Gerrymandering Wins: Why This Decision has Dangers for America

 

Gerrymandering Wins: Why This Decision Has Dangers for America

Today, 6/27/19 the Supreme Court passed on making a ruling on gerrymandering which has been practiced in a hyper-partisan extreme way by the GOP in recent years. Two especially egregious test cases had been brought before the court, North Carolina and Maryland.

Today’s Washington Post gives us pertinent sections of  John Roberts’ argument in basically siding with the Conservatives by deciding not to make a decision about gerrymandering. WaPo says, “The Supreme Court’s conservatives decided Thursday that federal courts do not have a role to play in deciding whether partisan gerrymandering goes too far.” Roberts says, “ We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between two major political parties…”

This is a big setback for Democrats who were hoping that someone could decide how much gerrymandering is too much. Gerrymandering is drawing voting districts that favor one party over another in an election. Extreme gerrymandering can guarantee that a minority party will always win. Both parties have used gerrymandering, which is done at the state level, and there have been times when gerrymandered districts were tortuously contorted, almost on a house-by-house basis. However gerrymandering is not considered part of fair governance and it does not honor everyone’s voting rights. For example, since the GOP sees minority voters as Democrats, they can engineer the boundaries of a district to exclude all minority voters. They may claim that this is strictly partisan, but since it robs minorities of voting power it is also racist.

There is a plan among Conservatives to use Article V of the Constitution to trigger a Constitutional Convention to amend the US Constitution so that it will more nearly conform with Conservative views. Two-thirds of the states must apply for such a convention. Through gerrymandering and the actions of the Conservative group ALEC, that has actually dictated bills to state legislatures and then lobbied to get these bills voted into law, the Conservatives already have collected applications for a Constitutional Convention from 28 states. They only need 6 more states to make up the required number of 34. There are 6 more GOP states who have not applied for a Constitutional Convention so far. The two strategies, extreme gerrymandering and collecting states so that Conservatives can call a US Constitutional Convention show a sophisticated kind of long range planning which could almost amount to a bloodless coup in which one party, the GOP gets to take over the US government and move it as far to the right as they wish.

Since the court will not help overturn the gerrymandering that is most extreme, it becomes even more important for the Democrats to win in 2020. If they win in a census year they may have some control over gerrymandering. However, since gerrymandering happens at the state level, and since Conservatives have won over so many states it may be too late to prevent a Constitutional Convention. A Constitutional Convention called by Conservative states could be a disaster for Democrats and for we the people given the partisan divide right now in America.

Fortunately, the court also decided on this same day to deny the right to put a citizenship question on the census. A citizenship question, as evidence recently discovered proves, is another way the GOP is attempting to discourage minorities from voting. Since minorities often vote for Democrats and since minorities may be leery about answering a citizenship question, this could again suppress Democratic Party votes. President Trump, unhappy with the court’s decision about the citizenship question has asked if the census could be delayed until the court can be provided with better information. Has this ever happened before? Maybe. But the Supreme Court was never intended to do the bidding of a president.

Photo from a Google Image Search: Washington Post

Immigration: “We Are Better Than This”

Immigration: “We Are Better Than This”

A warehouse full of children. An air conditioned warehouse full of children with concrete floors, no beds, only two scratchy wool blankets. An air conditioned warehouse full of cold, anxious children with too few adults to care for them – children sleeping on concrete floors who have not been given clean clothing or a chance to shower or even a bar of soap, a towel, and a toothbrush. Does any of this sound like America to you? But it is happening in America. It is happening right now in America.

We have a President who has told us that the people coming across our southern border are animals. Do you believe that he is telling the truth? Are these people dangerous? Are they less than human? Why are they coming? The President thinks it is a planned challenge to his immigration policies, that Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle countries) are “pranking” him somehow. Reporters who have visited these three nations tell a different story however. They tell a story about a once fertile triangle of farm land shared by these three nations. They tell us that the land is no longer fertile because the rainfall, once predictable, is now erratic. There are long periods of dry weather in recent years followed by too much rain all at once. This disruption in the usual water cycle could be temporary, but it could be due to climate change. The area is also threatened by gangs of men who snatch girls for trafficking purposes or for their own use and who snatch young men to increase memberships. These gangs are at war with each other and innocent citizens are killed in the ensuing violence.

People usually love the country they were born in. They don’t want to leave it. If large numbers of people are migrating from one country to another country far away there is always a reason for it. People migrate when their home nation cannot offer enough food, or enough safety, or any opportunities for a better life. People of means may travel out of a sense of adventure, or to broaden their experiences, to enjoy other cultures and the beauty of foreign places. However, unless they stumble into a place they know is unstable and hostile, tourists do not end up sleeping in warehouses with concrete floors. And neither should people who are seeking asylum from a nation that no longer offers a viable life to its people.

