Stop the Cheaters! Vote Democrat.

Political cheating has been allowed to undermine confidence in our political process and democratic institutions.

swift-boatverb [with object] informal target (a politician or public figure) with a campaign of personal attacks | (as noun swift-boating).[1]

“Republicans are cheaters!” Bob declared.

I considered his words carefully.  He is, after all, one of my best friends and perhaps the smartest person I know.

A series of political cheating episodes came to mind, a history now at its below-the-belt nadir with our current President and airwaves filled with lies and fear-mongering.

Historically, neither party may be blameless; however, in my lifetime, the Republicans have led out with what now seems a coordinated campaign of gerrymandering, voter suppression and media manipulation.

Of these three evils, voter media manipulation is the most visible (and so the focus of this blog post).

A notorious example is the 2004 Bush II campaign attack on John Kerry’s heroic Vietnam-War-Swift-Boat career.[2]  The attack ads (funded by Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens) were later proven false and resulted in the neologism.

Then, in 2010, to help fund future media strategies, the Republicans succeeded in opening the floodgates with Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission.  A Republican-led PAC, Citizens United, sought to reverse FEC restrictions on timing and funding of a smear campaign against then presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The case made it to the Supreme Court and was decided in a narrow, 5-4 decision that allowed corporations to be people and unlimited corporate funding to flow into our political system.[3]

In his dissenting opinion in the Citizens United case, Justice Stevens warned:

“The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. . . . A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

We now live in the future Justice Steven predicted: Untethered by Citizens United, corporations and special interest groups fill campaign coffers, to fund media and manipulate the vote.  Confidence in our most important democratic institutions has consequently been eroded.

And we have seen an escalation in the last two election cycles:  The volume of aggressive, false content in well-funded Republican attack ads has been unprecedented.

President Trump has set the example, honed the strategy and otherwise led with a steady stream of divisive, fear-inducing labels, lies and conspiracy theories — amplified and distributed by PAC-funded media campaigns, Fox Broadcasting and far right social media sites.  (Recent episodes of racial and anti-Semitic violence are within the tragic consequences.)

At this dangerous time, we must restrain the growing divisiveness by stopping the swift-boating cheaters.  We must elect candidates who will bring character and balance back to our political processes and repair our damaged democratic institutions.

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[1] New Oxford American Dictionary (Second Edition).

[2] In Idaho, a similar example can be found in the 2014 governor race.  The Otter campaign, just before the election, aired attack ads against A.J. Balukoff falsely branding him as a “California liberal.”

[3] Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

Let’s Practice Abundance

We are living in a time dominated by selfish pursuit of the “zero sum game.” Instead we should practice “abundance.”

The legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Steve Young, was in Boise last week and spoke at this year’s Idaho Innovation Awards banquet.  About a thousand Idaho business leaders leaned forward to capture every word.

Young described certain “truths” he learned on the football field, including this one:  a team wins when its members admire each other, cooperate and share (in successes and failures).

By contrast, teams more likely to lose are those divided by pursuers of self-interest, who grab success to themselves, deflect personal responsibility and blame others for failure.

Steve called the first approach one of “abundance” and the second, the “zero-sum game.”

Sharing of abundance brings people together.  The zero-sum game pits them against each other in self-centered and self-defeating competitions for fame and fortune.

Great leaders — like Steve Young, his longtime coach, Bill Walsh, and successful CEOs everywhere — advocate for abundance and deploy strategies to fight the tendencies to the zero-sum game.  They promote measures that foster acceptance, interaction, mutual affection, respect, collaboration and cooperation.

This analysis resonates with truth and applies in every setting that involves groups of human beings.

Families and children do better in caring, supportive environments, where love, respect and compassion prevail.  Neighborhoods that share these values are more supportive and resilient.

Businesses and employees do better when managers and employees admire, support and encourage each other in accomplishing a shared vision.

Cities, states and countries flourish if their constituents share common purpose, accept and value diversity and seek the best for the greatest number.  The adage that “everybody does better when everybody does better” is true.

