The Endgame

January 17, 2019

What might the end of the partial government shutdown look like? Of course the answer to that question is based on the assumption that Trump and Pelosi are able to put the national interest ahead of politics and ego. This might be too much to ask, but let’s give it the ol’ college try or better yet the ol’ rational leader try.

Scenario # 1 – Republican leaders in both house of Congress start to really feel the heat from constituents, especially those people standing in airport security lines for hours, and muster sufficient votes to override Trump’s veto ending the shutdown. Two-thirds of both the Senate and House would have to be on board but if Mitch McConnell gives the OK, Trump could save face and say he tried but Congress overruled him on the wall. This is not some wild/implausible scenario because politicians know when to “fold them” if they feel voter wrath.

Scenario # 2 – Nancy Pelosi uses some new number for border security and the wall in exchange for major immigration reform – protecting the Dreamers,  ending the roadblocks for those seeking asylum, and maybe even beginning a process of establishing a pathway to citizenship to those here illegally. Such a mega deal is likely a bit far fetched but Trump is so boxed into a corner right now that he might agree to a larger reform if he could claim some sort of victory, any victory.

Scenario # 3 – Government employees go to the streets and use the power of the media to further erode Trump’s position. Right now what is presented on news programs are singular stories of hardship, but if thousands of workers march on Washington or to the offices of members of Congress then a protest movement is formed that would be impossible to ignore. Add a bit of non-violent sit down strikes into the mix and those in power will be hard pressed to look away.

Scenario # 4 – Major business leaders band together and buy television time, stage a Twitter attack on Trump and reach out to members of Congress demanding that the shutdown end because it is costing their business and the national economy a fortune. If Congress won’t listen to the federal workers or CNN, they just might listen to the big banks, the Fortune 500 companies and all those billionaires who just want to end the uncertainty. Can you imagine the impact that public comments from Warren Buffett or Bill Gates demanding an end to shutdown would have on the White House and Congress?

Scenario # 5 – The President gives his State of the Union and continues his tirade against the Democrats for denying him the wall; Pelosi refuses to budge; the federal workers head deeper into debt, the country inches a bit closer to a recession, and Americans lose whatever confidence they have in government. The mess continues.

God Save the United States.

Advertisements

In Praise of Strong Women

January 8, 2019

It was bound to happen as 100 women entered Congress and presidential hopefuls followed in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton. What has happened is media pundits, election strategists and old white guys begin to question the suitability of women for high office in government. Already Elizabeth Warren has a ” likability” problem, Bronx Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is denounced as a dancing flake, and Michigan Representative Rashid Tlaib is castigated for having a potty mouth (and worse yet from a woman of Palestinian heritage). This is only the beginning of the campaign to question whether women are ready to run government and hold power.

What this avalanche of criticism is really about stems from the fact that the old boy network feels threatened as women question the male approach to governing, offer new policy prescriptions for the nation, and most importantly show no fear of speaking their mind. Many of these guys hate it when women challenge their knowledge and authority or worse yet vie for political power. The era of nit wit Democrats and Republicans in political office is likely over but that doesn’t mean  these guys won’t go down without a fight.

It is of course refreshing to have women in power and offering new solutions to desperate problems. More importantly, it is vitally important to have voices in this country talk about children, health care, education and income inequity rather than how much will be spent on a new aircraft carrier,  how to justify excessive corporate welfare or defend deregulating the banking industry.

Now having women play a larger role in our governing system does not mean that this country is on the way back from near political suicide. These women are politicians, and many novice politicians; they will make mistakes in judgment, offer unworkable solutions, fail to keep their word, and embarrass themselves in public venues. They may be a refreshing change of pace but their presence in government is only one piece of a complex puzzle of change.

But one thing is certainly true – having women in government, strong women in power offers some hope that the old ways of doing the business of our nation will at the very minimum be questioned if not changed. I am reminded of Bob Dylan’s famous lines from the song The Times They Are A-Changing, which appropriately fit the rise of strong women:

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

It will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin.

