Corruption, Mandate, Recount, Soc Sec, Medicare, Medicaid

  • At Stinque, nojo grasps at anecdotal not-quite-evidence of a movement of Trump supporters to lock up a former Presidential candidate – – just not Hillary.
  • Last Of The Millenniums brings to the table a petty illustration of what corruption awaits the nation in the next administration
  • Donald Trump says that conflicts of interest can’t really exist if the President is the one engaging in setting policy for his own gain. Capt. Fogg at Human Voices examines Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code and thinks after Mr. Trump becomes President, he may indeed be legally free to engage in financial corruption.
  • Tommy Christopher, at Shareblue, seems skeptical about the election “mandate” claimed by the Trump campaign staff, especially considering the size of Hillary Clinton’s lead among voters.
  • Vixen Strangely at Strangely Blogged, doesn’t think a recount in strategic states will affect the Presidential result, but is still grateful to Green candidate Jill Stein for insisting on the reappraisal and confirmation.
  • Iron Knee at Political Irony notices that the Trump campaign has altered its websight. The promise not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid has been quietly removed.
  • Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is of special interest to those of us in Missouri. Before President Bush appointed him to lead the Justice department, he was our former Senator. He was defeated for re-election to the Senate by the deceased Mel Carnahan, who remained on the ballot after his death in a plane crash.
    Jon Perr at PERRspectives reports on Mr. Ashcroft’s strange defense of Donald Trump’s presumed choice for his Attorney General. The well documented racist incidents from the past of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions are dismissed as “30-year-old falsehoods” and “baseless attacks”. Really?

Thanksgiving in Tragic Loss

As with many of my friends, the election of Mr. Trump, the ascension of those who conducted the most divisive and xenophobic campaign of my lifetime, has left me shaken. We are patriots who are discovering the depth of painful love of country. Within our nation, a near majority seemed to have turned against the most primal of our national values. What are we to do now?

Tragedy combines with painful injustice. Racial conservatives who dally with white supremacists have taken control of the Presidency, despite being rejected by the voters. They have control of the Senate, despite the fact that most who cast their ballots were in opposition. It appears likely the same may turn out to be true of the House.

The season of Thanksgiving, especially, takes a toll. This year, this election year, for what are we to express our annual attitude of gratitude?

Many of us look to entertainment media for periods of relief, finding sanctuary in history, science, or simple fictional escapism. Sometimes, I find the words of prophets on the subway walls of popular culture. One of my favorite bits of dialogue comes from the Jesse Stone series, as a friend betrays with a deadly weapon.

I was growing really fond of you.
I’m sorry to put you though this.

This? This is nothing.
I just had to bury my dog.

I can relate to that inspired bit of scripting. We recently had to put down one of our two dogs. When the pair were a pair, my loved one called them our “cuckoo pups.” Ray was the larger crazy hound. He had grown especially close to me. When I would sit near him he galloped to me, making little gurgling sounds as I held him.

When he was briefly afflicted with an ear infection, my holding him became a sort of palliative, calming his panic at the pain. There was in that gentle embrace, a sort of implicit promise that he would be okay. He believed that promise, and it came true.

Liver failure paid its visit to him suddenly. It was hard to know for sure, he was so lethargic and helpless at the end, but being close so he could see us seemed to help. Death came quickly as the veterinarian did what she had to.

I had mixed feelings. I was glad we were there for him, that he could see us. But part of me felt that I had lied to him. Being there was reassurance that he would be okay. Did he trust my promise? My false promise before death claimed him?

Later, I wept.

Sometimes hard times, painful events, provide a sort of hard won invulnerability. This? This is nothing. I just had to bury my dog.

We have all experienced hard times that go way beyond cuckoo pups. For most of us, some tragedies have been life altering.

Family breakups, deaths of loved ones, betrayals, disappointments, heartbreaking loss are all part of the human experience. When emptiness seems all that is left of life, when each morning brings a new ocean of pain, most of us have survived by placing one foot in front of the other for what has seemed forever. In some cases, we are granted, for a time, a sort of emotional invulnerability. Nothing more can shake us. This? This is nothing. I just had to bury a loved one, or a trusted relationship, or a lifetime dream, what I had valued most.

Some have borrowed some comfort from human history. And we can find many examples. History is filled with pain.

The pain of others has often been a warning or the invocation of gratitude. There but for the grace of God…

Generations of children were sternly ordered to be thankful for their wellbeing. “Think of the starving Armenians” became an old cliché that outlived its usefulness.