By contrast, in the zero-sum game, only one side or party can win.  But the winning is selective and short-lived.  It may only last for the few who selfishly push others down to capture all benefit and recognition to themselves.

The zero-sum game results in factions and tribes and promotes distrust and fear.  These ends are accomplished through bullying techniques that include finger pointing, name calling, misrepresentation, exaggeration and rumor of conspiracy.

This approach leads to broken families, dysfunctional neighborhoods, failed businesses, and divided cities, states and countries — riven with anger, fear, belligerence and violence.

Surely, we can agree on this:  the zero-sum game approach is destructive of individual and group potential and tears at the fabric of our social and political institutions.

In today’s zero sum game environment, we must strive for a mentality of abundance — to find common good and common ground; to accept and respect one another; to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully; and, to lift each other up rather than pushing each other down.

With this, we, individually and as a people, will be happier and stronger.

Without it, we won’t.

 

 

“Kava-gnaw, gnaw, gnaw!”

With the Kavanaugh confirmation, the President and a Republican-controlled Senate have accomplished a feat that will gnaw away at the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Not so long ago, Supreme Court justices could be confirmed by acclamation.  The confirmation process focused on intellectual rigor, character and independence, not political leaning or affiliation.  Both sides of the political aisle could collaborate and agree.

In recent decades, the confirmation process has been progressively poisoned with politics.  Justices have been nominated for their support of the party in power, to add to a conservative or liberal bloc on the Court, and, ultimately, to secure a predictable, controlling majority.

As a result, the confirmation process has become more and more fractious and the Senate votes more narrowly partisan.

No matter your party (or idealogy), this is a dangerous trend.  It has reached crisis phase with the Kavanaugh nomination and confirmation.

The Kavanaugh confirmation will be remembered as the closest, most partisan vote in modern history — eclipsing even the Clarence Thomas vote in 1991.

The following illustration charts confirmation votes for Supreme Court justices since 1975.  It shows the growing partisan and cultural divide, the pinching off of collaboration, and the ruination of the confirmation process.

Think of the closing trend lines as a graphic illustration of the narrowing of the major arteries of balance, cooperation and deliberation (“Senatorial Arterioclerosis”).

votesmargin3
Prepared by Jerry Sturgill; Data Source:  www.senate.gov

Imagine if, in this latest round, the Senate – the “world’s greatest deliberative body” – had responded to the political pressures of the Kavanaugh nomination by stepping back, agreeing that the unseemly fight sure to follow would so damage the image of the Senate and the integrity of the Supreme Court that this nominee should be rejected and replaced with a more moderate one, one who could be supported by the largest number of members from both sides of the aisle — for the sake of institutional integrity.

Did not happen.

Instead, freed of the filibuster, the Republican majority charged ahead — the minority Democrat members sidelined and ignored.

Then came the allegations of sexual misconduct — echoes of the Clarence Thomas debacle — but this time set amidst the growing angst and awareness of the #MeToo movement.

With a deadline set ahead of the looming mid-term election, the theatrics of volcanic anger and the shock of mockery, careful inquiry and factual truth were avoided and obscured.  Credible testimony of sexual assault was dismissed as a “Democratic conspiracy” sponsored by George Soros and the vengeful Clintons.  A “hit job.”

Imagine if, as tempers rose and the accusations flew, the Senate had called a time out and agreed that the nomination should not proceed without, at the very least, an exhaustive FBI investigation — no matter how long it might take — for the sake of instituional integrity.

Did not happen.

Instead, art-of-the-dealstrong-man strategies — misdirection, hyperbole, fighting back – pushed the process forward, fed the news cycle and, supposedly, energized the Trump base.

In the aftermath, the institutions of the Senate and the Supreme Court have been damaged, the credibility of each, impaired.

The Senate process looked like an unplugged UFC fight fest.  The essential independence of the Supreme Court (actual and perceived) was overrun by politics.

More than ever, the Supreme Court has been made to look like a mere extension of the executive and legislative branches of government and their political “excesses.” Constitutional “checks and balances” have been eroded and the Court compromised.

