The GOP’s Frightening Strategy

Memory is a strange thing.  If you ask two people to describe the same event the odds are that the descriptions will be decidedly different.  This is because our memories are influenced by the very specific variables that make us the unique individuals that we are.  Eyewitnesses in a criminal trial often have their credibility attacked by pointing out that their memories are being influenced by their preconceived notions.  Therefore, when a group of individuals miraculously has the same memory of an event, it is appropriately suspect.  So it is when a large number of GOP candidates in the presidential sweepstakes have the same erroneous memories of the factors that lead to the US invasion of Iraq.  They all blame it on faulty intelligence.  However, history confirms that the intelligence was not faulty, but rather the decision-making.

What is also particularly interesting about the approach of the GOP candidates is the fact that they are making this an election that is focusing on international affairs, not domestic policy or the economy.  Could it be that they realize that for all of their accusations to the contrary, the economy is growing, the Affordable Care Act is achieving its goals, and they are on the wrong side of history on issues such as marriage equality, gun control and immigration?  Yet, the polls show that most people view the bread and butter issues as prime, with international affairs down on the list.  It would seem that if the GOP candidates continue to move in this direction they will appear irrelevant. They will not be speaking to the issues of greatest concern to the electorate.

However, this might be a smarter strategy than it seems at first blush.  If they recognize that, in fact, they are out of step with most Americans on issues such as marriage equality, pay equity, immigration and gun control why would they display that fact front and center?  Why not move in a direction that is less controversial within their own ranks and focus their sights on their perceived failures of the Obama Administration and in particular ex-Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton.  In this way they are not shooting themselves in the foot but they are targeting the presumed Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. The talking points on Iraq are obviously not an accident.  They are part of a clear policy to transfer the blame for the current disaster playing out in the Middle East to the Obama Administration and in particular Hillary Clinton.  In this way they are attempting to make this an election focused on national security issues and away from Obama’s domestic successes.

bad GOP

Yet, try as they might the tide is rising and will ultimately down them if they continue to attempt to alter our memories.  It is a fact that there are two groups of voters that are growing at a very rapid pace that won’t buy the GOP line.  The Latino population is altering the equation all around the country and will punish a party that refuses to act with honesty and integrity on the immigration issue.  Regardless of how the GOP tries to spin it, they have vocally and publicly blocked action in this area.  Secondly, the millennials are quickly becoming an engaged and active group in the social issues of our day.  In particular they are active in the areas of marriage equality and income equality.  They will not support a party with an official position that opposes or blocks action on either of these issues.

It is no accident therefore that the GOP has been extremely active on the state level in areas such as voter suppression and the reduction of abortion availability.  I have said for a long time that the  GOP is running on two clearly visible tracks.  First is to obstruct any meaningful legislative action on a national level.  Second is to move as many laws through state legislatures that they can that conform to their conservative social agenda and restrict voting rights.  The Democrats need to actively work to take control both nationally and locally or the conservative agenda will be enacted as we applaud our success in holding on to the White House.  If that is all that we achieve in 2016, it will be an empty victory.

Money Talks And The Candidates Listen

In today’s Presidential sweepstakes money is more influential than ever before.  It has always been the fuel that campaigns run on, however, today they require more of that fuel than ever.  This reality combined with the Supreme Court Citizens United decision sets the table for a redefinition of the meaning of a democratic election.  It is clear, even this early in the 2016 campaign process, that the highest priority among those seeking the nomination is the acquisition of funds.  It is a fact therefore that due to the incredibly high cost of pursuing a campaign through the primary season followed by the general election, those donors willing to spend the most money have the greatest influence.  The election finance laws that were passed by Congress following the Watergate trauma prevented an individual donor from achieving a high level of influence through a campaign contribution by limiting the amount he was allowed to donate.  However, the Citizens United ruling severely altered the landscape and changed the character of what we still call a democratic electoral process. Is it time to ask, is it still as democratic as we would like to believe?

Super PACs.

Super PACs.

