Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Two Months Later

Much has happened in the first days of the Trump Administration since I asked the question "What's Next" in my posting here on January 11th.  Things happen too fast for me to keep up with events on this blog, but here is contextual view.

Bob Woodward's book "Shadow" came out in 1999. In it he discussed the impact of the special counsel law enacted in the aftermath of Watergate and how it affected the five subsequent Presidents through Clinton. That particular law was allowed to expire after the abusive Ken Starr led witch hunt. It is still possible to get a special prosecutor appointed but the process for doing so is not as specific. One takeaway from the book is that four elements have to be present in order to remove a president: low public opinion polls, a bad economy, a hostile media, and incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing. In the case of Trump: the polls are low and will probably keep going lower; the economy is in a delicate stage with stocks overpriced and the uncertain and likely ill-conceived Trump and Republican policies possibly leading to a downturn; the corrupt Trump is hostile to the media and they are starting to do a better job of investigating his corruption which makes them technically hostile to him; and the investigative process is apparently already taking place in the judicial, intelligence and ethics sectors of our government and spilling over to the Congress, all of which may at some point produce the incontrovertible evidence.

The big picture for me is simple and is already playing out with the Trump Administration and Republican Congress. Republicans are for tax cuts on the rich and reduced regulations that increase profits regardless of the damage done to the non-rich and the environment. They "pay" for such tax cuts and regulatory reductions by reducing services and safeguards for the non-rich and disregarding any harm to the environment. The "Tea Party" Republicans continue to be a thorn in the side of the more traditional Republicans and now the party has to deal with the corrupt and cuckoo Trump as well as a newly energized Democratic Congressional contingent.

After seven years of demonizing the ACA, Republicans have to come up with its "promised" replacement, something which never existed and which they cannot legitimately create. All they can do to get the Tea Party to go along is cut the tax portions of the ACA while at the same time reducing the actual benefits and number of insured without those who will be affected complaining. Judging by the hostile receptions Republicans received at their local Town Halls, the smoke and mirrors act is not going over well so far.

For now, I will bypass economic analysis except to say I cannot see Trump and the Republicans actually doing anything to give it a shot in the arm. Infrastructure spending is a need on which everyone seems to agree, but how to pay for it is the problem. The obvious answer is to raise the modest federal gas tax which has been at the same rate since 1993, but Republicans will never agree to that, especially since the fossil fuel industry is a huge part of their donor base. More likely is another "smoke and mirror" attempt involving "public and private partnerships" that tries to make it look like minimal tax money is being used when in fact the public debt is actually going to be increased. I doubt the Tea Party will fall for that, but some version of it might be worked out with the Democrats.

The Judicial branch of government has a significant role to play now. Cases can be brought to block specific Trump actions, as was done with the Muslim ban. Trump has always used threats of lawsuits as a bludgeon in his business dealings and it is time for payback by anyone with a grievance against him. As I wrote earlier on this blog, "Sue the bastard". Personal suits against Trump and suits to block his governmental abuses open the door to the discovery process to obtain evidence. This process needs to be as widely used as possible to pry open the door of secrecy he has always hid behind. He is actually proud of his lack of business ethics and flaunts it to bully those unfortunate enough to get engaged with him. Once elected he tore off any mask of propriety and openly says no conflicts or ethics rules apply to him or to those who work in his White House. There is a germ of truth in that, but blatant conflicts and lack of concern for appearances of propriety will erode further his already historically low favorability ratings. Flying down to Florida every weekend at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and having to pay for secret service protection for his globetrotting sons and daughters is going to get old fast. 


All the talk of Trump connections to Russia is not fully registering with the public yet. Congressional Republican committees are reluctant to seriously pursue Russian inquiries until they see what legislation they can get enacted before Trump's favorability drops even lower. Democrats on the committees will have to take the lead in trying to expose Trump and raise the call for deeper investigations. John McCain, no Trump fan, may probe some through his Armed Services Committee. For now it is the media doing the hard investigative work and publicizing their findings. What the FBI and intelligence agencies are investigating in this regard is being leaked a little but the bulk of it will probably only be disclosed to Congress behind closed doors. For Trump to fall, this line of inquiry must lead to incontrovertible evidence of his wrongdoing.

Friday, January 20, 2017

45

Presidential inaugurations according to the US Constitution are pretty simple: just a 35 word oath of office and then the peaceful transfer of power is complete. But through the years lots of trappings have been added, what some might call bells and whistles. Trump is the most unpopular incomer since polls have been taken, so there will be lots of counter demonstrations also.

