Modern Civics

January 29, 2018

What should the content of a contemporary text book on American Government include? If the text provides a functional knowledge of how our government works today it would have the following table of contents:

Chapter 1: Citizen’s United and the Origin of Modern U.S. Government

Chapter 2: Citizen’s United, the 1% and the Donor Class

Chapter 3: Citizen’s United, the NRA, Wall St. and Corporate America

Chapter 4: The U.S. Constitution and the Primacy of Corporate Rights

Chapter 5: The Three Branches of Government: Three Options for the Donor Class to Accomplish Outcomes

Chapter 6: The Two Party system: the Illusion of Choice

Chapter 7: Voting Rights and the Role of Elections: Endorsing the Foregone Conclusions After Restrictions and Gerrymandering

Chapter 8: Defining Individual Rights and the Role of Government in Working Around Them

Chapter 9: Local and State Government: Evolution, Function and the Illusion of Democracy

Chapter 10: Is Change Possible After Citizens United?

Cynical? Less so than accurate. Few people who pay attention doubt that since the Citizen’s United decision, money has controlled the purpose and the function of government. Big money elects politicians that pass laws to make more money for the donor class. Big money elects the judges to affirm and reinforce the primacy of corporate rights over individual rights.

It’s a shame. Maybe we can revive the American dream. But at this pint in our history, it is just a dream.

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Shut It Down

January 22, 2018

Its pretty simple. Trump says he would approve of any bi-partisan bill on DACA. He said on camera that he would provide the political cover. A bi-partisan proposal was agreed upon – and Trump promptly said “no” along with a racist rant.

After the metaphorical “sh#t storm” subsided and work began anew on another compromise, Trump Tweeted another killer comment. Mitch McConnell complained loudly that they are still waiting on what the White House will approve to sav DACA. A third compromise was evolving to keep the government open, a continuing resolution that restored funding for CHIP – a program to help poor children to get vital health care.  Funding for CHIP was held hostage by the GOP (which is to say that these children were held hostage) as leverage to get additional tax breaks for the insurance industry. Once again, Trump vetoed the idea in another incendiary Tweet. So why did Trump sabotage the bipartisan attempts to address DACA and bring us to the verge of a government shutdown?

One theory is that Trump is doing some hard ball negotiating to get funding for his Wall. The idea is that even if the Wall is not funded as part of a DACA deal, he will swoop in at the last minute and be the hero keeping the government open. I have another theory. Trump wants a government shutdown. He said so himself in a 2017 Tweet. He publicly speculated that a government shutdown because the Senate could not generate a filibuster proof would be good for the Congress because it would end the filibuster. The GOP would only need 50 votes to pass any Legislation. This becomes even more important as the GOP majority in the Senate has been whittled down to 1 vote, and likely to change with the midterm elections. Yes… there is a method to his madness, though the method means an end that could be a disaster for the Congress (and the country).

We are only a few hours from the deadline, and the odds seem 50-50 for a shutdown, if the Dems show any spine. It’s a made for reality TV drama, ala Trump style of governing. Which means that the policy and economic implications of the manufactured chaos are secondary to the attention Trump needs. Its another reason why our country has become the laughingstock of the world while simultaneously a source of international angst.


Truthiness

January 19, 2018

I think that a lot of people blame Trump for the acceptance of lying or “alt.facts” in politics, but the reality is that Trump is just a manifestation of the real problem. Trump could never become President or stay President without a willingness to accept flagrant lying and denials of reality. Somewhere along the way to Trump winning the Electoral College vote, the importance of facts and reality was lost to the importance of feeling right. When large parts of the population refuse to accept scientific facts, or the clear evidence of reality, then no solutions to any problems will ever result. Observing verifiable facts and using them to define the problem is the essential prerequisite to solving problems.

We seem to be at an important point in our country’s history. When an individual fails to distinguish between what they want to believe from reality it is often diagnosed as a psychiatric problem. What happens when an entire country has the same problem? This not only scares us, it scares the heck out of allies who depend on our leadership.

