March 2018 Archives

Dear America,

The recent marches in the name of sensible gun control staged by high school students in several cities remind me of my own youth when the issue was Vietnam.  In many ways that was a harrowing time, and all young men, even those who weren't against the war but weren't for it either, were apprehensive about the draft, and those of us who were pacifists and were thus against the war were ardent about ending it.  But the combination of motivations gave us something that we carry with us in the way of an understanding of the duty of every American to speak his or her mind to anyone who will listen.  It's now been two generations since we children of the sixties learned our lesson, and there has not been another galvanizing issue to teach that lesson to our young until now.  Unfortunately, largely because of lack of experience the protesters are ill-equipped, or at least not fully equipped, to prevail on their issue, albeit through no fault of their own.  Much like many of the blind advocates of limitless second amendment rights, they are not informed about the issues and thus must resort to the only thing they know--how they feel--for justification of their positions.  I raise this issue because just as in the case of the Vietnam war, there is an argument to be made whether one subscribes to it or not.  But in any case, the argument must be raised; it is insufficient to merely express disapproval of the opposition. 

Vietnam was a long time ago, and for some time the issue of the war defined us as a people.  As it turns out, until now no similarly galvanic issue has come along to make us look at ourselves as a nation, but it has arrived and just as was the case fifty years ago, the argument must be made in cogent fashion so that everyone will at least think about where he or she stands, and then take a peaceful, but ardent position.  That ardor filled the streets during spring break this year, but while the passion was overt, a cogent inspiring argument went unarticulated, though it does exist.  What has been lacking in the gun control debate is an acknowledgment of two central points.  The first is what the second amendment actually says, and that starts with its first four words: "A well regulated militia..."  The phrase well regulated is of the essence, but neither the NRA nor gun advocates ever seem to mention it.  What it means is obvious, yet it never comes into the discussion when self-serving bumper stickers get written: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people," and "You'll have to pry my rifle from my cold, dead hands," for example.  It would be easy to tell such people as fly those flags that plenty of guns have been pried from cold dead hands, and it was guns that made them so, not just the people who fired them.  But we could go tit for tat on that score all day long and it would change not a single mind.  The fact is that our founding fathers had ample regulation in mind when they wrote the second amendment, and they said so in its language.  But there is a greater point that needs to be made.

While avid gun owners make the argument that the right to keep and bear arms is sacrosanct and cannot be rightfully diminished...that it is central to our democratic rights...they fail to recognize that more fundamental than the right to own a gun is the right to freely speak.  Yet, even though the right of free speech has primacy among our rights, at least in my mind, even that right is limited.  Commercial speech--the ads you see on television, for example--are regulated.  And as to slander and liable, while the right of free speech and the bill of rights generally were reinforced by the fourteenth amendment, our Supreme Court has reiterated that even the bill of rights is not absolute, and thus states can afford redress to victims of defamation by slander and liable.  We have the right to worship as we please, but a church that indulges in politics can be denied its tax exemption within the constitution, currently in the form of what is called the "Johnson amendment."  Thus, while we all have the right to keep and bear arms, our government may regulate our doing so as it does many things that are fundamental in the name of the safety and welfare of our people.

I hope that some Florida lawyer seeks to educate the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.   Raised voices and impassioned speeches won't suffice.  The arguments must be made.  There is the constitution, as referenced heretofore, but there is also the more fundamental issue of the right of each of us to be free from the predation of the demented few, and so far, no one has made a successful pitch for that right.  One is needed, and it exists, now most appropriately.  Happy Passover.  Happy Easter.

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

There's finally something on which I agree...in principle...with Donald Trump.  We need tariffs to protect American labor.  As to intellectual property protection, I don't think tariffs are the answer; individual companies being asked to give up their proprietary technology information ceasing to do business with Chinese companies is the answer.  Besides, American corporations are at least as predatory as Chinese companies and the Chinese government, so let them prey on each other.  But labor shouldn't have to pay the price for corporate greed, and the solution to that problem is to charge them tariffs for everything they have manufactured abroad when they bring it into the United States.  To my way of thinking, if it's made abroad, no matter what corporation is making it, it should be taxed when it crosses our border, and the Democrats actually tried to implement such a strategy after the Republicans became the majority.  But Republicans don't think business should pay any price for cupidity, so the effort failed several times.

To make the point, let me reiterate a point made by the New York Times a couple of years ago.  Apple has many of its products assembled in China by a company called Foxconn, I-Phones in particular.  There are differing points of view on this subject, but the reporters for The Times indicated that the cost savings for Apple stemming from using Foxconn instead of American labor was about $5 per unit...$5 on a then $600 unit.  Of course profit is profit, no matter how big or how small.  But even conceding that point, taxing Apple $5 per unit when they cross the border will hardly dent their $250 billion reserves, whereas it might put thousands of Americans back to work.  That is the kind of tariff I endorse: assessing American corporations the savings they reap when using foreign labor.  By American corporations I don't just mean Apple.  Ford makes models in Mexico, as does General Motors.  And of course, Volkswagen and BMW make some of their cars here.  I don't know the details, such as do Americans buy the Volkswagens and BMW's made here or are they exported, or both, but taxing American corporations for making things abroad so that they can sell them here seems like a good idea...a tariff I can get behind without worrying about a trade war.

