system until you decide to change it, so quit complaining about popular votes blah blah blah and fix it) got the First Twitter President. And that moment uncovered (it did not begin as I will explain later) a divide among Americans that appears so deep that it could split us forever.

Friends who have never posted or commented or seemed the least bit political have become vociferous in their activism. Neighbors who for years bar-be-qued together and watched each others door fronts find themselves at odds over a bumper sticker. There are people, and not just a few, who have made their support for, or their opposition against President Trump, the sin qua non of their existence.

There will be posts later to take on policy and positions and open them up to public inspection. Today, I just want to ask you about that divide of which I speak and if this is, or simply appears to be as big a chasm as appears?

Set aside the personality for a moment. [I didn't ask you to ignore boorish behavior, rude and ignorant comments, "locker room talk", which, in any of the locker rooms I showered and dressed in, would have gotten me some form of severe discipline from one of the coaches who taught me how to block and tackle and dribble and that sport was discipline and that discipline started with my mouth); don't ignore it, but for today, put it aside.

What we need to decide if there is a way forward with what we have done to ourselves. Harsh reality- unless President Trump has actually committed high crimes or misdemeanors (and civil perjury is not such a crime, right?), he will not be impeached and removed from office. You and Don Quixote can joist at windmills, but I have to move ahead because our country cannot face four or more years of this constant, perpetual avoidance of problem-solving. Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump. Need I say more?

So, the question for us to think about is this: is the exposed divide (or divides) so big that ordinary Americans cannot find common ground? Have we decided that our principles do not include compromise. Has politics become, instead of a means to articulate differences of policy as a means to arrive at solutions to pressing issues, a take-no-prisoners war zone of combat cloaked in self-assured righteous sanctimony devoid of any acceptance of possibility that your opponent might be worth listening to?

I am not falling into that trap. Oh, I have heard from some of my closest friends that I am sanguine, that I am foolish, that I am un-American not to see and accept the emerging fascism, the danger that rises on the horizon; that my optimism is dangerous in these dangerous times.

It grates on them, and I understand. But I have held the belief founded on my understanding of our history, that our Republic does not rise or fall on the whims of one person. And I believe today as I did last March, that we Americans can stumble and bumble into all kinds of bad things, but when we talk, and reflect, one with another, we can and do put ourselves and our interests aside for the common good. (Let's not ruin my hope with discussion about motivations- that just adds ugliness to my whimsical narrative).

So, let's try once again, at least among us, to talk about our problems with a touch less rancor, a bit more hope, and a firm belief that only in the people can the answers to our problems be found. It is time for the non-political class (yes, odd for me to even say those words, since it is the anti-metaphor for every class I teach), the unelected people themselves to take command of the role we are both commanded and reluctant to take.

We set the standards for the people we elect, and it past time for us, each of us, all of us, to instruct them in their behavior.

In the next few posts, we can discuss much. The coming court fight, the immigration system, the use of executive power, the nature of rights,  our elections, the power of money v the power of personality, what the hell happened and the topics that I will ask you  to offer to me, either on this blog or by email to me at: KHohenstein@g.ucla.edu.

I know I left you hanging on two points, of course; cutting dead limbs and planting trees outside and as I clean away the detritus of years of lives spent in this house, finding photos set aside, put away, finding the 8th grade report card my Mom inexplicably saved, and remembering yet not quite reliving the moments of lives entangled in ways that help explain the foundations of one's life, have not dimmed my ability to leave you hanging but come back before the end of class to answer those questions.

The dream, I think, reflects my deep anxiety of being buried by so many amorphous and undefined problems which cause blind and senseless struggling  and mire me in paralyzing fear. Only when the light comes on do I see that they are but blankets, harmless when recognized, organized, and put in their proper place.

Abraham Lincoln. That's who I voted for.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Call that a wasted vote if you will, but I vote for the person who best expresses the ideals which I believe our nation needs most at the time.

Kurt

Saturday, October 08, 2016

My apologies.. and some thoughts.

Good Saturday Morning,
 I have not expired, nor left this earth. I apologize to those of you who have wondered where my blog posts have gone.  I took a leave due to the level of work I am committed to here, in addition to my overwhelming despair about the worst presidential election in history. Thinking it could sink no lower, it did.

I am not surprised about Trump's comments about women- I made my decision on him long ago when I came to the conclusion that::
1. He was willfully ignorant on the issues and wore that ignorance as a badge of pride, and
2. He believed himself entitle to abuse people he held lower than him.

So, his recently released comments neither surprised me, nor changed my opinion. To all of the women in America, you are perfectly entitled to tell him to go F**K himself, as he so eloquently puts it..

But it continues to amaze me that those same women, and a good number of men, would blindly accept the other major candidate, a candidate who simply does not believe telling the truth is in her interest.  Yesterday, as well, transcripts of her speeches were released, where she confirmed that every politician needs both "a public and a private position."  That means, I will lie to you.

Now I realize that you may believe she will implement policies she says are important to her and to you, but why would you believe that? If she openly expresses her willingness to lie, what makes you so special?  I made my mind up on her a long time ago as well. My principles will not permit me to vote for any candidate I do not trust, not because I dislike their policies, but because a politician who does not believe in telling the truth to the American people does not trust them, because she believves she is better than them.

See a pattern here?

I am done with our elected leaders getting away with asserting positions for me because they know more and have the answers.

One example, real life, that I intentionally experienced so I could express facts not conjecture.

This year, under my Affordable Care Act, I pay a monthly premium of $652.43 a month. I have a high deductible policy, and it is one of the least expensive premiums available. I am entitled to one complete physical each year, and then I am required to pay $6450.00 in out of pocket expenses before the policy kicks in to help.
The way I see it, my  elected leaders decided it was a good idea for me to risk fine unless they forced me to buy an insurance policy that effectively costs me $14,740 for a physical.  Blood pressure, temperature, and history questions. With a Nurse Practitioner.

