Posts Tagged ‘Mitch McConnell’

RUBY-RED TURNS BLUE

Last Tuesday, ruby-red Alabama turned partially blue. Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a special senatorial election. Pending a requested recount, Jones heads to Washington. His 20,000-vote margin of victory was small, but the election’s message may—pardon the expression—be huge.

To begin, changing demographics may soon reverse populism’s recent gains. The percentage of whites and Christians is shrinking. Young white evangelicals are questioning their elders’ political stances favoring the far right despite candidates’ and elected officials’ misdeeds. These young people may also be conservative, but they won’t accept the behavior and speech exhibited by a Trump or a Moore regardless of potential Democrat gains.

Minorities continue to grow and vote despite hindrances placed at the ballot box. In Alabama, Birmingham’s mayor Randall Woodfin is African American. He succeeded a black mayor. The city has come a long way since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church church that killed four African American girls and gave the city the nickname “Bombingham.” African Americans are willing to exercise their electoral muscle. Ninety-four percent gave Jones their vote.

Importantly, 30 percent of white voters went for Jones, according to The Washington Post. Not an overwhelming percentage but meaningful. Alabama’s senior senator Richard Shelby publicly refused to back Moore. He voted for a write-in candidate. Others followed suit. Conservative majority leader Mitch McConnell (Tennessee) stated that Moore didn’t belong in the Senate. All demonstrated a measure of concern with common decency, since several women accused Moore of sexual predation decades ago. Alabamians also were aware of Moore’s 2004 removal from the state’s supreme court and 2016 court suspension for placing his personal Christian beliefs above the U.S. and Alabama constitutions. He later resigned.

Jones’s victory may not represent the turning point in American politics, but it may signal change. President Trump, after supporting the losing Luther Strange in the primaries, eventually threw his weight, such as it is, to Moore. He even campaigned, albeit in Florida where he didn’t have to be seen with Moore. His lukewarm efforts failed, although Trump said on Wednesday it wasn’t his fault.

Is Trump’s “power” weakening? Also on Wednesday, the heartland-America USA Today editorialized, “A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY] a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.”

Are Americans deserting the Republican party? No. Many continue supporting big tax cuts and small government. That’s a political viewpoint to which they are entitled. Still, some Republicans in Congress and their supporters appear to be revising their win-at-all-costs stance. God and morality could become more important than political power.

A blue victory doesn’t mean Democrats and independents should see the world through rose-colored glasses. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens warns that many Americans will view the rising economy as good reason to ignore Trump’s rantings, insults and possible Russia connections.

After World War Two, many Italians and Germans supposedly admitted that Mussolini and Hitler did terrible things but, “At least they made the trains run on time.” November’s mid-term elections will reveal if many Americans, who have followed something of a parallel view of the far right, have the integrity to moderate their positions.

To you who are celebrating Chanukah—Chanukah Sameach! May the festival of lights bring new light to us all.

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TRUMP THE UNITER

Many Americans view Donald Trump’s presidency as off to a rocky start. Yesterday’s Gallup’s daily poll showed Trump with a 43 percent approval rating, quite low for a president two weeks into the job. But one day, if courage overtakes ideology, historians may see Mr. Trump as having rescued America from political stagnation.

Last June, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Mr. Trump’s comments about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Mexican-American born in Indiana, “racist.” Still, he supported, if nominally, the Trump candidacy. On January 31, however, Ryan acknowledged the ineptitude of the implementation of Trump’s immigration ban. But Ryan withheld comment on Trump’s recent statement that the U.S. murder rate was the highest in 45 years. FBI statistics show the murder rate just off its lowest point. Will Paul Ryan ever take a stand?

Last Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vehemently disagreed with Trump’s comparing the United States with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as did Arizona senator John McCain. As to Trump’s calling federal Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” because Robart issued a stay of the “Muslim ban,” McConnell said, “I think it’s best not to single out judges for criticism.”

