Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lame Duck

Within only a few nano-moments of Justice Antonin Scalia being pronounced dead, the august Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the great state of Kentucky announced that he would not allow the President’s nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court to come to the Senate floor for advise and consent.  Putting aside his obvious-to-nearly-everyone-in-the-country political reason that the sitting President is a black Democrat whom he has battled from the gitgo, he asserted that President Obama was a Lame Duck President, and that it was therefore the President’s job to wait for his (Republican) successor to nominate the next (conservative Republican) Associate Justice, some eleven months and change from now. 

Unprecedented?  Yup.

But let’s spend a few words talking about his reason for delay: President Obama is a "lame duck" President.  But he is not a lame duck President.  He will become a lame duck when his successor is in place (look it up!), the morning after Election Day, Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, more than eight months from this writing.  (Lame duck Presidents use this two and a half months’ time to help transition the President-Elect into office.)  Allowing for definitions to change (because Mitch McConnell is a powerful man), we might choose to see the lame duck period as the time that a sitting President in his second term has to contend with a Senate and a House of the other party, that is since January of 2015 – more than a year ago – or, worse, since the day after Election Day in 2014.  Is McConnell really saying that?  That President Obama has been a lame duck for the entire last half of his second term, that he should sit on his hands for two years, or go on extended vacation in Hawaii, with full pay?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Sample #4

Democracy

Democracy – rule by the people – do we really live in a democracy?

Well, we live in a representative democracy, where we elect representatives to act on our behalf; to that extent we do live in a democracy, a representative democracy.

But fewer than 50% of Americans even vote.  Do we live in a democracy only for those who vote?  Only for those who make their preferences known?

When the people do not know the issues, do not even know what the parties stand for or if they are living up to their own standards, do not know fundamental facts about our country and its political system, is that really democracy?  When the people are ignorant, can they really rule themselves?  Is a Talk-Show host really in charge?

Most voters vote for the incumbent (the Devil they know) or the candidate who has spent the most money getting himself elected (typically the incumbent).  Then legislation is written to satisfy that portion of the body politic, the portion that pays for it.  To that extent, we live in “the best democracy that money can buy.”  And where does that money come from?  Who, after all, has millions, and tens of millions, of dollars to throw at a favored candidate?  At five-hundred-thirty-six (435 Congressmen, 100 Senators, 1 President) favored candidates?  Not me, not you.

In theory, when our elected representatives do not represent us, we throw the bums out.  But we do not.  We re-elect them or we elect those from the party we threw out of office the last time.  Nowhere, in our Constitution or anywhere else, does it say we have a two-party system, that we must choose the lesser of two evils.  But that is what we do, and we complain about the results, and then we do nothing to change it.

It has been said, cynically, that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

We tell pollsters over and over again that we are not pleased with what our government is doing (80 – 90% of Americans are not happy with their government, are not happy with the actions of those they voted into office).  Then we boast that we have the best form of government in the world.  This is called a “disconnect.”  We have systemic problems with our form of government, and we know what they are (too few vote, voters are ignorant, big money is really in charge, our two-party system does not work), but we do nothing to change them, and we even fight wars to export our great system of popular rule to the rest of the world.

Don’t tell me “it’s in the Constitution, there’s nothing we can do about it.”  First, none of these problems is mandated by the Constitution; and even if they were, the framers were very careful to include a way to amend the sacred document.  The Bill of Rights – our sacred Bill of Rights – was the first round of amendments to the original Constitution (if James Madison had not guaranteed a Bill of Rights to the so-called Anti-Federalists, the Constitution would never have been ratified).  It is in your hands to change the Constitution, if that is what is needed.  

And don’t tell me that you work too hard to be able to participate in your nation’s government.  It is because you have not participated that we are in the hole we are in, and the hole will only get deeper as you continue to ignore your civic responsibilities.

This is democracy?  Is this what you thought it meant when you were young – and wiser than you are now?  This is your democracy; you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Do something!

Sample #3

Liberals and Conservatives

The word "liberal" means free-thinking, generous, tolerant, open-minded, innovative, progressive.  The word "conservative" means restrained, cautious, moderate, conventional, respectful, traditional.  The younger mind tends to be more liberal, reckless, open to adventure; and the older mind tends to be more conservative, cautious and safety-minded.  Heaven forbid that we had a political system that honored one stage of life and slighted the other.

In the American political sense, Conservatives have stood for Faith, Divine and natural law; Liberals for Reason and secular law.  Conservatives have stood for a natural hierarchy among men, Liberals for a philosophical equality of men and women.  Conservatives have stood for collective values, Liberals for individualism (this has changed hasn’t it?).  Liberals look toward an untried tomorrow, Conservatives to a safer simpler yesterday.

Liberals have championed Democracy’s promise that the little guy may better himself and is entitled to equality before the law; while Conservatives have stood for Law and Order, property rights, and an aristocracy based on wealth and merit.

The Conservative spirit is best imagined as the House of Lords, a body of polite feudal Aristocrats; the Liberal spirit as the House of Commons, an arena of rowdy Jacksonians.

