Saturday, October 22, 2016

DOWN WITH STATE AND LOCAL DOWN-BALLOT REPUBLICANS

Although I loathe Donald and love Hillary, I kidded that I wanted to vote for Jed Bartlet, but the ballot did not provide for a presidential write-in.  Words fail this English Ph.D. to describe the moral abyss, psychological morass, and political maelstrom which Trump is.  The combination of ignorance, arrogance, and sociopathy has never appeared before on the national stage as the candidate of a major political party.  For this unique ascension of this man to his nomination as candidate for the presidency of the United States, all Americans are indebted to the Republican Party.

Donald Trump—racist, misogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semite (what have I missed?)—is the clearest embodiment and expression of what Republicanism has insinuated itself to be and what Republicans have supported at least since the “Southern Strategy” almost 50 years ago.  By accepting, appealing to, and exploiting its Base, Republicans have mounted a beast from which it cannot dismount.  The National Republican Party remains steadfast in Trump’s support.  Republican leaders in Congress—notably, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell—and out—Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich—have surrendered their claim to responsible conduct in the service of their country’s interest.  Ryan and Mitchell retreat into waffle; Giuliani and Gingrich rally to the cause.  Depending on the risks to their re-election, Republican candidates try bob-and-weave or rope-a-dope to avoid the defilement of association with Trump.  On the national stage, Republicans are implying that taking personal responsibility is something which they recommend for others.

Republicans should be punished for foisting Trump on this country and allowing him to poison American democracy.  Up-ballot, of course, and down-ballot, for sure—they should all be held accountable for enabling this man’s candidacy.  They should be punished by straight-party voting for Democratic candidates for every office in the land, from the presidency to dogcatcher.  They should never be forgiven until they, as party and as individual party leaders and federal officeholders, apologize for their politically heinous behavior.  Any exceptions to their party’s and their leaders’ irresponsibility are tainted by the company which they keep.

Their last resort—encouraging votes for their Senate and House candidates to obstruct Clinton—shows them as unrepentant about their intent, and as resolved, to wreck American democracy.  As Trump has made clear his intent to rewrite the Constitution according to his impulses, so Ryan, Mitchell, and others have made clear their intent to prevent Constitutional government under Democrat leadership by obstructing all presidential appointments (thank you, John McCain, for spilling the beans).  If the Democrats win the Senate, Chuck Schumer must be willing at the outset to redefine the rules on filibusters and “holds” so that they do not apply to presidential appointments.  Republican Senators can argue and vote against any nominee, but they should not be able to block appointment of qualified individuals to serve government.


Re-building confidence in America’s political system is not something which the Republicans can do, so great is their hostility to democracy, so great is their support for “small government,” and so consistent are their efforts to impair democracy by voter suppression, and government by shutdowns and filibusters.  It is something which only Democrats and Independents can do.  The need for recovery from Republican-sponsored sabotage of the country’s Constitutional commitment to “We the People” is the reason for voting a straight Democrat ticket in all contested elections.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

WHEN TRUMP LOSES, CAN AMERICA RECOVER FROM REPUBLICANS?

A month ago, I wrote that “Trump will win, and Hillary will lose.”  With three weeks until Election Day, I am pleased to write that I am likely wrong, as I wanted to be.  Probably, pessimism tipped the scales of my judgment of a bizarre political contest at a bad moment; certainly, nothing could have prepared me for the specific triggers—sex, lies, and videotape—of Trump’s meltdown (better than the movie).  But, oh, how poetic the justice of it is.

For much of the past year, I have taken the media, which Trump castigates, to task for giving him a pass as merely a narcissist and a bully.  One and one make two; and narcissism plus sadism equal sociopathy.  The grandiose egoism, the lack of empathy for others, the manipulation and abuse of others, the sexual promiscuity, the impulsive behavior, the unpredictability of mood, the indifference to truth, the refusal to take responsibility, the vulgar, vitriolic, or violent language when contradicted, criticized, or thwarted—these and many other features are characteristic of the type.

