His Contempt, Our Shame: Beef Up the Constitution

From a Google image Search – Washington Monthly

Congress holds the purse strings. Can the president go outside of Congress to fund his projects? Can a president take money from items already budgeted to other government departments or agencies. What if Congress says no it will not give him money to build a wall even when he claims it is a national emergency, because Congress knows it is not an actual national emergency? Does a president have absolute power regardless of the issue to decide that Congress is wrong, that Congress will put the nation in jeopardy, that the president must step in and save America from what he perceives as a crisis, although others do not? Or is the real plan just to grab power and render Congress inert?

Can a president disrespect the Constitution by ignoring its stated directions? In the case of the emoluments clauses, both foreign and domestic can a president decide that s/he can ignore that part of the Constitution and just line his own pockets with money that the Constitution interdicts because of matters of outside influence. Can a president direct the military of our nation to lay over at a private hotel or property or country club/golf course he owns and accept tax dollars as payment for the rooms, food, drinks, etc.? Can he also accept profit from foreign leaders who stay at his properties? The Constitution clearly says no, but a lawless president does this openly and defies the people when they complain.

Congress asks for documents to prove the president’s acceptance of emoluments, the president denies access to the documents, orders pertinent agencies to deny access to documents, and then turns to the media and says, “where is the proof?” Yes, other presidents have done this but have been eventually forced to back down by loud opposition. This president denies Congress access to anything that touches the executive and since he governs alone this means Congress is denied access to everything. Without the Senate to back up the House, opposition is very silent indeed.

Can a president declare every word he utters so private that the people he utters those words to are not allowed to testify to the appropriate investigative committees in Congress? Can he also protect the speech of people who were never hired to work in government? Apparently he can do that.

Watch the Democrats in the House try to see the president’s tax documents, which every modern president has delivered to Congress. Watch the committees in the House of Representatives try to talk to any of the people who testified before the Mueller Investigation and you will see something like the travesty of the hearing with Corey Lewandowski who basically sneered at our representatives and hid behind a president who controls people with veiled threats. Bear witness to the two empty seats at the table representing Trump/government employees who refused to testify because Trump told them not to.

Clearly you can do any old thing you want as president if you surround yourself with cult members and threaten mayhem. But is this democracy? Is this our republic as described in our Constitution? If you deny the power of the Constitution which makes our government a republic and you deny the Congress which makes our government a democracy, haven’t we already tipped over into authoritarianism?

I swear all these actions are unprecedented in quantity and in the flagrancy with which they are conducted. I once thought our Constitution could protect our freedoms, protect us from the authoritarian whims that might arise through power and executive privilege. But as revered as it is, a Constitution is just a piece of paper and without people in Congress to enforce it we might as well burn it. Without enforcement it is useless. And it should first be enforced by Congress, second by our Department of Justice, third by our courts, and fourth by we the people. We are failing on every level.

We are letting an unqualified person run this great nation all by himself because everyone around him just enables him for what are probably a variety of reasons. We hate the way he is running our nation but every day we let him pretend that his is actually governing when he is really just flying by the seat of his pants, and grinning. When and if we get rid of this usurper, this authoritarian dictator wrapped in our flag, we must beef up our laws so that we can deal effectively with any others with delusions of grandeur, who take office by taking an oath on a document which they fully intend to ignore.

Our president is actually an “anti-president. Although he supposedly represents conservative Americans who believe in state’s rights he went to California to boss the state around. Perhaps you remember the smoggy air that used to hang over California cities and highways before there were emissions standards for cars. The president supposedly believes that auto manufacturers will stay in America if he strips away these emission standards. That is not the reason our manufacturing left our shores, or at least not the only reason. The president decided this simplistic approach sometime in the 80’s and has waited to impress us with his brilliance all this time.

