All Politics are Local

April 29, 2017

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, former Speaker of the House was elected in 1935 and served in Congress until 1994. He once observed that “all politics are local”. He recognized the ultimate truth of politics on any level – that political action must translate to tangible benefits to individuals. In the post-Citizens United world of politics his observations are certainly axiomatic if government is to exist to improve the lives of citizens and not for the benefit of the donor class. The politics in Washington D.C. is dominated and determined by special interests, and even State politics are increasingly dominated by money. The result has been either paralysis of government on issues that affect most Americans or, legislation on only issues important to money donors in a way that benefits the donors. Collective action is needed and that can only start by appealing to local interests and motivating people.

The only solution to a government run by money and increasingly irrelevant to our daily lives is local activism. Ultimately, the only peaceful revolution possible to change the accelerating slide away from relevance and to plutocracy is from the ground up. Many Americans feel that personally affecting politics is impossible, and that they are powerless to change government. They are right in the sense that individuals acting alone are ineffective. It’s one of the reasons why the donor class constantly tries to pit individual Americans against each other.  Getting people involved in politics is a matter of learning what they care about in their day to day lives and working from there. The temptation is go into a community and tell them what they need to do to change policy. People usually don’t care about policy and they certainly don’t care about your solutions to the policies you are interesting in. I have always found that when you listen to what people in a neighborhood say, and what they are concerned about, then your ability to mobilize them to political action is much easier. Which makes sense insofar as the goal of politics used to be to improve the lives of people.

Local political involvement is the key to generating interest and involvement and, ultimately, change. The little steps of making an immediate and relevant change to a community can translate to bigger steps in State and federal politics. I heard an interview of Elizabeth Warren recently and she made the point that when people learned that the GOP healthcare plan would raise their premiums, if it didn’t take away their insurance altogether, then Congressional phones began blowing up and Town Hall meetings were crowded. Usually Congresspersons pay attention to the person sitting in their office – a person who probably ponied up $25,000 to their re-election fund – in other words, a lobbyist. Apparently when the phones were ringing so often that they couldn’t hear the money donor, it made a difference. It was another example of politics being local.

Translating national policy into local interests is not as daunting as it might seem. If you tell someone that we should raise taxes on billionaires, they would probably demur. If you pointed out that their monthly bill to pay back student loans is too high because Congress raised the interest rate to make a profit to compensate for revenue lost from lowering tax cuts to billionaires, then the conversation becomes relevant to them. It becomes local (even personal). Could they support a law to reduce their college loan interest rates and replace the lost revenue by eliminating tax loopholes for billionaires? They could? Well, could you call or e-mail your Congressperson and support the proposal of Elizabeth Warren and John McCain to close tax loopholes and lower student loan interest rates?

It’s as simple as that. No President or Senator or Congressperson elected by special interests for special interests will change the system. We either find a way to build a revolution from the ground up through personal and local activism, or the Jeffersonian axiom becomes reality: the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.

 

Advertisements

How Much Is This Going to Cost Us?

April 13, 2017

The Mar a Lago Summit made me bit curious about something that more and more people are talking about. (I could even be Trumpian and say “Everybody is talking about it…”). How much is the Trump Presidency going to cost us? While Candidate Trump railed against Obama golfing and once said to The Hill “I would rarely leave the White House because there is so much to do…”, President Trump has barely spent 7 days in a row there. Of course, there is no problem playing hard if one works hard in the private world, but we pay for Presidential playing and protection. What is our bill so far?

Trump has gone golfing 19 times in the first 90 days, more than Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton combined in their first year. Of course, virtually all the golfing trips have been to Trump resorts, so in a sense he is double dipping – making a profit from tax payer paid golf outings. You might argue that the Mar a Lago outings are often accompanied by “diplomatic efforts”. Of course, none of these pseud-summit golf outings have produced any tangible results, but the costs of flying there, altering the resort to accommodate security concerns, and housing the diplomatic staff, family members and security teams means that every golf outing is costing the tax payers an estimated $3 million per day (not including golf fees). That’s $57 million dollars for Mar a Lago outings in the first 3 months, or $144 million over 4 years, with a profit for Trump resorts as well.

The decision by his wife Milania to refuse to move with Donald to the White House, while certainly understandable, is also expensive. The costs of providing protection to Trump Tower is $500,000.00 per day, not including alterations to accommodate diplomatic guests. That’s $730 million over 4 years.

The decision to include the entire Trump family as part of the Administration means around the clock Secret Service protection, estimated at a combined $183 million per year, or $732 million for 4 years, not including every “mission” family members undertake. A conservative estimate then, is that Trump will cost us over $16 billion just to occupy the White House, visit Trump Tower and golf, with profits for Trump Resorts in the tens of millions. That does not include any vacations they take.

We are suckers.


Making China Great Again

April 12, 2017

President Trump entertained President Xi this past weekend without any demonstrable results, at least as far as our national interests. The “great negotiator” was apparently as successful with the Chinese as he was with his own Republicans in the House.

There were no agreements on the military expansion into the South China Sea, unfair trade practices in Africa (the Chinese have had no compunction over using bribes to cornering precious metal mining in the entire Continent). No agreement over the North Korean nuclear development, military cyber-espionage or military cooperation with Iran. No agreements over the protectionist policies on Chinese technical markets, Chinese currency manipulation, or commercial cyber-theft. Nothing. Which is why the Chinese considered the Mar a Lago Summit a huge success for them.