The affordable care act is coming apart, and the American people, sold an impossible dream based on lies told by their elected leaders, are suffering.

And I have heard all the excuses- and they are lies too.

We have lowered our standards so that we will accept as our President anyone who sells us enough dirt to cover up their opponents.
For me, at least, that is not enough.  And I know all the justifications- Supreme Court judges, Hyde amendment, immigration.. all of which sounds to me like, well, I know my choice is really bad, but hey, I can get and keep what I want at least.  Is there a more selfish act in our political toolbox than accepting and making a choice because it pleases you?

So I am taking a break from my blog and my dismay, and I will work with UCLA Extension on technical issues to telecast a class from my office here on the farm, so I can deal with these issues as I  need to do: with reason, with facts and with my unwavering demand that my students to as well.

We shall see how that plays out- and until then, happy hunting. Oh wait, I cant even say that. I have triggered some deep emotional angst about Second Amendment rights, or implicitly called on one of you to harm another human being, or some innocent animal, and for those offenses I plead, no contest.

Kurt

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Depressing Campaign

Well, just when you think it cant get any worse, it does.  So, forgive me for dispatching with my usual cheerinness, and throw a little more shade on the campaign.

There are always flaws with candidates, and we always have some dispute on policy and issues.  But I have not seen a campaign with less real debate about those major issues (we can disagree on what they are and their priority, but that too is how we do it  here) than this one.

What is Hilllary's campaign about?
What is Trump's about?

I am being generous summing them up as follows
Hillary; I am experienced, I have waited my turn, I am ready to lead, my opponent is dangerous and unfit, vote for me.
Trump: I am experienced but thankfully not in politics, Americans are being taken to the cleaners by free trade and immigrants and mostly our defective leaders, ,I know how to make deals, Hillary is worse than me, vote for me.

The third party candidates: We need something better than these two above and while I am no great leader, trust me, I am better than either of them.

Issues are really blurred and the campaign has become about personality- and the two top candidates now have unfavorability ratings in excess of 60%. Throw out the undecideds and regardless of who wins, over half of all Americans will not like, trust or support the likely next president.

How can we survive this kind of campaign, and these kinds of candidates?

Each of us has to make a choice and we do that, largely, based on our personal experience. As for me, I cannot and will not voter for any candidate who so easily lies to the American people on significant  issues of public import.  I cannot and will not vote for a candidate who is so uniformly uninformed on those same public issues and appears to believe that his judgment, sans information, is the best way to make decisions.

So, that leaves me with a choice of a third party candidate, or writing in someone that I can accept, when I go to sleep, I could trust with the fate of the world, despite my choosing the cheap electoral out.  My vote will matter only to me.

This cannot be the future of the republic. We have too many serious problems facing us as a people to take a four year pass on them. We have too much promise as a nation to sit on the sidelines of world affairs while the world burns.

And we cannot sit back and lament the situation, and let it slide.
We need a movement that addresses the fundamental disease in our politics, in our system, in ourselves.

Some days, long days, mostly alone, working here, I think back and realize just how much I miss teaching the classes to you all.  And i wonder what it was, the teaching, the generous and kind praise you gave me, that make my remembrances so delightful.

And I realize that it was not those things. Those emotions..
It was that among you all, with your life experiences, your intellect, your questions, that you were evidence of what I believe but could not prove.

That there is a body politic in this country that can disagree on issues, that can fight over them with deep passion, that can agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable, and that at the center of those disputes is a common desire to make our country and the world a better place for someone other than ourselves.

That is the movement- that is the heart of the mission.
And the motto of that mission is not "I'm with Her" or "Make America Great Again."
It is instead, the virtue which puts others first, because it often demands personal sacrifice:
"Equal Justice for All." , where justice includes social, economic, political, legal. And it demands that we make a world where every human being is freed from the shackles of ancient mores, and where the communities they grow up in are places where , ro borrow a phrase, everyone is judged by the content of their character.

And as I begin to assess the work that I have done, and the work that I have yet to do, one column seems long but empty, and the other, empty but long.

It is time for me, for us, to get to work.

Kurt

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why Third Parties Fail

Blogettes,
I apologize for the interregnum between posts- I had reached Political Exhaustion, a condition caused by too much talking head discussion and  not enough substance from anyone. Plus, I have been building boat docks, sheds, cutting dead limbs, and basically doing all the work associated with getting years of work done before winter.  I can confidently assert that "it ain't a job on Palisades Park."

So, I have been thinking about the history of third parties and why for the most part they do not succeed. When I mean that, I use the caliper of electoral success, which of course is not the only measure. (More on that later.)

We have a very long and illustrious history of third party challenges to the established political class. Jeffersonian Republicanism, Jacksonian Democrats, Lincoln Republicans, the Populists,  and more recent examples, George Wallace, Ross Perot , Ralph Nader- many of whom while were not successful, did have a dramatic impact on the electoral outcome. Yet, certainly the examples from the Populists forward were unable to form a cohesive movement that lasted from election cycle to the next.

There are several reasons for this (and you all may find more).  First, some of them have really bad ideas that appeal to only  a fringe of voters. Bad ideas do not gain long term adherence and thus, while might engender support as the issue becomes important, it cannot sustain a movement.  {An example of that would be the Build the Wall movement today- which if focused on the movement of illegals into the US from the South misses the point,]

The second reason is that running for elective office is drama, theater, and the actors must be able to perform for the elective audience. And like anything, it requires practice.  Watch the candidates that are truly running from the outside and you will see what we call authentic, but what are really untrained actors.  They sound, for the most part, a little out of place.  Perot had business experience but on many non-NAFTA issues, seemed out of his element.  Trump is a seasoned actor, but his most severe deficiencies derive from his lack of fluency with policy issues.  Hillary has the fluency, but is no actor, and that is another story. Jill Stein is a doctor, as was Ben Carson. Now doctors can deal with diagnoses and treatment, but their bedside manner relating to a wide audience such as voters is often not well tuned.