Trump confronts a personal crisis.  Bad to lose at all, a loss making him what he most detests: a loser.  Worse to lose in public, in a slowly evolving national repudiation in the biggest reality show of his life.  Worst to lose to, yes, a woman, one whom he has slurred as dishonest, crooked, lacking in strength and stamina, addicted, and unattractive.  His sociopathic response is evident in denial, blame-shifting, and conspiracy mongering.  He attributes his loss to an overpowering conspiracy of the media, rigged elections and fraudulent voting, establishment elites of both parties, and international bankers (read: Jews).  Those who have read Hitler’s biography recognize the modus operandi.

My guess, hopeful as it is, is that Trump, whatever he wills, cannot destroy a city like Washington or a country like America.  Balancing his apocalyptic vision of his enemies are equally apocalyptic visions of the damage which he will wreak after he loses.  More likely, when he loses, he will have some few moments of diminished attention, some rallies of distempered oratory and dispirited reception, and then a decent into ignominy and triviality.  His die-hard supporters will die hard in the knowledge that they as well as their leader have been defeated, denounced, and despised.  Disgust is fatal.

The real threat of damage is, once again, from Republicans.  After the 2012 loss, the Republican National Committee, under Reince Priebus, did an autopsy and advocated an agenda for reforming the party to increase its chances of success in presidential elections.  Then Priebus and other leading Republicans and party flunkies—Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani—became advocates of the arch-antithesis of that agenda.  Now the party is torn between two factions, the coastal establishment and the interior mob.  The glue of the “Southern strategy,” namely, racism (morphing to include intolerance of immigrants, Hispanics, Muslims, LGBTQs, and woman) no longer attaches the mob to the barons and mavens of capitalistic democracy.  Evangelical Christians will split between the two groups depending on whether their greater allegiance is to Mammon or to Mayhem.  So long as the Republican Party remains divided, its members will again try to prove their staunch commitment to Republican principles, unnamed because unknown, and the usual vacuous slogans of small government, lower taxes, and less regulation, by devoting their energies to obstructing Clinton (as they devoted them to obstructing Obama).  Misogyny will replace racism as the new glue of the Republican Party.  By this political strategy, they will weaken the very government which they aspire to run and, self-defeatingly, lose even more rapidly the race to replace dying white men and their families with minorities and women.


Whether a coherent and competitive political Republican Party can emerge from this election is the question.  If it is to help the country recover from the damage which it has inflicted, it will have to accept defeat, return to the customary role of the minority as the “loyal opposition,” and settle its problems in its caucuses, not in the two chambers of Congress.  In the Senate, as a sign of goodwill, it should support the end of the filibuster for presidential appointments.  Going forward, if it to have any chance at all, it will have to change its leadership—Priebus, Ryan, and Mitchell—and sideline its temporizers or opportunists—among others, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Jeff Sessions.  Congressional elders like John McCain and Lindsey Graham should be retired to quiet offices and powerless positions.  For the future, the party should look to someone like Nicky Haley, who has the grit and the sense and sensibility to lead, and not go for the mindlessness and meanness of a Susana Martinez, who, with a bad record, has only her gender and ethnicity to recommend her.  If they go for stars now and do not build a team with a strong bench, they could go the way of the Cleveland Browns and win nothing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

ELECTION REFLECTIONS IN A DARK HOUR

[NOTE: I sent the following letter to a small group of family and close friends in the early hours of Monday morning.  Those who have replied have liked it, and I thought that I would share it, slightly touched up for publication.]

Since I am writing at this hour, you know that I have not been sleeping.  I have pretty much recovered from a bad cold caught on my trip to California to help my ex-wife and her car get to Albuquerque for her new start on life.  She has a nice apartment and a promising job at last (let us pray).  My four dogs and three cats were glad to see me when I retrieved them from the boarding kennel.  Life has returned to normal.

