The Rich Get Richer …

Last night, I came across a short piece by Robert Reich, whose work I’ve shared here before.  I hadn’t, to the best of my knowledge, heard of Paul Singer before, so after reading Reich’s piece, I did some digging.  Paul Singer is one nasty man … a very wealthy, nasty man.

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich
27 December at 19:40

From time to time, I’m going to write in some detail about how the American oligarchy is shafting Americans by siphoning up the wealth of the nation for itself and corrupting our politics. Please let me know if you find these short summaries helpful.

Today’s example: Billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management hedge fund, which has launched a campaign to lay off workers, sell off key assets, and extract huge short-term profits at AT&T – the iconic $270 billion company with 257,000 employees.Paul SingerSinger wants AT&T to save up to $10 billion a year by outsourcing jobs, closing corporate retail stores and outsourcing to dealers, selling off assets (such as its Puerto Rican network).

And instead of using these savings to invest in better services and high-speed broadband internet, Singer wants AT&T to buy back its stock in order to get higher short-term share prices – a boon to Singer’s hedge fund, which has been buying up AT&T.

If Singer succeeds, he will hollow out a major U.S. employer and critical provider of broadband and wireless services.

Singer’s Elliott Management is a leading vulture capitalist with a track record of destroying jobs, reducing wages, abandoning communities, and pumping up share prices in the short term.

Its wrecking ball is worldwide. One of Singer’s few unsuccessful campaigns, to block a merger within Samsung, eventually led to the impeachment and imprisonment of the South Korean President after Singer’s opponents became so desperate to fend off his attack that they allegedly began bribing government officials.

Singer’s ventures generated average annual returns of almost 14 percent, making him and his executives hugely wealthy. The mere news that Elliott has invested in a company often causes its stock price to go up—creating even more wealth for him and his hedge fund. Singer’s own net worth is $3.5 billion.

Singer has been investing some of his riches in Republican politics. In the 2016 election he contributed $24 million, and continues to donate to the Republican National Committee and to individual Republican congressional candidates. Singer contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inauguration, and the two have met at the White House, at Trump’s request.

Not surprisingly, many policies enacted under Trump and Senate Republicans have benefitted Singer — including corporate tax cuts, the shrinking of governmental agencies, and the aggressive elimination of regulations, particularly in the financial industry.

This is how the American oligarchy works, friends.

And now, let me tell you just a bit more about Mr. Paul Singer …

Singer made a lot of his money by purchasing sovereign debt from financially-distressed countries, usually at a massive discount. Once a country’s economy regained some stability, Singer would bombard its government with lawsuits, until he made his money back with interest. The practice is called vulture capitalism — feeding off the carcass of a dying nation.

Over the past couple of decades, Elliott has made billions by buying large stakes in American companies, firing workers, driving up short-term share prices, and in some cases, taking government bailouts. Bloomberg News has described Singer as “the world’s most feared investor,” which tells you a lot.

Some countries, including the United Kingdom, have banned this kind of behavior. It bears no resemblance to the capitalism we were taught about in school. It creates nothing. It destroys entire cities. It couldn’t be uglier or more destructive. So why is it still allowed in this country? Because people like Paul Singer have tremendous influence over our political process. Singer himself was the second biggest donor to the Republican Party in 2016. He’s given millions to a super PAC that supports Republican senators. You may never have heard of Paul Singer. But in Washington, he’s rock star famous. That may be why he’s almost certainly paying a lower effective tax rate than you or me. Just in case you’re still wondering if the system is rigged.

In October 2015, Singer’s hedge fund disclosed an 11 percent stake in Cabela’s, the sporting goods retailer, and set about pushing the board to sell the company.  Cabela’s management, fearing a long and costly fight with Singer, announced it would look for a buyer. At the time, Cabela’s was healthy. The company was posting nearly $2 billion a year in gross profits, off $4 billion in revenue. There was no immediate need to sell. But they did anyway. One year after Singer entered the equation, Bass Pro Shops announced the purchase of Cabela’s. The company’s stock price surged. Within a week, Singer cashed out. He’d bought the stock for $38 a share. He sold it for $63. His hedge fund made at least $90 million up front, and likely more over time.