The third and most significant reason that third parties fail is that their best ideas (and let's be honest, many of the best ideas come from them) are co-opted by one of the major parties.  Look at the Populist platform of 1892 and you will see the foundation of the policies of the 20th century Democratic party. Income tax, redistribution, bottom up power, use of government regulations to manage the economy- all of these saw their formal adoption under Democrat rule, as the Populists turned back to their non-political lives.

And one other issue that matters. It is a very lonely existence in politics if you have no friends  The lubricant  of politics is not money, but power.  And power comes from gaining chits among friends so that you can give what friends need and gain their favor back at the opportune time their return favor.

If you run against the Established Order, you are telling everyone you do not need their favors.  Bernie Sanders essentially ran as a third party, but once he found himself beaten, he had two choices:
continue the "movement" with lots of support but few friends, or go back to Senate where he could try to influence policy on the edges by reminding his colleagues of how successful he ALMOST was.

Trump was, is, I'm not sure, running as a third party still, which is why so many Republicans have themselves disassociated themselves from his campaign.  They want to win re-election, or keep their conservative purity (not sure again what that means exactly), or they, like Ted Cruz, just cant get over the insults. (GIve me a break Ted.)

When you hear that, think self interest.  Bernie and Ted are alike in that regard; they long for power, and when you realize you dont have it, and wont without friends and chits and promises. they have to retrench and go home and do some deep thinking.

We all long for more choices, we want honesty, but in the end, we make the choices we make because, well, we want friends too, and at least in our politicians, someone who makes us feel good.

And we know that half a pie is better than none.

Kurt

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I'm not quite there yet....

Well, this week was almost, almost the week when I just threw up my hands and said to hell with it.  This campaign is the most vapid, issue-less campaign wrought with inanity and outright  lies.  Here is how I came to that conclusion:
First, I made a short  list of the 3 most significant issues facing our country (my opinion), and here they are: the inability to discuss, deliberate and agree on the major issues facing the US; two, causing us to fail to deal with the long term and short terms problems, (infrastructure failure, educational deterioration, unfunded public liabilities owed to ourselves, and three, our failure to engage in the war (in every respect) between the ideals of freedom and liberty and those of control and obedience espoused by fascist, racist, fundamentalist, and economically repressive regimes and groups.

I didn't pick problems like money in politics because I that list is a micro list of the bigger issues.  I have to look bigger.

Now, since I believe as I do that we can only seriously attack these issues when we confront them like citizens respectful of other beliefs, I find it essential that any leader I vote  for be someone who has the capacity to earn the respect of more than a simple majority of the citizens of this country. And an essential element of earning that respect is the capacity to be believed and trusted.

Hence my dilemma.
I do not, and cannot trust either Donald Trump (who continues to make statements that are either intentionally dishonest or incredibly uninformed), and Hillary Clinton (who has set the standards for trustfulness so low that she thinks not being charged with a crime a badge of honor.)


And Bernie Sanders fades into the sunset (retiring perhaps to his third home to write his memoirs of the "movement' he started), the pundit class begins their rancid clamor that a vote for third party x is a wasted vote.

Well, that's where I nearly threw up my hands and asked myself what the hell?

Despite all the problems we face and the promise of a making us better, this election has come down to whether a habitual liar can convince a majority of voters that her opponent is a dangerous kook.

But for me to do that, would be to become what I have beheld. I can't stand in front of you and teach and preach that you can make a difference, and then quit on that idea.

So I am going to keep doing what I do; I am  going to search out the best candidate that I can trust. I will not find any candidate that agrees with me on every issue, but I want one who I can trust to listen, to think independently, to protect the ideals we profess to believe in, and to tell me the trust, every time they speak.

And if that is a wasted vote, if casting that vote helps elect one of those candidates for which I cannot vote, so be it. At least I will not be complicit in further corrupting a system that, in forsaking its ideals, has sunk to accepting the lesser of two evils

Kurt

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Two more reforms

Now that we have started down this path, why not go whole hog? (A rural bbq reference meant to evoke the cooking of substantially more than a single cutlet).

1. Within one hour of any vote on any bill or any amendment, each Member of Congress (add to this state legislators, city councilpersons, school board members if you want) shall announce in writing their vote (or failure to vote) and their reasons for such vote, which shall be made immediately available to the public.

No more hiding. If they dont vote, they must tell us why. If they vote no because the amendment is attached to a bill they oppose, tell us upfront, not months or years later in a campaign.  There should be no votes that cannot be explained and this will at least ostensibly require every elected official to tell us not just how but why they voted they way they did.

2. Every 10 years, the states shall elect delegates to a National Constitutional Convention, which shall meet for no more than 10 days, at which time, the delegates may propose and vote on, any such amendments to the US Constitution as such Convention determines, and such proposals gaining sufficient support, shall be then considered by every state legislature for approval or rejection within 6 months. Only such Amendments as are approved by the required number of legislatures shall become part of the US Constitution.

For those of you who want a living Constitution, here it is. You, not the Supreme Court, get to make it live. And yes, I expect many of you to be aghast about trusting the mob with this process. But tell me why this is bad- tell me you dont trust the People, yet you want to be able to change the old document.

Have at it.
Kurt

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Platform for Reform

Fellow Political Junkies,
 I apologize for my extended absence. I could excuse that, telling you just how awfully busy I have been, which, while true, would nonetheless be a lie. I have not written during the two conventions because I am depressed.  I am depressed (politically, not clinically- though I will keep you posted as my symptoms develop) because as an cynical optimist, I believe we have such a paucity of acceptable choices for our next president that we are collectively bound to the least worst choice. (Apologies to both Clinton and Trump supporters, and no intended rebuke on your own views.)