Only the VOTE promises some measure of correction.  We must organize to get out a vote for change: this November and in 2020.  Out with the sclerotic old and in with the new.

Elect those able to return our democracy to fair representation, effective collaboration and service of the greater good.

The future of our great country and its democratic institutions depend on it.

Celebrating MLK Day

In this seemingly regressive period in our history, we still have a dream.

Some say the outcome of the last election has an optimistic “silver lining”:  our values have been challenged and, in response, we have risen to their defense.  I know I feel this effect.

The other night we watched the first episode of David Letterman’s new Netflix show.  It reminded me of an experience last year, when I was on a business trip to Washington, D.C.

My last meeting was on a Friday and I decided to stay through Saturday to visit the newest Smithsonian Museum–the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

2 - 1

It was powerful.  I was deeply moved by my visit.  What followed, though, was unexpected and raw.

So much so, I recorded it with a poem, which I would like to share today, in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all who have been inspired and motivated by his words and example.

Friday at the New Museum

Closing time at the newest of the Smithsonian’s–
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)–
On a warm Friday evening in Washington, D.C.,
I must have been the last, most reluctant visitor to be urged out the door.

I wandered across to the Mall,
Up to the Washington Monument
To look down to the Lincoln Memorial below, and the other way
To the Capitol Building hovering in the distance.

As I walked, I contemplated my visit
To this most important new museum,
With its auburn lattice work reaching upward,
Like lifted hands, toward the sky.

It had stirred me to my core,
As much–or more—
Than nearly anything
Before.

From my visit, I felt sadness for its record of abuse and holding back;
Anger for national plagues of “white” superiority and willingness to exploit;
Awareness of the effects of my own privileged “identity”;
Shame for my race, and a more certain desire to be cleansed.

Near the top of the hill, along the path,
Below the towering white obelisk of the Washington Monument:
I saw a mobile Jumbotron, and wandered in its direction.
It was looping the infamous “Access Hollywood” video of the last election.

There was the face and voice of the now President–
And his sad example of this other form of
Domination and abuse.
Boasting.  Blathering.

Behind the Jumbotron, in the distance,
Shrinking behind the trees,
As if with shame,
The White House.

I glanced back, to my right, at the new NMAAHC,
Where I had just witnessed its counterpoint.
A celebration of progress,
Against hateful mythologies and persistent abuse–

Concluding with an epiphany
For the grace, goodness and precedent of
Our last First Family.
Moved by an overwhelming contrast–

I began to weep.

 

meme2
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

 

Tax Reform: Rage Against the Machine

The current tax legislation before the Senate, and the bill passed by the House, are evidence capitalism is being allowed to gut our democracy.

In the United States, democracy and capitalism are bad bed fellows.

Democracy aspires to give equal voice to everyone. Capitalism does the opposite with its appeal to economic greed and its transactional, competitive division of the world between “winners” and “losers.”

Democracy aspires to inclusion and compromise. Capitalism promotes self interest and conflict.

Understanding the conflict between democracy and capitalism should make us feel rage about the tax reform legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate.

With the tax legislation before Congress, capitalism is being allowed to overtake and 2 - 1overwhelm our democracy.

While the legislation is promoted as benefitting the middle-class, it mainly benefits the rich and the companies they own. The working middle-class and poor come last, if at all, in the list of beneficiaries.

In violation of democratic institutions and principles, the legislation is being rushed through Congress, without hearings and with purposeful avoidance of bi-partisan support or input.

How can we trust our best interests to the advocates of this legislation–to the super rich Republicans and Wall Street capitalists who control the Executive Branch and their puppets in Congress?

Senator Crapo campaigned on a platform of reducing deficits and the crushing national debt.  Yet, post-election, he said this to Bloomberg:

“Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said Monday he wants a tax cut that’s ‘as big as we can get’ within the budget window, though he declined to put a number on it.'”

The tax cut he now supports is around $1.5 trillion and over the next 10 years, the national debt is expected to increase by at least this amount.

He is also supports the elimination of the Affordable Care Act mandate and subsidies, which will have the effect of putting affordable health insurance beyond the reach of many Idahoans.  From the Washington Post:

“‘Did we take away their money? No,’ says Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). ‘There’s not $1 taken away from them if they make that choice’ not to buy insurance.”

