Monday, February 20, 2017

Give 'em enough rope. . . Going fishing

I was trying to prepare a blog post on some of the latest statements from the President which I believe are contributing to further divide the country and accelerate further the dysfunction of the government.

I was going to comment on the President’s statement that, “We lived in a divided nation.  And I am going to try -- I will do everything within my power to fix that. . .”

And also his comment about, “I just see many, many untruthful things. And I tell you what else I see.  I see tone.  You know the word “tone.” The tone is such hatred. . .”

And then, of course, I couldn’t pass over the latest comments about the press: “I want to see an honest press. . . it’s so important to the public to get an honest press. . .” And, the follow-up in a tweet: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” And, the Fox News endorsement, “. . .and I have to say “Fox & Friends” in the morning, they're very honorable people.”

I have tried in previous posts to identify and explain some of the critical elements of our broken government and some ways to address or suggest possible solutions to those issues.

I have also tried, even considering the fact that I am biased, to identify the fact that both Democrats and Republicans are contributing to the broken, dysfunctional government and both play the silly “gridlock games.”

However, the events of the last several weeks and the current level of discourse on politics and the state of the American democracy has been revealing to me.

This is not the proper environment for a rational discussion of issues related to broken government. I was reminded of my own words in a previous April 30, 2016, blog post – What Is Broken Government & What Do We Really Want?

There I pointed out that sometimes the fix is not immediate and you must be careful what you wish for and deal with the consequences. I said:

“So, what's the goal? What's the end game to fixing a broken, rigged government? It's to make the politicians listen and do what the majority wants -- Right? Well, before we go too far we should have a little discussion about -- "Being careful what you wish for."

“We have to do a little self examination here. You see, we already have a system that is "rigged" -- where majority doesn't rule. So, what we're seeking is a "majority rule" system. Okay, so what if the majority doesn't agree with you personally? Are you ready to suck it up and live with the "majority rule"?

“You see, that's the hard part. . . at any given point in time. . . sometimes, the majority opinion won't necessarily agree with yours. So what are you going to do? Now what's wrong with the system? You want a system that always delivers the result you want? Sorry, that's not the way it works.

“So, here's the caveat -- over time, the majority system corrects itself. At least it corrects itself to the majority at that time. Sometimes the majority gets fooled or needs to experience a certain policy or ideology. Then, if the vision does not turn into reality, the majority corrects itself by changing direction. You have to trust the majority system. And, if you can't live with majority rule then you should probably seek another alternative, somewhere else.”

Well, I was commenting then on getting to the point of majority rule which I believe in. But, as I have also pointed out, it gets complicated when you consider the Electoral College process -- Another Piece of the Broken Government Puzzle; Does my vote for the president actually count?

My post on “what do we really want” and comment above, written before the November election basically assumed that the person who would win the Electoral College vote would also win the popular vote. As we know now that was not the case and the loser actually received 2.8 million votes more than the winner. Although I disagree with the Electoral College process, it was the legal and known process for last November’s election and I accept that.

But, my point is still the same. “Sometimes the majority [or Electoral College results] gets fooled or needs to experience a certain policy or ideology. Then, if the vision does not turn into reality, the majority corrects itself by changing direction.”

For me, that’s where we are right now. We are waiting to see if this new President’s vision, and the vision of those who voted for him, will turn into reality. If not, the ingrained structure of our democracy which binds us all together will correct itself and we will change direction.

And so it goes. We are in a period of blurred vision, waiting for clarity. We’ll see (pun intended).

In the meantime I’m reminded of my Grandmother’s old saying many years ago when I was a young man – “Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” That works for me. Spring is in the air and I’m thinking about going fishing.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guns, Politics & Donald Trump

I just have to share this January 20, 2017, article published in The Plaid Zebra by Victoria -- 

What a gun auction taught me about ‘middle America’

Note: The Plaid Zebra is an unconventional lifestyle magazine that aims at broadening the horizons of potential lifestyle choices and uplifting the autonomous with inspiration and example.

[Excerpt] An America divided.