Our cars are designed and built using the tougher emissions standards and it has almost wiped out smog and the acid rain which used to fall over the Adirondacks with devastating effect. Manufacturers will have to retool and redesign to go back to older standards. They don’t care to do it. But Donald wants it, he demands it, he declares it and all must comply, even California. And while he’s there he might as well solve that homeless problem California has too. As if you can do that by mandate or mythic powers.

Here is a man who lets disaster hit Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and he is barely moved by the plight of these people who live so near America or who actually have a partnership with America, and who then contemplates going to the aid of Saudi Arabia when two of the nation’s oil wells are hit by drones and missiles. He gives the power to the Saudi’s to tell us what they would like us to do. Unprecedented. We begin to sense that our president’s relationship with the Saudi’s might be a bit too close. It may have started out being about Trump’s money, but it could end up being about American lives. Even Trump seems a bit taken aback by the prospect of war with Iran, although he considers them bad actors who must eventually be dealt with.

It almost seems like real America. But it’s not. The president’s assaults are so unending and constant, so shocking that we have become numb (shell shock?) and we just decide to listen to Nancy Pelosi and get rid of the president and all his henchmen at once the only way we can, in an election. I do believe that Pelosi is a consummate political strategist, but I still find myself wishing we were acting more like activists and less like this is all a normal ho hum election. This election may very well be the only thing that stands between the return of a robust democracy and a dreary, chaotic state  – a state that jerks from oddball policies to the same old diplomatic strategy of “psyching out” the totalitarian leadership of nations that feel so beleaguered that they choose aggression over politics.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The National Review

Trump and the Dangers of Toadyism

President Trump cannot tolerate, dissent. Trump has filled his administration with “yes” men, with toadies, who do not oppose even his most undemocratic wishes but rather help him find creative ways to get his wishes fulfilled, no matter how damaging they might be to the form of government we inherited from the nation’s founders. Now the President wants a whole nation full of only affirmation of his every whim, full of “yes”. When has any leader had this kind of support from a nation without using the fear of death to inspire it?

Whenever the media, in any form, criticizes Trump, which thank goodness it still does, Trump lets us all see that if he had his way he would ruin that particular media outlet or make life so existentially difficult for them that they would have to get in line and praise his “very stable genius” every day and in every article. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? (sarcasm) But he is already doing this. If you read our newspapers or watch TV, news media outlets have moderated their speech to escape the President’s wrath.  How many media outlets could survive total abject toadyism? We would only need one state newspaper, one TV station, etc. We would be Russia.

Every book I have ever read about how to succeed in business warns against the danger of surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you (or pretend to). Eventually your ideas will become stagnant and there will be no infusion of new energy and you’ll begin to lose your market share to companies that encourage more diversity and fresher ideas. This can happen to countries also. Once again look to the example of Russia which seems to exist on a sort of perpetual mobius strip, going forward and yet doomed to go backward in an endless loop. So not only are Trump’s tendencies unconstitutional in a republic such as ours, but to require the constant stroking, and the absolute acceptance that he alone knows what is best for America, is also counterproductive.

What Trump intends is to punish social media for allowing people (e.g. Representatives in the House) to dissent. He wants to claim victimhood, again. “The media is mean to me.” He wants social media to create algorithms that will send comments that say negative things about Trump and his policies to the trash and to take membership on social media away from individuals who post dissenting opinions.

Although he should be trying to be sure there is no foreign meddling in the 2020 election and that fake accounts, bots, and memes that are offering false information do not get into the social feed, that was not his main concern in the media summit he held recently. Instead he whined about the unfair coverage he gets, this time from some of the American people, and he thanked and gave his endorsement to any social media that has supported him, however far they wander from our norms.

Free speech is a difficult thing. When, if ever, does free speech step over a line? Is using a bot a free speech right or, in the case of elections, is it a cheat? Do we really want hidden foreign intervention in our elections? Aren’t we producing enough home-grown propaganda? The issue of what constitutes free speech on social media is complex and it will be on-going because as one clever attempt is banned, new techniques, cleverer ones, will pop up. Can we ever “clean” the web the way Panera says it cleans food? What will we lose if we are able to stop bad actors from abusing social media? Will good things be lost also? Will the whole world find free speech curtailed to the detriment of what we hoped would be the spread of freedom everywhere? A lot of people are very concerned about the answers to those questions.