The Armenians were real. In 1915, one of the last acts of the Ottoman Empire was the killing off of ¾ of the population of Armenia. Most of the victims died from forced starvation. Newspaper photography was just coming into its own at about that time. Readers around the world were shocked by what they saw on their front pages. For most of the rest of the century, popular culture carried the phrase “starving Armenians.” We must be grateful we are not among them.

Even as a child, that sort of gratitude struck me as cruel. Gratefulness for being spared seemed to me an implicit gratitude that others had suffered. This? This is nothing. Children in other countries are dying horribly.

A parallel sort of thankful prayer left me feeling relief combined with a modicum of guilt. Our young Marine was stationed in Afghanistan. Marines at his base had been killed in an enemy infiltration at about the same time as we lost contact with him. Several days of anxiety went to fear. When he arrived home safely, I later apologized in prayer for the bitter words I had whispered to my God. I was left emotionally confused by our relief. I had prayed that the pain of loss be visited on other families, that our Marine be spared. This? This is nothing. We could have lost a son.

My loved one spoke recently about the loss of this election. Her words seemed to echo, and in their echo made real, the dialogue that had belonged to fictional scripting. They reflected some of what we see in print, as black people address white people of good will. “This is nothing,” she said. “We’ve always been going through this. We’ve been going through this for as long as our ancestors have been here.”

It may be possible to draw a more primary strength from tragic history than the gratitude of epic Passover. As Christians, some of us may look to the unselfish surrender of Paul and others to whatever an oppressive empire had in store for them. We can join with those who have a different set of beliefs, and with those who hold to no particular dogma at all, in looking to more recent oppression in our own country.

When we are at our best, our moments of reflection go beyond the childish gratitude at being spared the suffering of others. We can rise above our anxious fear for a loved one in danger, or our relief when danger settles on another.

We can draw strength from example. Each of us has known someone who has displayed a lonely courage, standing tall as tragedy approached.

Together, we can look to the quiet forbearance of those we have in common. The civil rights heroes of American history were often far from honored, except in retrospect. They are joined in quiet dignity by countless others whose suffering and death remain unwritten, unmarked, unknown. Their names are lost to history, but their example of strength remains.

Their struggles, honored as they are in the Book of Life, are much greater than any that are likely ever to be required of us. Their examples humble us. Any slight courage we may be called upon to demonstrate will not come to even a fraction what they proved, often up to the moment of death.

We do share with those icons a similar duty that goes beyond ourselves, beyond our disappointment, beyond even our heartbroken love of country. We share with them a duty to those most vulnerable, to the targets, to the victims, to those who are to be subjected to changes now beyond our influence. It is time to go from our moments of despair to those who ought to matter.

A free society offers opportunity to seek out others of like mind, to seek out each other for mutual support. We can put our disappointment to work, to volunteer, to change things. We can let those who have most to fear know they will not stand alone.

This Thanksgiving, we can think about examples of courage, the depth of which is beyond our imagination. We can listen to the wisdom that history whispers to us. It is a history of lost presidents and heroes, of children who died as strange fruit hanging from the branches of southern trees. A King named Martin has been taken, as have countless others who preceded and who followed.

But the heroes of our common history have been sustained by mothers and fathers and family. Families have extended to grandparents and cousins and beyond: even to strangers of good will who were willing to support.

These are the true founders of what is best in an America that will be great again.

This? This election? This is nothing.

We are finished grieving. Now let’s get to work.

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Time Travel, Party Loyalty, Irish Eyes, New Bosses, Veterans Day

Electoral College Gets
a Failing Grade

Mind experiments worked well enough for Erwin Schrödinger to get him a magical cat. Let’s try it here, shall we?

Now, let’s suppose your city government decides that democracy, as most of us know it, is just too dangerous.

Too dangerous.

So a council member comes up with an idea. In each election from now on, individual votes will not be counted individually. Instead, only city streets will get to vote.

City streets.

Oh, your vote will be counted, but it will be counted according to how your street voted. If you and 47 of your neighbors all vote for Candidate X …

(that’s 47 for X)

…but 49 other voters on your street vote for Candidate Y …

(that’s 47 for X, 49 for Y)

…all 96 votes, including yours, will count for Candidate Y.

You might really dislike Candidate Y. You might have volunteered to campaign for Candidate X, urging your neighbors to vote for Candidate X. You might even have a sign on your lawn: “Why Y? Vote X instead!”

No matter. If Candidate Y, the candidate you detest, gets a few more votes on your street than Candidate X, your vote for X will get switched, and it will now count for Y.

And that’s the plan. Any objections?

Okay, so someone objects.