While our “democratic electoral process” has never been completely democratic, we have always strived to achieve that goal.  Throughout our history the right to vote has been gradually expanded enabling an ever-growing electorate to influence the outcome of elections.  We have proudly taught school children the principle of “one man, one vote”.  Participation in this process has always been viewed as a privilege experienced by too few around the world.  While the principle of “one man, one vote”, is still true in theory, we must begin to question the value of that vote.  What if some votes are more valuable than others?  What if casting an actual vote at the ballot box is only secondary to the vote cast at the cash box?  What if that cash vote enables the voter to influence the policies and attitudes of a candidate, while a vote at the ballot box simply places the candidate in a position to carry out the wishes of the cash voters?  Is each vote still equal?  Does the principle of “one man, one vote” still hold up?  Has the ever-increasing importance of money in our political campaigns corrupted the process?  Is it still as democratic as we would like to believe?

Certainly money has always influenced elections to some degree.  While, as noted above, there were laws preventing huge contributions, there were loopholes that provided those who wanted to give a bit more that opportunity.  But today we are not talking about a bit more, we are talking about commitments in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.  Furthermore, those who are making these commitments have very clear desires and expectations.  Whether we are discussing the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson, they are not shy about their opinions and the issues they hold dear.  I happen to have selected two names on the GOP side, however they exist on both sides of the political spectrum .  Theoretically the PACs created by these individuals are expected to operate independently of the candidate’s  campaign.  In fact, any coordination is against the law. Yet amazingly, they seem to operate within the same ideological framework and focus on the same issues.  Who do you think has greater influence in the electoral process, you or the Koch brothers?  Does the “one man, one vote” principle still appear to be functioning?  Is our electoral process still as democratic as we would like to believe?

There can be no doubt that the infusion of “big” money into the electoral process has corrupted it and reduced the value of your vote.  While we have seen instances in which every last vote cast impacted on a specific election, your vote has less value if the vote at the cash box has greater influence on our nation’s policies than your vote at the ballot box.  There have been some murmurs about the corrupting influence of money in our electoral process.  There has been some discussion about a desire to reverse the Citizens United decision.  While it is too late to change things for 2016, there is time to impact on the electoral landscape for the 2018 election.  It is time to increase the volume of those murmurs and turn the discussions into constructive action.

There Really Is A Difference Between Democrats and Republican

How many times have you heard people complain that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans?  They complain that it really doesn’t matter who is elected, things never change.  While at one time there was some validity to that complaint, today that is far from the truth. There was a time when there were both moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats.  There was also a time when the word compromise wasn’t synonymous with weakness and treason.  During this “golden age” in the House and the Senate, moderates from both parties worked together to craft legislation that was acceptable to both sides. Certainly there were instances when compromise was exceedingly difficult, but at this time ideology most often gave way to pragmatism for the benefit of the nation. It is a fact that during this time both parties had members who represented extremes on both sides, however they were on the fringe and rarely had the power or clout to impact significantly on legislation. In 1964 the GOP nominated a representative from the extreme right to be its candidate for the presidency, and they were met with a resounding defeat. That was then, but things are significantly different today.

obama-mcconnell-boehner

A Wall Street Journal poll completed on May 5th of this year provides a snapshot of how much things have changed.  The priorities of the primary voters of the Democratic Party are very different from the priorities of the primary voters of the Republican Party.  A majority of Democrats polled, as well as a majority of all voters combined, were of the opinion that job creation and economic growth needed to be the top priority of the Federal Government .  In contrast, the majority of Republicans polled saw national security and terrorism as the number one priority of the Federal Government, with job development and economic growth as the third priority of the Federal Government.  Given this result, it is not surprising to observe that most of the rhetoric coming from GOP Presidential candidates is related to issues of national security and terrorism while Democratic Presidential candidates have focused on topics related to job creation and economic growth.  However, it is not only the Presidential candidates that are focusing in this way.  These same priorities are played out daily on the floor of the Senate and the House.  The troubling inaction by the legislature to respond to issues related to the economy while focusing on tired and empty accusations related to national security and terrorism by the GOP majority is illustrative of this chasm between the parties.  Not only has there been no compromise, there has been no vehicle set up, such as a conference committee, to achieve compromise.  It is a wonder that the GOP views national security and terrorism as a strength after the debacle created by Bush, while Obama successfully took out Osama Bin Ladin.  I guess they hope that people have short memories.