Through the years the extended inaugural ordeal has been too tedious to hold my attention. I do remember the JFK line "ask not what your country can do for you", I remember Carter walking for part of the parade and I did watch central parts of the first Obama inaugural because it was so encouragingly historically significant, but mostly I have no profound memories of these events.

My not watching today is particularly intentional due to what I consider the disgracing of the Presidency by the election of Trump, an utterly unqualified man, born with a silver spoon who has lived his entire life as a selfish boor, conducted a repulsive campaign and who seems to have no understanding or appreciation of our form of government. This is especially reprehensible since he is taking over from a man of color born and raised in humble circumstances who has devoted his life to public service, who fully understands and reveres the Constitution and has graced the Office of the President with great dignity.

I have been thinking about how Presidents achieved the office during my lifetime. Here is a somewhat flippant but still fairly accurate list of who or what brought them to power:

TRUMAN – FDR did not survive his fourth term and the Democrat power elite had limited options for VP;

IKE – WWII – he could have won running as a Republican, Democrat or independent;

KENNEDY – some say Mayor Daley of Chicago stuffing the ballot boxes, or the lousy makeup job Nixon got for the TV debate;

LBJ – an assassin's bullet;

NIXON – secret plan to win the Vietnam War – which if there ever was one must have been to expand it and then quit it;

FORD – Watergate (and I do not believe there was a deal to pardon Nixon);

CARTER – Watergate, the Nixon pardon and smart campaigning to get a delegate jump;

REAGAN – Iranian hostage takers, hokey Hollywood hooey and anti-government baloney;

BUSH I – Willie Horton;

CLINTON – "Read my lips" and Ross Perot;

BUSH II – Ralph Nader, the archaic Electoral College, Congressional Republican staffers pretending to be irate Florida voters, and five unelected Justices of SCOTUS;

OBAMA – The Audacity of Hope, overdue change and a truly fresh breath of air;

DRUMPF – an unbelievably stupid electorate, the FBI, Putin, fake news, "reality" TV, xenophobia, the lack of another fresh young Democrat and that same archaic Electoral College.

I cannot stop myself from engaging in "what if" history, so here are some contenders from my lifetime who came in second and were never inaugurated:

DEWEY
STEVENSON
GOLDWATER
HUMPHREY
MCGOVERN
MONDALE
DUKAKIS
DOLE
GORE
KERRY
MCCAIN
ROMNEY
HILLARY CLINTON.

There are four "losers" who were nevertheless inaugurated at some point in time:
NIXON who lost to Kennedy later beat Humphrey and McGovern;
FORD who had been appointed and lost to Carter;
CARTER who was defeated for re-election;
BUSH I who was also defeated for re-election..

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What's Next"?

This question goes two ways for me. One is regarding our country and our planet, and what will happen to them under a Trump Presidency starting out with a Republican Congress. The other aspect is what does this mean for me with regard to expressing my views on this blog.

Regarding our country and what will happen, the answer is another question, "Who knows?" The pundits really do not know what is going on, which was amply demonstrated by their failure to predict the outcome of the election. Congressional Republicans have been split since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010,  have lost their bogey man Obama and are now sharing power with the disruptive huckster Trump. Democrats have been devastated and are still in a state of weakened shock. For the next two years there is going to be an interesting power match between the Congressional parties and factions within the parties and Donald Trump, with some role also being played by the Federal Judiciary eventually. This is another round of the way our national government works, but with a new twist that Trump owes less allegiance to the Republicans in Congress than any other Republican President in modern times.

There is also the matter of Trump taking our level of civil discourse to a new low and encouraging groups and individuals to act out of hate. But the reality is that our civil discourse has been low for a long time, our citizenry does a poor job of making themselves a well-informed electorate and there is much hate and resentment in our country. As a progressive I believe there has been for many decades a reactionary conspiracy funded by dark money from a small cadre of super wealthy individuals to exacerbate these flaws in our system. Trump used his skills as a huckster to successfully exploit these flaws to get elected.

Regarding our planet, there are several issues of concern, including international aggression, civil and military wars, trade wars, global warming and nuclear weapons. On these issues the under informed Twittering Trump has been at times vague, incoherent, inconsistent and unbelievable. Russian aggression does not seem a worry to Trump; in fact he seems to almost be encouraging it. How he handles ongoing and new hot spots and incidents could very likely be by knee jerk reaction to new developments. Trade agreements and trade wars gets more complicated for him because of shared Congressional power over these areas. Global warming is a long range problem and there is no reason to expect Trump and the Republican Congress will do anything to address it other than to continue false skepticism. The scariest issue is nuclear weapons, with Trump having a long record as a vindictive retaliator, and having famously asked (not particularly rhetorically), why do we make them if we wouldn't use them.