Yet two days ago, McConnell said of congressional Republicans, “I think there is a high level of satisfaction with the new administration. Our members are not obsessed with the daily tweets, but are looking at the results.” Note that McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, former labor secretary under George W. Bush, serves as Trump’s secretary of transportation. Will McConnell ever draw a line in the political sand?

Some Americans with conservative credentials have been more forthcoming. Michael Mullen, retired navy admiral and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in the New York Times about Trump’s adding Steve Bannon to the National Security Council: “Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the principals committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation.”

John Yoo, White House legal counsel under Bush and a defender of torture, wrote in the Times: “Faced with President Trump’s executive orders suspending immigration from several Muslim nations and ordering the building of a border wall… even Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s most ardent proponent of executive power, would be worried by now.”

And last Wednesday, Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, called Trump’s remarks about Judge Robart “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”

Bernie Sanders sums up the situation: “I would hope that people like Sen. McConnell and other Republicans have the courage to stand up to Trump’s movement toward authoritarianism. We’re a democracy, not a one-man show… We’re not a business run by Mr. Trump.”

Whether Republicans (and in other situations, far-left Democrats) will put the nation above personal political concerns remains to be seen. But it’s not far-fetched to believe that Mr. Trump will, in a fit of pique or hubris, step over Constitutional boundaries. In response, Republicans and Democrats in Congress may feel compelled to reach across the aisle and demonstrate a renewed sense of common purpose.

Congress and all Americans have the power to put aside partisanship, listen to each other and embrace a truly United States of America. The willingness to exercise that power will determine the nation’s fate.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And have faith in America. People of good will can, even if late, find common ground.

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FAKE NEWS

One of my favorite comic strips is “The Knight Life” by Keith Knight. Tuesday’s included a schoolteacher’s statement: “Facts are overrated!! All you need is a loud mouth & some Macedonian teenagers!!” Websites with fake news created by kids in Europe abound—fake news many Americans give credence.

On December 9th, Yahoo News (real) reported that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, considered by President-elect Trump for Secretary of Agriculture, posts unsubstantiated stories on Facebook, such as the U.S. Communist Party endorsing Hillary Clinton and the FBI restrained from acting after discovering a jihadi training compound in Texas. Said Miller: “I’m not a news source. I shouldn’t be held to that standard…. I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide.” Reasonable?

Ten days ago, Edgar Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., fired a shot in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Welch went there to investigate online “news reports” of a child sex slave ring linked to Hillary Clinton. He told the New York Times (12-7-16), “I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way.” He added, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.” Welch refused to dismiss the online claims.

Around the same time, President-elect Donald Trump selected retired army general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. CNN Politics (12-7-16) reported that Flynn has “spread false stories and re-tweeted anti-Semitic threats.” He also refused to disavow the “Pizzagate” story, which led Welch to fire a semi-automatic weapon at Comet Ping Pong. Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., also promoted the “Pizzagate” story. Flynn Jr. was dropped from his father’s transition team. General Flynn remains Trump’s selection.

So how do we respond to real news? The Central Intelligence Agency believes with “high confidence” that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee. The rest of the U.S. intelligence community does, too. (The FBI takes a neutral stance.) Russia’s purpose may have been to embarrass Hillary Clinton and swing the election to Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton believes Vladimir Putin was out to get her. Republican Congressional leaders have expressed concern. Mitch McConnell (Senate majority leader), Paul Ryan (House speaker) and Senator John McCain all support an investigation.

President Obama says that the U.S. will act against Russia. He likely knows details unavailable to the American public. What will he do? Stay tuned.

As to the broader issue, knowing the truth remains a requisite for democracy to thrive. The real media play a critical role by reporting what’s happening in our world, as well as questioning authorities at the highest level. Sometimes, leading news purveyors get it wrong. But America’s mainstream media deserves high grades and serious attention from the public.

