Politics

TAXES and SERVING THE PUBLIC

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The Trumpsters are ever so elated about DT’s leaked (self-leaked?) 2005 taxes.  He actually paid about 25% on declared income!  I find it interesting that this so-called billionaire’s rate is significantly lower than that of most folks in the middle class.  I know a retired school teacher whose rate is higher.  Ya gotta hand it to those who know how to work the system.  And we do!  Hand it to them, that is.

Most public servants pay lip service to serving the public.  And yes, 45 talks about service and what great things he wants for America, but his real interest—and that of his adult family members—appears to be in using the U.S. Treasury as his own personal piggy bank as he golfs his way through every weekend at his own venues—where we taxpayers are picking up the tab for his entourage (secret service, et. al.) to stay at his hostelries.  Wonder if the prices are jacked up on weekends?

Public service indeed!—as he proceeds to put in power people bent on destroying agencies that serve public interests.  Witness what he is doing or trying to do in term of national parks and federal land, or the environment, or public education, to name only the most obvious.  I have little doubt there is ample room for improvement in the way government serves public interests in these matters, but I also doubt that repeatedly “throwing the baby out with the bath water” is quite the way to do it.

SUGGESTED READING

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The March edition of The Atlantic magazine has a must read article for those of us who are less than ecstatic about the current regime in Washington.

In “How to Build an Autocracy” David Frum discusses the destruction of traditional safeguards in a government that has served us well for over two hundred years.  He first targets a legislature that abrogates its oversight responsibilities to the point that it becomes subservient to the executive branch.  And this was written before we saw the chairman of a House investigative committee go running to the President to report on evidence brought before his committee!

Frum also points out that Presidents have tremendous powers of appointment, removal, and pardon.  Ordinarily the President’s own ethics and desire to “promote the common welfare” serve as a check on those powers. But, Frum asks point-blank: “What happens if somebody comes to high office lacking those qualities?”  One might add: what if that someone is a person who just sneers at restraints?  “I am the President and you are not.”

The Atlantic author also cites subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement of civil unrest to inflame emotional rather than rational reactions to issues and problems.  We saw this at work repeatedly in DT’s campaign strategy—thus “ratifying [his] apocalyptic vision” and providing excuses for repression of protests.  Paradoxically, we also have a large segment of the electorate that simply doesn’t care.  DT and his ilk count on public indifference.  Remember when he famously said he could get away with murder in broad daylight and no one would object?  Well?  Where are the protests about the Russian involvement?  About the dismantling of public education?  About the rape of the environment?  About the gross expenditures for his golfing trips?  About . . .

Frum does not dwell on DT’s relationship but with the press, but I would argue that DT’s attempts to weaken “the Fourth Estate” is yet another technique in undermining American democracy.  The media, per se, is not the enemy, but it is incumbent on citizens that we remain informed—to seek balance in our sources—to at least TRY to sort out what the truth may be in given issues.  Otherwise, we leave ourselves ripe for autocracy.

SEPARATION. NO, NOT “SEPARATE BUT EQUAL”—SEPARATE AND BALANCED

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In some instances, I suppose, the word separation could be viewed as negative.  However, when it comes to the Constitution of the United States, it most definitely is NOT.  The Constitution, along with its amendments, lays out very clearly two specific areas of separation in our democracy.

The separation of church and state—of religion and government—is laid out in the First Amendment and has been reinforced repeatedly by court decisions.  The principle is directed at religion—not A religion.  Tempting as it is for “true believers” of any sect to try to impose their views on the rest us—that just is not the American way.  Whether it is Sharia law or the Beatitudes, the Torah or the Koran—political policy is not to be shaped by religious doctrine.  This is a basic principle that certain evangelicals need to relearn—Mike Pence comes immediately to mind.  Bottom line: Keep your religion out of the government we share.

Another “separation” principle that is currently being trampled upon is the Separation of Powers.  The Constitution draws distinct lines in terms of the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government.  These distinctions give us the “checks and balances” which have, heretofore, served us so well.  But when one branch overreaches in defining its own powers—as in Nixon’s “imperial Presidency”—the balance is severely disrupted.  Likewise, when one branch refuses to do its job—as the Republican-controlled Congress has done for years—chaos threatens.  Occasionally, even the judiciary—that bastion of objectivity and fairness—is open to accusations of “legislating from the bench.”  Maybe that’s why the Court reverses itself every twenty years or so.

Usually a “rogue branch” that overreaches itself is quickly brought back into line by one or both of the others.  Separation of Powers.  Checks and Balances.  These are good things—no?  It remains to be seen how that works when one party is more or less in control of all three branches.

HUMILITY—THE MISSING INGREDIENT

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Have you noticed that DT and his ilk regularly talk down to us—as though fellow American citizens are merely ignorant children who must have things explained “properly.”  Is this arrogance—or what?  I may not “know more than the generals do” as the current occupant of the oval office claims to do, but—by God!—I am a reasonably well-read American citizen and I am as capable of understanding and coming to logical conclusions on matters as the orange man is.

So, just tell me the truth and let me decide.  That is the collective “me”—the one Walt Whitman wrote of all the time—and I want the real truth, not an alternative version.  If there is more than one way of viewing a given matter, tell me.  I’m a grown up.  I can figure it out.  Again: the collective “I” there.  Just don’t hide information from the folks you are supposed to be serving.

Truth.  A rare commodity in government circles these days.  More’s the pity.