Let me explain.
There is no doubt that our government has grown, and will continue to grow, as people demand it do more.  We can debate that, and how we get to where we want to go, but in many respects, even as Pres. Reagan declared that "government is the problem" and President Bill Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over", in many respects they are both right, and both wrong.

And public trust in government, which is an absolute essential to a functioning democracy, is at historical lows.  If this continues, we will not stand as a nation.

So, instead of drawing the blinds and pulling the covers over my head, what I intend to try to do is offer a series of reforms that would, if implemented, begin to  turn back that public doubt, and while messy, would  I believe, begin to reconnect the people with the decisions made for and in our names.

So, here is my first set of reforms

The next president will by executive order, open up the internal process of decision-making to the people.
 `1. Presidential Question Time: Each week, the President will appear before a joint session of Congress to answer questions from them. The questions shall be no longer than 30 seconds, and any questioner taking longer will be bleeped/horned (of maybe one of you can come up with a unique sound like the clang from Law and Order), that cuts them off. No speeches, just questions and answers. We will see pretty quickly these politicians are no smarter than any of us.


2. Each meeting with any lobbyist and any member of Congress, or staff, or the Administration, shall be recorded, transcribed and made public within 12 hours of said meeting. No secret deals, the public needs to know

3. Freedom of the press is the ballast that should keep our leaders honest.  Every interview with any member of Congress or any candidate, and with every member of the Administration, shall be fully recorded and made available online within 1 hour of said interview appearing in any public format.  We get compare what is made available and what is edited out.  And, the editorial meetings of all news organizations shall be recorded, and transcribed and made available within in 24 hours of said meeting.

4. The oral arguments and open hearings of the Supreme Court shall be broadcast live. (The Court shall have full authority by its own rules to sanction any lawyer using that opportunity to make an ass of him-herself.)

5. All organizations and persons lobbying to any member of Congress or the Administration shall announce any and all such meetings with complete information as to who, what ,when, where and why.

Now, that's just a start of the chaos. You can find a million reasons that they wont work- go ahead and tear them apart, and offer improvements. Keep on topic, I will be adding more ideas in the blog posts ahead.  Keep your powder dry until we hit some of them, like money, access, initiatives etc.

Now imagine this: a candidate who puts a list of reforms together that sound even remotely like this.

And the sunshine peeks out from behind even the darkest cloud.

Kurt

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Republican "unConvention"

We do not know what to expect from the Republican convention this week, either from the party adherents or from the Trump Rump which appears to have beaten back the Never Trump forces.
The ticket is set, the platform, which is a poor fit for the head of the ticket and likely will be ignored, are set.  What remains to be seen is the spectacle, the pageantry, the art of the deal.  Will Trump turn the normally staid, (and frankly boring) convention week into Must See TV.?

And will the events that appear to be increasing in speed, in deadly violence, in chaotic uncertainty tell an entirely new tale?  What happens if there is an attack in Cleveland? Will the law and order rhetoric, (remember Nixon, 1968) split some Dems away from Hillary, and keep independents, who seem reluctant to support either ticket wholeheartedly, holding their noses as they pull the lever for Trump.

We cannot answer any of these questions now. But based on the campaign so far, there are going to be surprises, and it may not be the candidate who responds with traditional political skills that wins the day. In fact, there is a growing divide among Americans as to just what skills are really needed to be President.

And it is this, what would you call it, evolution or devolution, that confounds the national media. None of their past tropes are making sense and they  wonder what is going on.  Blacks shot filmed as we watch, police intentionally targeted for murder, ISIS inspired attacks mount even as the President and Vice President tells us they are in their death throes, losing land and territory that made them caliphate-like.  The institutions of America facing deep doubt by many Americans that see what they see, and react.

And one wonders if we are facing new and old problems, with ineffective, or worse, dangerous solutions. People want answers, but would settle for things that work. In this election we may get neither.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Rage, Race and a Remembering 1968

The current political landscape across much of America is beginning to remind me of the summer of 1968.

During that most tumultuous year, sitting President Lyndon Johnson, scarred by the war in Vietnam, withdrew from the race.  In jumped Robert Kennedy, but by July in Los Angeles, his assassination cut short that dream. VP Humphrey had not won a single primary, and was hugely unpopular among the anti-war Democrats. In Chicago, all sorts of protests came together in Mayor Daley's town, and we watched in stunned disbelief as tear gas from the streets wafted onto the floor of the Democrat Party Convention.

Republican Richard Nixon, (who some would call the most experienced candidate in history) who had only 6 years earlier suffered ignominious defeat in the California governor race, was back. He would wage a campaign designed to break the one-party south from the Democrat nominee by appealing to law and order, supporting police, and identifying the "other" as unAmerican  and  dangerous to the rest of us.

That election would turn out to be razor close, but it was, to be sure, a campaign of anger, of despair, of votes cast for the least worst by many.  Neither candidate was very popular, and the country was largely at odds with their elected leaders.  People did not trust their government.

Now, flash forward to today.  The issue of race in the context of equal justice, particularly but not exclusively, criminal justice, is becoming a huge issue. But that knife cuts both ways.  Black Lives Matters might speak for many African Americans, but there is a large group that opposes them.  The divide over the problem is huge, but over the solution seems insurmountable.

We will see more problems, and as votes begin to assess the ability of each of the candidates to handle the issue, to address the mood of the county, we will also see if either major candidate, or any third party candidate, can assuage the fears and anger of Americans.

Events are beginning to unravel the fabric of the electorate, and this remains a very volatile, very uncertain election.

Kurt

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Is the email trouble over?

This week saw FBI Director Comey issue the results of their investigation. That, in itself, was unusual.  The spectacle of the Director making the open public statement regarding their conclusions, if they had in fact indicted Hillary, would have been hugely prejudicial to her ability to get a fair trial.