We cannot solve problems that arise from climate change, especially with an administration in charge of America that does not believe in climate change. But offering aid to a nation in need is something that we do know how to do. We cannot get rid of local gangs. We are not even doing well with keeping our own gangs under control. But we do know that when people are offered opportunities to learn a trade or get a college degree and find employment violence tends to decrease and the influence of gangs declines.  Aid can also be perceived to be nation building, can be seen as imperialistic interference done for personal gain rather than altruism, so the way help is offered matters. While giving aid it is not polite to see what resources you can steal from a nation that is suffering.

If one way to tackle the flow of migrants is to improve the conditions in the home nations, another way is to streamline our procedures for handling migration when it happens. Denying migrants access to the laws that govern immigration does not seem to stop people from immigrating. Separating children from parents does not seem to discourage the flow of immigration. Denying children showers and soap and toothbrushes may make them miserable but it doesn’t make them disappear (unless they die). Is that the plan? To let squalor do its work. Is that a plan Americans can live with?

“We are better than this.” Whenever I listen to panels of experts talk on my news channel (MSNBC) someone always says this. We can do better than taking children who came here with a parent or who have a contact who is a relative already in America, than housing them in a cold soulless shelter, leaving them in wet diapers and dirty clothing, allowing them to live with lice, and sending them to bed hungry with only a scratchy blanket for company. We are America. We are organized. We are humane. We are a can-do nation. If the system is overwhelmed then hire more people. Warehouse supplies, not people. Better yet, don’t detain children at all. Set to work immediately getting them to their destination if they have one, or finding them a family to act as a temporary sponsor.

What the President would like to do is immediately deport them, but the law says they have a right to a hearing. He says that if they are released with a hearing date they will not return. Statistics say that the return rate is really good for adults. How do you give a hearing to a toddler who may be nonverbal? Applying the same practices for children that we have for adults makes no sense. HHS (Housing and Human Services) is full of experts in the care of displaced children. They should be called upon to suggest ways to handle minors separated from parents or guardians. Many experts have been making valid suggestions without getting much attention.

The chaos we are seeing in the immigration system is due to this administration’s attempts to solve the problem by circumventing immigration laws, in other words by using approaches that are lawless, approaches for which there are no precedents and no organizational plans. Orders are given and they must be accomplished although no resources are offered to accomplish what the administration wants. If everyone is to be sent back home why aren’t they loaded immediately onto planes? Because no logistics have been designed to make this possible. So migrants seeking asylum are caught between a rock and a government-engineered hard place and they cannot solve their own dilemma. But we can. “We are better than this.”

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Cut

 

 

 

 

 

Compromising with Segregationists and Old School Bipartisanship

Compromising with Segregationists and Old School Bipartisanship

Biden talked this week about compromising with some pretty stubborn and reprehensible segregationists because it was the only way anything could get done. You would think someone who said hateful racist things every day in Congress and blocked programs designed to effectively lift up the children of slaves and other Americans of African descent would have a difficult time in Congress and in elections. You would think s/he (usually a he) would be shunned and ignored. But this has not been the case in America or in the American Congress. Because these men loved to make outrageous racist arguments to prevent black Americans from assimilating into mainstream culture, the media knew that giving these crude voices a bullhorn was a moneymaker. We seem to enjoy whatever is most outrageous, or perhaps some of us just enjoy feeling outraged, however powerless we feel to do anything about it.

So when Biden says that he compromised with segregationists and got things done, it is possible to conclude that the compromises that were made in Biden’s days, and throughout our history, gave us legislation with all the teeth taken out of it.

Conservatives and segregationists may not have had rabid racism in common but they do not like spending money on social programs and they all do have that in common. Because they don’t believe desegregation is desirable or is the province of government every program is assembled piecemeal out of stony opposition and supposedly plain-spoken debate that is actually prejudice, and by the time the assistance program appears in its final form it is watered down almost beyond any hope of proving effective.

Conservatives also worry about the few people who will abuse the system far more than they appreciate the numbers of people who could benefit from the system. To counter real and imagined felonious tendencies of recipients of programs – programs that are supposed to help equalize opportunities for all Americans, to at least provide for basic needs in order to allow people to satisfy higher needs like owning a home or getting a certificate or degree to lead to a better job – the process of obtaining assistance is made so onerous that receiving what was supposed to offer a lift up becomes stigmatizing and demoralizing.

Why have the problems of our inner cities been so stubborn? Why have some black folks been essentially trapped in our inner cities, or in segregated neighborhoods? Given all the time and money dedicated to eradicating differences in opportunities why are so many black people still so poor? Why are so many black people in jail? Why have other groups been eventually accepted in the fold and able to climb the economic ladder?

Conservatives like to pretend that Americans of African descent have low IQ’s and that this makes them inferior to white people. How much of this is still resentment about losing their property? How much of this is still resentment about losing the Civil War? How much of this is about the way the demise of the plantation system changed the entire economy of the South and left it languishing until factories began to leave the North and migrate to the old slave states? How much of this is simply about the color of someone’s skin?