The world seems to have devalued democracy these days and “illiberal” democracies (dictatorships) seem all the rage. Will America throw away 243 years of relative freedom to join the ranks of those who put their trust in one person only. If we follow where Trump seems to lead and where the GOP functions as his wing man then we will find our freedoms disappearing one by one. Trump sees the media as the enemy and thinks he can kill all media opposition to his authoritarian style and his racist policies; his style that uses lies and distractions to manipulate the media and the people until it sounds like he rules, oops, governs by affirmation. Then he will be the most popular President ever – or else!

Social online media is replacing print media and is currently in a position of power. We are in the midst of trying to figure out what brakes should be put on speech on the internet. People who are not liberal at all are using free speech arguments to justify lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theory in order to distort reality and bring about some pretty fascist outcomes. When messages are posted to sites skewed in a way that can be easily identified, it is easy to avoid those sites. But when they show up on social media they may be deliberately hiding their lack of bona fides and masquerading as factual sources. We saw this in the 2016 election when Russian bots adopted the personas of American citizens. To even create brakes that will consistently work may be impossible. What to do? What to do? What to do with the issue of a President who twists the concept of free speech until it means free speech only for him and his supporters.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Esquire

 

Foreign Policy and the 2020 Election

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach? Will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post-war organizations and alliances? Or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy?

On Tuesday, 2.19.19, when Mike Pence, the American VP said he was speaking at the Munich Security Conference on behalf of Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, he waited for applause from the gathered world leaders after he passed on the greeting that Donald Trump had sent to his peers. There was only silence.

Also on Tuesday, 2.19.19, Joe Biden was interviewed live at the same Munich meeting. He is something that Trump is not. He’s nice; not soft-nice, but calm and nonconfrontational, unless confrontation is called for. What would happen if a President Biden was introduced at a Munich meeting? First of all, he would most likely be present at the meeting. Would there be applause? There was plenty of applause. Perhaps we should apply this test to each of the many candidates for President running as Democrats. What will their foreign policy be? How will they be received by our allies and our closely-held enemies?

When it comes to Joe Biden, I believe that we would find him continuing the post-World War II alliances and working with Europe to ensure peace; at least peace in Europe. I am not backing Joe Biden. He isn’t even running yet. But he could be expected to follow traditional guidelines for foreign policy. These policies are older than Biden and he knows the protocols and our allies well.

After World War II Europe became ground zero for a tug of war between Russia and America, between capitalism/democracy and communism. For the past 70 years it seemed that America and the other world proponents of capitalism and democracy were winning nations over to these ideologies. We did not have a new war, but neither did we have peace. We ended up in a ‘Cold War’, that apparently did not end when the Iron Curtain parted.

As early as 1945 Churchill warned us that after WWII our temporary and very valuable ally, Russia, had turned its back on Western Europe already, taking most of Central and Eastern Europe with it. America and Russia conducted opposing campaigns to win new recruits to either communism or democracy. While the US offered economic prosperity and military security, Russia offered weapons and oil. For a while it seemed we were winning but now, not so much.

The USSR died a mostly economic death and split back into the satellite nations it had sucked up after World War II. These newly released nations had been split along unnatural geographic lines that divided the cultural groups which had learned to live peacefully within old national boundaries. Once released from Russian domination old hostilities that had festered since WW II, and while behind the Iron Curtain, reared their ugly heads and we had things like what happened with Croatia and Bosnia. This release of pent up hostilities was similar to what we saw in Iraq.

Our own President seems to back authoritarian states in Europe (while he tries to topple them in South America), and he smiles on Putin in Russia and makes us very nervous. There is also a huge backlash against capitalism in America on the left which complicates the outcome of the democratic/communist war for ascendancy even more. It looks like the future of the world may be authoritarian. Some leaders seem to want to bring back the monarchy. Others back a very loosely defined socialism.