But in Sidney, Nebraska, it was a very different story. The residents of Sidney didn’t get rich. Just the opposite. Their community was destroyed. The town lost nearly 2,000 jobs. A heartbreakingly familiar cascade began: people left, property values collapsed, and then people couldn’t leave. They were trapped there. One of the last thriving small towns in America went under.

Oh … one last thing … in case you were wondering, Trump applauds Singer’s investment in AT&T, which owns CNN …

Singer-Trump

Still think you’re living in a “democracy”?

The Measure Of A Man …

In my 68 years, presidents have come, and presidents have gone.  Some have been better than others in one area or another.  None have been perfect … nor will any ever be, for it is a job in which decisions must be made without having perfect information, leading a nation of people with differing opinions in many areas.  Harry S. Truman was president when I was born, and there have been eleven since, not counting the current office-holder, whom I refuse to refer to by that title.

But never, since the founding of this nation, has there been such a corrupt, power-hungry president than we have today.  Making it worse, however, is that in the second line of defense, the U.S. Congress, we also have far too many corrupt senators and representatives. When I say ‘corrupt’, in this case, I mean selfish, greedy, putting their own best interests ahead of those of the nation and the 330 million people living within its borders.

Donald Trump is facing impeachment in the House of Representatives.  I won’t argue that there could have been many more articles of impeachment than the two that have been issued, for that was a strategic decision and I can both understand the reasoning behind it, and on the flip side, rue an opportunity missed.  A few short days ago, I would have said that every single democrat in the House of Representatives would vote their conscience and it was a sure bet that Trump would be impeached.  Today, it is somewhat less certain.

Mind you, I am still 90% certain that Trump will be impeached in the House, but it seems that some of the democrats in the House are putting their own political future ahead of what is right and just, namely impeaching a corrupt president in order to protect the democratic principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

It seems that democrats who represent districts that Trump won in 2016, fear losing their seat in next year’s election if they vote to impeach.  Some have said they will vote for only one of the two articles of impeachment, in an attempt to show their constituents that they are operating independently of the party.  Others are considering voting against both articles.

Yes, it is almost a certainty that some democrats in the House will lose their bids for re-election next year as a result of the impeachment.  But, there is a greater purpose here that must be considered.  If Donald Trump is not held accountable for his actions, his horrific behaviour toward the people of this nation, of the entire world, will continue.  If his nearly unlimited power is not checked, then not only the United States, but every nation on this planet will become a little less safe.  But there is still yet an even wider consequence.

If Donald Trump is not impeached for his actions, then what is to stop the next president, and the one after, and the one after that, from acting out of self-interest to the detriment of the nation?  We are at a crossroads in this nation where we must decide whether we wish to continue as a democratic republic, even with all its inherent flaws, or if we are willing to hand over the reins to corrupt politicians who will, no doubt, act as autocrats.

It is up to us to ask our elected officials if their intent is to make this a better nation, a team player in the bigger world, or if it is to further their own self-interests.  I have asked this of my representative, Warren Davidson, and his response was, in essence, that he will follow those things that will secure his own wealth.  I have asked it of others in the republican party, who have assumed me to be a rather stupid being, hence they attempted to convince me that their own net worth and that of the nation are one and the same.  Pity those who mistake me for an idiot only because I have wrinkles and grey hair.

Martin Luther King once said …

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

This is where this nation stands, my friends. This is the test our elected officials in Congress must either pass or fail.  The ‘man’ who sits in the Oval Office has already failed the test … what will the rest do?  What will your senator or representative do?  Ask them!  Let them know your opinion!  Challenge them!  They are, after all, our employees, not Donald Trump’s!  Hold. Them. Accountable.  We may not get another chance, my friends.

House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment

Today marks the next stage in the Trump impeachment process. Fellow-blogger Brosephus has some thoughts on the process thus far, the evidence, and the fiasco that is certain to ensue as the republicans continue to attempt to defend the indefensible. He also provides a link to the live coverage and other valuable information. Thank you, Brosephus, for all this valuable information!