In any event, if you watched the presser, Comey, laid out all of the many things that Hillary and her staff did to jeopardize national security. (his language, not mine.) But then, he indicated that based on context, no reasonable prosecutor  would bring a case against  her, lacking intent to ..


Well there is the rub. Intent to do what?  Intent to deliver secrets to the enemy? No, this was not an espionage investigation. Intent to mishandle classified information. Well, there was no doubt that she set up a home server, a server that  Comey stated was less secure than your Gmail account.

The issue of intent is the crux of Comey's decision. But it is also a mischaracterization of the statute. The law is broken by reckless mishandling- Comey said she was extremely careless.  Is extremely careless, reckless? Let's parse some more words.

What seems clear is that Comey did not want to be the decider of history.  But ,the web once tangled weaves a very tight web.  Hillay  testified under oath, and she said that she did not use more than one device, that there were no classified documents, that her lawyers looked at every email and sent every work-related email to the State Department. And of course, the House Committee is now asking for a criminal referral for perjury.

No one knows where this may lead, and as far as the election is concerned, it most likely will not create an image problem for her- he  bad numbers are baked in.  But this race looks ever more likely like a race to the very, very bottom.  Who do the majority of disengaged, frustrated voters NOT want to be President more.

And my prediction of neither Hillary and Trump now seems like naive wishful thinking.

Unless, the screw turns yet again. And given the bizarrro world we all have entered, that may be a very good bet.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The 4th of July-- my country, right and wrong.

The single biggest mistake we make as Americans is setting up our political arguments as games, games where there is a winner and a loser.   Now, we know that's how elections work, but campaigns and governing are not the same.  In campaigns, because none of have the wisdom (or perhaps cynicism) of Solomon, we must pick a winner and a loser.  Vote counts matter.

But in governing, vote counts should be forgotten.   Who can say who as a mandate, unless you reach into the minds of every voter and sort it out.  So, in governing, what must occur is a process of prioritizing first what are the problems (Identification), and then discussing the possible solutions (Engagement) and then, discerning how the solutions proposed work or dont work, and the consequences, real and unintended, play out (Compromise), and then, putting those solutions to work. (Implementation).

In this country, though, we have another step, one that is often  lost. That is Assessment. We have a duty and long history, of re-examining our collective policies.  And our mistakes.  Find me another country so open about our past mistakes, our past wrong, our past atrocities.  We may recoil from our study of Native American genocide, our horrid tradition of slavery, our discrimination of women, early immigrants, Japanese-Americans, and the current rhetoric about Muslims, but in each of those areas, there has developed a deep and rich field of history that does that each and every day.

We are unified as Americans not because we are the best, but because we have a open process where we can, and are expected to dissent and to criticize the worst behavior among us.  The freedoms we have are not inevitable, and always came at the expense of someone or some group.  And they are themselves writ across the discrimination of many.

So today, I will celebrate the fourth, not because we declared our freedom, but because the fourth came only after the  war had begun, and after the Revolutionary Americans had come to understand that only by becoming something new and apart from the English royal system could they begin to achieve their dreams.  Begin.  Not end.

The fourth was the signal moment when we realized that the fight was ours and would be long, deadly and permanent.

Perhaps we have lost that, but I remain optimistic.  I am a historian, not because I want to celebrate our victories, but because I have an obligation to remind us of our failures, of our faults.

I never learned anything worth remembering from my successes; but I've never forgotten anything I've ever learned from my failures.
Happy Fourth y'all and God (in any manifestation you chose to believe or not believe in) bless American, right and wrong.

Kurt

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Democrat Minority Report and Republican Majority report- Benghazi

http://democrats-benghazi.house.gov/sites/democrats.benghazi.house.gov/files/documents/Report_of_the_Benghazi_Select_Committee_Democratic_Members-Honoring_Courage_Improving_Security_and_Fighting_the_Exploitation_of_a_Tragedy.pdf

http://benghazi.house.gov/NewInfo

An assignment before voting.

I will only make one comment about this so I don't influence any of you adversely.

If the election is about character, then past history of actions under pressure matter.  What does it matter, after all this time, if a public official intentionally lied to the American people about a serious foreign policy failure that resulted in the deaths of four Americans?

You decide.

https://intelligence.house.gov/sites/intelligence.house.gov/files/documents/Benghazi%20Report.pdf


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The next Brexit.

Long story short.  The pollsters, the elites, the all-knowing miss it again.  Britain's vote to exit the European Union sent shock through the markets (do not fret, they always overreact, up and down, to events), but more importantly, through England and Europe. The American pundits (and the Administration) pointed to xenophobia as the root evil that led the unwashed classes to vote Leave. But on the ground, a different story unfolded.

To be sure, rising anxiety over the impact of EU immigration policy played a role.  But it was no blind xenophobia. Instead, it was a growing realization (or belief, if you will) that the type of power the EU exercised over national immigration policy was not in England's best interest.  The Paris and German attacks (and surely those in the US) made the wide welcome of refugees from the Middle and Near East seem irrational.  All the calls for humane treatment seem shallow when you are washing the blood off the sidewalk.

Now, dont misunderstand.  There is racism. there is xenophobia.  What our President has consistently done is emphasize the worst element of our polity as THE reason for an event; he does this, clearly, to achieve some political advantage. But the truth is much more nuanced.  Many voters in England simply did not understand why bureaucrats in the EU should be telling them how to manage their own policy. On this any many other issues, people feel disengaged from the decision-makers.  That is the seed of populist revolt. We want to make our own decisions. We despise the powerful (leaders, bankers, lobbyists, fill in your own blanks) who take our inherent right to decide for ourselves.

Now, underlying this overall motivation and angst (which is easily turned to anger), is certainly some racism, some xenophobia.  What we need to do is to separate those motivations, or at a minimum, not combine them into one indistinguishable lump.