How much of this is the fault of these ancestors of the very people who snatched Africans from their homes to enslave them? How much of this is because of laws that did not allow slaves to learn to read and write? If you prevent people from being educated you really cannot turn around and deride them for being “ignorant”. How much of Conservatives’ active moves to undermine all attempts at desegregation arise from fear that vengeance will be wreaked one day?

We understand the roots of racism pretty well, but we have been far less successful at ridding ourselves of this unwarranted prejudice. So when we passed a welfare program to give struggling folks living in areas of stubborn poverty a living wage recipients became Welfare Queens and those Welfare Queens were not white.

Pretty soon poor white and black folks, many of them single females with children or families with absent fathers, were required to either go to work or go to school, even though they might have to make less than satisfactory arrangements for their children. This put their children into situations that left them behind other children in school, or perhaps exposed them to traumatizing adult situations that then made it difficult for them to socially adjust to schooling.

We funded housing programs, but white neighborhoods with better schools were made unavailable to black folks through informal white segregationist practices like red-lining. Thus people could get assistance with low rent housing with all its inadequacies but they could not buy a home outside of the inner city neighborhoods. These neighborhoods had the advantage of creating and solidifying black unity, and the disadvantages of gangs and violence that come from a need to have control over at least a small corner of the world as your own space and a pathway, however illegal, to wealth.

The intent of these programs may have been to tear down invisible walls that were separating black and white people, especially economically. However we will never know if these programs would have worked if they were allowed to stick to their original configurations and intentions. Compromising with segregationists turned them into reluctant and temporary kinds of assistance that subjected recipients to a loss of personal pride and did not end up lifting any one up. We chose a path and we will never know if the other path would have been better.

I think that today’s Progressive Dems and the apparently despised Liberals are saying that perhaps those Democrats who felt that compromise was a good thing were wrong; that giving in to racists cannot offer any benefits to America or to Americans.

They may also be sad that fifty years or more were wasted. It is likely that we have caused the very problems that haunt our inner cities by allowing what should have been supportive services designed to end segregation to be subverted by segregationists through the very compromises that allowed the laws to be passed. In other words, compromise took all the heart out of the laws and injected meanness.

If bipartisanship means compromises like these blasts from the past, Democrats can no longer afford to compromise at all. This is even more true because Mitch McConnell, drunk on the power of “no”, will never allow for bipartisan compromise as long as he controls the majority in the Senate.

Photo Credit: The Federalist

Razzle Dazzle 2020 – Trump Announces

Razzle Dazzle 2020 – Trump Announces

A visit with the Queen in the UK who found him the most amusing man she has ever met in her six decades on the throne.

A visit with the head of the illiberal government in Poland.

Saber rattling at Iran.

Sending weapons to the Saudi’s to add to the threat against Iran.

Promising to deport millions of undocumented Americans in a big putsch(push).

Suggesting that all will be made right with President Xi of China next week at the G20.

 

Winking to his followers about a private meeting with Putin. (next week at G20).

Leaking that we have cyber malware in place to shut down the electrical grid in Russia if they try to activate the malware they have placed in our grid and then acting clueless. Using the opportunity to “whale” on the failing New York Times.

Promising he will release his excellent new health care plan in a couple of months.

These are only the opening salvos Trump has delivered to his base to get ready for this day Tuesday, 6/18/2019, when Trump formally announces his run for a second term as President of the United States. ( picture actually from Melborne)

What other tidbits could Trump have in store for his base (which the rest of us will be unable to ignore) in what promises to be a long contentious election.

The adoring crowd camping out in Orlando last night to be in the front rows is supposed to be just a foretaste of the packed and howling rallies to come.

Trump’s rallies bear a strong resemblance to what it must have been like to attend a fight to the death in the Colosseum in Rome,

or to ride the cage at Thunderdome (if it was real).

Here we go folks- Razzle Dazzle 2020. As if he hasn’t demanded we pay attention to him for the past 2+ years, now there may not be any oxygen left for his opponent in the Democratic Party, whoever that turns out to be.

Perhaps this would be a good time to take part in that experiment where we all try to do without our tech stuff until after the election.

What stunts would Trump get up to if no one was paying any attention to him. Skywriting?

Tweets from space?

If you believe Trump’s claims you are probably wearing something like this.

 

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches: BBC, US Embassy in Poland, The National Interest, Reuters, CNN, BBC, Mediate.com, Fortune, NYT, ABC News, Fox News, The Right Scoop, Intersections, the federalist.com, Orange County Business Mixers, NBC News, Balkon 3, Florida Today

Does a President Have Unlimited Power?

Trump is claiming that the President of the United States has unlimited powers. He has been steadily exercising Presidential power without accepting any checks on his power. He is hugging more and more power to himself much in the way he hugs the American flag.

