Why Do Americans Think It’s Right to Deny the Vote to Fellow Citizens?

Americans say they value democracy. But often they don’t act like it. In fact, often they try to deny the vote to fellow citizens (e.g., poll taxes) and, frequently, try to delute the votes of their fellow citizens by gerrymandering. Frankly, it’s despicable. And shameful. Yet most of these people feel no shame. That’s the tragedy.

I doubt there is any worse example of shameful conduct than found in my native state of Pennsylvania. I’ve dealt with the Republican leaders in that state when I was a cabinet secretary. On the surface, they seem like reasonable people. Yet when it comes to drawing congressional boundaries, they’ve not been reasonable at all. They’ve been rabid partisans. They’ve intentionally diluted the vote of minorities and Democrats in general. As a result, the congressional caucus in Pennsylvania does not resemble the voting citizenry. It has been heavily skewed in favor of the Republicans.

In essence, the Republicans have acted cowardly. They have not tried to win office fair and square. Rather, they have actively worked to retain power through trickery. If you don’t believe me, pull up the last congressional map developed by the Republicans.

They should be ashamed. Yet apparently they don’t have sufficient character to feel shame.

Now lest anyone think I’m picking on Republicans, I’m not. It’s possible Democrats in other states have been just as shameful in their practices. I don’t know; I haven’t researched it. But as for Pennsylvania — a state for which I have a particular familiarity and affinity — it’s been the Republicans who are the culprits.

As a lawyer, I’ve long been extremely disappointed in our Supreme Court, which has tolerated this tactic of disenfranchisement. Frankly, there aren’t many areas of jurisprudence that have been so contaminated by partisan politics as this one. The court’s tolerance for rampant gerrymandering has been inexcusable. Shameful.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and is trying to rectify the wrongs perpetrated by the Republicans. We’ll see if they’re successful in restoring full voting rights to the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue again. I’m skeptical but hopeful that a sense of justice and fairness will trump the partisanship that too often dictates the court’s rulings.

It’s been said that power corrupts. The Republicans in Pennsylvania are living proof of that. Of course, there are many other examples, including many involving Democrats and people of no particular political affiliation. But it’s corruption no matter how you spin it.

I am hopeful that justice prevails in my native state. The people deserve no less.

 

From the Ashes of Evil, New Leaders Are Born

It is time for my generation — the Baby Boomers — to step aside. But we’ve shown no sign of doing so willingly. So the mantle of leadership will have to be yanked from our selfish grasp. I’m heartened to see that begin to happen. But somewhat surprised by who’s doing the yanking.

It’s the children.

More specifically, it’s the children in Florida who lost classmates and others to bullets. Bullets shot from an automatic assault weapon. That was bought by an alienated young man. Who wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer.

The insanity cannot be allowed to continue, the children say. They deserve to be safe in their schools. They deserve to be valued more than corporations and politicians who care only about themselves.

Their parents and neighbors have failed to act for far too long, say the children. So now they’re going to take action. They will protest. And organize marches. And do everything in their power to change things.

How much power they actually have remains to be seen. It may be little. It may be a lot. Perhaps much depends on their resolve. And the resolve of adults who care about the kids. And their future. And who are willing to put the interests of the kids and other innocent bystanders (such as concertgoers in Vegas) above the interests of gun manufacturers and the NRA.

My generation has sold out. Most of our elected representatives are on the take. They’re corrupt. They put their own interests — specifically, they’re overriding desire for money from wealthy contributors such as the NRA and gun manufacturers — above the interests of the people. They do not deserve to have power.

Hopefully, the kids will be successful in yanking some of that power from their greedy hands.

Russians Who Helped Trump Win Have Been Indicted

The U.S. Government indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in connection with alleged improper activities to influence U.S. elections. According to the indictment, the defendants’ operations included “supporting the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.”