For example, the current gun debate.  We can all agree that the sheer numbers of gun deaths in the US is a national failure.  We all want a solution. But when we conflate the problem without clearly and intelligently separating the causes, we end up with solutions that fail.

Ban all guns is not a solution, unless you ignore the fact that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns.  With over 300 million existing guns in the US, a ban without a massive government confiscation would be useless. So we focus on gun background checks.  Yet, as evidence for the effectiveness of those checks, we end up looking at numerous cases of mass murder where the assailants either passed checks, or would have.  Tell me how you predict violent criminal behavior of mentally ill individuals (which we can nearly unanimously agree seems like a good idea), and I will tell you you have solved the problem of humanity.  Was the Orlando shooter on a terror watch list?  No, but it appears he should have been. Which leads us to ask why he wasn't.  How can we expect putting teeth into a terror watch list stop mass shootings, if we cannot even vet those budding terrorists with long and clear ties to the seeds of hate?

And why do we focus on mass shootings, when the vast, vast majority of gun deaths in this country are not the headline gleaning mass killings?  The mass killings are a misdirection.  The solutions are never easy, and when we jump to them, (oh I have heard the arguments that if the law prevents one killing it will be worth it), what we end up with is fake solution. And that leads us away from a real and deep consideration of the problem, as we go onto another problem.

The  world appears on the verge of a populist uprising, where the people have the power to direct their leaders in ways not seen for decades.  Ask yourself, are we ready to lead ourselves? Are we ready to accept that deep and difficult responsibility to think problems through, to listen to each other fairly for solutions that work, and to make policies that get at the root problems, and then follow them up each day to insure they work?  If we are not, if we do not have that public commitment, the populism we may get may be the most dangerous thing we can do?

On the other hand, how much worse can it get leaving the power where it currently lies.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A little more.

What can you do to change the system? This is the question students always ask me, after I instruct them that it is their duty, their responsibility to act, and not simply complain.

Well, these are the times that try men's *and women's souls.  The candidates are generally lackluster, the issues ignored, our country's problems increase and the divide appears to grow wider each day.
And the process seems broken.

Not broken as in, well, a little axle grease will fix this, but broken, as in, there is nothing we can do to fix this and we ought to just throw it out and start over, except there are powerful forces that make that impossible, broken.

So, we are told that if the two choices are unacceptable, we must hold our nose and vote for one  or the other, because to do otherwise elects the least acceptable choice.  And the issues are sooooo important.

So we continue to get bad candidates, vapid debate and no solutions.

Maybe it is time to use the most powerful tool at our disposal (and no, it is not our vote), to force popular change.

Think back to the civil rights movement.  Many of them had no vote, at least no effective vote.  And they were excluded, minimized, and ignored.

Until they marched, stopped the levers of the southern economy, and made the media pay attention.

The levers of power are not in Congress, not in Washington.  They are in the streets, in the cafes, in the corporate boardrooms of this country. In the press and the media

When was the last time a major public movement, led by ordinary people, shut down the news. Shut down the businesses, shut down the streets, not for a day, or a few hours, but for the long haul

You want change, follow the money. You want to stop special interest PACs, shut down the entrances to every business that supports them.  Stop the media from publishing. Follow every Congressman to their cars, to their homes, give them no escape from their inaction.

Take to  the streets, in massive numbers (if there are not enough of you, recruit more, if there are stilll not enough, maybe there really is no movement), and be willing to go to jail, for peaceful protest against a system that needs you to change it.

No long term change in our history every came down from the top; the top sits there satisfied until it feels its foundations shaking.  Then fearful it may lose its place, it acts.

Your vote this fall will make no difference at all.  It matters so little today who you elect. Trump or Clinton, pick your poison.

You want change, organize your friends and neighbors, from across the country, and pick your spots to disrupt the comfortable and make them squirm.

Now, that, my friends, it what I believe.  From the heartland, the foundation of 1890s Bryanism and Populism, the heart of 1839s Milo Reno agricultural revolt, the place the coast fly-over and ignore, and the place that knows that, sometimes, there are ideas and ideals worth fighting for.

You can accept your lot, or you can fight the status quo, but you cannot count on your vote to make the difference.  Those days are gone, not because the vote is irrelevant, but because your choices have become indistinguishable, like the paint swatches on the display at Home Depot. How much browner is Sumatra  Blend than Deep Walnut?

And the toughest aspect is just how hard this is.

Kurt






Sunday, June 19, 2016

The long interregnum.

Class,
 So, we enter a period of political lull, after the primary/caucus period and before the party conventions.  Normally, the parties coalesce, the major issues become clear, the nominees vet VP candidates, and get ready for the fall, organizing, strategizing, raising money, and giving policy speeches intended to move them back to the center of the political spectrum from which they strayed to win their respective nominations.

This is no ordinary year.

Clinton has done more of that than Trump, but she is not positioning herself quite as rapidly as history would expect. She still has a substantial number of Sanders supporters who have not and do no appear likely to follow in lockstep.  She moved on the "radical Islamic terrorist" language, but on other issues, she stays frozen in the primary dilemma.  Is she really vetting Senator E. Warren as her VP choice? Is that the way she wins over the Sanders crowd?  What would two women on one ticket do to improve, or hurt her chances?

And Trump, who proved himself capable of "behaving" with establishment Republicans for about 10 days, now is back to insulting the leaders of his own party. Cruz and Bush (and who else, who knows) might be working behind the scenes to win the nomination, provided the Republican convention rules were changed to "let delegates vote their conscience" as Paul Ryan suggests of his own caucus.  How can that be the rules for the elites and not the common masses?

The Democrats are raising money, and the Clinton machine has kicked into full mode.  Remember the way Bill raised funds, from every source, including the Chinese.  Is the FEC even up to monitoring campaigns that raise hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars?

