Archive for the ‘POLITICS & THE ECONOMY’ Category

CHOSHEK

This past Wednesday, Northern California experienced something resembling the ninth plague with which God struck the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites. Choshek—darkness—enveloped us. It also issued major warnings.

Exodus 10:22-23 relates, “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another . . .” The Israelites were spared. Two days ago, no one was.

Daytime darkness resulted from thick fog covered by heavy smoke from fires raging throughout California and the West. An orange sky—welcome to Mars—cast little physical light. But choshek might illuminate our thinking.

Two issues come to mind.

First, Western fires have grown harder to fight because the region has grown much dryer and hotter. Blindness to climate change won’t cut it. We need more awareness and action from Washington, which has the big bucks. We also need better forest management by federal and state officials. Prescribed burns and, in some cases, letting forests burn after lightning strikes or human malevolence/stupidity can eliminate fuel that would ignite bigger conflagrations in the future.

Further, the cost to taxpayers and stress on firefighters working under brutal conditions continually increase as Cal Fire seeks to protect communities in remote high-risk areas. I don’t blame the victims for loving beautiful, serene forests. But public support may no longer be sustainable for people who live isolated in those forests and won’t or can’t (re)build homes according to fire-resistant standards. Their insurance premiums are likely to skyrocket—if policies are available.

Building smart isn’t cheap. Not everyone has the assets. But it’s doable. Case in point:

My friend Dan recently built a luxury house in Lake County. An outstanding builder-developer, he situated the house away from others. He specified concrete/stucco walls, a metal roof and fire-resistant windows. The floors are concrete-slab with a stone-tile finish—not wood. The house includes other safety details plus a major water supply and fire hydrant on site. This reflects Dan’s sense of personal responsibility.

Second, the nation is experiencing a darkness of the soul, which many Americans refuse to acknowledge. Wednesday morning, a peek into Bob Woodward’s new book Rage (out September 15) documented Donald Trump’s refusal to tell the American people that in early February, he knew the coronavirus was far deadlier than the flu and presented a major public health problem. Trump didn’t want to cause “panic.” Interviewed after the book’s revelations,  he defended his position.

Really? Would you fail to tell Americans a hurricane was coming?

Had Trump been forthright, Americans could have begun isolating and wearing masks far earlier than mid-March. Many who believed Trump’s public assertions about COVID-19 being a hoax and a Democratic plot might have complied. Tens of thousands of lives—a hundred thousand? More?—might have been saved.

The Jewish New Year (5781)—Rosh Hashanah—begins in one week. Hopefully, the choshek we’ve just experienced will prompt Jews everywhere to further search our souls regarding personal and communal responsibilities and opportunities—and all Americans to consider fact and truth to be our friends, not enemies.

May we find a way to see or—light—by foregoing falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and listening to and respecting each other.

May the memories of the innocent killed on September 11, 2001, including all the first responders and courageous civilians who struggled to save them and others—and those who succumbed later be for a blessing. May the survivors heal. And may we learn.

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“THE BIG BLUE BOX HEIST”

I was in the office playing solitaire—real cards—and checking email when the beautiful babe showed up. Big eyes. Long dark hair. Legs up to there. I glanced at the lucky guy with her. “What kind of dog is Gorgeous?”

“Mixed,” he said. “Great genes.” I nodded at the lucky bastard. “And you are—?” I asked. “Citizen,” he answered. “John Q. Citizen.” I trashed an email from my bookie. “What brings you here, John Q.?”

“They say Sam Spadinsky is the best private eye in town. And aren’t you—” I grinned. “Sam Spade was my grandfather. Married late—but right. Grandma Ida made killer matzah balls.” He stared. “Name got changed after my great-grandfather Moishe Spadinsky went through Ellis Island.”

“As to my problem, this could take some time,” John Q. said. “No rush,” I said. “You walked in, you punched the clock.” He stroked the top of Gorgeous’ head. She purred. A dog? “I’m looking for answers,” he said. “Okay,” I said. “Give with the questions.”