None of this comes as a surprise. Despite Mr. Trump’s hollow protestations to the contrary, anyone who has been following developments already knew that Russia had meddled in favor of Mr. Trump. But it might be a wee bit harder for Mr. Trump to stick to his script now that the U.S. Government has formally charged 16 Russian defendants.

Putin helped get his man elected (despite not winning a majority of the votes cast). But this story is far from over.

P.S. 2/17/18: Just came across this gem from last year. What a bright idea: working with the very person and country that’s trying to undermine your country.

When a Nation Fails to Protect Its Children

In the first six weeks of this year (first 31 school days to be exact), gun violence visited our children’s schools 17 times. Red marks the spot (add a big red dot in Florida):

The latest rampage claimed 17 lives and more than a dozen wounded. It’s hardly news anymore. We don’t know when or where school children will be gunned down next, but we know it will happen. And happen again. Time and time again. And yet we do nothing. We accept it as a fact of life. But, of course, it isn’t a fact of life. It’s only a fact of life in the U.S.A

Americans are an odd bunch. This is the face of America today:

Many of us them (this is one time I don’t want to be lumped in with all of my fellow citizens) apparently love the NRA more than our children. They want the “right” to arm themselves with assault weapons, just in case … . Meanwhile, the right to live is routinely taken from innocents, by gunpoint.

I wonder what some of these people think they’re protecting. A nation that cares so little for its children that it fails to protect them? A nation that caters to the whims of a lunatic fringe full of conspiracy theorists? Is such a nation worth preserving?

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” they say. I suspect many of the parents who are making arrangements for their daughter or son’s funeral might say you can keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself. I know I would.

I will never vote for a candidate who takes a red cent from the NRA. Until more people do the same, nothing will change. Children’s lives will continue to be snuffed out.

Will America act, or will it continue merely to roll out its “thoughts and prayers” to make itself feel better when its children are slaughtered?

Or perhaps we’ll just blame the kids.

I guess we’ll see.

P.S. For perspective (homicides by firearm per million people) –

P.S. # 2 If there is any doubt about the power of the NRA, consider the fact background checks are not required on all gun buyers and then consider the information below. Obviously, our representatives have someone else’s interests in mind other than the people’s.

P.S. # 3 Sobering data:

Why Doesn’t Trump Care that Russia Meddled in Our Election?

It’s pretty clear that Russia meddled in our last presidential election. And the elections of other democracies. Now I’m not for taking the high road. Goodness knows the U.S.A. has meddled in other countries’ elections. And worse (such as government-sanctioned assassinations). That said, I don’t think it’s something we should overlook or excuse either. After all, we are a democracy. If the integrity of the electoral process is compromised, that which underpins the system collapses. So, yes, it’s a big deal, and it’s something we should address in an aggressive manner.

Yet our president isn’t the least bit bothered by Russia’s interference. Which raises the obvious question: Why not?

I think there can be only two possible answers. First, he’s not bothered by it because it worked to his favor. And, as everyone knows, it’s always about what is best for Donald J. Trump. We have a president who puts nothing — absolutely nothing — above his own personal interests. So he may not be bothered by the whole Russia affair because he was helped by it and expects to be helped even more in the future.

The other possible explanation is that the Russians have something on him. That would explain a lot. In effect, Putin could bring him down by the disclosure of information that revealed Mr. Trump did something that even his more ardent supporters would have a hard time excusing.

So which is it? Explanation # 1 or # 2?

I have no idea. Of course, it could be both. And it could be something entirely different.  But it’s unlikely.

P.S. If Trump refuses to answer the special counsel’s questions, his refusal would suggest explanation # 2 is the right one.

The Absurdity of American Democracy In the Era of Big Money

I’ve just about had it with all the whining and complaining (which, I admit, is ironic considering the complaining I’m doing here). Events in Washington and in many of our state capitals prove, over and over again, just how corrupt and ineffectual the system is. And the degree to which money has coopted the system. And just how far we are from a functioning democracy.

And so we complain. And whine. And bitch. And point the finger at everyone. Except ourselves that is.