Trump has become increasingly authoritarian since the Democrats became the majority power in the House and he lost the backing of an undivided (totally partisan) Congress. If he cannot have an inert Congress, loyal to him (Him) and willing to offer little or no obstruction, not even the token attempts to rein Trump in if he seems likely to take us into existential danger, then he will act like Congress does not exist. Because, to his mind, Congress has no power over the President or how could the President perform the duty of the President to be the unchallenged boss (Don) of America.

The Constitution only applies to all those other people in the government, who are actually unnecessary because all the nation really needs is a President. This is even more obvious as this 45 th President is a stable genius who is doing the greatest job ever of running the country. If Trump states it, it has to be true.

I don’t believe we knew the full extent of Trump’s mental delusions until he got ensconced in the Oval. Now he has us stymied about how to rid ourselves of him and save a democracy/republic which this man obviously has no respect for. Our democracy cannot work as long as Trump is President but he has mesmerized almost half of America. We are in deep trouble.

We must keep democracy alive in our hearts and, if we don’t win the 2020 election, we must prepare ourselves to live in a world that is crumbling around us even as the leader thinks the nation is thriving. We must steal our hearts to human rights violations and humanitarian violations that we cannot immediately redress. We can take no solace from science as the environmental conditions on our planet turn more and more hostile, because our President is a fatalist in this regard. We must live two lives, an external life and an internal life. And it looks like we must prepare ourselves for war against Iran and what will that like? How will the nations of the world align? Will America start the next World War?

This is getting scarier by the minute as we put our faith in the system, common sense, an election and our Constitution to set things back to some kind of normalcy. One woman, Nancy Pelosi, is carrying an enormous burden, pitting herself against a President who is drunk on power. At least that’s how it looks some days. We the people are doing little except to help maintain the notion that everything is normal, nothing to see here until we get through the next election.

An article in the NYT 6/17/2019 discusses this same topic.

Judge for Yourself

Here is a condensed version of Article I and Article II of the US Constitution. Do you think our founding document gives a President of the United States unlimited power as Trump claims?

A Condensed Version of the US Constitution with more Contemporary Language. (by Nancy Brisson)

Article 1 of the US Constitution

Section 1:

Establishes Congress which is granted all Legislative powers and says that Congress will be made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

Section 2:

Members of the House of Representatives are chosen every 2 years.

Members must be at least 25 years of age, a US citizen for 7 years and a resident of the state s/he will represent when elected.

Describes how taxes and representatives will be portioned out among the states, but this part was revised because it was racist.

Says that states will replace members if their seat becomes vacant between elections.

Gives House of Representatives the right to choose their Speaker and Officers.

Gives House of Representatives the sole Power of Impeachment.

Section 3

Senate will be composed of 2 senators from each state, chosen in a state election.

Senators serve for 6 years.

Each senator has one vote.

These six year terms were staggered in the very first Congress so that 1/3 of the Senate must run for election every 2 years and then stay for 6 years until it is their turn to run again.

Vacancies during recesses are refilled temporarily by the appropriate state until the next meeting of the Legislature when they are filled permanently.

Senators must be at least 30 years old, a citizen for nine years, and live in the state s/he will represent.

The Vice President of the US will be the President of the Senate, but only votes when there is a tie.

The Senate will chose their other officers and also a President pro tempore to serve when the Vice President has other duties or must take over for the President.

The Senate has the power to try impeachments. When the President is tried the Chief Justice presides. Conviction requires a 2/3 vote of all the members.

The Senate can remove someone from office and disqualify them from holding office in the future, but the party, once removed, convicted can then be subject to normal Indictment, Trial and Punishment.

Section 4

State Legislatures decide the time, place, and manner of holding elections, but the Congress has oversight except in the matter of the places where elections are held.

Congress will assemble at least once a year on 1stMonday of December unless a different day is specified by a subsequent law.

Section 5

Each House of Congress regulates elections and qualifications of its own members.

A majority constitutes a quorum to do business, but a smaller number can meet from day to day and can decide how to persuade absent members to attend.

Each House can decide the rules for how it does business and punish members for disorderly behavior and can expel a member with a 2/3 vote.

Each House will keep a journal with a record of yeas and nays when members wish this info to be recorded, and will publish all parts of the journal from time to time unless secrecy is needed.

Congress will not adjourn for more than 3 days when it is sitting or move proceedings to a new location.

Section 6

Senators and Representatives will be paid.

They will be privileged from arrest while Congress is in session or while traveling to and from Congress except for Treason, Felony, and Breach of Peace.

Members of Congress cannot be held liable for a speech made in Congress even when Congress is not in session.

You cannot be in Congress and hold any other office in the government at the same time.

Section 7

The House of Representatives makes all bills for raising revenue but the Senate can amend or vote on amendments.

Bills passed in Congress must go to the President who can either sign it or return it. (veto power) But if the bill is reconsidered and passes in both Houses of Congress by 2/3 vote it can become a law despite the President’s veto. If the President doesn’t return a bill to Congress in ten days it becomes a law, unless Congress adjourns to prevent the return in which case it does not become a law.