 

Good Luck Strong Women.

 

 

 

 


2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 


O Holy Night, Remembering Verse 3

December 2, 2018

During this time of Christmas it is nearly impossible to avoid the sounds of the season, whether on the car radio, during a church service or a choral program. In most cases what we hear is a mix of secular song and religious music. While being constantly bombarded by the opening line of the Christmas Song – ” chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” one of my favorite religious songs is O Holy Night, a stirring and uplifting melody with words that beautifully remind us of what Christmas celebrates and why that celebration is important for all humans.

But what often happens when Christmas songs are played or sung is that emphasis is usually placed on the opening lines, while ignoring the words and the message of the entire composition. This is the case with O Holy Night.  Thanks to our daughter Ann, I was introduced to the third verse of this classic Christmas song, which presents the important message of the season and the true meaning of Christianity.

As translated from the French composer, Adolphe Adam by John Sullivan Dwight, verse three of O Holy Night provides a guiding light for all of us this Christmas:

“Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

What a powerful message of our responsibilities as humans, whether believers or non-believers; what a clear vision of what work needs to be done in His name; what a eternal statement of the importance of love, peace and justice and freedom that must become a part of our daily lives.

These simple but direct words from O Holy Night now adorns our dining wall during the Christmas season to remind all who visit our home what we must take with us during this important time. We certainly celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas but as verse three of this religious song states, we have an obligation to make the message of Christmas stay with us the rest of the year, the rest of our lives here on earth.

Merry Christmas to all.

 

 

 

 


If We Only Had An Immigration Policy

November 26, 2018

In a normal governing climate when a problem of serious proportions arises governmental leaders often times rise to the occasion and take steps to correct the problem. Usually these governmental leaders come late to the problem, sometimes when the problem rises to a crisis stage, but they do eventually act to address the problem/ crisis. Sometimes the solution is piecemeal or slow to be implemented, other times the solution is fraught with unintended consequences. But the problem/crisis does foster  a serious attempt to deal with the matter.

Not so with immigration. The last time this country dealt with immigration was back in the Reagan administration, but the solutions agreed upon then were not comprehensive in nature and did not create a rush of partisan division or anger. Today, of course, we live in a far different political and governing climate from the Reagan years as now issues of national security, walls, asylum, child separations, and caravans foster a toxic mix of fear, nationalism, and hatred; there is little interest in trying to find out what can be done to solve the problem and certainly not much in the way of human compassion.

If we had a government that works and if national political leaders could put down their partisanship even for a few months there is a way out of this mess, and that would be a public policy that dealt with how to handle the crush of illegal immigrants seeking to enter the United States, the status of those undocumented immigrants already in the country, the protocol for asylum seekers, temporary work permits, and a reasonable amnesty system especially for the children of illegals brought to this country when they were babies.

Believe it or not  formulating such a policy is not rocket science since there have been many legislative initiatives put forward over the years by both Democrats and Republicans. If there was a will, a big IF, these initiatives could easily be dusted off and packaged into a comprehensive solution to our immigration mess – a rigorous pathway to citizenship for those here illegally, protections for young people brought here as babies, limited work permits with identification cards for those undocumented aliens seeking temporary employment, asylum opportunities for only the most deserving, fast track H1B cards for those immigrants with special skills, economic and political pressure on Central American countries to stem the tide of illegals heading north and of course a beefed up Border Patrol.

Serious public policies that address the key challenges of illegal immigration are far better than billions spent on a wall that only would show how incompetent and broken our government is. Sadly under the current administration there is little interest in public policies on immigration, only tough words and threats. As we have seen, tough words and threats haven’t stopped the caravan and future caravans from heading north. What would stem the tide of illegals is a  comprehensive policy system that addresses all the failures that years of inaction have created.