There are many factors which have contributed to this decline in democracy and capitalism. With the more aggressive ideology of a newly empowered Putin who wishes to create a new Russia that looks a lot like the old USSR, with the arrival of the Great Recession which hit Europe rather hard, with the angers of people from austerity economies, the disruptions of terrorism, the waves of immigration as people escape cruel war in Syria, and the military moves by Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, ‘strong men’ have begun to look attractive as chaos seems imminent. Authoritarianism, as we have seen, is on the rise. Will these new authoritarian states align with Russia or with the United States? Given that even president Trump seems to be more interested in aligning with Russia than any past President, the order imposed on the world after WWII, which never took into account the rise of the USSR, could easily dissolve.

Many have been critical of America’s aggressive moves to turn Europe towards capitalism and democracy. They have felt that our control in Europe has been antithetical to the values of a democracy and that we have often had selfish goals, as opposed to more altruistic ones. In fact, some even express horror and grief at mismoves we have made in our supposed diplomacy, although perhaps our worst moves have not occurred in Europe. Perhaps we did go off the rails a bit, but wanting a future that is democratic – is this still a goal people have? Capitalism, on the other hand, has become so rapacious that it will be overthrown if capitalists continue to refuse regulation. Although democracy is in more trouble at the moment, younger people are poised to exert pressures that may shift the target to capitalists.

What will happen in the world if we back off the agreements reached at the end of WWII? Is the UN obsolete? Is it weak and ineffective or secretly plotting a new world order? Which thing is true? Are we done with NATO? Should we loosen the bonds made after Hitler almost turned Europe into a white supremacist dictatorship? What will happen to the 70 years of “relative” peace our leaders forged after WW II? Were these protections essentially training wheels and the world is now ready to take them off? With “illiberal democracies” multiplying like flies this hardly seems like the moment to pull US bases out of Europe and make nice with Putin in Russia.

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach, will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post war organizations and alliances, or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy? If so, what will it be? I want to hear each of the Democratic candidates on this topic. Should one person be able to set America’s foreign policy? We used to have a strong Department of State and a Congress that weighed in (sometimes too much so). How will foreign policy be handled in the future? Will we elect a person who will be applauded in Munich? If we don’t want an authoritarian future how must we proceed?

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – CBS

 

 

Nancy Pelosi and the Dems versus Donald Trump

Nancy Pelosi and the Dems in the House of Representatives are standing up to Trump to make the point that he cannot expect the people’s House to host the State of the Union address when the government is shut down.

Now I’m really worried.

Trump is a counter puncher

Trump believes in unlimited executive power.

Trump has no respect for the protocol of our Democracy/Republic

Trump has said that the invitation to give the State of the Union address was already offered and that he will come to the House on January 29, 2019.

Nancy Pelosi, as the speaker of the House, has responded that he cannot come if the government is still shutdown.

This sounds like something Trump will see as a declaration of war.

Will he bring troops?

Will he just order House staff to make sure the chamber is unlocked and ready? [Will he defile the House by defying its will.]

Will the Dems stay away from the SOTU address?

What will the media do?

Nobody had better end up in jail or that will reveal all.

Will we be saying goodbye to our democracy publicly? Is this when we become an overtly authoritarian state?

There is no way the Dems can give Trump another compliant house in the Congress; so this war of wills cannot end well.

This is a view from the cheap seats.

 

 

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women have some idea of the challenges that men have historically faced, one of the toughest challenges being to go off to fight in wars. Men are expected to be kind and wise and to be incredibly responsible as citizens, workers, husbands and bread-winners. Women have some empathy for these male roles which many men obviously struggle against sometimes.

But not all men seem as understanding of the imperfect lives of women and the challenges they have faced and the challenges they still face. Almost every culture has traditions or laws or customs that circumscribe the lives of women; that hem them in to their own traditional roles as wives, housewives, child-bearers, child-raisers, household managers.