Each law that is passed by both Houses must be sent to the President except for the matter of adjournment.

Section 8

Powers of Congress:

To ask for taxes, collect taxes, charge shipping fees, pay debts.

Provide for the Common defense and general welfare of the US.

Any fees, etc. must be the same throughout the states.

Can borrow money on credit of the US.

Regulate commerce with other nations, among the states, and with the Indian Tribes.

Establish rules to become a naturalized citizen.

Make uniform laws of bankruptcy throughout the states.

Coin money and regulate value of US money and foreign money.

Decide the standards of weights and measures.

Decide punishment for counterfeiting securities and money.

Establish post office and post roads.

Promote the progress of Science and the Arts through trademarks and patents.

To form courts under the Supreme Court.

To define rules about piracy and conduct on the high seas and offenses against the laws of nations.

To declare War and make appropriate rules about captures.

To raise and support Armies – no appropriation of money for longer than 2 years at a time.

To provide and maintain a Navy.

Makes rules for government and regulation of land and naval forces.

To provide for calling forth the militia (to execute laws, suppress insurrections, impel invasions).

Gives broader control over the Militia, organizing, arming and disciplining.

Have power over land ceded to government for forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, etc.

To make laws that accomplish these goals and all other goals mentioned in the Constitution.

Section 9

Specifies a fee for states that import or migrate people before 1808. (slave states?)

Writ of habeas corpus (the right to go before a judge) cannot be denied except when in a rebellion or invasion when public safety may require it.

You cannot pass a law that is retroactive and that denies the right to appear before a judge.

You cannot tax by head count without a census.

You cannot pass a law that charges for interstate trade.

The same thing applies to ports. The government may not show preference for the port of one state over another. States cannot charge other states port fees.

Congress cannot draw any money unless it is budgeted by law and records must be published from time to time.

Congress cannot grant titles of nobility.

No person holding any office can accept any present, Emolument, Office, or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign state (Emoluments clause) unless Congress consents.

Section 10

States cannot make treaties or alliances or do any of the things that Congress cannot do.

States can charge duties for executing inspection laws, but the money shall be for the use of the US Treasury and Congress has the right to review and control these state laws.

States cannot keep troops, or ships of war or enter into any agreement with another state or foreign power or engage in War unless under immediate threat of invasion.

Article II

Section 1

Executive Power is given to the President of the United States of America.

He has a term of 4 years.

Also a Vice president will serve for the same term.

Describes the election process including the Electoral College, although not by that name.

Congress determines the dates for elections, with the same election day throughout the states.

President must be a natural born citizen.

Must be at least thirty-five years of age.

Must have resided fourteen years within the United States.

Describes order of succession should we lose the President – VP would become President.

(Congress has subsequently decided a more extended order of succession).

President will be paid but may not accept any other emoluments even from the states.

Oath of Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section 2

Designates President as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and Militias of states when called into service.

May require principal officer in any Executive position to submit a job description.

Has the power to grant pardons and reprieves, except in cases of impeachment.

Has the power to make treaties with approval of 2/3 of Senators.

Appoints, with advice and consent of the Senate, Ambassadors, public ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and any other officers who appoints are not otherwise provided for.

Congress may by law give the power over appointment of inferior officers to the President alone, or to the courts or to the heads of departments.

The President can fill all vacancies that happen during the recess of the Senate by granting commission, but they expire at the end of the Senate’s next session.

Section 3

Provides for the State of the Union address.

President can recommend measure s/he considers expedient or necessary to Congress.

President can on extraordinary occasions convene both houses, or either of them and if they cannot agree about adjournment s/he can adjourn Congress until a time he designates as proper.

President can receive ambassadors and other public ministers.

S/he shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

S/he shall commission all Officers of the United States.

Section 4

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – NPR, Lawfare, www.senate.gov, GovTrack, business insider.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone follows Kate Moore and her husband Dexter from a stay in Luxembourg in his first novel The Expats, where things started out calmly and went pretty badly off the rails. Kate works for the US government in intelligence but, of course, it’s a secret. Dexter got lured into a scheme to hack a fortune in dirty money and his law-abiding wife finds out. She finds a way to keep Dexter out of prison but at the end of Chris Pavone’s first book, The Expats, the Moore’s marriage is a bit stormy – a very quiet storm because they are barely speaking.

After Luxembourg they travel around Europe for a while with their two children and then they settle in Paris minus the other expat couple they befriended in Luxembourg, a couple Kate hopes is out of their lives forever. Kate’s two children are now school age and she wishes she could enjoy being a full time mom, but life with the agency is just too exciting. What else would she do all day while her children are in school? And now she has been given her own little agency office to run in Paris.