It is a fact that there is a major difference today between Democrats and Republicans.  The Republicans have been taken over by ideologies that live far to the right.  The old “establishment” Republicans responsible for nominating McCain and Romney have lost favor with the majority.  It seems that the Republican nominee this time will be more representative of the extreme wings of the Party.  The only chance for the GOP to go in another direction will be with Jeb Bush or Chris Christie.  One has a name problem and the other has behavior problems.  If I am correct and the GOP nominee comes from the far right, no one will be able to complain that there is no difference between the two parties. For one thing, I believe that the chance that American soldiers will once again find themselves in harm’s way somewhere in the Middle East will increase with a GOP President.  This is the Republican economic growth and jobs program. Let’s not allow them that chance.

Enough Is Enough, It’s Time To Bring The Words To Reality

It seems that things haven’t changed very much since I was a boy growing up in Asheville, N.C. Of course then the bigotry, prejudice and discrimination were enshrined in law, now they are just a part of our culture and our environment. This isn’t to say that all members of minority groups in this country live their lives as second class citizens. There have always been those who were able to break through the gravitational pull of despair and poverty and rise to success.  But the underlying reality hasn’t changed much in decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court ruling that mandated the integration of public schools. What happened in Baltimore this week is just the most recent chapter in a long history of reaction to inexplicable action.

In this case it was the death of another black man while in the custody of the Baltimore Police. There have been no indictments and no explanation as to what occurred to cause the death of Freddie Gray. This is but the latest in a seemingly weekly death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police somewhere in this country. It is not surprising that these events have brought the black community to the boiling point and erupted into the kinds of events we have seen recently in many cities. There has been a heroic effort on the part of black leadership to keep these demonstrations peaceful. Unfortunately, there are those who exploit such events for their own selfish purposes and turn to looting and burning, often times businesses that have served their community for decades.  We have seen this same story play itself out for decades in almost every major city in this country. Neighborhoods are burned down and destroyed never to return to their former selves.

riots

Over these many years we have listened to millions of words spoken and read millions of words written about what must be done to break the cycle of poverty and violence in these communities. We know the answers and have the solutions. But while we hear the words, we see little real action. As long as we can accept the existence of unbroken generational poverty without really doing something meaningful about it, the riots will forever be a part of our landscape. The question is,if we know what needs to be done why haven’t we done it?

The simple fact is that while the riots get a lot of news coverage they don’t stimulate a lot of  political action. They are viewed as a momentary inconvenience or distraction from the important issues of the day.  During the past several months we have heard a great deal from both parties about the plight of the middle class. There seems to be a major effort at hand, regardless of who is elected, to somehow help the middle class return to it former greatness. In truth, I don’t believe for a moment this will happen under a GOP presidency, However, they are talking a good game right now. Why all of the talk about the middle class and none about the impoverished class? It’s simple math. More members of the middle class vote.

Until we as a nation remember who we are and return to the basic values on which this country was built we will live with riots. However, if we as people, regardless of our party affiliation, begin to demand action from our government to resolve this decades old tragedy we might see some progress.  We need to improve education, housing, job training, day care, and infrastructure.  We need to take a hard look at our justice system and figure ways of returning fathers to their homes. We need to monitor police behavior and prosecute those that abuse power. But we already know all of this.  It’s finally time that we demand that we bring these words to life.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Respect Those Whom We Elect Again?

When I was a kid I was enamored by all that was politics.  I read about it, watched TV news and enjoyed the conversations around our dinner table about the important events of the day.  It may have been my lack of experience and my naïveté, but the senators, congressmen and governors all seemed dignified, well-spoken and sincerely concerned with the needs of their constituents. Of course, the president was in a space all his own representing all that was good and strong about America. But what stood out to me most of all was the formality and respect with which all of them spoke to and treated each other. I don’t mean to imply that during those years all was sweetness and light.   After all, it was the time that the Civil Rights Movement was picking up pace and there was plenty of hatred to go around.  The violence of those who objected to that movement was on TV for all to see.  We were also beginning to hear about a far off country named Viet Nam where over 55,000 Americans would ultimately lose there lives. While the 60’s were certainly a time of upheaval it felt different from today. There was disagreement about many issues confronting our country, yet there was not yet the feeling of “them” and “us” that is so pervasive today.   The polarization that exists today is different because it cuts more deeply than ever before.