Trump and the Republicans may bring about domestic changes, but those changes could be undone in the future by a Democrat President and Congress. Foreign policy changes can be harder to undo if long term alliances are made or broken or if relatively permanent changes are made such as new borders or new governments. Adequately managing global warming requires global agreement maintained permanently, the sooner the better. But the reality is we are not making progress fast enough and a few more years of American foot dragging will not make or break the deal. Limitation and ultimate banning of nuclear weapons should be the goal. Growing the arsenal would be foolish, but some day could be undone. Actually using nuclear weapons would be an irreversible disaster.

Since the election I have assembled many computer folders with numerous links on a myriad of matters that could be discussed on this blog. But I am mindful that the real reason for writing here is to put my thoughts down for myself and my future reference. With that selfish purpose in mind and listening to my own inner voice, I have decided to take a wait and see attitude and create time and space to put politics in perspective in my life. For a year and a half I intensely followed every aspect of the Presidential campaigns. I do not want to continue that intensity. I will only write here when my inner voice tells me I need to, most likely when something concrete actually happens like legislation passes Congress and is signed by Trump, major regulatory changes are adopted or a serious foreign policy development occurs.

Finally, it is hard not to have some Pollyannaish thoughts about the Trump Presidency. Trump has no particular saving grace; he is a seriously flawed human being. The leopard does not change its spots, particularly at age 70.  But Trump owes no political debts and is as wild a card as any President we have elected. Maybe some weird confluence of fearful Republicans, pragmatic Democrats and Trump lusting for popular adulation will lead to a worthwhile step, such as the often cited infrastructure spending. When and if it happens, I expect to mention it here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Carrot or Stick

Trump is milking the Carrier job saving deal for all it is worth. Some say it is the first leg of his 2020 re-election campaign. The actual facts of the deal confirm what will be the Trump Presidential management style when dealing with big business. Though in the campaign he threatened the stick (a 35% import tax for companies which offshore jobs), his first deal is to give them a carrot (a huge tax break). This should not be surprising since Trump is a big businessman and Republicans always believe a big part of the solution to any problem is to give tax breaks to those who are the most affluent.

All the details are coming out and it seems that Carrier is a subsidiary of United Technologies, a huge federal contractor making billions of dollars in profits. There will be about 1000 jobs staying here, but the company will still be moving that many or more jobs to Mexico. The carrot the company got was actually negotiated by Pence, who is still serving as Indiana Governor and who was given authority to offer tax breaks to companies to not move jobs. Carrier is being given about $7,000,000 in tax breaks spread over ten years. The deal may have escape clauses for Carrier down the line. Neither Trump nor Pence, who both have new jobs in Washington DC, has to answer for the taxes being lost; that burden falls on the taxpayers of Indiana.

This is not even a drop in the bucket when it comes to dealing with loss of manufacturing jobs, and it sets a dangerous precedent encouraging companies to jack up the taxpayers like NFL owners threatening to move their teams to different cities unless the taxpayers build them a new stadium. If any more Carrier style deals are announced, we should check whether the company had announced the job move before or after the election, because post-election threats are going to smell fishy.
Many lost manufacturing jobs will not be coming back because of automation and greater efficiency. A long range solution for workers is job training for the new jobs that will be coming available, and this is where the government could offer a legitimate stick to help employers train their own workers for these new jobs. NPR has a good article discussing the hierarchy of American jobs and how the ones in the middle have been more decimated than those at the top and bottom.

There is a stick for Trump and Congress could use in dealing with federal contractors. They can pass a law to tie job outsourcing in with denial of federal contracts. Democrats have proposed such legislation and it will be interesting to see if Trump and the Republican Congress will give it serious consideration.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sue the Bastard!

Among the many lies Trump tells is that he never settles lawsuits because that only encourages more suits. In truth he has settled many of the thousands of lawsuits in which he has been involved. A nasty litigant like Trump with perceived deep pockets and a stable of lawyers on call can refuse to pay his legitimate debts and force people to sue him, then drag it out and starve the other party into agreeing to pennies on the dollar. One drawback for Trump is that the other party to the suit can take a recorded deposition of Trump and if Trump is unable to get the deposition sealed, then his incriminating testimony under cross examination can legitimately harm his image.