That is like telling homeless people, “You should be happy with all the money you’re saving because you can’t afford a home.”

Senator Risch expressed mealy-mouthed support from the Senate Floor:

“Tax reform will bring relief to American families and under the plan released by the Senate Finance Committee, middle-class Americans will see a benefit in the form of a lower tax bill, which means more money for households to bring home.”

OK?  But Senator Risch is one of the wealthiest members of Congress.  How will this legislation benefit his family?  And what about the offsetting negative impact on poor working Idahoans of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate?

We could only know the extent of his self-dealing and conflict of interest if he discloses the impact of the tax legislation on his and his family’s tax bill.

In summary, until the moment of the vote, we should scream at both Senators to oppose a tax bill that will add to the deficit and national debt and which contains provisions that will hurt Idahoans.

The rushed process by which this tax bill is being hurried through Congress is outrageous.

Equally outrageous:  the unnecessary, long-term negative economic impact the legislation will have on our country and state.  We will all end up worse off in the end.

As Corva Korax recently commented on my “Campaign for Idaho” Facebook page:

“Every tax cut for the rich is a new tax on the poor and middle class whether higher health care premiums or loss of access altogether, higher tuition, higher education costs and fewer opportunities, worse civic services.”

Amen.

Stop the Tax Reform Shell Game

Tax reform is a fraud that will make the rich richer and life worse for everyone else.

The House just passed “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” as a first step toward a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

Even the name of the House bill is a hoax.  Tax cuts will benefit mostly the rich and will not create jobs.

Of course our Congressmen, Simpson and Labrador, both voted the party line today.  I suspect Senators Crapo and Risch will do likewise with the Senate bill.

We can only hope there is enough courage and intelligence in the Senate to stop this train wreck.  There are many reasons to vote against tax cuts.  Here are at least two:

  • With the vast wealth now accumulated in the hands of a few Americans, why do rich people need a tax cut?
  • With the national debt at record levels, why a tax cut at all?

Huge tax cuts at this point in our history makes as much sense as the ancient medical practice of bleeding, instead of feeding, a sick patient.

Cutting Taxes Increases Wealth Inequality

Wealth inequality in the United States is now the highest in the world and, other than during the 1920s, the highest in our history.

The increasing rate of US wealth inequality is illustrated with this chart:

171103080726-wealth-gap-wider-than-ever-780x439

Cutting Taxes Increases the Deficit and the National Debt

United States deficit spending and national debt have reached levels unmatched since World War II.

You can see it in the following graph, which shows US national debt as a percentage of GDP since 1790:

debt_gdp-full copy

In summary, the tax cuts will create more wealth inequality, will increase the deficit and balloon the national debt.

The Middle-Class Will Suffer

The House and Senate forms of “tax reform” are being sold as tax breaks for the middle-class.  This is wildly misleading.

The legislation benefits the already rich more than anyone, hurts the poor and, for many in the middle-class, actually increases taxes.  This is particularly worrisome in light of the Senate bill’s sleight-of-hand elimination of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate and subsidies.

This backdoor repeal of the the essential mechanism of Affordable Care Act will lead to tens of millions losing health insurance and making health insurance premiums rise for everyone else.

Meanwhile, the rich, directly and indirectly, will receive billions in “tax relief,” with, among other things, repeal of estate taxes, elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax and slashing of the corporate tax rate.

Remember who ultimately owns corporations:  mainly rich people, who are always hungry for dividends.  Cash from corporate tax savings will first be used to satisfy shareholders.

The Trickle Never Trickles Down

Tax cuts are being rationalized with a re-hash of the economic myth of “trickle down” economics, which has been used to justify every tax cut since Reagan.  It has never worked.

Sure, the middle-class might be lucky enough to get a small tax break (even after losing the mortgage and other deductions).  Maybe some will end up with a few hundred dollars to help pay down credit cards–or ease the pain of increased healthcare costs.