The Mind of Brosephus

Today marks the first day of impeachment hearings being held by the House Judiciary Committee.  This committee would be the one responsible for drafting any articles of impeachment that would ultimately be voted on by the entire House of Representatives.  Since impeachment is typically a once in a lifetime event, today’s hearing is basically going to be a history lesson on impeachment.  There will be historians and scholars who will testify about the aspects of impeachment.  It will likely be a drab hearing, but I still expect Republicans to do what they do best, which is try to muddy the waters while defending Trump.

As I did for the Intelligence Committee, I’m providing a live-stream of the hearings for those who can’t access it otherwise.  This is a historical event regardless of where your politics reside.  I agree with Democratic members of Congress that these allegations need to be investigated. …

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Still waiting for Republican spine

Our friend Jeff over at On the Fence Voters has been eavesdropping on my conversations between Me, Myself and I … only he has somehow made it sound humorous, whereas my own sound dark and foreboding. Good post, Jeff … you managed to combine humour and despair, light and dark, and did it well. Ever think about doing standup comedy? Seriously, though … thanks Jeff!

On The Fence Voters

Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” The failure of Congressional Republicans to show the kind of courage America so desperately needs, while the leader of their party runs roughshod over our democracy, is one of the most challenging dilemmas of our time.

So perplexing in fact, that I’ve found myself talking … to myself. That’s right, after nearly four years since Donald Trump entered the political arena, I’ve now become a blithering fool. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. But, I guess the subconscious of my soul could only take so much.

I’m about to share some of these conversations—with myself—that occurred over the last couple of days as I walked and jogged with my two four-legged canine buddies in our Great Pacific Northwest backyard. They say admitting to one’s insanity is a significant first step. So, here it…

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A Glimmer of Hope?

I have said since the word “impeachment” was first mentioned, that there would be no chance the Senate would vote to convict, even if the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump.  Moscow Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would not even allow the case to be tried in “his” Senate.  But, there are some signs that the republicans are beginning to see Trump in a less favourable light these days.

Twice this summer I have written about Republicans for the Rule of Law (RRL), “a group of life-long Republicans dedicated to defending the institutions of the republic and upholding the rule of law.”  Earlier this year, the group sponsored a 30-second ad calling for Trump’s impeachment that was aired on none other than Fox and Friends.  They also hand-delivered a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to every lawmaker in the republican party.

This week, our friend Keith wrote a post titled Republicans for the Rule of Law condemn Trump behavior (and obstruction) with Ukraine in which he updates us, telling us that RRL is once again standing for law and justice and calling Trump out on his recent actions.  Be sure to check out Keith’s post for more information.  The group has a new 30-second ad out now …

Bill Kristol is a neoconservative political analyst and frequent commentator on several networks, who has held senior positions in both Ronald Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s administrations.  Kristol is also one of the co-directors of Defending Democracy Together, the ‘parent’ organization for Republicans for Rule of Law.  Yesterday, Kristol wrote an OpEd in the New York Times that bears reading.

Republicans Don’t Have to Nominate Trump in 2020

The party can do better.

Bill-KristolRepublicans have had their differences these past few years. Most have supported President Trump; a few have not. Some of the president’s supporters have been enthusiastic; many have not. Some of the reluctant Trump supporters have expressed reservations at certain times; many have not.

But with the revelations of the last week, and the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry, we are at a new moment. This is obviously the case for Republicans in Congress, who will have to vote on impeachment and perhaps on conviction. They have a unique part to play in this drama; the rest of us are merely observers or advisers. All we can really now ask of members of Congress is to keep an open mind and to evaluate the facts as they emerge.

But we already have learned enough to know that the government whistle-blower is correct to say “that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” We know this latest instance is part of a history of repeated injuries and usurpations. We may not yet know whether removal from the office to which President Trump was elected is warranted. But surely we know enough to judge that Mr. Trump does not deserve renomination for that office for an additional four years.

The Republican Party faces a binary choice. It either will or will not renominate Donald Trump in 2020. (And if President Trump is removed as a consequence of impeachment and conviction, or if he resigns, the G.O.P. either will or will not nominate as its standard-bearer a newly sworn-in Mike Pence, who will have been at Mr. Trump’s side for his entire administration and has been a fervent defender of the president.)