Now that he has unexpectedly, even to him, been elected President, his image has suddenly become important to everyone, even those who could care less about him before. That is why he settled the Trump University fraud case that was coming to trial this month.  So now it is time for those with viable claims against Trump to rush to the nearest courthouse and file suit and proceed with as much haste as possible. I would not be surprised if there are numerous attorneys who would be delighted to handle such suits. Trump has every reason to settle such suits in his own self-interest, even as he claims as he did in the Trump University fraud case that he is putting the interests of the American people first.

Efforts by Trump to use the Presidency as an excuse to have the cases put on hold will run into the US Supreme Court Ruling in the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton which said such suits can proceed. Ironically one of the lawyers dogging Bill Clinton in that case is reported to be the husband of Kellyanne Conway, the last campaign manager for Trump.

Digesting the Numbers

Three weeks of digesting the results and a little historical digging have helped me understand a little better how we got into the mess of DJT being elected. As this is being written, the Clinton popular vote lead is approaching 2.5 million, but the Electoral College perversion, which is covered in another posting, gave Trump the victory.

America may be the oldest democracy in the world, but our low voter turnout is not a ringing endorsement. About 6 out of 10 voters were participating in our Presidential elections in modern times until the Watergate scandal caused one more voter to drop out. Presidential elections without an incumbent running usually produce a higher turnout, but this time around the drop in percent of voters from the percent voting in the previous election was the largest in almost 100 years. Both candidates had historically high unfavorability ratings. It was a "change election" and the "change" candidate for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, was not quite able to knock off the "anointed" insider Hillary Clinton. Some "never Trump" Republicans and a lot more Sanders and Obama voters sat it out or went third party. But the simple fact is that most voters have a party preference on which they base their vote. So even though the particular candidate is not liked, he or she gets the party line vote. Among many mistakes made by the Clinton campaign was trying to peel off Republicans because of Trump being so disagreeable, without realizing that Clinton herself was seen by many Democrats as an undesirable candidate compared to Sanders and Obama.

Changing demographics are supposed to be giving Democrats a growing advantage, but Democrat voters need to be motivated to turn out and vote for the Democrat candidate. One slippage in traditional Democrat party lines has been with white non-college educated voters who Trump peeled off with talk of protecting them from threats to their jobs by trade agreements, immigrants and factories moving out of the country. Clinton allowed herself to be portrayed as not really caring about these workers and her campaign failed miserably by disregarding them. I do not recall her actually visiting a factory and talking to workers; in fact she did not make even one campaign stop in Wisconsin.

In the primary run, Sanders beat Clinton in a dozen states that Trump won in the general. Ten of those were solid Republican, while two were part of the supposed Democrat "Blue Wall", Wisconsin and Michigan. Assuming Sanders had been the nominee and won every state Clinton did against Trump, adding Wisconsin and Michigan would have produced 26 more electoral votes, but Trump would still have won the Electoral vote 280 to 258. 

Though Trump got less than 50% of the popular vote, seven other Presidents have received even a lower percent than Trump in the 48 elections held since popular vote totals were first reported in 1824, when John Quincy Adams in a split field got just over 30%. Others with a lower winning percent than Trump include Lincoln, Wilson, Clinton and Nixon in their first terms, all of whom were elected by higher percentages for a second term, Buchanan considered by many our worst President and Grover Cleveland the only man to win then lose then win again. In fact, there were eleven more Presidential elections where the winner got a higher percent than Trump, but still under 50%, including Cleveland, Wilson and Clinton on their second election, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and George W. Bush who was outscored by Al Gore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Losing the Electoral College

For over two hundred years of US Presidential elections only one time did a candidate win the popular vote but fail to be chosen as President by the Electoral College, Democrat Samuel Tilden in 1876. But then came the 21st Century and in the last five Presidential elections this anomaly has happened twice. If you think this is a fair way to choose our Presidents then you do not truly believe in representative democracy; and you probably live in a state like Wyoming.

In addressing this problem here, I think it is necessary to go into a fair amount of history. If you do not have the time or patience to read through this, you can cut to the chase by going to the last paragraph which links to the most probable way the Electoral College will be effectively eliminated.

There were basically two reasons the Electoral College came into being, one unanimously elitist and one compromisingly elitist. The colonies, the Revolution and the resulting US Constitution were all run by wealthy and powerful white male elites. These men would not give the vote to black slaves, women and many poor and uneducated white males. The elitists decided even those who would be allowed to vote were not capable of doing so intelligently, supposedly because they were so tied to their immediate locale they could not have knowledge of national candidates for President and Vice President and they were so uneducated and inexperienced as to be incapable of discernment. So the elites decided the voters would vote for their local elite who would then make the final decision on the President and Vice President. This was the unanimous elitist reason.