Hey, says the protester, that’s not fair. The longest city street will have lots and lots of city blocks, and lots and lots of votes all bundled up together into one block vote. And the teeny tiny little street with only one or two blocks and only a few voters will get overrun by that long, long street. That leaves little streets out in the cold.

Unplowed every damn winter.

So the city council comes up with a compromise. They’ll count the voters in advance and invent about 20% more. They’ll call them “Street Votes.” The street votes will be divided up by street. Each city street, large or small, will get the same number of street votes to add to their block vote. That should equalize small and large streets, right?

This all doesn’t help you very much if you voted for Candidate X, but your vote for X gets turned around and counted for Candidate Y, You vote for X, but your vote gets counted for Y, because that’s how a few more of your neighbors voted.

There’s a word for that form of government. It’s called insanity.

But it has its defenders. It protects us from the tyranny of the majority, says the mayor. It protects small streets from big streets, says the City Council. It’s nuts, says anyone who has any sense.

Now you know we’re not talking about city streets, right? We’re talking about the United States Constitution as it has been fictionalized in lots of history textbooks. We’re talking about the Electoral College as many of us learned it in school.

This mind experiment might not buy any cats, but it does buy us an interesting body of historical falsehood. It didn’t happen the way lots of folks of my generation were taught. You know the lessons. Tyranny of the majority is averted. Conflict between small states and big states gets settled in a grand compromise by awarding 2 extra votes to each state.

Never happened. At least not that way.

What many of us were taught in school was a lie that started in the late 1800s. It began with publication of research by Professor William Dunning of Columbia University. It hit American textbooks in the early to mid 1900s. It hit the virgin minds of many of us in our classrooms right after that.

It was easy for us as children to believe that the crazy quilt device of choosing a President came from some solid set of principles. We were good little students and we knew teachers were telling us the rock steady truth.

Now that we are adults, we might ponder the fact that the reasoning we learned as children for this patchwork electoral system is as crazy as crazy can be. Then, we might go beyond that and consider the possibility that those writing the Constitution were not, in fact, insane.

Professor Dunning and his band of students were patriots who were emotionally invested in finding ways to deny what their research had to have been telling them.

Horrible truth is often the first casualty of wishful thinking. And they very much wanted a nation still shaken by the Civil War to experience brotherhood and peace. “Love your neighbor,” the scriptures taught. And your neighbors were not simply the folks next door. They were white, Caucasian folks everywhere.

Denial of blatant racism at the founding of our democracy became an easy exercise.

We can find the actual truth, and modern scholars are finding it, by skipping past the Dunning school of history and going to the original record.

There was no transcript of the Constitutional convention. But there were diaries and daily accounts by participants. They were there. They knew.

There was only a brief mention of large versus small states in the debate about how to elect a President. And that brief mention was coupled with the one and only mention of any principle involving distrust of a majority vote for President.

Those two issues were introduced by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. We mostly remember Mr. Gerry for his way of creative allocating of voting districts. His name was distorted a little when gerrymandering was named after him. We really ought to call it Gary-mandering.

He, and his two issues (large versus small and distrust of a majority vote), were hooted down and were not mentioned again at the Constitutional Convention. At least not in connection with the election of Presidents.

But there was debate about the Presidency, and lots of it. It mostly involved slavery.

That actual recorded, documented, real debate is reinforced by common sense.

Conservatives were for a representative republic as long as there was no chance democracy would interfere with slavery. So they insisted that the President must be elected state by state. Every state would get the same number of electoral votes as they had Congressional districts. Plus they were given two more votes per state – one for each Senator.

Then they got to the real trick.

Conservative slaveholders insisted that the number of electors, as well as the number of Representatives in Congress, must be determined by counting all residents. Those residents included slaves.

So slaveholders would cast votes for themselves. Plus they would cast the votes of their slaves. That would rig the vote enough to give them power for at least the next four score and seven years, give or take a Civil War.

Liberal delegates from the North didn’t exactly say no. They pretty much said Hell No! Eventually the two sides compromised. Southern conservatives would have their votes amplified by counting their own votes plus the votes of 3/5 of the slaves, slaves not being allowed to vote on their own.

The 3/5 philosophy resurrected this year with the refusal of Republicans to vote on President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The unspoken thought seemed to be that the Constitutional role of nominating Justices by the first African-American President was only valid for 3/5 of his final term.

For the most part, the patchwork system of electing a President, the anti-democracy system that came from stacking the deck toward slavery, has none-the-less coincided with the votes of … well … voters. But not always. In four cases, the candidate who got the most votes did not get the White House. The candidate rejected by voters became President instead.