The poor and the uninsured?  I am sure they will be calling their brokers and trying to get into the stock market.

 

 

 

 

Things Not Learned from Vietnam

In this particularly strange and dangerous time, we should revisit the history of the Vietnam War. It is surprising how much we have not yet learned.

I finished watching all 18 hours of Ken Burn’s and Lynn Novick’s film on the Vietnam War.   If you have not seen it, you can still stream it from or buy it at the PBS website. http://www.pbs.org/show/vietnam-war/

It is truly impressive, informative and alarming.

Born on the heels of the Korean conflict, I was too young to have been exposed to the full horror of that war.

The Cold War, however, was in full chill, and U.S. engagement to combat the threat of Communism in Vietnam was escalating.

As a young child, before JFK waded into Vietnam, I remember wondering at people digging bomb shelters in their backyards.  By age six, I knew about nuclear annihilation.

When Kennedy was assassinated, our kickball game against the wall of Harrison Elementary halted and we stood in stunned silence, trembling and weeping for fear of unknown threats happening beyond the boundaries of our playground.

As Vietnam unfolded under LBJ and then Nixon, the black and white basement TV screen nightly carried grainy images and horrifying reports of escalating violence, showing dead bodies, body counts, constant bombing.

One seventh grade football practice, a teammate, Charlie, was summoned away by news of his older brother, who, while serving in Vietnam, had been maimed and blinded by a land mine.

After high school, as anti-war sentiment raged, we registered for the draft and submitted to the last lottery before American withdrawal.

These memories have been resurrected and now placed in the historical narrative of the Burns/Novick documentary.   Certain lessons are now clear.

Arrogance.  American leadership at the time arrogantly believed the war in Vietnam could be won with overwhelming air power and young men and women with superior weaponry.  This hubris led to a horrific waste of lives and materiel.

Ignorance.  Blinded by this arrogance, U.S. leadership (and voters) failed to understand Vietnamese history and culture; supported authoritarian and unpopular South Vietnamese regimes; and, chronically underestimated North Vietnamese motivation and capability.

The late Sam Wilson–a former Army counter-intelligence expert and President Emeritus of Hampden-Sydney College–one of the many veteran voices included in the documentary, summarized this fateful intersection of arrogance and ignorance:

“It is very, very difficult to dispel ignorance if you retain arrogance.”

Making Enemies.  Because of arrogance and ignorance, the Vietnam strategy had the effect to firming the North’s anti-American resolve, losing support in the rural areas of the South and enabling Viet Cong recruitment.  America thus strengthened its enemies and alienated its allies.

Divisiveness.  At the same time, Vietnam drove deepening division in our own country, giving rise to consequent hatred and extremism.  The country was so divided and angry Americans even shot fellow-Americans (as at, for example, at Kent State).

Corrupt Leadership.  Add to all the above stunning examples of corruption, especially of Richard Nixon, who lied about the contraction and expansion of the war and propagandized a “silent majority” (his “base”) who blindly accepted his lip service to freedom, American exceptionalism and Communist threat.

Illegal Campaign Activity; Illegitimate Presidency.  Before Nixon’s first election, and to improve his prospects of winning, he made illegal contact with North Vietnamese peace negotiators and told them to back away from the peace table — this, to advantage his presidential campaign and secure his election victory.  In sum, the U.S. elected a President based on misinformation and illegal political activity, someone willing to perpetuate war and sacrifice American lives for his own political gain.

I wish we could say such arrogance, ignorance, falsehood, propagandizing, hate-mongering and division could never happen again in America.  That we have learned the lessons of history.  Sadly, we cannot.

Our current and ongoing dysfunction arises from a noisome combination of historical ignorance, national wounds still unhealed, politicians willing to exploit division and fear, failure of educational processes and the rising gullibility of a fearsome conservative “base” unwilling to accept factual evidence or engage in critical thinking.

We can and must resist this downward national spiral, by educating ourselves and others, speaking up, getting involved, maintaining resistance and voting for change.

 

For historical learning, the Burns and Novick documentary is a must watch.  Reading of books also helps.  Would someone please tell the President?