There’s lots to consider since the Chinese now are moving rapidly to control the entire Pacific Rim, leaving the United States as the former great power in the Pacific. When President Trump withdrew from the Pacific Trade Pact without any policy or trade initiatives to replace it, the Chinese moved aggressively to fill that vacuum. Indonesia and The Philippines were already establishing extensive trade and diplomatic relations with China before PTP, and American influence over these key countries was already waning.

However, since PTP was withdrawn, Australia, Thailand and even Viet Nam (no friend of China in the past) are negotiating new trade pacts independent of American interests. In the age of international corporations and banking, the economic importance of multi-lateral trade pacts has increased even as the logistical considerations have diminished. However, trade and commerce are also important to establishing popular and political influence in other countries and this may be the most important loss we are suffering.

Since the end of WWII, the Pacific has been solidly under our control, economically and politically. Now China is becoming the controlling power in the Pacific Rim and even traditional allies are drifting to the Chinese. Australia is negotiating directly with the Chinese and are rumored to be putting the expansion of military cooperation with the U.S. on hold. For all the PTP rhetoric during the campaign about “America First”, the complete absence of any Pacific trade policy is rapidly becoming one of the most historic disasters in our political as well as commercial history.

Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese (and European) media are raving about the lack of any tangible result from the Summit. The Chinese are certainly happy to keep things exactly as they are now – an unambiguous win for China. If the Chinese are successful in their current efforts, American influence will become an historical footnote.

“Making America Great Again” is a nice slogan and feeling, but at this moment America is becoming not just weaker in the Pacific Rim, but also irrelevant.


WTF FBI?

April 3, 2017

The testimony of BFI Director James Comey to the House Intelligence Committee was historic for several reasons, and troubling for even more reasons. For the first time in our Country’s history a sitting President and his campaign are the subject of a counter-espionage, criminal investigation of “coordination” (i.e. criminal conspiracy) with a hostile foreign State. Contrary to the constant comment that “there is no “there” there by the Trump administration, there clearly is enough evidence of collusion to trigger a criminal investigation by the FBI. It’s called “circumstantial evidence”, but there is a lot of it, and credible enough for the Justice Department to publicly announce the investigation. That is history.

The hearings were also historic in another sense. For the first time ever, an FBI Director called out the President for lying, not once but twice in the same sitting before Congress. When Comey stated that the official position of the Attorney General’s Office is that there is no evidence that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, it was significant. Nowhere in the U.S. government was there any evidence of Trump’s accusation. The second time came serendipitously after Trump Tweeted yet another lie and Comey was asked to “truth-check” in real time.

It was also a significant hearing because Democrats were allowed to take as much time and as long as they needed to ask questions of witnesses and not one Republican defended Trump. In every other Congressional hearing so far, Democrats have been severely limited (if not prohibited) from any meaningful inquiries by their GOP Committee Chairmen. It was a carefully choreographed hearing that said as much between the lines as it did in the transcript. Nobody sticks their political necks out that far in DC unless there is something about to happen.

However, the most shocking revelation was that Director Comey knew of a counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign at the same time he broke FBI protocol and announced the re-opening of the Clinton server investigation just weeks before the election. In other words, he decided that an investigation of Hillary’s potential negligence in mishandling classified information was more important to announce than an investigation of potential treason by the Trump Campaign! That is poor judgment of epic proportions. If the Country had learned that Trump was being investigated and why, at the same time they were told about Weiner’s laptop, would the results be the same? Very doubtful. Was Comey possessed by the spirit of a past FBI Director dressed in a Tu-tu? Was he choosing his President?

I have never been a fan of the FBI, for good reasons. Their history in our Country is one of political persecutions as much as political prosecutions. Consider the role of the FBI in attempting to destroy political movements, civil rights movements, etc. However, the interference of the FBI into the past campaign may have been just as influential to the outcome than any “fake news” or hacks. The fact of Comey’s poor judgment in this matter just reaffirms the need for a Special Prosecutor.

We can handle the truth.


Justice(es)

April 1, 2017

Hearings for the nominee to be the next SCOTUS have started. These hearings, obscured by the announcement of a criminal investigation involving Trump and his campaign, should also be shaped by the announcement of that investigation as well.

It is starting to appear likely that a Constitutional crisis is developing, and the questions being asked of Judge Gorsuch should have addressed to that possibility. For example, it seems likely that the tax returns of Trump will be subpoenaed by investigators at some point. No doubt Trump will refuse, which will trigger a crisis. If there is sufficient evidence to indict the president or one of his key aides, the justice department will have to make a decision to prosecute. Trump will likely try to prevent that prosecution, leading to another crisis. If Trump himself is indicted, then all bets are off, and the Supreme Court may be the only Branch of Government functioning for a while.

Gorsuch has a reputation for loyalty and protecting powerful interests. That does not bode well for the country. Democrats had plenty of reason to delay and deny this nomination before the specter of the looming Constitutional crisis. They should be even more wary and determined now because it is no longer just a matter of judicial ideology. It may mean the security of the country at stake.

They might also consider asking him his legal opinion of the GOP refusing to perform their Constitutional role of advise and consent with President Obama’s nominee over a year ago. What should happen when one political party refuses to even allow hearings for a nominee? If one year is not too long to refuse to allow any hearings on SCOTUS, how about two years or three? How about waiting for the next election, 3 years away? What happens if Gorsuch says the GOP action was unconstitutional? What remedies should be available? What happens if he says it is Constitutional? Does that mean Dems can refuse to do the same indefinitely? Either way, he should be required to answer that question.