Often religion has been used to keep women close to home and uneducated. Many churches did not allow women to worship with men, and even primitive cultures that predate religion often had separate rituals for men and women. In modern novels there may be women ostensibly living in early cultures running around hunting with spears or fighting in wars, but in real life, I’m thinking, it was quite rare for a women to get a chance to learn or use these skills.

Women have been bought and sold, used as hostages, kidnapped to be sexual objects, been forced to suffer through clitoral mutilations so that they would find no pleasure from the sexual act, had their feet bound for the sexual pleasure of wealthy men, have been killed in honor killings for breaking any number of cultural rules or taboos and have suffered atrocities too numerous to mention.

Obviously life on earth has not always been, nor is it now, easy, regardless of someone’s sexuality. Since we have access to books and histories that allow us to view the lives of humans over hundreds of centuries we might be expected to learn from the histories and stories that we read. You would think that we would try to take some of the burdens off both men and women, and that we would ease each others’ journey through lives so full of the paradoxes like wealth and poverty, good and evil, health and illness, war and peace, joy and grief, pleasure and pain and more.

So why are some men still trying to control the lives of women and take away hard won rights and set back the fight to offer greater freedom to women around the globe to lead lives that are as full of opportunities to succeed or fail as are the lives of men? Just watch a TV offering like Dateline and you will see that men (mostly men) kill women for all kinds of reasons, like jealousy, or because they see murder as the only route to freedom, or there is some primitive impulse still in them that makes trying to murder a woman and get away with it attractive.

Men often have complicated feelings about women and women are often victims of emotions that men cover over for long periods of time with manners and a fog of romance perhaps. We see over and over that we may never actually know someone we have lived with for many years. Of course this can also be true of women, although they may not choose murder as a way out.

It is not difficult to see that the wiring in our brains may still resemble the wiring we had as Neanderthals. With 9 billion people due on the planet real soon we may have to give up our primitive imperatives and we may have to “fake it until we make it” to a more evolved wiring system in human brains.

Women in America came to believe that the ideals expressed by our forefathers, when they said all men are created equal, used the term men to stand for mankind and that this freedom did include women. America has offered women opportunities to fight for rights, many of them having to do with matters which have traditionally concerned women but some which have broadened the freedoms women could exercise in our world.

When I look back and see that women in America did not win the right to vote until 1920 it seems impossible that it could have taken so long to gain such a right. We have only had the right to control our own pregnancies since 1973 when Roe v Wade passed the Supreme Court and there has never been a day that someone has not wanted to chastise women for ever wanting to stop a child from being born, even though men have killed women for becoming pregnant inconveniently.

So I went to the Women’s March, January 21, 2017 (although I went locally and not to Washington) because the battle to take these hard won rights away from women has grown more fierce in the past 8 years, so much so that some stern male purists even want to take away our modern methods of contraception.

It makes perfect sense that I would want to go to a demonstration of our resistance to this attempt on the part of some men to take away rights women have won. It makes perfect sense that I would be happy at a rally where someone has a sign which reads “1958 is calling…we’re not answering” or where there is a sign that says “If you don’t have a uterus, then be quiet.”

I appreciate that so many men and boys attended the demonstrations. I appreciate their support of women and I am glad to see that there are men with healthy egos who are not threatened by women who express their skills, talents, and personalities. The presence of men also told the world that this resistance is a movement of the many American people who feel that the authoritarianism we have always tried to expose and overturn around the world is now a real threat to America that must be resisted.

Charles Blow said it really well in his article in the NYT this morning

“And the marches, which included quite a few men and boys as well, also represented more than that. They were a rebuke of bigotry and a call for equality and inclusion. They demonstrated the awesome power of individual outrage joined to collective action. And it was a message to America that the majority did not support this president or his plans and will not simply tuck tail and cower in the face of the threat. This was an uprising; this was a fighting back. This was a resistance.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/opinion/we-are-dissidents-we-are-legion.html?