August 2017 Archives


This past week's "white noise" out of the administration was typical in its vapidity and occasionally sophomoric venom, but perhaps for the first time, I heard Donald Trump say something with which I agreed...something I have been saying for years: the filibuster rule should be abrogated.  Of course this perhaps most profound of legislative reforms got buried in the various self-serving pronouncements we heard, and they were all worthy of scorn.  Despite his campaign promise to get us out of Afghanistan, he is adding more troops to our contingent in the international force on the ground--not enough to change anything; just enough to get a few more Americans killed and add a few billion to the cost of our effort.  And of course there was the abuse hurled at congress, Republicans in particular, for their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which I must concede to have been earned given that they had seven years to plan to either put up or shut up, and they did neither.  Trump's warning that come 2018 they will pay a price at the polls is probably correct, but I call that just deserts.  Of course there was the rebuke of "the fake media" over its treatment of his tardy condemnation of nazis and his half-hearted defense of it thereafter, characterizing some of the "alt-right" demonstrators at Charlottesville "good people" as if the fact that some gun-toting fascists pay their taxes and voted for him vindicates them, and on and on in typical Trump fashion, but the filibuster issue he got right.

The rules surrounding the filibuster allow senators in both parties to, in effect, vote without going on the record.  What happens is that some senator proposes "cloture" of debate, which takes 60 votes.  Cloture is just a fancy way of saying we are going to stop talking about this now, but as long as debate is still possible--that is a motion for cloture isn't passed--debate is still open and a vote cannot be taken.  As a consequence, when an unpopular bill like The Senate's version of the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare comes up for consideration, the failure to close debate would be its death knell, except that in this particular case, the bill had been declared budgetary and thus beyond the reach of the filibuster rule.  A simple majority of 51 votes could pass the bill.  That tactic was necessary because it made Democratic votes superfluous except for the fact that the Republicans couldn't get even a simple majority to vote for their own legislation, much less the "supermajority" necessary to end a filibuster.  So, in the end the filibuster rule is the tip of an iceberg that is sabotaging democratic process in our ostensible democracy, as is the identification of bills as budgetary which allows a party with a bare majority avoid the filibuster and thus circumvent the rule that allows circumvention of democracy.  Thus, getting rid of the filibuster is a double tap for partisan manipulation of the process because averting the rule by claiming the budgetary exemption would become meaningless and hence one less way in which a slender party majority can be made insurmountable.  The capacity of a simple majority to pass a bill would require every senator to go on the record with regard to every issue since any senator has the power to propose a bill if he sees an issue that requires legislation.  If every issue were susceptible of resolution in the form of legislation, electoral democracy would be restored and the power of the popular vote would be restored.  No senator could claim that his hands were tied and party politics could no longer insulate candidates from issues by subversion of a vote.

Of course, the filibuster issue should be resolved concomitantly with the parallel issues that protect the majority party from going on the record in The House.  The speaker of the House can prevent a vote on an issue by departing from what they euphemistically call "regular order" on that side of the capital.  That rule should disappear too, and then, our country would be back in our hands.  But I think Donald Trump didn't think that all through.

After all, he came to power because of the dysfunction in our congress.  If the dysfunction goes away, the need for a dysfunctional president goes with it. 

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

At least in my opinion, the two most critical qualities for a president are perspicacity and aplomb, neither of which has been displayed by our president in his North Korea war of words.  As to perspicacity, consider the fact that we have a president who evinces a bellicose nature regularly.  His pugnacious tendencies bare themselves every day on Twitter, directed a anyone who doesn't see things the way he does, usually with a disproportionate amount of bile.  Threatening is his practically his m├ętier and has been since he took over his father's business and enlisted Roy Cohn as his mentor and spiritual advisor.   As to North Korea's pugnacious leader, I see little to distinguish him from our own.  But relative to nuclear weapons, Kim Jung-Un sees them in China and the United States, possibly arrayed against his country, and he can't help but have taken note of the fact that the United States and the members of NATO have refused to  pledge not to be the first users of nuclear devices in conflict.  Compound that fact with the fact that so many nations--China, Russia, Great Britain, Pakistan, India, France, United States and Israel, plus the NATO nations that share the nuclear weapons of the nuclear powers who are members--have control of nuclear weapons and interests adverse to North Korea's and there is reason for understanding of North Korea's determination to arm itself in an armed and hostile world.  That is not to defend the North Korean quest for nuclear armament with missiles to deliver them all over the world, nor is it to even commiserate with the country's leadership, but a little perspicacity might yield a more temperate and productive tone from our president.