Unfortunately, that isn't what Donald Trump is enacting.  Instead, he is singling out China with a tariff intended to vindicate American corporate rights to their patented ideas.  Frankly, a punitive tariff doesn't seem quite the good idea that our president makes it out to be.  I think tariffs shouldn't be punitive.  They should be compensatory.  If we tax American manufacturers' goods when they cross the borders of our company in an amount equal to what they saved by getting the work on their products done somewhere else, that is compensatory.  If we tax them twice as much, that is punitive, and that sounds like what Trump is doing with China.  He started out with tariffs on steel and aluminum, but once our allies began screaming, he exempted them--Canada, the EU, etc.--but there is some symmetry in tariffs on Chinese steel as the companies that make the steel are subsidized by the Chinese government, which undermines the position of American labor the same way as does shipping jobs abroad to save a buck here or there.  But imposing a tax as a punishment for general ethical lapses is another thing entirely.

So, I support the idea of tariffs if they actually protect American workers.  If they are intended to protect American businesses though, that's another thing.

I think motive matters in just about everything.  It's often the difference between moral and immoral, or in Donald Trump's case, amoral.  That's why this Russia investigation is so important.  We have democratic remedies for immorality and amorality in government, and the Russians are trying to undermine that system, which protects us from ongoing predation when it works right, and exposes us to it when it doesn't, like in November 2016.  Remember that this November.

Your friend,

Mike



Hillary Clinton won the popular presidential election by almost  3 million votes, and the Democrats decreased the Republican majority in The House by 6 seats and in The Senate by 2 seats.  But for the electoral college, that would have been an unequivocal Democratic win, albeit hardly an overwhelming one, and according to the New York Times magazine of November 5, 2017, Nancy Pelosi said so, more or less,  in a conference call she made to House Democrats the day after Trump "won."  However, immediately upon the announcement of the shocking result of the 2016 presidential election, a myth began to circulate, and we must give Trump himself the preponderance of the credit for its authorship and proliferation, though the Democrats' credence is what made the myth into conventional wisdom.  The myth was that the pollsters had been dramatically wrong when they had predicted a two point Clinton victory--that was in fact her approximate margin of victory in the popular vote--and that the Democratic Party in general had suffered a humiliating rout...that the nation had rejected the Democrats' platform.  But that myth conveniently elides the most important fact about the election: the Republicans won the one thing they did only because Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists had prevailed on the creation of an electoral college a little more than 200 years ago.  The 2016 electoral college gave the presidency to the Republicans--though not until December and then only in the form of a candidate whom they had largely scorned--not the American people, who had given the Republicans virtually nothing.  The fact that the myth of a Republican victory could not only be propagated but could also gain such credence so widely is difficult to comprehend in and of itself.  But the  Democratic Party, other than Nancy Pelosi, sat passively by while it blossomed from a preposterous, predictably self-serving canard propounded by a bombastic commercial real estate developer from New York City known for his braggadocio, into a pernicious and quite possibly malignant lie, and that is profoundly perplexing. 

The Democrats have been in the political arena with the Republicans, under one name or another for each party, for over two hundred years, and while the tactics that operate have evolved, the stakes have always been the same.  American politics has always been about the choice between sole reliance upon the putatively beneficent paternalism of the privileged class on the one hand, and on the creation of real opportunity for the individual to determine his own destiny in a truly egalitarian society under the aegis of a benevolent, and when necessary, provident government on the other.  The two camps may have been defined by shifting lines and everything from nuances to profound differences over the centuries, and their names may have changed--sometimes paradoxically in ways that defy modern reason--but the essential struggle has always been between ordinary individuals and the powerful, sometimes-self-styled oligarchs of the new world.  Yet, the day after the ascent of Donald Trump to power, it all seemed beyond the ken of the Democrats.  They seemed to have no idea either what had happened or what to do about it.  To the Democrats, the reports of the party's death had not been greatly exaggerated, and the wound licking and back bighting began in earnest...and immediately.  The call the Democrats never took up was that the Republicans didn't even win the presidency; The Federalists did, and they did it over two hundred years ago.

"Hamilton"--mind you I haven't seen the play--apparently depicts the life of its eponymous founding father in an honest and unflinching manner, but some of his most influential doctrinal creations, still with us today, are far from the "accomplishments" that his apologists, including the playwright, might imply them to be.  In fact, whether  those who have seen the play concede the point or not, Hamilton was not even a "democrat" in the purist sense in that he favored a buffer between the masses and the governing establishment, a buffer we might today describe as an oligarchy comprising little more than a handful of patricians and plutocrats.  Every American should read The Federalist papers, numbers 62. 63 and 68 in particular, because doing so is the only way to fully appreciate how Hamilton was at once a patriot, an oligarch, a personally ambitious megalomaniac and rampant egotist.  No doubt he would be in Donald Trump's cabinet if he were alive today.  Though Hamilton was known for them, it was not his peccadilloes (for example his affinity for shooting at those by whom he felt insulted) that were responsible for the legacy he left.  It was those enduring organs of our central government that rein in the worst instincts that might otherwise be given expression in the form of state and local governance; Hamilton inspired the federal treasury system that would prevent monetary and financial chaos until this day.  But he also inspired  another legacy, one few mention today.  It put Donald Trump in the White House, and also transmogrified a bicameral congress into a body controlled by what amounts to a superior house, The Senate, which has done nothing rather than doing the right thing for the past seven years.  Our system has an in-built elitism that serves to damp the will of the majority.  The electoral college, the Federal Reserve Bank and The Senate serve us well sometimes, but that bias toward control by a prudent few has also given us Donald Trump.