“The OakTown caper,” he said. “Valuable big blue boxes heisted.” I placed a red ten on a black jack. “No mystery. Men in blue suits. Work for the Orange Man.”

“It’s not who,” said John Q. “It’s why.” I rolled my eyes. “Election’s coming up.” He glanced at Gorgeous. “But people from both parties vote by mail,” he said. “To make a case in the court of public opinion, I need the real motive.”

Gorgeous yipped her support. She sounded like my ex—who, to be fair, didn’t appreciate my snoring. “It’s all about keeping the wrong people from casting ballots,” I said. “Wrong people?” John Q. asked. “Why shouldn’t everyone be able to vote?”

I took a flask of Scotch from my desk drawer along with a book. The flask was for show. The book was the real deal. “Goes way back. It’s all here. These Truths. A history of America by a gal name Jill Lepore. I’ll read you three passages about the 19th century.”

“Page 234: Abel Upshur, President John Tyler’s secretary of state, on slavery: ‘However poor, or ignorant or miserable he may be, he [a white man] has yet the consoling consciousness that there is a still lower condition to which he can never be reduced.’

“Page 256: George Fitzhugh, this American social theorist from Virginia—‘some [men] were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them,—and the riding does them good.’

And page 269: Chief Justice Roger Taney on the 1857 Dred Scott Case argues that Congress has no power to limit slavery in the states because the guys who wrote the Constitution considered people of African descent ‘beings of an inferior order . . .’”

“I had no idea!” said John Q. “It seems beliefs about keeping some people from voting is deeply rooted in our national history.” I raised an eyebrow. “Misbeliefs.” Gorgeous barked her agreement. “How much do I owe you?” he asked. I shook my head. “This one’s on me.”

After John Q. left with Gorgeous, I ran the table on my solitaire game. I felt good. I’d given John Q. the cards he needed. Then I emailed my bookie for the odds on how well he’d play them.

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DARKNESS AND LIGHT

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are competing to see who can turn the lights back on in America. Biden sees the nation engulfed in darkness. Trump sees Biden as darkness incarnate and said last night, he is “brimming with confidence of the bright future.” I think I see why.

Covid-19 has killed 180,000 Americans. Trump has taken terrible shots from Democrats and the media. His defense shines light on the obvious: He didn’t create the virus. China did. Maybe in a lab. That’s what some people say. Masks? America is all about freedom. We have a higher moral duty than containing a virus that eventually will disappear. The light at the end of the tunnel: A disproportionate percentage of the dead are Blacks, Mexicans and Native Americans. Whites, slated to become another minority around 2042, may extend their majority status as God intends. P.S.: Dead seniors reduce stress on Social Security and Medicare.

Weekly unemployment claims on August 20 again rose above one million. Public-health nutjobs shut down our economy hurting our workforce—and their survivors. Good news: Unemployment among Blacks rose from 6.1 percent in Q2 2019 to 16.1 percent in Q2 2020. Hispanic/Latino unemployment rose from 3.9 percent to 16.7 percent. But whites went from 3.1 percent to only 12 percent. (Source: bis.gov.) Real Americans did better than the minorities seeking to invade our suburbs and destroy the American way of life.

The City of New York and State of New York are investigating Trump’s businesses. Cut to the chase: Capitalism is about making a buck. If fake laws and regulations stand in the way, why should a capitalist knuckle under? Like reporting assets accurately or paying taxes. Losers do that. Our president wants Americans to be winners.

Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor, is the latest Trump associate to be indicted. Wire fraud? Money laundering? What, you skipped the paragraph above? Maybe Bannon did skim a million dollars or more from a crowdfunding project to build a wall sealing off Mexico. No biggie. A beautiful wall will enable this nation to keep out the murderers and rapists the coronavirus doesn’t eliminate on this side of the border.