A society that is pure Conservative stagnates from unquestioned values; one that is pure Liberal falls apart from a lack of definition.

Liberalism without Conservatism has no heart; Conservatism without Liberalism has no brain.  Or the other way around.

My political philosophy is really an amalgam of these two great impulses.  There are times that demand change; there are times that call for caution.  These times demand change (cautious change!) because the status quo is unconscionably unfair and because it is recklessly headed to disaster.  Not a resolution anyone wants, Liberal or Conservative.

from 2005

P.S.
The liberal spirit says “full speed ahead.”  The conservative spirit says “first, do no harm.”  When the FDA steps in and makes sure a drug is safe before allowing it to be sold to tens of millions of Americans, that is conservative in spirit.  Anti-trust laws that break up companies that have become too big and too non-competitive are conservative in spirit.  Indeed, all regulation – regulation for the sake of public safety not the regulation that mega companies write into law – is conservative in spirit.  Yes, I understand that this flies in the face of our understanding of today’s political labels.  But today’s parties have degenerated into tents of special interests, often at war with each other; they surely do not represent consistent political philosophies. 

Sample #2

Preface

I will piss you off, I guarantee it.  But I do not want to lose you, on that account, before we even begin our journey together.  No matter if you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic, Libertarian or Green, Independent or moderate or undecided – something I say will strike you the wrong way.  Nonetheless, I beg your indulgence, as the message of this book is too important to be left to those who agree with me 100% (not even my own family).  Whether you admire President Reagan or not, I will ask you to consider his words and for the rest of this book to give me the benefit of the doubt that I am not a “traitor,” that I am a patriot – one who truly loves his country – every bit as much as you are.

Trust me when I say that the core messages of this book are neither liberal nor conservative, neither right nor left, neither Republican nor Democratic.  I do, however, want you to come away from this book with two basic lessons: first, the big issues really are non-partisan (non-partisan, not bi-partisan), they transcend party and ideology, and they need brains and muscle from both sides of the political spectrum; and second, the other side (liberal, conservative, whatever) is not made up of total morons or yahoos; both sides have their geniuses and their fools.

So, please, when I begin to irritate you, take a deep breath and plow on; give me the benefit of the doubt that there may be issues that transcend party differences and that they are at least as important as the issues that divide us.

The fight that I will ask you to engage in is too important to be left to one political ideology to the exclusion of the other, or to the party faithful of both major parties for that matter.

My book is not addressed to party leadership; frankly, they are in the way of real progress.  It is you that I want to reach; it is you who are essential to fixing what’s broke.

Thanks in advance for taking this on.

Sample #1

How to Read This Book

This book was written for Americans who are too busy to read 50 books a year.  It was written in a conversational style, an informal chat between me and you.  It was written to be digested any way that you like.  You want to begin at the beginning and read it straight through?  OK, but don’t expect to get the plot any better than if you read it wherever you happen to put your thumb.  Read it from the middle out?  OK.  You can read most of the book’s short essays in less time than you can hold your breath (“on your mark, get set, inhale.”).  You can read one while you’re taking a coffee break, while you’re grabbing a bite, or even while you’re sitting on your throne.  I have provided a check box (⎕) following each essay’s title for you to mark (√) an essay as “read.”  Or you could pencil a number in the check box for the number of times you have read that essay.  Or a number for how well you liked it.  Or a “Y” or “N” for whether you agree.  Or “*” for “I want to read this one again and tell all my friends about it.”

Please do not read this book while your significant other (or a friend, or a work colleague, or a family member, or even a complete stranger) is sharing your space with you; in other words, don’t be rude.  And if you do get upset with something you read, please do not throw this book – or the mobile device you are reading it on – across the room, as it may hit someone.  I am not responsible for such outbursts and their unhappy consequences; you are.

Now, before we start.

My book consists of many essays distributed more or less randomly so that you have to read the whole thing in order to get the greatest benefit from reading it.  It consists of essays of the following types:

On subject (the mess we are in – in mostly broad and some fine brush strokes – what needs to be done to clean it up, and what role you can play to help)

Informative / instructive (the folks my book is aimed at have had little time to indulge the luxury of following the daily grind in Washington, DC; a significant chunk of my book is my small attempt to help them catch up)

Exposé (politicians and talking heads – radio and TV “pundits” – don’t speak plain English, they speak George Orwell’s “doublethink”; their job is not to inform you, it is to get you to follow them with as little critical thought as possible, and I want to expose the underbelly of what they say)

Provocative / challenging (I want to disturb your peace of mind, I want to shake you up, I want to make you think new thoughts, I want to channel your anger toward productive action; if your source of “news” is Fox News or MSNBC, you live in an Echo Chamber, where you listen to people who say what you already know; I want to shatter your Echo Chamber, I want to make you think)

Interesting (if what I say is not interesting, you will chuck my book before wasting any more of your precious time; whether I have been informative or challenging or anything else will not matter if I am not interesting)

“The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”
– President Ronald Reagan