That observation is born out in the nature of the recurring strident contentiousness between the House of Representatives and The Senate, for example.  If one reads the The Federalist papers numbered 62 and 63 for example, a dichotomy of national philosophy and purpose for our constitution becomes amply apparent.  Both papers regard the function and value of The Senate as opposed to The House, and both were written by either Alexander Hamilton or James Madison--no one knows which for sure--both founding fathers...political progenitors.  In those treatises, the grayer heads and substance of that certain element of our post-revolutionary states' societies that would likely be considered for seats in The Senate--remember that under the original federal constitution elections for those seats were to be held in the state legislatures as opposed to among the voters at large, just as the liege's nobles populated the House of Lords in the British Parliament--is extolled as the agency of stability and mature judgment by the federalists.  And in 62 and 63, it is clear that the founding fathers, at least the three who were responsible for The Federalist papers, were less democrats than oligarchs...less proletarians than plutocrats by nature.  So, it is no wonder that even today, what amounts to class warfare reflective of our society and economy persists in our politics in some shape or form at all times, though we call it anything but.  While the Party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, is today more like the Democrat Party of the period just before the Civil War--two Democrats went so far as to physically attack a fellow senator on the senate floor for giving an ante-bellum speech in opposition to slavery--the poles of the political spectrum are still the same, no matter what their names.  We are broken into two camps with people of various stripes residing between them.  One camp opines that the common man needs protection from predation at the hands of what the other claims that the common man needs for providence, the former being patrons whose largess will trickle down on them like felicitous rain and the latter being realists who know that history does not support the prevalence of such largess.

Paper number 68, among other things a defense of a specific provision of our constitution--Article II, Section I's creation of an electoral college--has been attributed to Hamilton.  That is the provision that relates to the creation of that governed-government interstitial body that was to insulate the central government from the caprice of the populous.  The people were to elect the electors, whom Hamilton presumed would be of sounder judgment and grayer head than the masses could muster on their own, but not The President himself.  The electorate were not to be entrusted with choosing our first "magistrate" as Hamilton referred to him, so the electoral college was to be--much as would be the upper house in our bicameral legislature, The Senate--populated by what Hamilton believed would be an elite of presumed sound origins and mature, stable judgment; if one dispenses with Hamilton's euphemisms, an oligarchy of the wealthy and politically powerful.  Hamilton himself being such a one by virtue of not just hard work but of prudent social connection, including marriage, he had confidence in social Darwinism as a winnowing force by which what Plato might have called philosopher kings, albeit without the asceticism, could paternalistically rule our country.  Put concisely, if Hamilton had been alive in 2016, he might well have spoken for Donald Trump; neither was or is a populist, but both managed to project that they were  when it was convenient, while both paradoxically thought themselves above the common man.  And true to both of their natures if the truth be told, the modern woman had no place in it all.

In one sense then, Hamilton is responsible at least in part for the success of the constitution as an agreed-upon format for our government, including both the electoral college and The Senate, which is relevant for this reason.  Without Hamilton's defense of both bodies, the states of the day, who were not particularly inclined to cede parts of their authority to an overarching body to which they would have to answer, and with the mandates of which they would have to comply, might not have ratified The Constitution, at least not exactly as it was.  They might well have concluded that bodies like an  electoral college and a senate were one step too far toward central power and away from independent local control and egalitarianism.  And if The Constitution, the very document by which we govern our nation today, had not included both of those bodies, how would the 2016 election have turned out.  Who would be president today if The Senate had made it to the final draft but the electoral college had gone the way of all things.

With that perspective on our two main parties in mind, the myth of a Republican juggernaut rolling over what Republicans might characterize as a Democrat Party of the dissipated intellectual elite, takes on a profound significance.  If it continues to prevail, the myth that is, it will gather momentum as will the illusion that Donald Trump is a populist when in reality he is nothing but the crassest kind of hereditarily nouveau riche plutocrat, surrounded in The White House by fellow plutocrats, perhaps even a kleptocrat or two, and a couple of callow family members who double as full-time sycophants.  The voting public has nothing to do with their governance other than that they need its permission to stay in power, and that's the rub for Democrats.  If they sit by and do nothing, or if what they do is to no avail, we might see the persistence of the current climate for a good long time, and though it will be apparent to what used to be called the "silent majority" only after a long series of negative consequences, negative consequences there will be.  That is why it is imperative now that the Democrats coalesce in a single minded effort with what amounts to a single purpose: making sure that both lies and truths get labeled as such, and for that to happen, they must start at the beginning.  They must create a new age of syncretism.  The Democrats must cease to think of the factions of their party and begin to recount and espouse the ideas that have been the staple of the progressive constituency since our founding as a nation.  There is no "Democratic voter."  There are only Americans who need to be served by their government rather than the other way around, and for Democrats to comprise the majority of the governing bodies that must make it so, they must focus on what is to be done rather than on how farmers or sewer workers, store clerks or doctors think about this issue or that.  It is time for an eclectic Democratic Party that picks its policies from among those that serve the prime purpose rather than those that will garner support from this group or that one.