 

 

 


Land of the Angry, Home of the Scared

November 5, 2018

President Obama’s comments to hecklers in Florida wondering why they were angry, especially since their party controlled the Congress and the Presidency and their president had followed through on many of his promises, got me thinking again about what we stand for as a country. My concern about our values and beliefs brought on further concerns when Trump supporters bought into his lies about rising crime ( it is not rising), the caravans invading our country ( a rag tag group of asylum seekers, many of them women and children, is not an invasion) and the threat of minorities to a white America ( if there is any threat it is from white neo-Nazis). So why are we no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but rather the land of the angry and the home of the scared?

The answer to this question likely is better answered by trained psychologists, but it does make a political observer wonder why the right wing is not filled with supreme joy and at the very least taking a brief moment to use Google to inquiry about the President’s misinformation campaign. It would seem to me that the anger is the result of pent up frustration over years of living at the margins in a country where elites didn’t care, while the embrace of outright lies spoken by a man who knows how to gin up a crowd just makes those on the margins feel better. Say what you want about the President, he knows how to push the right buttons in his base and has no remorse over stoking white race anger and just saying anything that comes into his mind at what has become an old-fashioned religious rally. If you have ever seen the ancient movie, Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster, it perfectly depicts the charismatic ability of one man, a religious charlatan,  to get his followers to follow him anywhere, no matter how cruel or off the wall his sermons are.

It would be reassuring if we indeed were the home of the free and the land of the brave as our national anthem proudly proclaims, but our freedoms are slowly being eroded (especially freedom of the press) and we seem to willing admit that we are afraid (but mostly afraid that minorities will replace white power). We live in a time when according to that great political philosopher Groucho Marx, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Perhaps saner leaders in both parties, truth-seeking pundits of both political persuasions, and that great moderate middle of America will bring us back to the era of compromise, consensus, and conflict resolution. Katherine Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” said it best, ” America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.” One can only hope.

 

 

 


Democratic Values v.The Forgotten

October 30, 2018

Talk to any critic of President Trump and they will likely say that he has ignored, weakened or destroyed our democratic values – the rule of law, freedom of expression, respect for diversity and inclusion, and a welcoming and humane spirit. Talk to any of his supporters and they will likely say that President Trump has strengthened the economy, put money into the hands of those the liberals have forgotten, taken strong steps to rein in illegal immigration and expanded our military while sending a clear message to the world that the United States is a nation to be reckoned with. Those who detest the President see him as a buffoon who is only out for himself; those who idolize him see the President as someone who speaks the language of those who have had no voice in American politics and are mad as hell.

While the current wave of polarization can be viewed from numerous perspectives, the great divide is really about what we stand for as a nation versus what we have forgotten as a people. A mid-term election of Democrats in the House or perhaps the Senate may temper this divide a tiny bit by checking the White House but it surely is not going to close the deep gap over what we stand for versus what we used to be as a people. In the days before we became divided the middle class acted as the “great stabilizer” as prosperity was spread over a wide spectrum of the populace leading to a general consensus on the American Dream and the commitment to build consensus and centrism in our political life. Today the middle class is in shambles with too many people either outright poor or unable to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Why should these forgotten Americans care about democratic values and proper norms of presidential behavior when they believe the elites don’t care about them or the precariousness of their economic predicament. Throw in a healthy dose of racism or at the very least the perception of unfair advantages for minorities and democratic values mean little to those who wear the Make America Great Again hat.

If there is a resolution of this great divide it is returning to the days when the economic pie was more evenly allocated, when Democrats stood fore square for the working man and woman,  when Republicans remembered that great power requires great responsibility and when we treat all Americans no matter their race, religion, ethnicity and gender characteristics as worthy of respect, decency and equality. That is a tall order and an outcome that unfortunately is years away given the current climate of distrust and hate. It would help if we had calming leaders, political cooperation, less anger and more compromise, and perhaps most of all just plain quiet.