Trump refuses to release his income taxes, Hillary contends the email/Clinton Foundation investigation are "no problem" and the voters lay in uneasy repose, waiting for a campaign that might be the most divisive, least informative in history.

What gives?  Are the events of this campaign an aberration or do they portend the kind of politics that will be the norm?

As America waits on answers to deep and resilient problems we face in our society, our economy, in our future both domestic and foreign, the campaign of 2016 hangs like an albatross around our collective and uneasy necks.

This will start soon enough, and the interregnum we are currently in, feels like the muggy heat of summer, when the winds die down and the boat waits for the waves.

And we hope they will not swamp us in their anger and fury.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Buzzing of ....

This Sunday morning, I walked outside, early, to let my two Boston terriers do their business. I thought myself still groggy, as the two huge Linden trees that loom like sentinels in front of the house, whispered in the humid stillness.  What was that noise? Wind through the powerlines? Some distant motor humming uncontested?  Then I noticed the ground, covered with layers of pollen (and a hole, where a pesky gopher has determined to disturb my renewed flowerbed), on the walk. And looking up into the Lindens, past the rich, thick layers of branches and leaves, there it was. Hundreds (and I speaking modestly, there were likely thousands) of buzzing bees, busy at work, spreading the life blood of plants.  At first fearful (would they attack me, like some alien in Independence Day II), I watched them. I was but  a spot, a fleck on their world.  They were in charge, and the noise that spilled out into the world, my world, became a wonder.

Events matter.  This week, and last, we have seen Trump attack a sitting judge in a civil case that in the larger scheme of things seems unimportant. We have seen the slow trickle of Freedom of Information emails from Hilary's server, including at least one specifically and clearly marked "C"- confidential, destroying  her central claim about sending or receiving confidential secrets.  And last night, we saw the mass murder in Orlando, at the gay nightclub Pulse, where a person with "Islamic tendencies" (whatever that means), took his hatred and murder out on Americans. On American soil.

The larger point is being missed.  Americans are not dolts, despite what the parties and their sycophantic advisers profess.  Across this country people feel uneasy, their reality at odds with the imagined commercials of the politicians trying to make us believe what we know not true.

And the heroes pass by us, gone from the scene, as if they never were.  Muhammad Ali bragged and boasted his way into the ring, then took care of business. But when he was called on to put up or shut up, to follow his views about Vietnam, he did exactly that.  Disagreement with his views is an American right, but aren't we tired of the people who are all hat and no cattle. (Yes, a western, cattle-raising metaphor).   And Gordie Howe, who played immaculate, rough hewn hockey into his fifties (in part so he could skate with his own kids), lived his life after sport, like Ali, in simple, direct, uncomplicated honesty.

The reason we celebrate these heroes is not because they they are so great, so unusual, but because they remind us all of what we believe we once were, of what we want to become.

American ideals didn't make them, those two, and untold numbers of other men and women, laboring simply in their own pollen, buzzing endlessly on. American ideals didn't make them, they made those ideals.

Events matter, and in the buzzing that surprises us, a new awakening is due. Long past due.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The field is set, now what?

So, it will be Clinton v Trump for the title of next President.  What many had long speculated (at least since Indiana for the Republicans) the two candidates are set.  Gary Johnson has the Libertarian nomination and is polling 10-12%, which is high for any third party, but at this stage, is more a reflection of the deep dissatisfaction by many voters with both major party candidates.

And the coalescing has begun.  Republicans who vowed never to support Trump come on board, calculating that his win would be better for them than a Democratic president.  Anguished Dems, worried about the increasing likelihood that top secret documents on Hillary's server have been compromised (that has not been confirmed yet, but the evidence is pointing very strongly that way) are simply ignoring that issue. Just as many Republicans dismiss even Trump's obviously racist rant against the judge handling his civil Trump U trial,  you will see poll numbers of Dems asked if they would support Hillary even if indicted increase.

But you will also see, I predict, an increasing number of Americans declare themselves independent and unhappy with both candidates. What they will focus on is 1. the economy, 2. events that affect their lives, and 3. state-focused issues, meaning, issues that play different in different states.

The real question for the candidates is how do they attract (or keep the other candidate from attracting) these voters.

And who are these people? Are they young people, followers of Sanders who cant quite accept Hillary as their choice? Will they be strong-defense conservatives, doubtful that Trump is the pro-life guy he claims to be, and fearful he will not defend American interests abroad?

Yes, and there is more.  They will be steelworkers who have seen their industry decline, who are not appeased by promises of retraining at community college. They will be children of immigrants who migrated around the fence, but find themselves in this country as legal as any first born, who dispute the characterization Trump portrays, but also want a good job, and a future.

They will be middle class workers, stung by the third year of double-digit premium increases under The Affordable Care Act, where the average deductible is $3500 per person, and the co-pays run to $30, with premiums that bring the total cost before any non-essential treatment to an average for a single person of $6000.

In the end, you will see the issues move closer to the one that elected William Jefferson Clinton: its the economy stupid.
And on that issue will the campaign, in a few select states, where the hard core R and D are evenly divided, be won or lost.  Remember the fall of 2008? How people feel about the past, and the future, and who they trust to help them do better will be the key of of this campaign.

Unless, of course, there is a  Trump meltdown. Or a Hillary indictment. And neither of those, despite what you may have heard, or currently believe, are both realistic possibilities.


Sunday, June 05, 2016

California or Bust

Class,
Sorry for the delay- I had to travel to DC to run the annual SEC Historical Society meeting, where we interviewed Richard Breeden, SEC Chairman under George H W Bush, and point man for the fix of the Savings and Loan Crisis. See his interview and the work on the upcoming gallery in the virtual museum at:
www.sechistorical.org


  So the California primary approaches Tuesday.  The number of registered voters has hit an all time high, and the turnout looks to  break records.  What does this mean?