In the 2016 election, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, more than 2% of the votes cast for all candidates including those of the two major parties and the two minor ones as well.  In the House of Representatives nationally, the Republicans got more votes, but they got 2.5% less than they had in the prior election cycle, and that resulted in a loss of six seats.  The reverse was true for the Democrats, who got fewer votes overall, but over 2% more votes than they received during the previous election cycle, and as a consequence, they won the six seats that the Republicans lost.  In The Senate, the Democrats garnered 5 votes for every 4 that the Republicans did, resulting in a gain of two senate seats for the Democrats and a corresponding loss for the Republicans.  Thus, this purported Republican rout was in reality a loss except for the total number of votes that the Republicans got in The House of Representatives, where they lost seats anyway.   But no matter how you look at the numbers, it is abundantly clear that the massive popular mandate that the Republicans implicitly claim they have is chimerical at best.  To put it concisely, the election was not the rued repudiation of the Democrats' platform and policy positions that the Democrats themselves seem to believe it was, which raises the question of what has to be changed for 2018...if anything.

In the first test of the meaning of the popular plurality enjoyed by the Republicans in The House, Speaker Paul Ryan shepherded his ostensible alternative to "Obamacare," the Affordable Care Act, onto the floor of The House for a vote that never happened.  The fractious Republican majority did not comprise enough main-stream representatives to pass the bill, and the balance of the Republicans, presumptuously calling themselves the "Freedom Caucus," balked at every compromise the majority of Republicans put before them, and with that, the bill, or bills as there were several versions, were withdrawn.  Thus, the Republicans failed in their first attempt to bring their conservative constituency to the promised land of health care sans purportedly excessive government intervention.  What became apparent to all was the fact that the Republicans--despite seven years of opportunity to conceive an alternative to the ACA and importuning the electorate to give them the chance to implement it--was not up to the task of delivering on their promise, and that is a dire problem for their party.  The promise to provide a better alternative has been accompanied by constant adverse pressure in both word and executive deed leveled at Obamacare, which was fine for the purpose of vilifying the opposition, but it translated into an inescapable incumbency to do better, and at this juncture, it has become apparent that not only are they unable to deliver, they never had a plan to do so in the first place.  As they say in Washington, those "optics" weren't very good, and The Senate didn't fare any better.  The Republicans' bare faces were hanging out, and it wouldn't be long before the electorate began to get restless in the realization that the hook they had hung their hats on was nowhere to be found after all.  Ultimately, Paul Ryan's Republican House did pass a bill and they punted it to The Senate, but there a couple of senate versions failed to even come to a vote.  Finally, Mitch McConnell coerced enough Republicans into voting to open debate, at least debate in The Senate, so that amendments and the competing visions of healthcare that they manifest could become public...a debate that as it turned out, was just one more internecine conflict.

But the problem for the Democrats is still a problem.  The party made no effective, damaging attempt to point out the red faces that adorned the opposition at the time of those ultimately dispositive failures, and unless they find a way to capitalize on the Republicans' fecklessness--to publicize the inimical effects on the weal of the average voter of either party that derives from the initiatives of the Republican Party--the Republicans will get away with it.  So the question in this limited instance is, how do you hang this albatross around the Republicans' collective neck while eschewing naked partisanship, concomitantly pursuing a noble end for the benefit of the American people, and the answer is in where the ACA started.

The insurance market is business, and business can't be relied upon for anything other than a profit motive.  That is why when the ACA was conceived; it was intended to include a "public option."   That option, which was tantamount to a single payer system running parallel to a regulated insurance market, was even more critical than the mandate to buy insurance or pay the fine the ACA imposed.  Whether the public option took one of the three forms proposed, one of which was buying into Medicare, or it was something else--perhaps a healthcare system like the VA, but for everyone...in other words, socialized medicine--the public mandate was the guaranteed source of healthcare that would keep the private insurance industry honest, and more importantly, competitive.  In the knowledge that if they didn't offer something reasonable the public could turn to government, the insurance industry would have no choice but to provide as much as the government parallel system did and more.  The public option was the bottom layer on which the rest of the pyramid reposed, and it failed because of a contingent in the Democratic Party like the Freedom Caucus in the Republican Party: the "Blue Dog Democrats."  Guess where the Blue Dog Democrats are now.  They're at home...watching.  Thus, if the Democrats want to propose a public option now, they needn't worry about an insurgency within, and if the Republicans don't go along...if the Democrats' initiative fails...the Republicans are going to have to explain it to a very large constituency.  Bernie Sanders is now working out just such a proposal, but it remains to be seen if the Democratic Party recognizes it as not just a practical solution to a major national problem but as a political stratagem as well.