Although I didn’t grow up in Virginia, I’ve been visiting since I was a child and attended Virginia Tech for college. This state is a prime example of the rural/urban divide witnessed across the country. Locals understand the stark contrast between the more liberal and urban, northern Virginia – known as NoVA – and the more conservative and rural, southern Virginia – known as the “real” Virginia. As a user on Reddit pointed out: “I was taking classes over the summer in Blacksburg, and this guy asked me where I was from. I replied Northern Virginia. He referred to people there as Communist pricks…Well, that escalated pretty quickly.”. . .
On the way home, I sympathetically examined the rolling hills of Rocky Mount, Virginia and I tried to make sense of it all. The relationship between God, country and guns no longer sits well in my heart as it once did when I was a little girl. How could a community that evoked the name of Jesus in prayer – a divinity I always believed promoted peace over violence – do so minutes before bidding on guns? Machines built to kill. How could a community similar to the one I hail from, embrace a man like Trump, and all that he represents?. . . 

Comment by J.P. McJefferson:

Nice article Victoria. Can't believe there's only one comment. You have really captured the same feelings I'm having of late. I too have friends and family on both sides of the divide. And you have correctly identified the elephant in the room -- guns. So long as the direct popular vote doesn’t count (which it doesn’t under the Electoral College system) and until Democrats understand guns and the gun culture, they may never win another Presidential election. All you have to do is look at the last election results, i.e. red v. blue by counties 

and you will see the urban rural split amplified. It troubles me that there can be so much hate and vitriol between the two sides. Is this what it was like at the dawn of the Civil War where over 600,000 Americans died killing each other. Democrats, even with the backing of 80-90% of the electorate on background checks, have never been able to deliver a credible, believable or incontestable message on guns – that is, a message that Republicans and rural America could buy. There’s always the argument that ANY regulation or control will lead to another, and another, and another, etc. and NO incident, however horrific, can justify regulation or control. The NRA, for decades, and now Donald Trump, of recent, have tapped into the rural America gun culture and it will be exceedingly difficult, going forward, for any Democrat to ever win their trust.

P.S. For the record I have lots of guns myself: a 410 shotgun; a 22 pistol; a 22 rifle; a 38 revolver; another older revolver; and an old Indian trade musket.


Analysis | Gun ownership used to be bipartisan. Not anymore.…, The Washington Post,  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Beating The Dead Horse Of Bipartisanship

Here I go again trying to defend the concept of true bipartisanship and ways to achieve it. I scratch my near bald head, watch the political shenanigans in amazement and am at a loss for words to describe the avalanche of governance garbage that is filling the space of our daily lives. "How can this be happening?" I ask. And then I answer, "It's so obvious. Why can't we get this right and move on?

An article, by David Frum,"How to Build an Autocracy", in the March 2017 issue of The Atlantic is enlightening and caught my attention when it talked about the power of Fox News to the typical Republican member of Congress and its ability boost or crush a Member's popularity with their constituency. That power has recently been increased big time with the recent Presidential endorsements.

E.G. 1/24/17 Tweet: "Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN - public is smart!" And about his recent CIA speech, Trump said, "That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I'll mention you -- we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches." He told ABC's David Muir, "Turn on Fox and see how it [CIA speech] was covered."

The end point of the discussion was that "oversight of Trump by the Republican congressional majority will very likely be cautious, conditional, and limited." This is a screaming red flag on the breakdown of governance and the Constitutional system of checks and balances that is supposed to protect us from an over zealous Executive branch.

The article rightly points out that, "As politics has become polarized, Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party. Recent presidents enjoying a same-party majority in Congress—Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, George W. Bush from 2003 through 2006—usually got their way."

Also discussed in the article is the incredible power of social media. Frum, in a hypothetical projection envisions, "social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true." Additionally, we have all been treated to the barrage of tweets from our new President and his self-proclaimed ability to speak truthfully and directly to the "people" and bypass the filter (i.e. fact checker) of the "mainstream media" which his Administration calls the "opposition party” which should "keep its mouth shut."