Dexter works at home. He has decided to become a day trader. But it turns out that everyone, except Kate who is busy with her motherhood guilt, has revenge on their minds, and it all leads to one spectacularly messy day in Paris. If this day didn’t involve the deaths of two single fathers, a terrorist attack that immerses Paris in chaos, and threatens to nuke the Louvre it would most resemble one of those French hotel comedy/murder mysteries where everyone is sneaking in and out of everyone else’s room, sometimes with hanky-panky on their minds, and luggage is getting mixed up while people wander around in extravagant outfits and identities get confused. Perhaps to update the genre a bit this is a sort of thriller version of that Barbara Streisand movie “What’s Up Doc?”. Sadly the actual events in Paris seem a bit inappropriate to what is basically a romp, but such are the paradoxes here in the 21 st century and after all it is a thriller/romp.

The author’s chapters focus in turn on the characters, each telling his/her part of the story in small glimpses. You know that the facts will eventually give you the whole picture. You start to see or think you see through this plot – the author has left too many clues, the affair is too easy to unravel, but don’t become overconfident. There are plenty of surprises.

The Paris Diversion is not at all like a true thriller, but it is a true diversion that uses realities that have become far too normal to us. Throughout this whole crazy day the adults are having, the Moore children are safe in a good French school behind a high wall and at the end of the day will suspect nothing. How bad can things get in the space of someone’s slightly elongated school day? You won’t believe it.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search. – Parnassus Musing

This Republican Decade: Snatching Victory from Jaws of Defeat

How have the Republicans – who took us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, and basically caused the Great Recession – been able to grab so much power in the intervening decade? How did they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? It isn’t all about backlash to global change. It also may be about a Party that seized a moment and a movement.

It seems as if the Republicans have been obstructing government forever but by the numbers the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress until 2011 (until the election in 2010 actually), then they still had control of the Senate until 2013 when Republicans took control of both houses until 2019.

Of course, we remember that Mitch McConnell swore to obstruct Obama in every way. People like to blame Obama for the Republican’s obstruction saying that he passed the ACA in secrecy in the middle of the night without any Republican votes and that the rest of the obstruction was just payback. But clearly this obstruction was the result of a nexus of Conservative activity by a number of different actors and we know this because every Conservative used the same reasoning right down to the same words. There were no original answers to media questions. Every Conservative had the same talking points reiterated to the same script and it was freaky, bizarre, and in the end, a sign of behind the scenes organizing on a grand scale.

So we ask again, how have the Republicans, who basically caused the Great Recession, been able to grab so much power in the intervening decade? They have done it by being willing to trash norms long accepted as informal protocols and even by boldly forcing Democrats to change rules like the filibuster threshold to try to get anything done. Although Dems technically had the numbers they did not have the 60 votes needed.

It seemed that everything Dems did backfired. When Harry Reid lowered the threshold for the filibuster to a simple majority it set up the future parade of approvals of Conservative judges that are the current daily agenda (and the only agenda) in the Republican-controlled Senate. (It is not like Dems didn’t foresee this possibility but they took the risk anyway for immediate gains.) The Hastert rule took hold in the House where no business hit the floor unless it could pass with all Republican votes.

I contend that Republicans got radicalized by the Tea Party and Talk Radio and Fox News. This is not exactly news. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh had a rabid audience for their constant propaganda demonizing Obama and the Democrats. Beck and Bill O’Reilly wrote popular books that reinterpreted history from a fairly extreme Conservative viewpoint. It was all a giant mash-up of Koch Brothers pushing Capitalism and fossil fuels, Confederate flags waving on the back of gas-guzzling trucks all over America, the patriotism of arming yourself because the communist, socialists, gangs, immigrants are coming for you. Add in a Fundamentalist interpretation of the Constitution (refight the Federalist papers), Evangelical expectations of the Rapture and a full-throated Biblical approval of rich folks and the Conservative Way. Then there was a pledge made to a Libertarian group (against their duty to the Constitution) to never raise taxes, and a celebration of the audacity of Republicans in Congress who showed their party “purity” by obstructing Dems in ever newer and more creative ways (with good-old-boy grins on their faces).

Today the highs of those giddy days have disappeared and there is just the mean tough slog of a government deadlocked by a Republican Party that no longer has any impetus to be at all bipartisan. They will have their way. The Republicans got to this place, and they also got us to this President Trump who tramples all our norms with impunity.

Dems seem much too polite to dig us out of this hole, but they do have policy on their side and they want to save our Republic. The modern Republican Party has no members in Congress who seem motivated to save the Republic as it was before the Tea Party/Conservative extravaganza. Conservative extremists are so far winning the tug of war to pull the whole nation to the right. But that frightening torch-lit white supremacist show of power in Charlottesville has put a much more serious light on where Conservatives might be planning to take America.

Progressives may have the energy to pull the nation back towards the left, even if they don’t make it as far left as they would like. If the Dems don’t win, where will four more years of “to the right, to the right” leave us. Perhaps in a dictatorship huddling together in the few places without extreme weather.