To be sure, a Democrat sponsored bill to supplement the ACA, which is still the law of the land "for the foreseeable future" according to Speaker Ryan himself, would not be a sure thing for the Democrats in the way of moving them toward political hegemony in congress.  It could spawn new resistance to government providence in the area of healthcare like that engendered by the Tea Party movement of 2010, and thus reverse the trend that has led to a current approval margin of 2.8% for the ACA according to the polls averaged by Real Clear Politics when the issue was still a hot button, but it has two things to commend it.  First, it is a remedy for the primary deficiency of the ACA: the unreliable nature of the private, insurance free market.  Providers are withdrawing rather than cutting into profit and administrative margins permitted under the ACA, and perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.  If what private insurers provide is a superior level of coverage outside the ACA as an option for those who can afford it, the insurance market will be appropriately stratified.  But at the same time, the public option would put everyone at liberty to get what he wants in consequence of access to the modicum required to keep body and soul together under the public system if he doesn't want to buy more.  Second, it is a platform on which an alternative like the healthcare systems provided by all of the other advanced, industrialized nations could repose.  Socialized medicine has worked worldwide.  If and as soon as the American people realize first, that we pay fifty percent more of our GDP for healthcare than does the next most expensive nation, and second, that the healthcare systems those nations offer have yielded longer life spans than Americans enjoy, less infant mortality, fewer obstetrical deaths of delivering mothers, and less heart disease morbidity and death than Americans suffer--as soon as the American people realize that they can get more from socialized medicine for less than they pay in a free market system, they will want what is a better deal.  That is the argument that the Democrats have to make starting now...starting with this first step: a bill to create the public option.

Of course, healthcare is only one issue, albeit a gateway issue.  From a more populist perspective on healthcare, the Democratic Party could propound a populist vision for tax reform in which we don't start from the premise that if we make the rich richer, they will invest more to make  more so that we can all have more prosperous lives.  Starting with Ronald Reagan's administration, that canard has failed despite the fact that it has infused itself into the thinking of many economists today.  And now the Republicans have obliged the Democrats in that endeavor with their recently promulgated tax plan, which is so unpopular that it makes the Affordable Care Act look like a popularly perceived panacea.  The tax bill passed, and Donald Trump, one of the thousand or so people most copiously benefited by one or two of its provisions, signed it, which will give the Democrats all of 2018 to study the law's effects and rub the Republicans' collective nose in it.  But without an assiduous effort to expose the tax law for what it is--a sop for Republican donors and the wealthiest one or two percent of our citizenry--the Republicans will get away with it again, just as they did during the Reagan years, which were not the Pax Americana that the Republicans would have us all believe they were, but that's another story.  And of course there is the myriad of other issues on which the Democrats can pronounce a creed that favors those of us who are not rich.  There are voting rights, border tariffs, tax penalties for corporations that move facilities to cheaper labor markets, restoration of a financial regulation scheme like the Glass-Steagall Act, the reenactment of net neutrality, which will be a far bigger issue than anyone imagines now, and on and on.  The key to Democratic success in our politics is drawing the line between their party and the other, and that must always be their strategy.  That is precisely where the Democrats have failed, which brings us to the next consideration for the Democratic Party to ponder.  How do they imbue the collective consciousness of the American electorate with the notion that what the opposition is offering isn't what is best for the American people.  How do they convey to the plurality of the Americans who vote that the other party's claim of affiliation with them is not manifested in what they do, no matter what they say.  How do they communicate to the American people that both as a matter of fact and as an ethical matter, they are more like Democrats than like Republicans.  In other words, the voters must be made to ask themselves what we are as a people, but they must do so in a way that, as of this moment in our political history, seems beyond the grasp of Democratic party strategists in light of their failure to recognize the nature of the battle they have lost and why they lost it.   The issue of the minimum wage makes the point.

The Democrats have staked what they think is a central position in the form of a $15 per hour minimum wage, but that cause merely begs the pivotal issue in our society by posing as a solution to an overarching problem that it doesn't amply address.  As a solution it is partially, albeit problematically functional.  However, it is germane to only a facet of the overall infirmity in our society, one that affects not just Republicans or Democrats, but all of us.  Wage inequality is not the problem; it is the effect of one.  The problem is societal stratification based on individual prosperity, and that is cognizable by every one of every moral and ethical stripe.  Thus, that is the pathway toward political hegemony.  Rather than trying to appeal to the electorate by stressing methods of dealing with the problem as if each method addresses a unique problem, what the Democrats need to do is communicate to the voters everywhere, not just those in urban areas where the minimum wage might be a plausible palliative for economic inequality nor just to those in agrarian America where price supports might be the arena in which the fight to maintain small scale farming is pivotal, the Democrats must appeal to everyone with a single message that permits of varying remedies tailored to a variety of manifestations of the single greatest flaw in capitalism, which is the eventual victory of social Darwinism over secular humanism.  The Democrats must let their message be that Republicans care about things whereas Democrats care about people: that a host of remedies is needed, not a few policies that focus on mostly insular concerns.