Just in time for the news: Clinton’s pneumonia.  I do not question her health, and I do not pay the press much heed on this one (I sometimes think that it wants Clinton to fail and Trump to succeed; he will generate far more news).  But I find the episode troubling because it prompted me to realize that Hillary is losing the race which she should have won long ago.  And she is losing it because she has no beard to shave.  If she did, she would have to look in the mirror every day and eventually address the questions which the mirror always asks.

So we now have in Hillary a candidate as unwilling to face the reality of her situation as much as we have in Donald a candidate indifferent to any reality other than the moment in the context of his sociopathic spin on it.  Some choice.  In evading the reality of her character and its flaws—a penchant for secrecy at all costs, a willingness to evade political discomfort at all costs—she is paying those costs, for nothing in her campaign treasury can cover them.  Simple: if she does not trust the people, they will not trust her.

Trump will win, and Hillary will lose.  And the reality she will find inescapable.  She will have defaulted to a demagogue who will do irreparable—and I mean irreparable—damage to this country, to democracy, to people for whom political and economic justice remains a dream and to people who have dreamt that they had it, and, most particularly, to women, who will now have to face the historical fact that one of the most highly qualified nominees for the modern presidency and the first woman nominee of a major political party was the first woman to fail, and to the worst candidate ever to run as the nominee of a major political party.

Trump has shown us the truth about America and Americans.  It has never been “one nation” of a people united by a shared democratic process, universal justice, and mutual respect for others.  Instead, it has been a mixture of political, religious, and economic factions with no effective core of principles or values.  Plainly, talk about truths “self-evident” and laws guided by constitutional principles has been the pieties necessary to avoid the fact that most Americans do not subscribe to equality, fair play, decency, or even, at a minimum, self-restraint.  The rules-are-made-to-be-broken crowd of the left is as responsible for this state of affairs as the government-is-the-problem crowd on the right.  Both have succeeded in destroying all authority, moral, legal, or political, in the name of liberty, or license.  “Do your own thing” is exactly what we are doing.


Many who subscribe to these pieties will strive to protect and preserve what they assert from the mob of bigotry and the elite of plutocracy.  Thus, to region after region, state after state, city after city, neighborhood after neighborhood, dwelling after dwelling, the hostilities of internecine war will come to America.  As a “radical moderate” of the center which no longer holds, I shall still be part of the good fight for a good, though losing, cause.  Even the need to fight, even if the good cause were to prevail, diminishes the American which will emerge.  The first Civil War never really ended; the second Civil War will not end either.  Reconstruction then, reconstruction at some future date—futility once, futility forever.  The Great Experiment has failed.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

COMMON CAUSE PROPOSAL SUPPORTS FUNDING OF RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGNS & REDUCES MONEY FOR SOCIAL SERVICES

Common Cause’s proposed ordinance for public financing of local elections poses a sharp choice.  Either automatically transfer $200,000 from the City General Fund to a “Fair Elections Fund” (FEF) available to all candidates or leave $200,000 available for social services.  Ordinance advocates have not answered, or agreed upon answers to, four questions: what purposes it serves, what problems it solves, what standards measure success or failure, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs.  Apparently, advocates believe that past elections have been “unfair” and future elections need tax dollars to be “fair.”

Whatever its other deficiencies, the ordinance has three major defects, each with undesirable consequences.

First, the FEF supports an unknown but larger number of candidates, presumably, the more, the merrier.  Not likely.  In a city population leaning left more than right, more candidates can be expected from the left than the right.  Because political discipline in elections is weaker on the left than on the right, the left will likely have several candidates and divided supporters, and the right will likely have only one candidate and unified supporters.  The probable result will be a majority of councilors on the right governing a majority of citizens on the left.  From a democratic point of view, the ordinance would increase the risk of the election of a government lacking “the consent of the governed.”