An article in Salon from 6/17/2019 echoes my sentiments, although with greater political depth.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search  – WKAR

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives adamantly oppose government programs because they say they believe that everything can be done better by the private sector, by capitalists, than can be achieved through any government program. (Well think about it for a minute, which works better, the public option in the ACA or the private prisons for criminals and immigrants?) Further, these Conservatives argue, large public programs that help people who are disabled, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are children, who are sick, and who are old are socialist programs and Americans are not socialists.

Our forefathers were farmers and entrepreneurs, in other words, capitalists, but they did not mandate any particular economic system for our young nation, and since socialism and communism both came out of Europe in the 1900’s, they probably didn’t even imagine that such an economic idea might exist one day. In the 30’s there was a pretty prominent movement of socialists in America, especially when the stock market crashed and the nation was slogging through a Great Depression. Many of our social safety net programs originate from those days of bread lines.

In the 1950’s communism had a moment of philosophical consideration by some Americans but was brutally stomped out by McCarthyism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) (WI) mowed down anyone who had ever even whispered to a communist, or at least he tried. People were black-listed and lost their jobs often for no reason except McCarthy’s say-so. Communism certainly did not fare well in the USSR and proved to be as corruptible as any government/economy. Interest in communism waned in America. Conservatives insist that capitalism is the only economic model that matches with democracy. Here’s a quote from The American Conservative offered up on June, 6, 2019, “Socialism will Always Destroy Democracy”. (Although it seems to me that Conservatism is doing a pretty good job of that these days.)

By definition (Merriam Webster) “Socialism definition is – any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Strictly speaking none of the benefit programs produce anything or distribute any goods. They involve budget items that describe how we the people wish to spend our money. In a time, like now, of great income inequality, where we the people are a bit short of money because recent laws have favored the wealthy, and have allowed them to own an inordinate proportion of our nation’s wealth, these same wealthy Americans are telling us that they do not want to spend their money on a safety net. They also let us know that they have not left us enough money and that we cannot afford to spend our money that way either.

But the story they always tell us, about the mismatch between democracy and social programs that they label as socialism is not borne out in the real world. Canada is a thriving democracy with a very sound social safety net. There are many such nations around the world.

Conservatives still tell us these messages constantly. Capitalism rules. We don’t have enough money to offer benefits.

Of course, Conservatives go beyond this. They tell us that using our money to lift up the less fortunate, or any of us in a moment of misfortune is harmful to us and to society as a whole. It destroys initiative (hard to prove) and poor, sick, old, disabled people or people being discriminated against would rise higher, fight harder without “free” money. However, getting rid of the social safety net might also be a good way to bring back plagues, which were common before there were humanitarian programs.

Conservatives convince people who need to benefit from these programs that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are collecting the benefits that citizens’ taxes have paid for, and there does seem to be some truth to that, but numbers are not huge and cutting off benefits to “the undeserving” seems to mean cutting off benefits to everyone.  Conservatives convince people of the unfairness of it all, they label it socialism and people end up voting against their own best interests.

Conservatives want to stay in the Industrial Age although the factories they long for have fled or switched to robotics. They want to stick to fossil fuels. It is all about money and profits. To do this against all evidence that industry has moved on to nations with cheaper labor and lots of laborers, and that burning fossil fuels is destroying a planet we don’t know how to escape from, means that holding on to power is essential. Without power the Conservative dream topples and the gravy train travels on more than just one track. I doubt we’ll see our money come back to us anytime soon.

Conservatives may be able to hold on to the 50’s or whatever was their favorite age, but for the rest of us we feel the end of the Industrial Age in our everyday lives, we are not all prepared to participate in the Tech Age, and that leaves a lot of us in a sort of economic limbo that can be quite scary. This is no time to take away the social safety net. And this is certainly no time to take it away because of a label. The social safety net is about people and it functions well in many democracies. At the very least Conservatives need to come up with something better than the same old arguments.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Atlantic

Not Impeaching Right Away – A Gamble with Enormous Consequences

Not Impeaching Right Away – A Gamble with Enormous Consequences

The call for impeachment gets louder each day. As the President orders staff and former staff members called to testify before House committees to blow off any such requests up to and including subpoenas, more and more Democrats urge either outright impeachment or the beginning of an impeachment inquiry.

Impeachment is a Congressional duty when America has a President who cannot seem to uphold our Constitution or respect the human rights which are the basis of our democracy. It gets old to repeat the specifics of Trump’s transgressions over and over but there are still Americans who just don’t see them. If you get your “news” from Fox you are told that the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump. If you get your news from almost any other source then you have either read the report yourself or you have heard summaries from people who have read it. The Mueller report does not exonerate Trump, especially of obstruction of justice.

The evidence also suggests that Russians, with probable connections to Putin, did help Trump get elected. Although Trump managed to keep his distance from the Russians there were hundreds of contacts between his campaign staff and Russians. Several of Trump’s campaign staffers have been indicted, convicted, and are serving jail sentences with more still under indictment. Since Trump has an authoritarian leadership style it is difficult to believe that he did not call the shots or at least have final approval over all that went down. Most of his cronies seem willing to take the bullet for him.