The thirteen colonies had great differences in size, population, slaves, wealth and means of production; but they wanted to unite for mutual protection and benefit. The elitist compromise was a legislative branch of government with two chambers. The Representative chamber would be composed of people actually chosen directly by the voters in a local district of a state, with the number of districts determined based on population and adjusted after every ten year census, and with each state getting at least one Representative regardless of how small the state population.

The second chamber would be called the Senate. The smaller states did not want to get trampled by the bigger states so they won a compromise to have each state get two Senators in that chamber. The elitists also decided the voters were not even sharp enough to be able to select Senators statewide, so the Senators instead would be chosen by state legislatures who in turn had been elected at the local state district level. If this sounds a bit like trickle up democracy, it is. The people eventually wised up and the Constitution was amended in 1913 to allow voters to directly elect US Senators, a change that did not favor any one State over another.

In the Electoral College, each state gets a vote equal to its number of Senators and Representatives, so the smaller states have a disproportionate voice in choosing the President. This was a compromise the large state elites were willing to make, because the office of the Presidency was expected to be a weaker branch of government, with more power concentrated in the Congress and particularly in the House of Representatives. Over time the Presidency has become more powerful than anticipated and the Congress continues to try to rein it in, especially when controlled by a different political party than the President.

The original concept of the benevolent elites looking out for their local voters quickly ran into the reality of partisan politics. The method of conducting elections and choosing electors was left to the states. State political parties soon were able to devise state legislative schemes for getting electors to pledge to vote for a particular party Presidential candidate, typically the candidate gaining the most votes state wide. This was usually done on a winner takes all basis, though rarely some states award electoral votes by Congressional district. Thus the Electoral College morphed into the current mechanical way of whoever wins a state being awarded all the electoral votes of that state.
There has been talk of changing the Electoral College to drop the 100 Senator votes. However, those with power rarely give it up voluntarily, so the small states will not agree to surrender their Senatorial Electoral College advantage. But even if the 100 Senator votes had not been included in the 2016 Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would still have lost.

Ironically the US as the oldest representative democracy in the world and the self-proclaimed shining city on the hill is the only country in the world with the concept of a "popular vote". All other countries simply have elections with a "winning vote", whoever gets the most votes is elected. No other country has been foolish enough to emulate our Electoral College.

Demographers and political pundits tell us the Electoral College now works to the advantage of democrats because they control so many states with larger populations. But the results from recent elections tell us otherwise. Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven Presidential elections, but only won the Electoral College four of those times. In the long term the demographers are undoubtedly correct, which should be a persuasive argument to get Republicans ultimately to agree to scrap the Electoral College.

Having the President elected by popular vote should make more people inclined to vote in Presidential elections; as it is now, some people feel voting for President is a waste of time if their state is solidly in the column of one party or the other. Choosing the President by national popular vote should make us feel more united in choosing our President, diluting the feelings of regional differences and the disillusionment of not having a say on President if you are a minority in your own state.

Some political scientists argue that small states having a greater voice in the Electoral College creates some sort of healthy diversity. I totally reject that idea; in a representative democracy those elected are representing people not acreage. It is bad enough we are stuck with a Senate giving unequal representation because of the dated compromise that was made to form the union, The way both chambers of Congress are elected is overdue for re-evaluation, something I hope to be visiting in future Sense postings. Trump now says if there was no Electoral College he would have campaigned more heavily in populous states and won more popular votes. Maybe, or maybe his campaigning more would have produced even more Hillary votes. The point is we will never know until we change the rules to be truly democratic.

Fortunately there is a workaround to effectively put the Electoral College out of business. It is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In a nutshell under the Compact individual states can vote to require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. When enough states to compose an Electoral College majority have approved the compact, it will become effective and we will have Presidents chosen by the actual wining vote of the people. The Compact arose out of the 2000 election and to date has been adopted by states totaling 61.1% of the number of Electoral votes needed to elect our President. So far only Democrat states have adopted the Compact. As demographics swing more states Democrat, the prospects for the Compact will grow. The DNC should make this a priority agenda item. Maybe once the Compact kicks in, the small states will agree that since they have no Electoral power advantage left to lose we might as well "clean up" the Constitution by eliminating the College altogether.