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.


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.


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.