He also seems to have decided that the emoluments clause is not settled law, I guess, even though every other President has abided by this prohibition against accepting money or gifts from foreign governments which Trump continues to allow through his ownership of the nearby DC hotel where many foreign petitioners stay.

Timothy Egan sums Trump’s transgressions up this way, writing in The New York Times, and it is worth reading the whole article,

“After the inauguration debacle, Trump moved on to bigger targets — the judiciary, the military, the press, and the professional class of bureaucrats who have made the United States a model for competence and incorruptibility in the Civil Service.

With William Barr, Trump now has an attorney general who doesn’t care how much lasting damage he does to truth, justice and the American way. His mandate as the nation’s top prosecutor is to carry out Trump’s private vendettas.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/opinion/trump-july-4.html

Although the evidence tells us that Trump richly deserves to be impeached I can see a possible advantage to starting an inquiry but waiting until after the election to impeach. However as Nancy Pelosi reminds us “impeachment does not necessarily mean removal”. So it is possible we could impeach and also win the election. But it’s a gamble. The order of operations could be very important here.

Trump is a terrible President, but he is also backed by an entire Party full of equally incomprehensible cronies who back his moves and seem sanguine about the damage to our constitutional government, perhaps because they are convinced that Trump is trashing the very same parts of the Constitution they want to trash.

If we could win the 2020 Presidential election and win enough seats in the Senate we could get rid of Trump, Pence, Mitch McConnell and the Freedom Caucus in one fell swoop. That would be a celebration. But if we impeached Trump and won the 2020 election, now that would be winning!

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Truthout

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – Book

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Sometimes fiction based on a true story is a difficult beast for an author to tangle with. It can be a struggle to make the elements of fiction (plot, setting, characters) hold the spark that turns a story into literature. The Tattooist of Auschwitzbasically retells a true story told to the author Heather Morris by the man who we know as Lale Sokolov. The author, as a beginner tells the story well, but, for me the story lacks the depth and poignancy that might have come from the pen of someone more experienced in ways to use prose to embellish and flesh out the facts. However, perhaps the unadorned story is more useful for historical purposes.

This novel deals with the prisoners in the concentration camps who did jobs that put them in closer touch with German officers, tasks that carried perks like more food, better quarters, access to favors as long as the prisoner groveled properly when required. Although these prisoners often had no choice about taking on these “lighter” duties, they were seen by other prisoners as collaborators and their few rewards understandably were resented.

Lale, our tattooist was a young man on his way up. He worked in a department store until all the Jews were fired. He was and is a great admirer of women, although he doesn’t seem overbearing about it. He seems to possess some personal charm. When told to report to the train for transport he puts on a suit and tie. His mother makes him pack some books, which won’t matter because he will never see any of his personal items ever again. Not long after he arrives in the concentration camp he becomes assistant to the current tattooist and soon takes the lead tattooist’s place. In the camps people often just disappear, never for a good reason. Lale, as the tattooist, gets extra food and a room of his own. He does not have to labor with a shovel from sun up to sun down. He makes sure to pass some of his extra food along to his old bunkmates.

Once he sees Gita in the nearby women’s camp he falls in love and she returns his affection. Gita works in an office keeping records and lives in a barracks with girls who have named the building where they work Canada because that sounds like a safe place. They sort through and categorize the possessions the Germans take from prisoners. Lale eventually finds a way to take some of the jewelry slipped to him by Gita’s friends and exchange it for food, mainly sausages and chocolate, which he shares to supplement the starvation fare in the camp. The love that grows between Lale and Gita fuels their will to survive.

Every day he steadily tattooes numbers on the arms of more prisoners at Auschwitz and Birkenau, a flood of dispossessed people doomed by one man’s madness. Lale describes the building of the furnaces and the human ashes that drift down over all and have to be ignored for reasons of sanity and survival. But emotional content is missing and it just seems a bit superficial given the horrific circumstances and the daily dread – more news report than work of fiction. Maybe the way Lale survives is exactly is how some people survive by convincing themselves that they are able to use those who have imprisoned them. When so many were shot on the spot for the slightest infraction Lale’s good fortunes seem unlikely. The story could be true but it could be what one man told himself to get by.

The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris does bring up the often examined issue of whether people like Lale were collaborators or just survivors. If it is true, this represents a rare alternative view inside the concentration camps. I don’t recall reading another book about collaborators within the camps, although there are many books about collaborators in occupied territories and much speculation about what makes someone a collaborator and even about degrees of collaboration. Although I am not enamored of the art of the book it raises interesting issues and takes us back to that question of what we would have been capable of in similar circumstances. So many brave survivors came out of the camps that I’m not sure Lale’s story seems similarly heroic, but perhaps it should.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – American Jewish University