We seem oblivious to the connection between money and the output we receive. We tolerate a system of campaign finance that is certain to be a corrupting influence. And we keep electing people to offices despite their proven track record of ineptitude. And despite their venile behavior. And cruel words.

To make matters worse, many of us have allowed ourselves to be corrupted by a naive, self-destructive ideology. We willingly accept as true absurd claims made by people who are interested in nothing other than their own self-interest. We seem to have lost the traits of skepticism and discernment. We seem to have lost any sense of how a democracy is supposed to work.

And so we are where we are.

But this too shall pass, I believe. Eventually, we shall come to a more enlightened era, when people realize the inherent dangers of unconstrained greed and power. When people understand the work that’s necessary to build and sustain a society that yields the best quality of life for everyone. When people recognize the absurdity in calling people winners or losers. When people no longer react favorably to acts of cruelty.

I don’t know when that day will come. I may be gone from this earth by the time it comes. But it will come.

In the meantime, we should accept responsibility for that which we have created. And stop pointing the finger. The system we have is the system that is the predictable, inevitable product of that which we value. And are willing to tolerate.

Today, money rules. So stop feigning surprise.

Rethinking Hypocrisy

My earliest recollection of hypocrisy was in church. It was there I sat and listened to the pious prayers of my father. The distinction between the man who spoke those words and the man I knew as my father was striking in the mind of his son. The son never felt loved by this man. The son experienced the coldness, the harshness, the anger. It was not all bad, of course; there were good times. But it was nothing like the love and compassion preached in the church; spoken of in the prayers. I learned what hypocrisy felt like. And I didn’t like it, not one bit.

As I matured, I realized that hypocrisy had found a home among most if not all churchgoers. They claimed to believe one thing and then lived their lives as if they believed something else. There was so much pretending.

Along the way, I realized I, too, was a hypocrite. I always fell short of the values and principles I espoused. Walking the talk was so damn hard.

And so I was hard on myself. And on others. And found I longed for authenticity, both in myself and others. I think I even desired it more than goodness.

At the same time, I recognized that authenticity could be costly. I came to realize the strong incentives for hypocrisy in the world. And came to understand just how much incentives matter. It made me less judgmental, but I still loathed hypocrisy. I saw no redeeming virtue in it. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe how naive I was.

In time, I came to accept that hypocrisy was part of our nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.” Every man. Perhaps it’s no one’s fault.

Something I read recently, authored by Paul Craig Roberts, caused me to question further whether I had been too hard on hypocrisy — on myself and others. Mr. Roberts wrote:

There is a vast difference between proclaiming moral principles that one might fail to live up to and proclaiming immoral principles that are all too easy to keep.

We live in an era in which the proclamation of immoral principles is commonplace. Indeed, we even elected an immoral man to be our president. I’ve tried to find some redeeming virtue in the man. But I can’t.

But it’s not only him. It’s everywhere around us. In the corporate world, immorality thrives under cover of the principle of shareholder value, which supposedly cleanses all unclean deeds. But you find it in the nonprofit world, too. And among nations. And among religious folk. Especially religious folk.

President Trump makes my dad look really good. Yes, my father was a hypocrite. Probably no worse than me or most others, but a hypocrite nonetheless.

However, he was a man who proclaimed moral principles. And who lived up to most of them, most of the time. He didn’t love me well, but he taught me well. And probably did the best he could do.

I could have done worse. Much worse. I could have been reared by people who proclaimed immoral principles. By people whose sins dwarfed the sin of hypocrisy.

I was fortunate.

I used to think there weren’t many things worse than hypocrisy. I suppose it’s just one of many things I thought I knew that proved to be untrue.