The 2020 Republican nomination is an open question. It is a decision of great consequence on which all Republicans have a say, and all have a responsibility. Republican leaders in particular — Republican elected officials and former elected officials, Republican activists and donors, appointees of this administration and of former Republican administrations — bear a weighty responsibility. They can support Donald Trump, and put a stamp of approval on his tenure in office. They can keep quiet, a stamp of approval of its own sort. Or they can step up and act for the honor of their party and the good of their country.

There are currently three announced Republican challengers to Donald Trump. Republican leaders could in various ways support one or all three of them. There are also other Republicans who might well be stronger candidates for the nomination and who may well be more qualified to serve as president. Those individuals could be encouraged by colleagues, activists and donors, privately or publicly, to run — and they could be offered support if they do.

And may I say directly to those Republicans who could run: You have a unique chance to act for your party and your country. You can play a role in overcoming the shame and stain of the past three years, and in the reformation of a once great party. Win or lose, you will go down in the history books as a man or woman of honor.

The Republican Party has surely discovered over the past few years the wisdom of Virgil: “The gates of hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way.”

But Republican leaders of conscience and courage now have an unusual moment “to return, and view the cheerful skies,” as Virgil put it. “In this the task and mighty labor lies.”

No, this doesn’t mean Mitch McConnell will immediately find his cojones and do the right thing, nor that the fools in the House Freedom Caucus will “see the light” and understand what Trump is doing to this nation.  But, it’s a start.  Some republicans have had enough of Trump and find that they can no longer support him.  The movement is gathering momentum, I think, and if it starts getting loud enough, the republicans in Congress will either listen or else pack up their belongings and go home in January 2021.  I’m not convinced that the congressional republicans will support impeachment, but I think what we are seeing is a step … a baby step perhaps, but a step nonetheless in the right direction.

Justin Amash Speaks; The GOP Should Listen

While I was not familiar with Representative Justin Amash from Michigan until very recently when he, the lone GOP Congressman willing to stand for the nation instead of his own interests, called for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  Suddenly, all eyes were on Representative Amash.  He took flak from Trump & Co., and from his own fellow members of Congress on the right side of the partisan aisle, but he stood his ground, had the courage of his convictions.

The very first news story I saw today was an OpEd by Representative Amash … news that he is leaving the Republican Party, aka GOP.  Thumbs-up to Amash, and the GOP would do well to listen, for We the People are sick and damn tired of the republicans in Congress being naught more than a mouthpiece for the would-be dictator in the Oval Office.

Justin Amash: Our politics is in a partisan death spiral. That’s why I’m leaving the GOP.

Justin Amash

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan listens as he is introduced during a town hall event in Grand Rapids on May 28. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

By Justin Amash July 4 at 6:00 AM
Justin Amash, an independent, represents Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District in the House.

When my dad was 16, America welcomed him as a Palestinian refugee. It wasn’t easy moving to a new country, but it was the greatest blessing of his life.

Throughout my childhood, my dad would remind my brothers and me of the challenges he faced before coming here and how fortunate we were to be Americans. In this country, he told us, everyone has an opportunity to succeed regardless of background.

Growing up, I thought a lot about the brilliance of America. Our country’s founders established a constitutional republic uniquely dedicated to securing the rights of the people. In fact, they designed a political system so ordered around liberty that, in succeeding generations, the Constitution itself would strike back against the biases and blind spots of its authors.

My parents, both immigrants, were Republicans. I supported Republican candidates throughout my early adult life and then successfully ran for office as a Republican. The Republican Party, I believed, stood for limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty — principles that had made the American Dream possible for my family.

In recent years, though, I’ve become disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it. The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions.

George Washington was so concerned as he watched political parties take shape in America that he dedicated much of his farewell address to warning that partisanship, although “inseparable from our nature,” was the people’s “worst enemy.” He observed that it was “the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

Washington said of partisanship, in one of America’s most prescient addresses: “The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty. …

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

True to Washington’s fears, Americans have allowed government officials, under assertions of expediency and party unity, to ignore the most basic tenets of our constitutional order: separation of powers, federalism and the rule of law. The result has been the consolidation of political power and the near disintegration of representative democracy.