the clowns

The differences between groups today are based on things that are values-based, religious-based and class-based.  It is a fact that if you tell me where a person lives, what his religious affiliation is, where he places himself on the economic ladder and what his ethnic background is, that I can probably tell you with great accuracy where he stands on any issue.  For a country that has always prided itself on being above all of these labels, where anyone can rise to the top, this is a tragic reality.  What is most tragic is that the politicians of today are feeding fuel to those differences and feeding off of them as well.  No doubt that there was hatred coming across the radio waves of yesterday.  However, technology has provided us with a massive increase in the opportunity to spread hatred and falsehood around. The altering of the news cycle created by first the cable news networks and now Twitter allows inference and accusation to stand unchallenged because of the sheer mass of information coming at us.  That respect and formality of yesterday has been buried by the weight of special interest funding and the desire to win at any cost.  Politicians today are not “the best and the brightest”, they are simply the most ruthless and ambitious.  They are no longer responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents, but rather those of their financial supporters.  This is evidenced every time we see polls that show overwhelming support for a position and see that the house and the senate votes opposite that support.   It is quite simple.  Those that pay get to play. Most of us are mere spectators.

Our system of government is not working out as the framers of our Constitution planned it.  We are no longer living in a representative democracy, but rather an oligarchy. While I do have respect for President Obama and I hope his successor, Hilary Clinton, politicians of this caliber are too few and far between.  This is particularly true on the local and state levels.  Naturally it is that way because we allowed it to get that way.  That’s right, all of us took our eyes off of the ball and it got away from us.  The election booth is where we get to change our system back to where it started.  This requires that the candidates that we support understand who they are responsible to. But for them to be elected we must get off of our couches and work on their behalf.  Wouldn’t it be nice to again respect those who are elected?

The GOP and Truth, Like Oil And Water

During our formative years, as we are being acculturated through education and family experiences, we are taught about the difference between the truth and a lie.  In school we are taught the glorious history of the founding of our country and the heroism that made it possible.  Of course the “facts” of history are in the hands of those who write it and tell it.  Just as three eyewitnesses to a crime will provide three, sometimes conflicting, accounts of the same incident, so it is with the “facts” that comprise our history.  It is therefore very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, and truth from lies when viewing history.  However, when viewing recent events, those that we have the opportunity to experience in real time, distinguishing fact from fiction, truth from lies, is considerably easier.  While there may be varying interpretations of an event, the objective facts are visible.  Yet the Republican candidates and leadership continue to say things that are clearly untrue without regard to the facts.

GOP lies

The blatant disregard for the truth that the GOP has exhibited is astounding.  It is not difficult to pinpoint the lies.  Whether the issue is immigration, gun control, pay equity, voter suppression, minimum wage increases, health care, marriage equality or a host of foreign policy issues, listening to them is like being Alice In Wonderland looking through the looking glass.  When the facts don’t fit they simply ignore them or, even worse, they manipulate them or make up their own facts to fit their narrative.   We have all heard that the word history when broken into two words is “his story”.  That is why the history that we learn in school requires more than just a cursory review.  However, current events must not meet the same fate as history.  Fact must be gleaned from the mass of information and misinformation.  However, to do that we must be well informed, well read and engaged in the issues our nation and the world are confronting. Jefferson observed that in order for democracy to succeed there must exist an informed electorate.  He understood that most of us do not have the luxury of focusing on the issues of the day to the exclusion of our own personal issues.  It is a fact that despite the myriad methods and mediums available to us to receive the news of the day, we are an incredibly ill-informed electorate.  Sadly, many of those who do make an effort to be informed tune into either Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, etc.  Thus, while they think that they are getting the unvarnished facts, they, in fact, are getting an incredibly lopsided version of the truth, a version that has been shown to be lacking truth on a regular basis by neutral and objective observers.    The tragedy is that these people vote on the basis of this misinformation.