Jerry Falwell Jr., resigned as president and chancellor of Liberty University—sex scandal. Seems that the wife of this leader of evangelical Trump supporters had an affair with a pool boy in Florida. Falwell might have been part of a threesome—he liked to watch. Go to the light. A disgraced Christian reveals himself as the sinner we all are, asks Jesus for forgiveness and—maybe—is saved from hellfire. Everyone loves a prodigal son. Hallelujah!

“Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness Monster of the swamp.”—Donald Trump Jr. Off the top, a very dark thing to say about the Democratic candidate, especially from someone who on Instagram suggested that Biden was a pedophile. But think of the poetic imagery, the literary chops of perhaps the nation’s next poet laureate. Note to Junior: Everyone loves Nessie.

So get real. Donald Trump has been targeted by the forces of darkness with Joe Biden being “the destroyer of American greatness.” But Trump believes that “America is the torch that enlightens the entire world.” True that.

If we don’t burn our democracy down first.

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MY WIFE IS NASTY

When you’re married to a woman for nearly 51 years (September 4), you learn a bit about her. So I can say without hesitation, my wife Carolyn is nasty.

My wife is nasty because she’s independent. She thinks for herself. She insists on standing on her own two feet, not under my thumb.

My wife is nasty because she believes that racial justice is long overdue and that Americans must do all that they can to achieve it. Likewise, she supports the broad and varied LGBTQ community. Of course, Carolyn has her selfish side. We have a trans son and a gay son in addition to a straight son.

My wife is nasty because she believes in reason and science. She wears a mask when we go out. More, she sews them. She’s given out over 180. Our dining table hosts her ancient sewing machine—refurbished several months ago—and cotton cloth plus polyurethane for a lining that makes them quite effective.

My wife is nasty because she believes that women, as well as men, can hold positions of power and influence, up to and including the White House. She doesn’t insult men. Neither does she accept insults to women whose achievements are notable and add so much to every component of American life.

My wife is nasty because she believes that every American is entitled to healthcare. She gets it that this is essential to unlocking the full potential of every American and providing comfort to those whose means don’t match ours. That’s only natural, since like so many wives and mothers, she’s the family nurse, always there to provide assistance and insist that when it’s time to see the doctor, we go.

The Book of Proverbs lauds the eshet chayil—the woman of valor. “Her worth is far beyond that of rubies.” In the days of Proverbs’ writing, women’s and men’s roles were pretty much divided. The woman of valor was lauded for performing specific tasks connected to home and family. Yet the woman of valor also is heralded for a particularly important trait—giving generously to the poor (31:20). Advancing only her own family’s status and that of the wealthy never comes into play.

Above all, the woman of valor remains defined by the verse reading, “It is for her fear of the Lord / That a woman is to be praised” (31:30). The Bible, viewed in all its perspective and context, demands that a woman of valor adhere to the deep moral principles it prescribes. Lip service doesn’t cut it—for anyone.

Today, women and men share a great many tasks. Being home, where I write these posts and fiction, I do lots of cleaning, house chores and occasional cooking. Carolyn and my relationship has evolved with the times, not to lessen fear of the Lord but enhance it. We seek to create and maintain a real partnership, reflected in Genesis 2:24: “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.”

A woman of valor clings to her husband as he does to her but never surrenders her individuality. She champions honesty and kindness to everyone regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender preference or gender identification.

Carolyn truly is an eshet chayil. You can’t get nastier.

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NEITHER SNOW NOR RAIN NOR HEAT

The unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service long has been, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” What does? An American president hellbent on making a mockery of the Constitution and democracy.

Polls indicate that Donald Trump badly trails Joe Biden in this year’s presidential campaign. They’ve put Trump in panic mode.

His bungling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic crash have turned a great many undecideds to Biden. More, the pandemic has emphasized the need to provide the option of voting by mail to all Americans.