So, with all this past as predicate, and with the present being as it is, what should the Democrats do?  Now we are dealing with tactics, the essential strategy having been at least insinuated, and this is the more difficult part of the endeavor.  It begins with a clear understanding of what the opposition is doing, and we can start with the current version of the American Health Care Act, the failed Republican alternative to the ACA, which we might just as well start referring to as "Trumpcare" now, and the blight that the new tax law constitutes.

As to the ACA and the Republican would-be alternative, the deficiencies of the version passed by The House are a function not just of the letter of the law but of what it doesn't cast in stone.  The vaunted referral of pivotal decision making back to the states is the problem for the Republicans because of the record of the states when the decision has fallen to them under federal block grant legislation in the past.  For example, in the nineties under President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich, welfare reform was the touted bipartisan accomplishment, and it included among other things funding welfare with federal block grants to the states.  The Social Security Act of 1935 was to be administered by the states with federal money when it was passed.  But it took only four years for the Roosevelt administration to recognize that block grants won't work because they lead to unequal distribution of the benefits that he wanted to be universal.  Thus, in 1939 our federal congress passed an act amending the 1935 act and bringing control of the four programs that the Social Security Act comprised back to central, federal control.  Similarly, in the case of Louisiana for instance, only 4% of welfare funding actually goes to paying benefits to poor families today.  The rest is characterized by Louisiana's conservative leadership as socially aware and constructive programs, which is in reality just budget relief for Louisiana.  Programs of all sorts are now federally funded with that money, and they may even be good programs ultimately, but they don't literally put food in front of children who now have to go to bed hungry, and feeding those children is what welfare is all about, or at least it was.  Louisiana may be the exception relative to use of federal block grants, but that exception proves the rule that block grants by their nature engender uncertainty among the vulnerable, and the vulnerable vote too, albeit not always wisely.  That is why tactically, the Democrats must find a way in Louisiana, for example, to tie the state's governor, a Republican, and its legislature, Republican dominated, to the persistence of the ordeals of the poor, but how?

First, the Republicans are fabulists as worthy of the appellation as Aesop.  They put labels on things like "the reduction of job killing regulations act" that stick in the minds of a few voters and dogmatists, but almost always, those appellations are no more than wishful thoughts, and that needs to be pointed out in a fashion that will stick to both the Republicans and their ideas and will reach the voters at large so as to expose the demagoguery involved.  For example, Mitch McConnell continually defended his decision to assign drafting a repeal and replace bill behind closed doors to a dozen or so of those gray heads that Hamilton so esteemed by saying that the ACA...Obamacare...was drafted by Democrats to the exclusion of the Republicans.  But the New York Times published the reality on July 23, 2017 as follows: there were 188 Republican amendments to the ACA whereas no amendments from Democrats were ever attached to the Republican plan in The Senate.  As in this case, the Democrats need to label Republican pronouncements that are contrary to the facts as what they are, and they should do so volubly and persistently...on the nightly news.  For example, they can choose a word, like demagoguery, and repeat it often enough that every American knows what it means: inflammatory, self-serving language meant to precipitate fear and loathing.  Repetition is the key, and the voice who does the repeating is most significant.  Thus, with regard to Mitch McConnell and his casuistic effort to legitimate his partisan ploys, the voice of the Democratic Party needs to get on the news as many evenings as possible and repeat in one form or another the fact that Republicans were included in the drafting process for the ACA, and in fact, many of their ideas are still a part of it.  After all, the first iteration of what became the ACA--universal coverage of Americans through the free market for insurance--was published by a contingent from the Heritage Foundation, and it became the law under a Republican governor, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  But who can be the voice heard 'round the nation?  Who can get on the news a few nights per week.  Who can be the effective voice of the Democratic Party.   As it turns out, it may be Donald Trump.

Over the past weeks, Trump has ruffled the feathers of Republicans and conservatives generally with his commitment to imposing a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum.  The Republicans are pleading with him to forego what they characterize as protectionism in opposition to free trade, but the fact is, that is what Trump promised during his campaign.  The big fish is hooked when it comes to international economic comity at the expense of working Americans, and his best allies in his crusade to restore American hegemony worldwide is...wait for it...the Democrats.  The Democrats have been skewering the Republicans over their failure to penalize corporations that export jobs producing goods primarily consumed in this country since 2010 when the Republicans took the majority of seats in The House.  Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in The Senate, even threatened to bring up a bill to impose tax consequences on such corporations ad infinitum, but he did it almost silently.  I can recall the threat making the evening news only once, and for the past year and a half, the problem of the lack of Democratic visibility has been exacerbated.  It's all Trump all the time now, but as of the past week, that's good news.  If the Democrats become the party that brought jobs back to the United States when Trump's own party refused to do so, the limelight becomes wider, and the Democrats get their share of the publicity that is the lifeblood of every politician.  Donald Trump may well be the savior of the Democratic Party and the catalyst that brings about Democratic hegemony in congress.