Well, it depends, of course, on who those new registrants are.  How many people have already voted? Is the surge by Sanders shown in recent polls enough to overcome the strong campaign ground effort by Hillary?

I expect the vote to be very close, but does it really matter? It is highly likely that Hillary will have garnered (along with her committed super-delegates) enough votes to secure the nomination.  So, what would a Sanders win in California mean?

Surely the story would be HILLARY WINS, versus BERNIE TAKES CALIFORNIA.  But if Sanders does take California, and by a margin of more than 4 points, he has a strong case to make that his campaign has evoked more excitement than Hillary's campaign. His ideas have motivated many new and old voters, and he appears to be , for independent voters, much more appealing than Hillary.

Yet, she trudges on.  Hillary, barring one of those "events" we have talked about, will be the Democratic nominee.  And she will then have to figure out how to bridge the gap between her and Bernie, and win over his supporters, who have expressed very tepid support for her if she wins.

And what's more, the fall campaign has begun. Hillary denounced Trump in a scripted foreign policy speech and in that, we saw the seeds of her strategy.  She wants to paint the Republican nominee as dangerous, inexperienced, unsuitable intellectually, mentally and emotionally to be in charge of the US military.  She is counting on her foreign policy experience as a way to cut some national security Republicans and independents away and to her column.

The problem with that strategy, despite its underlying validity, is that her experience led her to vote for Iraq II, to the debacle in Libya, to the failed Russian reset, and to the engagement with Iran that so many disagree with. Dont vote for the ignorant, vote for the incompetent is not much of a campaign slogan.

What will happen to the primary trend of bigger and record turnout, in the general election if the campaign is so relentlessly negative it turns every one off.'

Let/s watch California, and the other states on Tuesday, and then reassess. This campaign portends to be a continuing "experience."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Cash King? A short discussion about money in this campaign.

For years, reformers have decried the growing amount, and nefarious source of money in campaign. While Citizens United is the focus of most anger, it really was the Buckley Valeo (1976) case that protected campaign spending (so long as it was not tied to quid pro quo corruption) as free speech.

But this campaign is openly challenging the commonly accepted assumption that money talks.  The Republican nominee (not yet but typing presumptive each time is just silly at this point) has spent far less money in the primary to gain  the nomination and many of long-vanquished foes.  Hillary has spent freely, but Bernie has been able (at least until recently) compete with her without the use of PACS and bundlers.  His small, but numerous contributions, belie the concerns about millionaires buying  elections.

Democrats expect to spend over $1 billion in the fall election. Let me gently remind you that until 2008, the general elections were limited by the acceptance of the Presidential checkoff funds. It was candidate Obama, who reneged on his pledge to limit funds, once he realized that he had a chance to win nomination, but not without spending very large amounts of money.  No serious candidate today would handicap their campaign by accepting those funds with those limits.

But will this campaign turn those truisms on their head? Will the celebrity of Trump, which earns him literally hundreds of millions of dollars in free coverage, overwhelm the PAC spending? Is there a diminishing return on spending on negative campaigns?  At some point, does reliance on the Koch brothers or Tom Steyer become a disadvantage?

If there is such a year, this might be it. With the exception of spending to Get Out The Vote, gas for drivers, calls, and on the ground knock on the door work of volunteers, is traditional advertising transforming into a very different kind of fungible good, overwhelmed by non-traditional sources of media impact?

Which leads to the real question, for 2014 and beyond.  When will the ticket of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appear on the ballots of Americans?

I just witnessed the AP announce that Trump had secured the delegates sufficient to become the Republican nominee. And Hillary, once again exposed by the State Department IG report to have repeatedly lied about her private server and email practices, is facing a very strong challenge by Bernie in California.  You all are actually relevant again.  Miracles do happen.

Kurt

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Knowing the known unknown.

Apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (does that make us even), but this campaign, certainly the coverage of  it, has now turned on its head for the umpteenth time.  A short  few weeks ago, when Cruz was riding high, the narrative was that the Republicans faced a convention fight that  would make Chicago 1968 look like a Girl Scout meeting. But Trump swept and Cruz faded and then the most remarkable thing began to happen.  Republicans, who for the better part of a year were repulsed by Trump began to come around. Voters who had favored one of the 18 or so former candidates begin to assert that, well, Trump might be a dolt but he could be the one to win the election. The most recent polling showed that over 80% of Republicans would support Trump in a general election. That is higher than those who said they would support Romney at the same time four years ago.

So, what is going on? Well, let's remember that polls are but snapshots of a general feeling at the time the questions are asked.  So, as far as being predictive, do not put too much faith in them at this point. What is probably happening is that voters in general are facing a binary choice.  Trump or Hillary (you can use Bernie if you want, the choice for Republicans is still binary). And they dont want either Hillary or Bernie.  So, the majority has moved on to Trump.

What happens over  the next few months is what matters.  And it is hard to see any issues that might move a large enough collection of voters from one candidate to another that is not already in the equation.  What that means is that the campaign may not be about traditonal issues, and may be more volatile, more subject to effect by events, than past campaigns.  Economic upheaval, terror attacks, events that we cannot yet imagine, and how the candidates respond to them will be vitally important. Will the voters like the shoot from the hip Trump, or the careful, calibrated Hillary?  

And the electorate is not happy.  There is both palpable anger, and an undercurrent of unease. And the majority of voters are not yet  engaged, though there is indication that they are paying more attention than in prior elections at this stage.

Will money used in the traditional way, to undercut, define down and disparage the opponent work?  With the negatives of both leading candidates so high, how much worse can we voters think of them? And if individual issues are not key, what good will issue ads do? If this is a campaign based on who we trust more, well, that might be no better than  a coin flip.

The primary season grinds closer to finality, but this general election portends to be a very interesting one.