The Newest War

I think yesterday will mark the beginning of our newest war. Yesterday is the day the Trump Administration announced new stiff tariffs on solar cell imports and washing machines. China and South Korea will not be pleased. Nor will American consumers, who will end up paying more for electricity and home appliances. Some people will be pleased though. They include stockholders in Whirlpool, domestic solar cell producers (if there are any), and some people who will end up being hired by Whirlpool, although their numbers likely will be dwarfed by the number who lose their jobs in the solar industry. In short, there will be some winners and some losers in the short term. The long term is a different matter.

We’ve been down this path before so we have some idea what to expect. In fact, a lot of what’s happening these days is reminiscent of the years leading up to, and the early days of, the Great Depression. Then, the nation decided to pull back from its open border policies, both in commerce and immigration. It seemed like a good idea at the time, at least to some people. But as we know, it didn’t turn out so well.

That’s not surprising. For when one nation takes actions that hurt other nations, it’s reasonable and predictable to expect retaliatory measures. And that’s why I suspect yesterday marked the beginning of the newest war: it could well be the day the 21st-century trade wars commenced.

The problem with trade wars isn’t only economic. The larger problem is that they often lead to military wars. And casualties. And that’s exactly where I fear we’re headed. I will be surprised if we don’t find ourselves at war with China in my lifetime. And perhaps Russia, too.

Meanwhile, our stock market is looking a lot like the market in the 1920s. And we know what happened in 1929. I’m not predicting a repeat performance, but it’s safe to say there are risks that are being minimized or ignored. And that’s never a good thing.

Given extraordinarily high asset values and a highly leveraged corporate sector, along with unprecedented peacetime sovereign debt levels, it’s easy to imagine an eventual outcome that entails a lot of financial carnage, especially against the backdrop of economic inequality the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1920s. Yet we don’t seem to be concerned.

The nation chose to go in a belligerent, self-centered, tribalistic direction in the last election. It was a foolish decision, but it was the decision we made. And now we’re seeing it play out.

The worst is yet to come. Nonetheless, I suspect most of us will come through it just fine. But some of us won’t. And it’s hard to know today who the winners and losers will be. We just have to keep our ears to the ground and be quick to react, I suppose.

We’ll do our best for you, Vera. And for your parents and your uncle Andrew. I suppose it’s my main mission in life now. I consider myself fortunate to have all of you in my life. Fortunate indeed.

Fanning the Flames of Destruction

The president of the United States thinks some countries are “shitholes.” And, to no one’s surprise, they happen to be populated by people with dark skin.

In yesterday’s post, I debated whether America was burning, much like Rome — whether its best days were ahead of it, or behind it. Today the debate seems silly.

Leaders of great nations don’t talk the way America’s president talks.

It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. There is more to life than the status or standards (of living and morality) of one’s country of residence. Things like family and friends matter more. Far more.

I suspect America was never as great as some people believe and isn’t nearly as bad today as some people believe. As is often the case, truth is probably hiding somewhere in the middle, out of sight.

We do know that such condescension is not new. “Those places are filled with barbarians.” “Savages.” “Illiterates.” So-called great nations have never had any trouble coming up with pejorative terms to describe people of less powerful and less wealthy places. Just add “shithole” to the list.

The danger inherent in condescension is that it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Ironic, isn’t it?

Even Rome Wasn’t Burnt In a Day

Conservative author and pundit Jonah Goldberg recently reminded us that “even Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.” He was talking about the United States. And what he sees as our country’s decline.

Sven Henrich was even more pointed:

If you ever wanted to understand how the all powerful Roman empire ended up destroying itself, just watch the news in 2017.

More recently, James Traub authored an article in Foreign Policy titled “The United States of America Is Decadent and Depraved,” wherein he observed that:

Decadence is usually understood as an irreversible condition — the last stage before collapse. … But as American decadence is distinctive, perhaps America’s fate may be, too.

At the close of the year, in an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader delivered a stinging critique of the current state of America, in a column titled The Visionless Society.

I don’t know if America is in decline. But I have to admit: it feels like Messrs. Goldberg, Henrich, Traub and Nader could be right.

Mainly, I feel this way because of 11 specific factors.  Continue reading