As to aplomb, Donald Trump has always been prone to shooting from the hip rather than thinking first and demonstrating poised deliberativeness.  He is quick to sue in business, secretive, devious and eager to react viciously in order to prove that he is fierce.  That is how he thinks human relations are to be carried out, and he acts with alacrity rather than contemplation when confronted by a problem, which is what the apparent acceleration of North Korea's nuclear program is for everyone.  But if Trump thought about what he would have done were he in Kim's position, he would probably see that his conduct would have been exactly the same.  After all, a rational national leader could well be expected to ask why his state should cower in the face of power held elsewhere when he could have that same power with which to defend himself, not just from attack but from the threat of attack, manifest or de facto.  The effort to stifle nuclear weapon development in other countries seems hypocritical coming from a nation with 5,000 war heads mounted on ICBM's, especially in light of the fact that in the '80's, Ronald Reagan declined as U.S. President, Mikhail Gorbachev's invitation to  begin the process of mutual nuclear disarmament in lieu of the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation.  If Donald Trump had bothered to think about what Kim sees and believes before shooting off a threat, he might have been more inclined to admit how this all looks and show some of the aforementioned perspicacity.  Instead, he chose to react rashly, which might just confirm Kim's arguably justified fears and suspicions.  So much for aplomb.

So, now what do we do as a nation.  Perhaps we should indulge in another era of bomb-shelter construction as a new cold war breaks out.  Maybe all there is to do is wait for the first salvo, or possibly we could do this: we could impeach Donald Trump sooner rather than later...or have him committed.  Whichever works is okay by me.

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

It appears that Donald Trump suffers from performance anxiety in at least one area of his life.  Apparently, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal was interviewed on CNN this morning and he commented on the investigation of possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  The comments as I read them were relatively tame and far from out of the mainstream of the news coverage that occurs on the networks every day regarding the Mueller investigation , but  Donald Trump took umbrage, or I think likely became more apprehensive about all this "Russia-gate" stuff.  The President sent out a tweet raising Blumenthal's campaign contra tempt regarding his military service during the Vietnam era, though not in Vietnam per se despite the good senator's claims to the contrary: a less than savory "mistatement."  To be frank, as a voter in Connecticut I cast my vote for Blumenthal, but I did so because the Republicans ran such a dubious candidate against him--Linda McMahon, whose sole claim to fame was her work within the administration of her husband Vince's "professional wrestling" empire--and still only after due deliberation.  In the end, when I compared Blumenthal's service as Connecticut attorney general for many years to McMahon's experience with making money out of an enterprise that has been accused of jeopardizing the health of its employees, Blumenthal won in not just my opinion, but in the opinions of a majority of Connecticut voters.  But this morning, Blumenthal's comments about the grand jury, and the suspicions it is directed toward, elicited a blistering reprise of previous Trump twitter enfilades on the topic of Blumenthal's military service, which raised this question in my mind.  Given Trump's own dubious escape from military service in Vietnam because he purportedly had a bone spur of some kind, why would he risk bringing it up and thus reminding everyone of his own peccadilloes in that regard?  His medical deferment after a long series of student deferments raises certain questions, some involving his father's influence, so why invite his critics to consider a fresh inquiry into them...unless...

Trump's approval among voters is at lows never seen by new presidents before.  True, his loyal following remains loyal, but their number has fallen from 45% on inauguration day to only about 37% of the electorate now.  And with more than 60% of the electorate somewhere from unimpressed by his performance to outright enraged by it, there isn't likely to be a groundswell of support for him if push comes to shove, if you know what I mean.  I suspect that that explains Trump's Twitter imprudence...or recklessness...or desperation.  He is afraid of getting caught the way that Richard Nixon did.  If you recall, Nixon didn't really do anything wrong himself until the Watergate burglars did.  Then, fearing that the link of the burglars to his reelection campaign would besmirch him, he began interfering with the investigation into the burglars' activities.  Now, we have at least one account of Trump, Sr. counseling Trump, Jr. to fudge his answer to an official inquiry about his motivations for going to a meeting with a lawyer who turned out to be a former Russian spy.  And if Sr. did that, who knows what else he has been doing.  Given his conduct in business--remember that he declared bankruptcy for one of his casinos at least once after floating some corporate bonds so as to pay another one of his companies for services rendered and make himself whole while leaving those who bought the bonds to suffer the bankruptcy loss--suspicion seems eminently justifiable.

The President has no real "bully pulpit" to rage from given his lack of favor among voters and credence from them, not to mention the moral high ground, so he bullies on Twitter because bullying of some kind is the only way he knows to get what he wants, which he usually hasn't earned.  He has millions of followers on Twitter, but Richard Blumenthal probably has only a fraction of Trump's number.  Thus, Trump can make his indictments of others, in this case the Connecticut senator, without fear that the objects of his screeds will be able to effectively respond...safety in numbers, to misuse an old saw.  But the risk in this case is that his response to one investigation could precipitate another...regarding draft evasion, perhaps the scandal equivalent of White Water.  It all smacks of growing anxiety in the White House, and in the Oval Office in particular...performance anxiety.  As the Australians say, good on him.

I won't try to deny my disdain for Trump, his kith and his kin.  Trump is only two months older than I am, so I have been seeing "The Donald's" face on the news--emerging from limousines, dating super-models and holding press conferences about exploits that he extols as "fantastic" but that in reality are nothing but self-flagellation--for over forty years...ever since he took over his father's money and business in 1974.  If you think about the effect on others of that kind of narcissism and egomania, I'm sure you can understand how those of us who have been exposed to it relentlessly, millions of us, are getting pretty sick of him.    

Your friend,

Mike

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