These are consequences of a mind-set among the political class that loyalty to party is more important than serving the American people or protecting our governing institutions. The parties value winning for its own sake, and at whatever cost. Instead of acting as an independent branch of government and serving as a check on the executive branch, congressional leaders of both parties expect the House and Senate to act in obedience or opposition to the president and their colleagues on a partisan basis.

In this hyperpartisan environment, congressional leaders use every tool to compel party members to stick with the team, dangling chairmanships, committee assignments, bill sponsorships, endorsements and campaign resources. As donors recognize the growing power of party leaders, they supply these officials with ever-increasing funds, which, in turn, further tightens their grip on power.

The founders envisioned Congress as a deliberative body in which outcomes are discovered. We are fast approaching the point, however, where Congress exists as little more than a formality to legitimize outcomes dictated by the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.

With little genuine debate on policy happening in Congress, party leaders distract and divide the public by exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars. These strategies fuel mistrust and anger, leading millions of people to take to social media to express contempt for their political opponents, with the media magnifying the most extreme voices. This all combines to reinforce the us-vs.-them, party-first mind-set of government officials.

Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape.

Most Americans are not rigidly partisan and do not feel well represented by either of the two major parties. In fact, the parties have become more partisan in part because they are catering to fewer people, as Americans are rejecting party affiliation in record numbers.

These same independent-minded Americans, however, tend to be less politically engaged than Red Team and Blue Team activists. Many avoid politics to focus on their own lives, while others don’t want to get into the muck with the radical partisans.

But we owe it to future generations to stand up for our constitutional republic so that Americans may continue to live free for centuries to come. Preserving liberty means telling the Republican Party and the Democratic Party that we’ll no longer let them play their partisan game at our expense.

Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party. No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. I’m asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system — and to work toward it. If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it.

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Note to Readers:

Apparently WordPress has mucked up again, for the very minute that this post was published, it showed 24 ‘likes’, and I know that is impossible.  Sigh.  Just thought I’d better let you know so that if you see your picture in the row of ‘likes’, and don’t remember reading or liking it before, you’ll know you aren’t losing your mind … WordPress is!

By Hook or By Crook …

There are a couple of ways to win an election.  One can work hard, put together a sincere platform that addresses the concerns of the people, talk to the people, make sure your name and platform are well advertised and hope for the best.  Or … you can spread lies and ‘disinformation’, pick and choose your audience, take money from special interest groups to bombard the airwaves and social media with your ads, and if all else fails, make sure those who wouldn’t vote for you don’t get to vote.  It is my opinion that if you have a viable platform and reasonable ideas for improving the welfare of the nation and its people, your best bet is the first method.  However, if you have no real platform for your plan is to profit from the office you seek, if you care not a whit about the ‘average Joe’, then you will likely choose the second path.

Throughout history, there have been crooked politicians in both parties, and that will likely never change.  However, in this, the 21st century, corruption runs rampant mostly in the Republican Party.  It is republicans who are in the pockets of the NRA.  It is republicans who deny climate change and instead support the fossil fuel industries, for that is where they get their large donations.  It is republicans who aim to cut social safety net programs and who fight against subsidized health care in any form or fashion. And it is mainly republicans who have redistricted their states in order to minimize the effect of the minority vote.  It was the republican candidate running for president in 2016 who encouraged the tapping into private information of his opponent and making it public.

There is an all-important election coming up in just over 17 months, and the republicans are already hard at work.  Not, mind you, developing strong ideologies and working on plans to help the poor and working classes be successful in their lives.  Not working on a plan to improve our failing education system.  Not working on plans to develop renewable energy sources or clean up the environment.  But rather, among other things, they are working on ways to keep ‘the other side’, the democrats, away from the polls.

Texas is one state that has a two-week ‘early voting’ period, and in the past, mobile polling stations have been used in areas where residents might not otherwise be able to access a polling place.  Elderly, poor, and college students are among those for whom access is often difficult, so these mobile polling stations would set up shop in places like assisted living communities, food banks, college campuses, and even office buildings.  However, this week, a bill has been passed by both chambers of the state legislature that would ban the mobile polling stations.  Initially, the bill would have exempted nursing homes and retirement homes from the ban, but the state senate blocked the exemption.  The bill is now on Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s desk awaiting his signature.