Nothing new here. Voting by mail in the U.S. is common. Trump votes by mail. But our would-be Vladimir Putin condemns “mail fraud” and a “rigged” election. Translation: An election in which all citizens have a vote and so threaten to turn out the incumbent—by a wide margin. Even so, Trump just flip-flopped and “approved” voting by mail in Florida, a state ravaged by the coronavirus. Florida seniors—including Republicans—like voting by mail.

Does that make everything okay? Check out Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. A Trump henchman, he took the position three months ago. NPR’s Brian Naylor reported (5-7-20): “DeJoy has contributed more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund, and millions more to Republican Party organizations and candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records. He was also in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention.”

DeJoy almost immediately cut overtime and hours for postal workers to reduce the USPS’s multi-billion annual losses. How curious that he did so in the months leading to November’s election. Which imperils mail-in ballots. Counting votes beyond November 3—even if Trump appears to have been soundly defeated—will encourage Trump to negate election results and seek to stay in office. We could face a crisis worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Americans must respond. Vote? Of course. Before then? Support candidates—Congressional and state—opposed to Trump. And raise your voice.

Monday, I emailed—through their web sites—several important officials with this message:

Fifty-three years ago today, my buddy 1LT Howie Schnabolk, an Army medevac pilot, was shot down and killed. I write in his memory to urge you to do everything within the powers of your office to maintain every American’s right to vote in this November’s presidential election. This includes making available mail-in ballots to those who wish to use them, and advocating for adequate funding and monitoring the USPS to assure complete and on-time delivery.

As newly commissioned Army officers, Howie and I swore to protect and defend the Constitution. Howie gave his life for it. Please do all you can to uphold Howie’s memory and those of all Americans who died in our wars to protect democracy.

The recipients:

I’m not Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. But cracks in our political firmament pose a clear and present danger. The ball’s in our court.

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DRESS REHEARSAL IN PORTLAND

Something ominous has been happening in Portland, Oregon. But Donald Trump’s sending camouflage-uniformed, armed and unidentified federal personnel to attack protestors represents only half the story.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon governor Kate Brown responded with anger. Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum sought a restraining order against the Department of Homeland Security. It was denied.

Two days ago, an agreement seemed to be reached with DHS. Oregon State Police would secure the federal courthouse. Federal agents would withdraw. As of last night, the feds hadn’t.

Mayhem is counterproductive. Said Rachelle Dixon, vice chair of the Multnomah County (Oregon) Democrats and Black community organizer, “My life is not going to improve because you broke the glass at the Louis Vuitton store.” Violent protestors may seek to discredit Black causes. (See Justin Phillips’ sfchronicle.com column.)

Regardless, Trump found an excuse to stage a dress rehearsal for Election Day.

If/when Portland cools down, Trump can evaluate the nation’s reaction and whether Americans will accept federal security personnel overriding local law enforcement as a new normal. There’s a reason for such audacity.

Badly trailing Joe Biden in poll after poll, Trump is in panic mode. Playing to his base, he identifies threats coming from everywhere—except, of course, Russia.

One “threat” is manipulation (not Russian) of the presidential election. The boogeymen (not Russian cyber invasions) are non-citizen voters and voting by mail. The barbarians stand at the gates. How to beat them back?

Send federal agents bearing assault weapons to secure polling places and mail-collection points. Also, slow down the Postal Service. All a euphemism for harassing minority voters and interfering with legally cast ballots.

Upping the ante? Trump could make an offhand request that citizen-militias join the feds and brandish weapons in open-carry states. Trump will hail their patriotism for assuring a free and fair election while helping him steal it. Shades of Vladimir Putin and all autocrats undermining democracy—or openly mocking it.

Americans—including the media—must pressure Congress, governors, secretaries of state and local officials to uphold the Constitution and the right of all Americans to cast their vote free from intimidation. Governors, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs must pledge to prevent federal and militia goons from hijacking Election Day. The very police so many demonstrators abhor must show that they take their oaths of service seriously—as so many do—and earn their communities’ respect.