When confronted with reality, Trump supporters go through a predictable, if infuriating, process. They deny the fact initially claiming it is “fake news”. When confronted with irrefutable proof of what Trump said (e.g. an actual recording of the comments), they will say he meant something different. If that fails, they claim someone else did something else (usually Clinton or Obama). There is a tolerance for a pattern of lying that defies reality and common sense. That is a far greater threat than any lie from Trump. This problem began long before Trump ran for President.

Rush Limbaugh has been denying the scientific evidence on climate change for over a decade. Sean Hannity has been talking about the “shadow government” for years. Not to pick on Fox Cable News, but people who listen to Fox and Friends exist in a universe of alt.truth.

Certainly, the devolution of the news media into corporate shills marketing to consumer groups contributed. People who watch Fox Cable News exist in a different universe from those who watch MSNBC. The lack of information being reported absent commentary by the reporters is amazing. News is less news than a few facts, in or out of context, used to become a platform for commentary. It seems like even those traditional news outlets have adopted a concession to alt.truth by qualifying each report by offering the alt.version from the other side, no matter how divorced from reality. Qualifying facts with political spin, or diluting reality with a false sense of fairness to the non-reality is now the journalistic attempt to assuage people who want to believe non-reality?

The media program is clear though: generate fear and outrage (facts or the truth is not necessary – rumors or even outright fabrications will do (e.g. the alleged Bowling Green Massacre). Once fear and outrage is accomplished it becomes easy to placate with false explanations and solutions. Conspiracies are one of the tools of media fear mongers and the enemy of reality. Conspiracies rooted in fiction becomes convincing to people confused by fear. The more facts come into conflict with a fake conspiracy, the more people cling to the conspiracy it seems.

As tempting as it is to blame the commercialization of the news media, the reality is that we are all vulnerable to fear and confusion. Its then that our values have to be the anchor. If we value facts, if we value solutions based on facts as more important than our comfort level, we would be more comfortable in general.

 


Happy Anniversary

January 18, 2018

Friday is the anniversary of the inauguration of Donald J. (“J for genius”) Trump. The plan is for Trump to host a $100,000 per plate gala dinner at his Florida Golf Resort. The optics of a party for the rich at a golf resort while the government is shut down are apparently not daunting for the President. After all, he truly believes he could murder someone in public and not lose support.

However, there is another even more socially and politically significant anniversary that is really is worth celebrating – the Women’s March. The massive, historic march of women across the country and in other countries has been followed by something a bit unusual. The March was not a one-time event and has led to a significant empowerment of women. The movement gave birth (excuse the pun) to significant efforts on behalf of women in our society such as the effort to identify and end sexual harassment, and the record number of women running for political office. It’s a real social and political movement and long overdue.

In the mid seventies the “Women’s Lib” movement emerged. While it did produce some important social changes, it really didn’t translate to economic and political power for women. Wages for women still lag behind men. Women rarely achieved political power. The ultimate confrontation of the women’s liberation movement’s failure to achieve and sustain success was the election of a man who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women. The brutal fact of the electoral college victory sparked the March and one year later, it appears that the massive march is more than a flash in the pan protest.

We can only become a better society as the result.

 

 


MLK

January 15, 2018

On the same day celebrating one of the greatest Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King, who said that we have a sacred obligation to refugees and immigrants, we are confronted with the words of a racist. Except this time, the racist is the President. I’m sure that in the next few days we will hear about how outrageous the comments were, or how the comments were “fake news”, or how the president didn’t really mean it that way. More of the chaos, rancor, anger and outrage we have come to expect from this Administration.

We all know what King stood for, what he said to eloquently with prophetic inspiration. We all understand that his vision of a democracy based on Christian principles of tolerance, love, and the obligation to the oppressed with poverty or injustice. We all know what Trump has said and what he stands for… The difference that strikes me this MLK Holiday is not the words or principles. The difference is in the effect of each man on those around him. As our Christian Evangelicals Conservatives are wont to say: “you will know him by his fruits”.