One argument is often advanced by those who paraphrase those who, in turn, paraphrase one recent biography of James Madison. The argument didn’t start with this biography. It was invented and echoed in the late 1800s by followers of Professor Dunning. We still hear it occasionally quoted by conservatives. It is that majority rule was to be mistrusted because “democratic polities were prone to fits of passion.”

I suppose that someone, somewhere, will argue that the calm and reassuring followers of Donald Trump saved us all from those fits of passion.

Like most arguments supporting the electoral system, the Madison quotes turn out to be factually untrue. Madison argued for codifying rights, rights eventually contained in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. In that regard he felt that majorities could not be trusted to preserve liberty, because “democratic polities were prone to fits of passion.”

In fact, historian Paul Finkelman and other scholars have documented Madison’s passionate arguments during the Constitutional Convention that direct majority election of the President was the only path to what was right and just.

He eventually accepted the electoral system, but he said it was for one reason, and one reason only. Direct election would be unacceptable to slaveholding conservatives.

Perhaps, someday, some combination of states will elect a liberal President that has been rejected by actual voters. Until then, conservatives will embrace this occasional obstacle to the ideal of a democratic republic. For now, it is unlikely that the Constitution will be amended to rid us of this holdover from slavery.

Other alternatives do exist. One that may eventually succeed is state action. California has passed a conditional law. If and when enough other states join to form a majority of electors, California will join with them in pledging that national majority of electors to whomever has gotten a majority of the national vote. At that moment, the Electoral College will still exist, but the ability to distort American democracy to a hoped for coincidence will end. So far, ten states have passed that agreement.

President-elect Donald Trump recently endorsed the idea of directly electing the President:

I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win. There’s a reason for doing this. Because it brings all the states into play.

Donald Trump, November 13, 2016

One day, with luck, we might actually neutralize that peculiar institution, an institution that remains a final gift from slavery.

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The Internet Seeks Perspective in a Trump Universe

Reining In the Insurgent FBI

For the first time in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it becomes necessary for a President, a newly elected President, to fire the agency’s Director. It is politically painful. It is not an easy thing to cut short the 10 year appointment that was made by a previous President.

But newly elected President Clinton has to take action.

I called Director Sessions a few moments ago and informed him that I was dismissing him, effective immediately, as the Director of the FBI.

We cannot have a leadership vacuum at an agency as important to the United States as the FBI.

President Bill Clinton, July 19, 1993

William Sessions insisted he had done nothing wrong. A report from the ethics board of the Justice Department, the Office of Professional Responsibility, said otherwise.

Officially, the primary offense had been a series of private trips using public aircraft. The trips were to private events and visits to relatives, with little side trips to minor public functions to maintain a facade. The Director had taken along his wife.

But there had also been complaints about a lack of leadership. Director Sessions had a management style often described as disconnected. He seemed to enjoy the trappings of office more than the duties.

I think about those charges: the incidents of taxpayer funding for private trips, the pattern of listless management, when I consider the more recent, stunning involvement of the FBI in the just concluded election for President.

The shock of a reverse Trumanesque election may drown out what ought to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the campaign. We can hope not.

We have had horrible Presidents before.

I would not have thought it plausible that the tragedy that was President George W. Bush would be eclipsed by a more dangerous administration. As I see it, Mr. Bush could have been a capable President if he had shown the same interest in policy as he did in baseball.

I see a dim possibility of a more constructive variation. Donald Trump, like the last Republican President, has a notoriously limited span of attention. If a similar vacuum develops, it is within the realm of imagination that a responsible member of the new staff will achieve control. Reince Preibus has been mentioned as a possible Chief-of-Staff.

Sometimes the escapism of fictional entertainment gives me a break from the disturbing patterns of contemporary conservatism, especially as conservatives are about to take control of government. Sometimes the lessons of fiction can be applied to life.

One of my favorite television programs is “Blue Bloods” with Tom Selleck as Police Commissioner Frank Reagan. Selleck may be a bit of an ass in private life, demanding and paying for water for his plants during a California drought. But his introspective television persona is near perfect art.

Some of the scenes are kind of silly. Donnie Wahlberg plays one of the Commissioner’s two sons, Detective Danny Reagan. Danny seems to run through the city streets every other episode. “Stop! Police!” he yells. Then follows up with “Hey!” He chases a suspect on a sidewalk, dodging pedestrians. “Hey!” he hollers. He rounds a corner, on the heels of the perpetrator. “Hey!” He closes in “Hey!”

Perhaps there is some reason, beyond that initial self-identification as a police officer. To the uninitiated viewer, which is to say me, the only purpose would seem be saving the pursued criminal the trouble of glancing over his shoulder. Kind of like belling the cat. The person being chased knows exactly where Detective Reagan is at any given moment.