This November could present us with the stuff of fiction and film. In the Oval Office sits a president so inept and lacking compassion he chose not to urge Americans to wear masks to protect against spreading the COVID-19 virus until nearly six months and 142,000 Americans had passed. (The toll now numbers more than 150,000.)

Facing being dumped on the ash heap of history, Trump may try anything. On July 19, Fox’s Christopher Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the results of the election. Trump said he didn’t know. Yesterday, a Trump tweet questioned whether the election should be delayed. (He lacks authority to do that.)

Abraham Lincoln warned that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. He was right. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is very dark. And still very long.

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THE DRAGON—A FABLE

Just the day before, the Child was care-free and innocent, at that age at which Father and Mother were wise and heroic. But that was then.

“There’s a Dragon under my bed,” said the Child at tuck-in time. Father and Mother smiled. Children often expressed fears of imaginary things. Father and Mother often read fairy tales and picture books to the Child to address such fantasies. “No there’s not,” said Father. “Just your imagination,” said Mother. They turned off the light.

Mother and Father were enjoying a glass of wine and a particularly gripping TV mystery when the Child called out, “There’s a Dragon under my bed.” They went to the Child’s bedroom. “There’s no Dragon,” Father reassured the Child. “But there is,” the Child said. “Have you seen it?” Mother asked. “Did it say anything?” The Child shuddered. Mother put her arm around the Child. “Then how do you know it’s there?”

“The Orange Man,” said the Child.

Father and Mother exchanged puzzled glances. First a Dragon, now the Orange Man? They praised the Child’s imagination—but this was not the time. “And where is the Orange Man?” Mother asked. “Under the bed with the Dragon?”

“Everywhere,” said the Child. “Which is where exactly?” Father asked. “Should we look for him?” Mother added. The Child seemed surprised at Mother and Father’s failure to understand. “Everywhere,” the Child repeated. “At school?” Father asked? The Child nodded. Mother followed up. “At the playground? The park? The supermarket?” The Child nodded again. “Everywhere.”

Mother and Father knew better than to make the Child feel guilty. The most delightful children sometimes found bedtime difficult. Dutifully, they sat with the Child. Each held a hand. Ten minutes later, the Child fell asleep. They tiptoed back to the family room to resume their wine and TV.

Later, they were barely asleep when the Child burst into their bedroom. “There’s a Dragon under my bed,” the Child cried. They made a comforting space between them. “Did it come out?” Mother asked. “Roar or breathe fire?” asked Father. He instantly regretted his question. It would only stoke the Child’s fears.

“You can’t see it,” said the Child. “You can’t hear it. But it’s there, and it wants to gobble me up. It wants to gobble youup. And Grandma and Grandpa and—”

Mother wished she’d left a glass of wine on her nightstand. “But if you can’t see the Dragon or hear it, how can it be real?” The Child began to shake. “The Orange Man says it is. He talks to all the kids. He says he knows things we don’t and our parents don’t. The Dragon is there. It wants to gobble us all up.”

Father and Mother let the Child fall asleep in their bed. Dutiful parents, they stayed awake in case the Child suffered nightmares or, worse, night terrors. They’d read up on that. Educated, hardworking and caring, they were confident that tomorrow, the Dragon and the Orange Man who announced its presence would disappear of their own accord. Or the next day. Surely a few days later. At most a week.

Reassured, Father leaned across the Child and kissed Mother. “Good night,” he whispered. “Nothing under the bed,” Mother returned. “Couldn’t be,” said Father.

They slept the sleep of the dead.

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DEATH, POLITICS AND GUILT

I have bad news, good news and more bad news. Also an apology.

The initial bad news: The COVID-19 death toll of Americans stands at 124,000.

The good news: Last Sunday, American daily deaths dropped to 275.