That’s the problem, now what is the solution?  Frankly, it is time to take the gloves off.  The Democrats have been incredibly weak at challenging the untruths and outright lies of the Republicans.  We have seen too often the results of this “Swiftboating” technique that the GOP has used often and to great success.  The facts don’t lie and they are not a part of history left open to interpretation.  They are contemperaneous and we must hold those facts up for all to see in as many venues and outlets as possible.  This isn’t the time for debate.  Not when untruths are put out there as if they are facts.  This is the time to yell loudly and use every outlet at our disposal to expose the lies and spread the truth.

The GOP has depended on and actively promoted the ignorance of the electorate through the use of right wing media such as Fox News.  They really want us to believe that up is down and in is out.  Their policies, while claiming to support the needs of the middle class, are clearly directed at the perpetuation of the wealthy.  While they talk about the need to protect constitutional rights, they do everything they can to restrict them and interpret them narrowly.  While they talk about the need for peace and stability in the world, they are always too ready to commit the lives of our young to die at war.  It is time to call them out on all of this and expose the true face of the GOP.

Are Netanyahu And The GOP Laying The Groundwork For A Preemptive Strike At Iran?

Conspiracy theories abound about everything imaginable.  They have become a part of our culture.   While most conspiracies that we see and hear about come from the realm of fiction, some do reside in history.  Of course among the most famous was the successful assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  But as we know, history is replete with palace uprisings, coup d’etats and revolutions, all of which began with some kind of conspiracy.  The dictionary defines conspiracy as, ” an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated by two or more persons; plot.”  Naturally, evil is in the eye of the beholder.  As we are aware, conspiracies have been implemented throughout history to defeat that which the conspirators perceived as evil. While we have grown to view conspiracies as something sinister, they may in fact be inspired by fundamentally well-intentioned individuals trying to achieve something that they truly believe in, regardless of how misguided. Yet I believe that this is only part of what we are seeing in the behavior of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and the GOP leadership and members in both the house and the senate.

It is the motives behind their behavior that I am most concerned about.  We have a long history of individual senators or congressmen disagreeing with a foreign policy position of an administration.  The right to disagree is one of the hallmarks of our system.  Open and honest discussion regarding any policy leads to a stronger result.  Yet, throughout our proud history of dissent and discussion and compromise there have been accepted and expected parameters of behavior from those we elect to represent us.  First and foremost they adhere to the prerogatives constitutionally afforded each branch of government.  The Executive Branch has always been responsible for the negotiation of treaties and agreements with other nations.  The Legislative Branch, while given the opportunity to agree or disagree with the ultimate result of those negotiations, has always remained silent during the negotiating process.  They have always understood that to interfere at this time can create confusion and ultimately impact negatively on the end result.  Yet their behavior during the negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program has disregarded all of this.

For the House of Representatives to formally invite a foreign leader to speak to a joint session about an issue currently being negotiated with a foreign power by the Executive Branch without first receiving agreement from that branch is both reckless and unconscionable.  For the GOP leaders of both the Senate and the House to visit that same foreign leader in his home country during those negotiations to voice agreement, contrary to the position currently being negotiated is simply beyond anything seen in our past diplomatic history.  It has every appearance of the GOP leadership conspiring with the Israeli leader to destroy any chance of the negotiations with Iran being successful .  During this same period, our group of loyal Neocons have made their dire predictions right on cue.  There has been a chorus of statements that raise serious questions regarding any chance to contain the Iranian nuclear capacity through negotiation using such potent analogies as Chamberlain’s agreements with Hitler.  It is clear that the only solution the Neocons see to the Iranian threat is war.  In fact, despite general GOP denial that they are calling for war, they have presented not one alternative to that eventuality.

Israeli jets

It is always important to be able to match behavior with the words.  I believe that Netanyahu and The GOP leadership would love nothing better than to destroy any chance for a successful result to the negotiations with Iran.  They see a negotiated settlement as not only inadequate to the perceived danger, but also an Obama victory that would not play well for them in the 2016 Presidential campaign.  I believe that there is no result that they would accept other than the complete destruction of Iranian nuclear capacity.  At this time they believe that the Obama Administration is incapable of negotiating an agreement that they can live with.  I believe that they are purposefully doing everything they can to make these talks fail.  The big question is, are they going to do something that would create a fait accompli to effectively scuttle the negotiations?  Are Netanyahu and the GOP leadership laying the ground work for a preemptive attack on Iran?