Sadly, the digital age has polluted what we call news. Yes, there are websites offering serious, professional reporting. But as Keith Knight points out, anyone can post a “news story,” which many Americans will accept at face value and pass on via social media. Witness “Pizzagate.” That’s why our political leaders must embrace truth to keep themselves grounded and help us do the same.

Donald Trump’s response to broad concerns about Russian hacking? “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told Fox News. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” It’s possible to live in an alternate reality, believing or disbelieving anything and creating your own truth—if facts don’t get in your way.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And follow the sound advice to think before you speak—and read (legitimate media) before you think.

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AFTER SCALIA, WHAT?

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stirred quite a political spat. Republicans, like presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, demand that President Obama not nominate anyone to the Court given that the 2016 presidential election is less than a year off. This line of thought is interesting but could lead to unanticipated developments.

I get the Republicans’ point. A new justice will play a major role in shaping the nation’s direction. They want the American people to have a say in the matter. But questions arise. For example, should a lame duck, eighth-year president be forbidden to take action on all major issues? Digging deeper, since the formal election process, which includes primary campaigning, starts in a president’s seventh year—Mr. Obama’s eighth year began this past January 20—should a president be sent to the sidelines in that seventh year? Wouldn’t a president better serve the Constitution by being active for six years then becoming a figurehead for two more?

Then again, not all presidents serve eight years (up to a maximum of ten if succeeding to the presidency), which requires election to two full terms. In my lifetime, John F. Kennedy (assassination), Lyndon Johnson (personal choice aka Vietnam), Richard Nixon (resignation—Watergate), Jimmy Carter (defeat—Ronald Reagan) and George H.W. Bush (defeat—Bill Clinton) all served less than two full terms (Kennedy less than one). So we might limit a president’s active service to the first two years of any term. During years three and four, presidential activity would be put on hold. The president could not make Supreme Court or other judicial nominations, introduce legislation from the White House or even serve as commander-in-chief without Congressional approval.

So a president would work actively for two years until election results wore thin. But consider this: Members of the House serve two-year terms. Why elect a president to be inactive for two years in each four-year term when the Speaker of the House, chosen by the majority party, could serve as the nation’s chief executive officer? The House Majority Leader would handle that body’s day-to-day business. Sounds like a parliamentary system rather than our constitutionally mandated presidential system? Let’s not get picky.

But hold on. Representatives position themselves for re-election at the start of their two-year terms if not right after Election Day. It makes no sense for a speaker to serve as chief executive when a new election is right around the corner. The American people should have their say. Unless, having just voted, they had their say.

Logic dictates a simpler solution: Eliminate the positions of President and Vice-President along with Congress. None of these folks provide true representation to Americans since there’s always another election just over the horizon. Leave all government functions to the states, which will serve as sovereign nations. Whether the Republic of Texas will accept passports from the Republic of California remains a question, but minutiae shouldn’t derail democracy.

In sum, if reactions to Justice Scalia’s death have taught us anything, it’s that the Constitution can be quite plastic in defense of the Founders’ strict intent. So let’s put the United States on hiatus. Another upside: we won’t have to hear crowds in Tehran chant, “Death to America.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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QUESTIONS

The election is over. We can all take a breath. But that breath better be short. Because looking back—and forward—a lot of questions come to mind.

1. If the nation is as bad off as so many people believe, why did President Obama win? Discontent should have swept Mitt Romney into the Oval Office as it did Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he trounced Jimmy Carter. Granted, Mr. Obama won on a narrow popular-vote basis. Do those who voted for him know something about this nation that Romney supporters don’t? (Thursday’s report of first-time state jobless claims dropped to 355,000, a continuing sign that employment is slowly expanding.) Can Republicans learn something from this election?

2. If the Republican Party is a party of “old white men,” how did Mr. Romney come so close? The GOP seems trapped within a narrowing demographic. Yet many disaffected voters who aren’t “old white men” almost put Mitt Romney in the White House. The ideologues on the right opposed Obama from day one. But many Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 or didn’t take to Romney demonstrated disappointment with the President’s  record. What did they think Obama should have done? What does Obama believe he should do differently? Can Democrats learn something from this election?