More bad news: Daily deaths rose to 833 on Tuesday and 766 Wednesday. Yesterday, Johns Hopkins University charted 2,467 deaths, although this includes figures from New Jersey of indicate COVID-19 deaths previously not recorded. Also yesterday, a record 40,000 infections were reported.

My apology: Sunday’s plummeting death toll left me disappointed. I’ll explain.

The occupant of the Oval Office is so perverse—and his Republican enablers so selfish and malicious—that only a continuing high death toll might convince enough Americans of the incompetence and lack of humanity defining Donald Trump.

Last Saturday, the president told a rally crowd “filling” a third of Tulsa’s BOK Center, “I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’” Talk about magical thinking! Fewer tests equate to fewer infections—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Several of Trump’s senior advisors stated that the president was joking. Believable—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman, stand aside. Donald Trump can now claim to be one of the nation’s premier stand-up comics. For example, he hails the novel coronavirus as the “kung flu,” emphasizing its origin in China. Even presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, champion of alternative facts, found “kung flu” offensive—in March.

Not funny: Tuesday, Trump said he wasn’t kidding.

More unfunny: A day earlier, Trump tweeted that the upcoming presidential election is “rigged.” He claimed that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others.” I didn’t bother putting this in all capital letters as he did. I will bother to inform you that Trump VOTES BY MAIL.

Let’s get serious: Trump is setting up an excuse for defeat. The prospect of voters turning him out cannot, in his twisted thought processes, be possible. But a recent Fox News poll—Fox!—showed Trump trailing Joe Biden by 12 points. A recent New York Times poll put Biden’s lead among registered voters at 14 percent. Polls can be sketchy, particularly this early. But if Biden wins, Trump will deny responsibility for defeat.

More threatening, Trump’s tweet recalls the line in the 1964 film Beckett based on the play by Jean Anouilh and spoken by Britain’s King Henry II. At odds with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, Henry asks his barons: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Media-savvy for his time, Henry could claim he never ordered Beckett’s assassination. Just thinking out loud.

I’m thinking that Trump is dog whistling his followers to disrupt a “corrupt” voting process. Gather with guns near polling places. Damage collection boxes. Delay the proceedings of the Electoral College.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down. Southern and Western states that rushed to reopen their economies and resisted mandating face masks see infections spiking at alarming rates. While Election Day is more than four months off, it may be that even if Trump-stoked violence arises, the pandemic and our continuing economic meltdown will result in the president’s very legal removal from office.

How sad that it might take 150,000 or more dead Americans to disinfect the Oval Office.

Just before I posted this, Vice President Pence held a news conference during which he praised Trump’s and the administrations efforts to control the pandemic. He didn’t wear a mask. One of us inhabits another dimension.

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THE PERLSTEIN SENATE

With Democrats selecting a presidential candidate—it might not happen until the convention—and November’s election looming, I’m puzzled by “one citizen, one vote.” This principle poses two key questions.

One: Why should a 75-year-old military veteran, husband and father, homeowner, holder of a master’s degree, retired businessman and long-time taxpayer have the same single vote as an 18-year-old high school dropout making sandwiches at Subway and living with his folks?

You elitist, you answer, fuming as you read this. Don’t you know that this is America? That the United States represents the ideal of democracy? That every citizen has an equal right to choose our leaders from the local to the national levels?

I respond with question number two: You’re right, but why doesn’t the United States Senate play by those rules?

Following the Great Compromise of 1787, the Constitution granted each state two seats in the Senate. The small states feared being dominated by the large ones in a single legislative body based on proportional representation. The large states believed that such a body based on equal state voting would be unfair to their populations. And here we are.

California, with a 2010 census population of 37 million has two senators. Wyoming with 560,000 people also has two senators. Given the 66-1 population advantage of the Golden State, my individual opinions reflected in votes cast by California’s senators carry a lot less weight than those of a resident of the Equality State, interestingly Wyoming’s official nickname.