This debate over tariffs is a golden opportunity, especially if a debate over the other partisan differences that prevail can be dragged along in tandem, but the party needs one clarion, if not stentorian voice to make it so.  That voice...a single voice...must speak for a univocal democratic party.  For example, Howard Dean, M.D. is a man whom people know.  And while he was an erratic cheerleader as a presidential candidate, he has become the avuncular voice of the progressive movement...less the party operative and more the doctor for a generation of everyone's family, and who doesn't trust his family doctor.  If Dean calls a press conference once every week or so, people will show up as they do when Mitch McConnell does.  Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer can't do that because he is perceived as a partisan.  Dean however no longer bears the mantle, or would it be a stigma in this case, of party shepherd, but the current party chairman, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, is someone whom no one knows.  Perhaps President emeritus Obama could do it, but he still engenders controversy among those intransigent hard-core conservatives who dislike him because of race, perceived liberality, and the ACA in particular.  Dean is the man for the job...or at least one viable candidate for it.  He speaks forcefully and cogently, and he has a certain colloquial appeal.  If nothing else, he is a paradigm for the party to look toward when making its strategic choice, but whoever it turns out to be, he or she must recognize the formidable obstacle to progressive re-emergence that the Republicans represent. 

The Republicans have dominated the dialectic raging between liberalism and conservatism for the past seven years since they took back Thee House in 2010.  There are several reasons: the fractiousness of the Democratic Party prevented effective implementation of the liberal platform; The Republicans could rest their laurels on their obstruction because they were not in power and could not implement their own platform; though the Democrats were in the majority up until 2010, the blue dogs effectively made the conservative movement the wielder of a veto for every progressive initiative, and thus rendered their own party an effete, putatively unpopular minority without the power that their numbers portended.  Now, the Republicans are in the same boat, and it is incumbent on the Democratic Party to use their weakness in that regard in the same way in which it was used against them when they were in that position, which so far the Democrats are managing to do, but only because the only thing they have to do is stand aside.  They need a party regimen that will allow them to continue to do so when the Republicans realize what has hit them.  The Democrats barely managed their last effort at ruling from hegemony when they passed the ACA just days before Scott Brown gave the Republicans the power to filibuster by replacing Ted Kennedy in The Senate.  The House Democrats passed the Senate version of the ACA because they could no longer get a house version passed, and that was necessary because of the 35 or so Blue Dogs and Bart Stupak and his cadre of putative conservatives, which I sardonically dubbed the Stupettes, who almost interdicted even that effort.  Now, the Republicans have an analog to the Blue Dogs: the "Freedom Caucus", speaking of demagoguery.  And the Democrats need to engineer their tactics around them because they give the Democrats a majority with which to work against any main-stream Republican initiative, like quashing Trump's effort to impose tariffs on economic adversaries.  The Democrats must wield an effective majority just like the one wielded by the Republicans when they were the minority party.  And with Donald Trump as the propounder of  this central theme of economic justice in the midst of corporate and international predation, well, what have they got to lose.    
Dear America,

This past Friday, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's pusillanimous, scrofulous sycophant of an Attorney General, fired Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director of the FBI closest to the Russian- election-influence investigation and the immediate supervisor of that investigations leader, Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  The grounds for the firing on the eve of McCabe's eligibility for full retirement benefits--and I mean literally on the eve...late in the day before that eligibility would have commenced--were far less credible than was the retributive motivation behind the action of Trump's minion.   But all the specific facts aside, this firing puts us on the verge of the abyss of a constitutional crisis.  There is no doubt that Trump ordered the firing, either directly or in the style of Henry II's utterance to his nobles, often quoted as "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest,"  and that evokes another constitutional crisis. 

In late October of 1973, Archibald Cox was the Special Prosecutor, the seventies equivalent of today's special counsel, running the Watergate break-in investigation and its sequacious inquiry.  Cox was seeking production by Richard Nixon of some surreptitiously recorded tapes of conversations he had had in the Oval Office that related to the break-in and covering it up, and Nixon--for reasons that became when the Supreme Court subsequently ordered them produced--was refusing to comply with subpoenas.  The legalities are not what's important today, but the principles involved are virtually identical to those implicated in the events of last Friday.  It is not yet clear that Donald Trump is guilty of some misfeasance, though anyone who has followed his career both in business and the presidency has little doubt that he is.  But the furor in The White House, emanating from both Trump and his surrogate lawyers, certainly casts suspicion on The President, who seems pathologically hapless when it comes to defending himself in public discourse.  That's because, to paraphrase an old joke, you know when Trump is lying; his thumbs are moving.  He continues to obsess about the firing of James Comey--he  should have been fired but because of how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation rather than the Russia investigation, but Trump couldn't even manage that subterfuge--and by implication Jeff Sessions for his recusal from the investigation, which led to the appointment of Mueller in the first place, and one cannot help but wonder why, other than egotism, Trump can't let it go.