Second, the FEF supports qualifying candidates—experienced politicians and first-time novices—equally.  Yet experienced politicians, who have name recognition, numerous supporters, and generous contributors, have advantages which first-time novices do not.  They are more likely, their rivals less likely, to raise enough money to receive the maximum funds permitted by the fund.  So the FEF gives as least as much money to the “haves” as to the “have nots,” although the “haves” are likely to receive far more private money to support their campaigns.  Nothing would be “fair” about equal FEF distributions.

To make the fund seem “fair,” the ordinance excludes present Council members from receiving FEF funds for their first campaign after ordinance approval.  Thereafter, any continuing or former Council member, still possessing the advantages of public office, can qualify for public funding.  Clearly, Council advocates intend this ordinance to help them in all but the first of their re-election campaigns after enactment.  Otherwise, they could have refused qualification for FEF funds to any person who has served as a Council member.  What advocates chose not to do reveals that they intend the ordinance to serve mainly their interests, not primarily those of potential competitors.  The public does not benefit from experienced politicians getting taxpayer funds for their campaigns.

Third, the ordinance mandates an annual, “non-lapsing,” FEF contribution.  Anti-democratically, Council advocates intend it to protect this money for themselves before the annual budget process begins and public participation in setting budget priorities commences.  Self-servingly, Council advocates think that $400,000 is better spent on elections every two years than $200,000 for other purposes each year.  Anyone believing that these funds might be better spent on hungry, homeless, or sick people; on victims of domestic abuse or rape; on senior centers or public parks; or other social services should know that Council advocates believe that their needs come first.  Arrogantly, they presume to know better than future City Councils what will be in the best interests of Las Cruces citizens.


Whatever else may be said about the proposed ordinance, mandating the availability of taxpayer funds to experienced politicians for their re-election and denying those funds to other community purposes in advance of discussion neither serve the public interest nor support democratic government.  The only fix is its defeat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

COMMON CAUSE: STILL POLLUTING, NOT PROMOTING, DEBATE ON PUBLIC FINANCING

[NOTE: In my previous blog on the issue of public funding of qualifying candidates, I noted the disparity between Common Cause’s claim to “[empower] ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process” and its conduct in trying to discourage anyone who disagrees with its position on this issue.  Common Cause wants City Council to meet briefly to pass its proposal as an ordinance; I desire a public disclosure and debate in advance of any decision whether by Council vote or a ballot vote.  In this open letter recently emailed to the Las Cruces Mayor, all other members of City Council, and others in the community, I now detail the efforts of Common Cause’s agents and its local loyalists to discredit dissenters from their views.]


Mr. Mayor:

I write to expand on my reply to some email exchanges Thursday and Friday in the on-going controversy about public financing of local candidates for elected offices.  (I shall send all relevant emails to those requesting them so that they can judge for themselves matters discussed below.)  I copy others to inform them about the state of discourse on this issue and concerted efforts to discredit me by impugning my character because of my presumed opposition to the Common Cause proposal.  I say “presumed” because my questions and criticisms want facts and note flaws; if they are not answered or rebutted, I shall oppose public money spent without likely greater benefit.  The strategy of its advocates reflects a commonplace legal strategy: if the facts are against you, argue the law; when if the law is against you, argue the facts; and if both are against you, attack opposing counsel.

Thursday began with your calling into question my transparency, with the obvious implication that, if I were not transparent according to your definition of “public figure,” not letting you know who were receiving my emails suggested to you that I was operating in a shady manner.  You had my response, but there is still more to say.

As Mayor and head of City Council, you are unquestionably a “public figure.”  Yet Counselors and you are considering behind closed doors in smoke-free rooms—actually, most Council members already approve—a Common Cause proposal for public financing.  At public forums, Common Cause agents, some Councilors, other advocates, and you have made presentations to generally uninformed audiences in no position to know whether your representations accurately report on the proposal provisions, including the provision mandating annual funding, or to ask informed questions.  Such problems exist.