I get it that the Founders were challenged to form a single nation from thirteen former British colonies, each with its own interests and none with experience of a republican—small “r”—national government. But America has been around for a while, and the Senate has become wildly unresponsive to the majority of Americans—of both parties.

So let’s amend the Constitution and create the Perlstein Senate. It works like this:

The Senate retains 100 seats. Following each ten-year census, adjustments give the ten largest states—the top five alone, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois total over 119 million Americans—three seats. The ten smallest states get one. These now include Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska and South Dakota. Lots of miles there but few people—barely over three million, less than three percent of the five largest. The thirty states in the middle retain two seats.

Citizens in three-seat states will still be proportionally underrepresented. But the Perlstein Senate acknowledges that small states often have vastly different interests—though not all—than large ones. A non-proportional Perlstein Senate remains a buffer against the tyranny of the majority but constitutes one far more reasonable.

Conservatives will go ballistic. They’ll point out that the vast majority of American counties voted Trump in 2016. True. Also meaningless. This statistic favors sagebrush over people. Besides, nothing will stop a state like Texas or Florida—purple though they are now—from electing three Republicans each.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address proposed government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It’s time America took that to heart. Acceptance of the Perlstein Senate might have a snowball’s chance in hell, but it’s worth the effort to eliminate the political hell an undemocratic—lower-case “d”—Senate puts this country through.

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BANANAS

Ten days ago, White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien commented on the removal of Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and his brother Yevgeny from their National Security Council posts. Retribution? No, said O’Brien. But,“We’re not a country where a bunch of lieutenant colonels can get together and decide what the policy is of the United States. We are not a banana republic.” So why do I smell bananas?

President Trump views Alex Vindman as a traitor because he spoke about what he heard regarding Trump’s troublesome July 25 phone call to Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky. But the Army refused to investigate Vindman. Former White House chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly concurred. “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave.” I know.

Just before my 1967 graduation from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, our battalion commander spoke about practical matters facing young lieutenants. They included illegal or immoral orders. (Sadly, the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam took place ten months later.) We were to refuse such an order and report it up the chain of command. We could not be “good Germans.”

Officers at all levels make life-and-death decisions. Law and morality must be guiding factors. Empowering young officers doesn’t make the United States a banana republic, a term referring to Latin American dictatorships supported by the U.S. and sometimes the result of coups by low ranking officers.

Take Cuba. In 1933, Fulgencio Batista, a sergeant stenographer, led the Revolt of the Sergeants that toppled the government. Batista promoted himself to colonel and later general then pulled strings in the background until becoming president in 1940. He cozied up to American corporations and the Mafia. Rebel forces led by Fidel Castro forced Batista to flee in the wee hours of January 1, 1959.

Is the U.S. a carbon copy? Hardly. Are we heading there?

Donald Trump, while a draft dodger, shares much with Fulgencio Batista. He sees himself above the law, worships the almighty dollar and uses his office for corrupt purposes. Seeking political help from other nations is only part of it. It seems Mar a Lago charges Secret Service agents the full room price when Trump stays there. So when Trump goes to any of his resorts, he profits.

Trump’s insistence that the president can do anything he wants reeks of bananas gone rotten. That includes undermining any sense of independence in the Department of Justice, which interfered with prosecutors’ sentencing requests regarding convicted Trump pal Roger Stone, who received three years and four months. That’s why over 2,000 former DOJ employees signed an open letter calling for Attorney General William Barr to resign.

What’s the worst that could happen? The possibilities are endless. For a glimpse of some—not as fanciful as you might think—I recommend an outstanding British TV miniseries, Years and Years (HBOGo). It peers into Britain’s near future, mirroring our own. The United Kingdom is driven into the ground by a “know nothing” prime minister aping America’s withdrawal from principled leadership under, yes, the second term of Donald Trump.

I love bananas in my morning cereal and as a snack. Also Woody Allen’s classic film from 1971, Bananas. But the fruit of the 2016 presidential election makes “Banana Republic” all too believable.

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