There is a more serious objection. One basic premise is a conservative’s pet delusion. Detective Danny is only too eager to break the rules, roughing up the occasional suspect to obtain a confession, threatening a witness with bodily harm to get a much needed clue. He is constantly reined in by more cautious superiors, who none-the-less appreciate his extreme success in solving cases that are beyond the reach of more orthodox investigators.

The Commissioner himself hosts a discussion at Sunday dinner with adult kids and grandchildren. He poses the cliché we have heard so many times. Suppose the only way you can find a hidden bomb is to beat information out of a suspect. Would you break the rules to save countless lives?

The easy response, the right response, is, well, yeah for sure. I would beat the guy until he gave it up. But we should also challenge the premise. The responsible answer has to be a little more complete.

If I could save my children from serious harm by cutting off my fingers, I would do that as well. But I don’t cut off my fingers as a first response if I hear a scream, because I am sure to a moral certainty that would not help. There are effective ways to save kids. Self-mutilation is almost never one of them.

It is not intuitive, but threats and beatings are not an effective way to get at the truth. Our fight against terrorism has taught us that physical pain is effective at getting false confessions. Torture does not get us the truth. Considerable police research is going into finding what is effective, and what simply wastes time. So far, we know that ticking bombs will more quickly be found by engagement than by brutality.

Television provides weekly morality plays, hypothetical fiction that occasionally makes us think. One episode struck me as especially thoughtful.

The Police Commissioner discovers that a behind-the-scenes investigation has uncovered something damaging about a political opponent of the city’s mayor. The mayor, the commissioner’s boss, demands the information. The Commissioner refuses, even when the mayor threatens his job. Unless an investigation results in court action, nothing goes to a politician. Not if a politician is a candidate. Not if a politician is already in office. Not even if a politician is the boss.

Well, good for that fictional enforcer of the law! Prosecutors and investigators alike have always been subject to a universal ethic. Information from official investigations are not to be shared outside of court, except in those extraordinary situations where lives are at stake. And no information is to be exposed when an election might be influenced.

That is a bedrock principle. The misuse and abuse of investigatory authority is not compatible with the essential functioning of a Republic. The use of the power of investigation by politicians can effectively end democracy. The use of the power of investigation by investigators to influence elections is just as dangerous.

In July, 2016, the Director of the FBI told Congress that an investigation into the private email server owned by Hillary Clinton had uncovered nothing that would merit criminal action. Then he launched into a public scolding, a severe public reprimand of Mrs. Clinton.

With eleven days to go before the Presidential election, he sent a dramatic letter updating Republicans about possible new evidence that might reveal some criminality. The weekend before the election, he sent a final letter confirming that there was nothing new after all.

Each turn of the vicious cycle was dangerous to the democratic process. The original report was ethically wrong. The public scolding was ethically wrong. The update to the original report was ethically wrong. The update to the update to the original report was too damn little, too damn late.

Reports indicate there were even vicious circles within those vicious circles.

A renegade right wing group inside the New York office of the FBI supposedly interviewed the author of one of those many highly creative conservative research books into the evil of all things Clinton. A small group of agents wanted to use it as the basis for an active investigation connecting a host of disparate points into a collection of connected stray dots. More mature superiors and attorneys in the Department of Justice gently explained rules of evidence and vetoed the idea.

The conservative cabal of aging, rebellious agents then conducted their own disinformation campaign. They told sympathetic representatives of right wing outlets that indictments of the Clintons were imminent.

The stunning upset election of Donald Trump can’t be credited to the FBI fiasco. In a sense that is unfortunate. It is a scandal that may pass unnoticed into precedent, unnoticed until the next time.

Some defenders of Director James Comey maintain that his violation of protocol was simply an attempt to head off the disinformation campaign by a few in some corner room of the New York office of the FBI. If Director Comey was guilty of anything, it was an absence of leadership.

It brings us to the final circle within this dangerous precedent, an arc going back to a public announcement 23 years ago.

We cannot have a leadership vacuum at an agency as important to the United States as the FBI.

If necessary, the new President should remove the Director. It is doubtful that Donald Trump will see that as a clear duty.

President Obama has enough time left in office to save President Trump from that decision. He can fire Director Comey himself.

Director Comey can save both Presidents from that damaging necessity. He can do the right thing.

Along the way, a private cell of rogue agents in New York should be escorted out of the agency and away from any investigatory authority.


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Schilling & Jews, Trump & Gangsters, Satan, Penguin Sex