For instance, this past Thursday, at a PVA meeting, I addressed this funding provision and explained its consequences.  I said that it did not matter whether the proposal included a mandate or not because the proposal would always present a choice between funds for candidates and funds for other purposes, particularly social services, the only difference being that a mandate made the decision permanent, not annual.  Craig Fenske countered by claiming that the proposal contained no mandate.  Afterwards, at the PVA party, Don Kurtz explained to me that the provision was like other mandates—admitting that it was a mandate—which commit present and future funds to pay off bonds, etc.  My reply that bonds, unlike the proposed provision, are not funded by general revenues did not please him.  An earlier example: speaking on a panel moderated by Peter Goodman, Councilor Gil Sorg stated that the proposal cost was $100,000 a year over 8 years.  False: it is $200,000 a year over a 4-year election cycle.  Did Sorg misspeak, misrepresent the proposal, or not understand what he supports?  If advocates contradict each other on its funding provision or misreport it for whatever reason, who else can understand, much less evaluate, the proposal?

So I propose, in the interest of transparency, that you arrange for the city website to provide, and prominently indicate the means to view, the latest version of the proposal.  Citizens could decide for themselves what the proposal says or does not say.  It would make clear whether Fenske or Kurtz is accurately representing or reasonably interpreting the funding mechanism.  It would enable citizens to learn what else the proposal includes or excludes, and whether the proposal serves public, not special, interests.

On that point, when Councilor Smith and you met with me, you explained that the funds were for inexperienced, unknown, unfunded candidates, and recited your history as one such candidate when you began your political career.  It had not occurred to me otherwise, so I overlooked the omission of anything in the proposal to preclude present and former elected officials from using these funds in their future campaigns.  However, later, someone’s “Sound Off” stated just such a suspicion: City Council members want no restrictions on their eligibility to make funding their future campaigns easier.  It implies that the proposal is a disingenuous ploy to help fill City Council members’ campaign coffers.  Your transparency might address this suspicion and disclose other flaws.

Absent a published proposal, a public statement of the problems, a discussion showing that the proposal solves them, a cost-benefit analysis, criteria of success (or failure), and a sunset provision, advocates can say anything to anyone at any time to promote the proposal.  In the absence of this public information, discussion degenerates into personal attacks on those criticizing something about which even advocates do not agree.  Your Thursday morning question challenging my integrity was followed by Kurtz’s Thursday night warning—how did Kurtz know?—that Common Cause would “deal with” me in a Friday email smear by Aaron Sherb at Common Cause’s Washington headquarters.  This timing and the link between Kurtz and Sherb suggest collusion to discredit me by assassinating my character.  No surprise: those who refuse to answer reasonable questions and respond to criticisms of a proposal have few alternatives.  Set aside your innuendo about my integrity and your definition of me as a public figure, a definition relevant to libel, and Fenske’s and Sherb’s lawyerly avoidance of libel by using cognates of “seem” to insinuate my indifference to “dark money” or my dishonesty in reporting agreement that the CCNM funding mechanism is “unusual,” respectively.  Your failure to promote informed and unfettered public discussion on so important an issue as elections and their funding, and advocates’ misinformation, contradiction, and personal attack are good reasons to question their integrity and their and its purposes.  If the time and energy devoted to discrediting me had been put into addressing obvious questions and concerns, everyone would be better served, not least the public.

So I repeat my opening suggestion: get the proposal on the website.  I repeat a previous suggestion: have someone—Common Cause, city staff, or the city lawyer—prepare a competent rationale of it.  I urged one over 6 months ago when Fenske, Peter Goodman, and I lunched in mid-December, and I offered to help Fenske prepare one.  Fenske indicated agreement with and acceptance of my good-faith offer, but he did not follow through; instead, he later misrepresented my position on “dark money” in a column which did little or nothing for informed discussion of the proposal.  It is long since time for City Council and Common Cause to come clean—to be transparent—by fully disclosing all relevant public documents and by promoting informed and honest democratic debate of this proposal.

Michael