We must also not forget the enormous power that goes with the Presidency, i.e. control of all agencies including the FBI and CIA and other intelligence bodies. That power could be misused as it has been in the past to "harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods."

So, the Founders, in all their brilliance (and they were unbelievably brilliant) did not foresee the power of Fox News, social media and the high tech capabilities of intelligence gathering by those with nefarious or malicious intent. These factors have and could have a profound disruptive influence on the system of checks and balance they wove into the Constitution to keep the Executive branch in check.

Now back to the dead horse -- bipartisanship. By not engaging in true bipartisanship in governing, Congress relinquishes a considerable portion of its power over the Executive branch. True bipartisanship is not easy, and as I have said in previous posts, it runs counter to the DNA of most politicians, but it is the key to restoring Congress as the strongest branch of government as the Founders intended. It is also the key to ending gridlock, making Congress functional again, and elevating its approval ratings in the eyes of the public.

True bipartisanship begins with a basic recognition that you cannot govern an equally, ideologically divided nation with all of the power on one side. It is a recipe for disaster which is exactly what we have now under the existing power distribution scheme. It is why Congressional approval ratings generally range between 10%-20%. It is why Congress, by demonstrating its gross incompetence, has ceded nearly all of its power to the Executive branch. While Republicans currently have the power, my position and argument applies to both parties, no matter who has the power at any given time. Both parties share equally in their responsibility for Congressional gridlock.

As I have tried to explain in previous postings, true bipartisanship beginning with shared power in the committee and subcommittees system of the House and Senate could completely alter the legislative process dynamics, reduce the incentive for gridlock games and political posturing, maximize and focus staff resources and blunt the affect of excessive lobbying and financial influence.

As atypical as the concept of shared power in Congress is, it is not without precedent. The House and Senate Ethics Committees operate and function with the concept of shared power where there is equal party membership on the committees and the staff is nonpartisan and prohibited from engaging in any partisan political activity by Congressional rules.

Imagine legislative proposals for immigration reform, infrastructure development, health care and a host of other critical issues arriving on the House or Senate floor after being developed through a shared power committee structure.

The process would force bipartisanship at the beginning of the process. Imagine, at the subcommittee level where Members with specific knowledge of the subject matter from both sides of aisle each present their proposals for addressing the issue. They would most likely be markedly different. They would have to argue and debate, have hearings with experts and testimony equally from both sides, utilize unbiased staff resources to investigate and develop suggestions and finally craft a compromise. The process would be somewhat like the Conference Committee process where competing differences between House and Senate bills are resolved; however, it would be much more thorough, comprehensive and nonpartisan.

The compromise would have to achieve a majority vote of the subcommittee and move on to the full committee where it would again be debated, subjected to hearings, further scrutiny and finally a majority vote of the full committee.

As the legislation reached the House or Senate floor there would still be plenty of opportunity for dissent, as it is unlikely that proposal would achieve unanimous consent. Amendments and debate on those amendments would be expected and more conventional political maneuvering would likely occur where the majority party would obviously have the upper hand. However, legislation developed through this process would be much more credible and would have true bipartisan roots and support from Members from both sides with skin in the game.

Similarly, as with legislative development, the idea of shared committee power with nonpartisan staff would vastly improve the other major responsibility of Congress – Executive branch oversight. No longer would oversight be limited to just presidents and agencies of the opposite party; partisan witch hunts and character assassinations would likely be eliminated and effective review of agency programs, budgets and actions would be more normalized.

As indicated above, true bipartisanship would not be easy and is counter to the excessively polarized and partisan political environment that exists inside the Beltway. But, if Congress does not change its ways we are doomed with gridlock, ever increasing Executive branch power and the frightening future predicted in David Frum's article, "How to Build an Autocracy."

If Congress does not change its own ways (which is highly unlikely), the now completely scattered public pressure from interest groups and public demonstrations should be coordinated and focused on what I have called the Achilles' heel, the linchpin of Congressional dysfunction – the broken committee and subcommittee process.

Friday, February 10, 2017
Congressional Job ApprovalPPP (D)Approve 16, Disapprove 68Disapprove +52