This all runs parallel to 1973, and perhaps 1974 when a bill of impeachment forced Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace.  Nixon had made the mistake of appointing a Republican with integrity to the Attorney General post.  Elliot Richardson, a uniquely handsome and poised Boston Brahman who was a Republican when being one didn't yet impute rumpled suits and intellectual dishonesty.  Nixon openly instructed Richardson to fire Cox, and Richardson resigned rather than comply, as did his assistant, William Ruckelshaus, a Hoosier of similarly unimpeachable character and respectability.  That left Robert Bork, a poltroon worthy of comparison to Sessions, who ascended to the post of Attorney General from that of Solicitor General when Ruckelshaus resigned.  Bork was sufficiently self-serving that he complied, later to be rejected as a nominee to the Supreme Court--most likely because of it--only to see Richard Nixon, under threat of impeachment, appoint Leon Jaworski to succeed Cox.  Jaworski pursued Nixon and his recalcitrance to the Supreme Court and the tapes, ultimately the coup de grace, had to be produced and listened to by the entire nation.  My guess is that despite persistent denunciations of the rumor by Trump and his minions, our president is preparing to fire Mueller, and the Republican Party of today will take the course of the party of 1974 and impeach Trump.  The difference will be that Trump in his arrogance will stay on to be tried...and convicted not for the ostensible collusion that inspired this whole mess, but for the interference with justice that he has pursued since.

Just a thought.   



Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

It is strange that the Republicans, conservatives in particular, never learn when it comes to some things?  Larry Kudlow--the "trickle-down" CNBC financial commentator who thought the "bubbleheads" who were predicting doom in consequence of the sub-prime mortgage phenomenon were nuts in 2007--is now going to lead President Trump's economic counsel.  With his counsel guiding them, how can a Republican inspired recession be very far behind.  And the movement to mitigate the impact of the Dodd-Frank Act--which was passed only to prevent another financial catastrophe like that which Kudlow predicted was nothing but a figment of alarmists' imaginations--managed to pass an act through The Senate with the collusion of a few moderate Democrats supporting them on what apparently seemed to the Democrats to be a staunching of free market zealotry worth taking a hit for.  But in The House, the Republican chairman of the Banking Committee, Jeb Hensarling, is squelching any conservative optimism that the bill might pass in favor of a pedantic insistence on von Mises-Hayek style free market dogmatism.  And then there's the Pennsylvania special election for a soon-to-be extinct, Republican gerrymandered congressional seat, in which they had to call off their television campaign tactic of touting the recent tax cuts as a Republican boon for the middle class when they discovered that less than half the country think it was a boon to anyone they might know, much less to themselves.

They don't seem to realize that when the average American asks himself what was the last thing to trickle down on him, money is the last thing that comes to mine.  That may be because a few years ago, our congress crossed a Rubicon of sorts: more than half of its members were millionaires.  How can such people be expected to understand the moral vacancy of their policies when they already have theirs...and most likely so does everyone they know.  I read the columns of David Brooks and Paul Krugman in the New York Times this morning and I realized that my style of commentary runs more to the snarky style of Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, than it does toward the restrained, albeit slightly didactic style of David Brooks, the intellectual, and frankly, I found myself disappointed in myself.  But as that realization was coming into consciousness, I also realized that Brooks and Krugman were saying the same things today though the former is a realistic conservative and the latter is a rabid liberal.  It is a thing I have said in every election cycle since I started writing these letters.  The 2018 election is not as much about policy as it is about who we are as a people, and though we are of ethnically diverse backgrounds, variegated levels of education and a panoply of different religions, we are a people.  We are the American people, and we are better than what our politics reflect at the moment.

Both Brooks and Krugman commented today about the lapse into partisan expediency that the Republicans have allowed to co-opt what used to be a commitment to what they characterized as integrity and character.  Brooks expressed the fear that in an attempt at political self-preservation the Democrats might suffer the same moral and ethical lapse.  Krugman said little if anything about the Democrats, but he pointed to the same moral bankruptcy in the Republican ranks as did Brooks.  The Republicans inadvertently elected just such a president, a president for the Republican Party of today, not that of yesterday.  And they have been reluctant to reject his lack of an acquaintance with candor and his possession of only passing familiarity with either the truth or reason, they cleave to his every misguided pronouncement.  Trump continues to control the minds and loyalty of something in the range of 35-40% of the electorate, and in this year in which Republican "accomplishments" aren't seemingly defined as such universally... even among Republicans...they are afraid as a party to lose even a few of what appears to be a minority on which they must capitalize if they wish to stay in power.  And since staying in power trumps, if you'll excuse the expression, a desire to do the right thing in the Republican ethos of power, what their man Donald says, goes.

But the fact is this, America.  The image of the "ugly America" that prevailed around the world in the fifties is enjoying a second coming.  While I don't necessarily care what the world thinks of us as a nation, in this instance I do because I share their perception of what we have become.  So if you despair over what it has come to mean abroad when you are called "an American," remember to vote in November, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.  Vote for someone who cares about his or her fellow man, not just his or her party. 

Your friend,

Mike

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