3. Will Congressional leaders choose patriotism over power? House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi face re-election every two years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who elevated making Mr. Obama a one-term president to the top of his priority list in 2008—also faces re-election in 2014. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has until 2016. All want to be re-elected. Have they and other Congressional leaders the courage to move to the center and end Washington’s gridlock? Or will they keep pandering to their political bases and hold the nation hostage to their ambitions? Can Congress learn something from this election?

4. Will the American people face reality? Many Americans believe that the President and Congress can control both the domestic economy and global economy. Washington can regulate pragmatically to help prevent the kind of economic bubble that led to the Great Recession. It also can encourage the building of infrastructure, from roads and bridges to better schools. But what assurances can it make of success? Will Americans continue to believe that the economy can be controlled like a dancing bear in a circus? On the geopolitical front, the U.S. can help foster positive outcomes. But do we really believe that “American Exceptionalism”—and this indeed is a great nation—grants us not only the right to recreate the world in our image but also the unfettered ability to do so? What lessons have we taken from Iraq and Afghanistan? Can the American people learn something from this election?

America in 2012 is not the America of 1952… or 1972… or 1992. The rest of the world has changed even more. One of our great strengths is flexibility. Will we use it? Or will holdouts on the edges of the right and left look backward?

I believe that Americans can look forward to better times. But we will never provide suitable answers to our extensive challenges until we start asking suitable questions.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

POWER

HBO’s Deadwood (2004-06) offers an intriguing look at power. Two of the series’ main characters, both based on real people, and a character in an old movie reveal a lot about America in the late nineteenth century and America today.

Al Swearingen (British actor Ian McShane) runs Deadwood, a South Dakota gold mining camp, with an iron fist. Or tries to when competition for gambling and prostitution dollars arrives. As Shakespearean character as has existed on TV, the complex Al at first posed a mystery to me. His power and wealth seemed to have no purpose. Reared in Chicago under terrifying circumstances—his father beat him mercilessly—he employs a knife and fearlessness to his rise to the top but lacks other goals. Does he want to build a great city? Or flee with his fortune live in opulence elsewhere? The answers are no and no. Another answer takes center stage. Being a very big fish in a very small pond proves sufficient to protect Al from ever again being abused, although he abuses everyone else.

George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), the mining titan and father of newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, also comes from a difficult childhood. He sees gold as conferring power and thus respect. Hearst has a big home in San Francisco but flees at every opportunity to search for more gold in primitive areas—anywhere “the color” is available. Whereas Al Swearingen looks and acts like a cutthroat but has a sympathetic heart, Hearst displaces a courteous demeanor that hides a terrible viciousness. He freely maims and kills to secure more gold and thus more power and thus more respect.

Another fictional character also comes to mind. In the film adaptation (1965) of James Clavell’s King Rat, George Segal plays lowly Corporal King, surviving in a Japanese POW camp near Singapore. King runs the camp’s black market and rises to the top of the prisoner hierarchy. He has. Everyone else lacks and must curry favor. But when the camp is liberated, King immediately reverts to his lowly status. Back in the U.S., he likely will enjoy all the amenities post-war life offers most Americans. But unless he can exploit talents demonstrated under difficult wartime conditions, he will never again experience power.

That power can be used for bad purposes represents anything but a new concept. The Bible limits the power of an Israelite king. “Thus he will not act haughtily to his fellows… (Deuteronomy 17:20).” But what have we learned?

Today, too many “public servants” sees their task not as doing what’s best for the electorate but simply getting elected and re-elected as if holding power is sufficient to secure the nation’s wellbeing. I’m reminded of the remark made by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. McConnell declared his first order of business when Congress reconvened. It didn’t concern the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had nothing to do with bringing the nation out of economic turmoil. No, Mitch McConnell stated that his first order of business was to see that Barack Obama was defeated in 2012.

I’m not sure that Al Swearingen wouldn’t have done better.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.