Nor is it just ordinary citizens that DT and his treat as far less perceptive than they.  Did you see that so-called news conference?  (Has there been more than one yet?)  I was surprised those reporters did not just gather their notebooks and walk out.  What the world needs now—well, what the White House Press Room needs—is another Helen Thomas.  At least Morning Joe’s Mika Brezinski got it right in calling out Kellyanne—mouthpiece extraordinaire—for her lack of credibility.  Good on ya, Mika!

So now—in another stroke of sheer arrogance—certain journalists are to be denied access to White House briefings.  DT seeks to control the very information we receive in order to ensure that nothing negative leaks out.  It is a blatant attempt to control the media, which as any historian will inform you, is the action of the worst of history’s dictators.

“Doing the job” may be more difficult for those “banned” journalists, but I have confidence that they will, indeed, keep at it and try to ensure that we have solid information on which to form our conclusions.

Now—if we could just get all those so-called “leaders” in government to heed those town hall chants and DO THEIR JOBS.

STRONG WOMEN

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What is it that makes some conservative men react so negatively to strong women?  One is inclined to think only extreme hate—or fear—could produce such contempt and belittling of women who dare to assert themselves.  Or, maybe their attitude is merely an outgrowth of ignorance and insecurity due to inevitable changes in culture as history moves on.

Case in point: Mitch McConnell’s truly deplorable silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate as she tried to read into the record a letter written by a (female) civil rights icon.  He then showed his true colors as he said not a word when several male senators read into the record that exact same letter!

Does the word hypocrisy come to mind at all?

The Republican Party is not without its share of strong women.  Susan Collins and Nicole Wallace, for instance.  But mostly Republican men seem to honor only strong women who assume a “proper” female role: supporting a man from a clearly subordinate position.  Women like Nancy Reagan and Ann Romney—proper students of Phyllis Schaffly.

The usual attack leveled at a woman who dares to take a stand on some social or political issue is to belittle, to disparage with contempt.  They hold up to ridicule some aspect of her appearance (her preference for pantsuits) or use a silly nickname (Pocahontas) to demean her as a person.  These are the tactics of weak men, of bullies.

Such men would, if they could, turn us back the 1950s—if not, indeed, to the 19th Century.  The 1950s.  That’s when Rosie the Riveter was told to put down her wrench, go back to the kitchen, and let the big, brave man handle things again.  Trouble was Rosie would not—or could not—just go back to the bad old days.

Few would want her to now.  After all, women account for a huge percentage of the America’s work force today.  It is highly unlikely that those “persistent” women will just sit down and shut up.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS

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Recently, I watched—again—the award-winning German film The Lives of Others.  I was struck—again—by what a great movie it is.  Although this was the third time I had seen it (maybe the fourth), I was very interested in how the people joining me–who had not seen it–might view it ten years down the road.  I have to tell you: it held up very well for both them and me!  It continues to resonate even though it is still presented in the original German language with subtitles—the acting and the cinematography is that good!

Ten years ago it won the Academy Award as best foreign film.  Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of a Stasi man (think Gestapo or KGB) in East Germany who is required to spy on the life of a playwright.  The film focuses on the needs of totalitarians to suppress the work of artists in a culture and the lengths to which such people will go to dictate and control the lives of others in order to achieve their own private ends.  But it also shows the amazing resilience of the human spirit.

The most memorable line comes late in the movie, after the fall of the Berlin Wall: “And to think people like you once ran a country.”  Of course, having witnessed what is happening and may happen in our own government under the current leadership, I found the film even more powerful this time around.

In their denigration of the press and of artists who not only disagree with them, but also have the courage to call them out for errors in judgement, DT and his cohorts are already at cross-purposes with two of the four freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment: Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech. Nor are they especially respectful of the other two: Freedom to Assemble and Freedom of Religion.

Scary times ahead.

We must never forget that the price of liberty is constant vigilance.

Bottom line: If you have never seen The Lives of Others, hie thee to Netflix (or whatever) and see it.  If you saw it before, see it again.  ‘Tis well worth it.

WHO OBJECTS TO RECOUNTS—AND WHY?

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Ah! The irony (or hypocrisy) of the whole thing!

Trump told us repeatedly that the election was being rigged and now he and his lot object to having votes recounted in States with very narrow margins. Why? Did he really know something all along that few others were privy to?

This election is what it is: a done deal and—if we are not vigilant—a disaster for America that threatens to undo decades of social progress. Social Security, Medicare, and Voting Rights—among other things—are coming under attack. (This is aside from the Affordable Care Act which always gets Republican knickers in a twist—how many times have they voted against it now? And still without a viable alternative.)

But why the big brouhaha over recounting votes?

We are told that (a) yes, indeed, there were instances of voter fraud; (b) some voting machines were so old and obsolete that they did not record votes accurately; and (c) in some cases the machines were hacked into by forces, foreign or domestic, seeking to sabotage this most sacred of democratic processes.

Why on earth would anyone object to finding out if these allegations are true and then try to find ways to preclude their ever happening again?

We already know that we have a systemic problem in voting for the highest office in the land. Several times (five, I think) the distribution of Electoral College votes has turned out to be inconsistent with the popular vote—twice in this young century! That really does need to be remedied, though I would argue for refining the EC, not eliminating it outright. However, that issue is only tangential to the issue of recounting votes.

Recounting all votes for every election would be prohibitively expensive, but it does seem prudent to do when the win/loss margin is only two or three points. The EC issue would require a Constitutional amendment, but voting recounts could be handled legislatively.

However, I won’t hold my breath for the next Congress to address this issue.