King inspired people with his actions that spoke of compassion, honesty, integrity and courage. He actually put his life on the line and when he did, he united people not in hatred of their opponents but in the goal of compassion for the victims. Although regularly threatened with death, or the loss of his freedom, he never defended himself as much as the goal. Although regularly confronted with opposition to his tactics such as non-violence by other leaders of the civil rights movement, he never attacked or exploited divisions. Instead always worked for unity. He remained humble and was never the first to speak or to volunteer to lead, even after he won the Nobel Prize.

King demonstrated the attributes of a true leader – words and actions that inspire others to be inspired and united, and they stand today in stark contrast to Trump. George Wallace once said that there was too much dignity in Washington and not enough anger. That was the quintessential belief of a populist, a racist populist at that.

 

 

 


 New Detroit

December 19, 2017

The announcement of a plan to build the first modern era skyscraper in downtown Detroit to be located on the gravesite of the Hudson’s site was initially met with widespread excitement. Up to this point, the renovation of Detroit has largely been a matter of resurrecting abandoned buildings. Now we have tangible evidence that the economic resurgence is real and substantial enough to cause new growth.

Since the announcement of the skyscraper project, the one discordant note has been a coalition of Detroit activists who demand that the building devote substantial space for low income housing and small business entrepreneurs. Of course, these are absurd demands for a skyscraper in the heart of the new business center of Detroit. Skyscrapers aren’t built to accommodate flea markets. However, while the demands of the coalition are ridiculous for the new project, they are valid and necessary demands that the economic boom have some benefit for all Detroiters. There is a need for economic support for small business in Detroit, and a profound need for affordable housing and good schools. These are the things that are necessary if Detroit is to fully become a viable urban city. For example, Detroit is wonderful for young single people and married couples at the moment, but they grow up and have families at some point and anyone with children would never raise them in this Detroit.

Mayor Duggan has, though hook and crook, done a good job encouraging business growth in the downtown areas from Jefferson to Woodward to Michigan Ave. However, it is as though his plan to care for the citizens of Detroit is to wait for some sort of dribble-down effect from businesses. As the new project demonstrates, businesses take care of businesses. No one is going to devote space in multi-million dollar renovation projects to house the homeless… and no one should expect them to. Rather, it should be the expectation that the mayor will devote as much energy to making Detroit livable for families.

 


Lies, More Lies and Damned Lies

December 18, 2017

The New York Times published a list of Trump’s lies over the past 10 months of his Presidency. Trump apologists, unable to refute the published lies (The Times only published statements that were demonstrably and totally false as distinct from misleading or partly true statements) complained that Obama lied too. There’s a surprise – the last resort of Trump supporters is to divert attention to Obama or Clinton. The Times then published a similar list for Obama using the exact same criteria and the results were not what Trump supporters hoped for. In the first 10 months of each Presidency, Obama had 18 clear lies vs. 103 from Trump.

Every president has lied to Americans from time to time, but Trump is different qualitatively as well as quantitatively. He lies about everything at a pathological pace and pattern. That’s not the worst of it though. The lies are damaging, but even more damaging to our Democracy is the response of Trump when caught with lying. He never admits the truth. Instead, Trump attacks the people who expose his lies, be they individuals or media, with one notable exception. On several occasions, the Russian government has directly contradicted Trump’s account of meetings and Trump remained silent in response. The danger to our Democracy is two-fold. First and foremost, attacking the truth and those who expose government lies is eroding any sense of objective reality. “Alt.facts” is an intentional policy and strategy of Trump to gain power and permission. A democracy cannot exist if there is no agreement on objective reality. “Fake news” begs the response of “facts matter”. Even most Trump supporters admit that he has a problem lying, but it doesn’t matter to them. There is something truly frightening about tens of millions of Americans who act in contradiction to objective reality.

Secondly, the lack of any response by Trump to any Russian actions is another piece of evidence that something very untoward is happening there.