The ‘justification’ for this bill … “Supporters of the bill say it keeps authorities from giving some people an easier way to vote, while excluding others from that opportunity.” Is that not the biggest crock of you-know-what???  The true reason can be none other than to keep the elderly, disabled, poor, and college-students from voting.  Those groups tend to be more likely to vote for a democrat, for their interests are more closely tied to humanitarian causes than republicans.  I call foul on this one.

I now turn from Texas to Florida …

In 2018, after years of the Republican-dominated state legislature’s resistance to the idea, Floridians included a referendum measure, Amendment 4, in the statewide midterm ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons once their sentence has been served (except those convicted of murder and sexual offenses).  The people of Florida overwhelmingly approved the measure with a 65% majority.  In fact, Amendment 4 received more “yes” votes (5.1 million) than any single candidate in the state last November.

However, the state legislature has now passed a bill that is only awaiting Governor DeSantis’ signature, that would place an additional requirement on those returning to society … they must fully pay any and all restitution and court fees before being allowed to vote.  Think about this one … they’ve been in prison, so they have no job and it will be difficult for them to get one, but in order to restore their rights as a citizen, they must come up with sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.  First, it was likely their poverty that led them to whatever crime they committed, and now they are even poorer with no means to even rent an apartment or buy food, but they are expected to pay fees that they may not have even known existed.  Again, just like the Texas law, this law would disproportionately affect the poor and minorities.

Those are just two of the current attempts to disenfranchise the people who are most likely to vote for a democrat.  Restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering, closing or reducing the hours of polling places in poor and minority neighborhoods are happening all around the country.  I can only conclude that the Republican Party has no viable platform on which to run honest campaigns, thus they must resort to all manners of trickery.  GOP once stood for Grand Ol’ Party.  No longer is there anything ‘grand’ about them.

How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

On occasion, I share with you the work of Robert Reich.  Mr. Reich has served under three U.S. presidents of both parties and is a wise man who sees things as they are and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.  In the following essay, he analyzes the ways in which McConnell is changing not only the Senate, but the whole of the U.S. system.  I think his words are worth sharing …

 

Robert Reich-4How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

by Robert Reich

Congress has recessed for two weeks without passing a desperately-needed disaster relief bill. Why not? Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t want to anger Donald Trump by adding money for Puerto Rico that Democrats have sought but Trump doesn’t want.

America used to have a Senate. But under McConnell, what was once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body has become a partisan lap dog.

Recently McConnell used his Republican majority to cut the time for debating Trump’s court appointees from 30 hours to two – thereby enabling Republicans to ram through even more Trump judges.

In truth, McConnell doesn’t give a fig about the Senate, or about democracy. He cares only about partisan wins.

On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections he famously declared that his top priority was for Barack Obama “to be a one-term president.”

Between 2009 and 2013, McConnell’s Senate Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees. In the entire history of the United States until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

This unprecedented use of the filibuster finally led Senate Democrats in 2013 to change the rules on some presidential nominees (but not the Supreme Court) to require simple majorities.

In response, McConnell fumed that “breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American.” If so, McConnell is about as un-American as they come. Once back in control of the Senate he buried Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court by refusing even to hold hearings.

Then, in 2017, McConnell and his Republicans changed the rules again, ending the use of the filibuster even for Supreme Court nominees and clearing the way for Senate confirmation of Trump’s Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Step by step, McConnell has sacrificed the Senate as an institution to partisan political victories.

There is a vast difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms of our democracy, and winning by subverting those norms.

To Abraham Lincoln, democracy was a covenant linking past and future. Political institutions, in his view, were “the legacy bequeathed to us.”

On the eve of the Senate’s final vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in July 2017, the late John McCain returned to Washington from his home in Arizona, where he was being treated for brain cancer, to cast the deciding vote against repeal.

Knowing he would be criticized by other Republicans, McCain noted that over his career he had known senators who seriously disagreed with each other but nonetheless understood “they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

In words that have even greater relevance today, McCain added that “it is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning’.”

In politics, success should never be measured solely by partisan victories. It must also be judged by the institutional legacy passed onward. The purpose of political leadership is not merely to win. It is to serve.

In any social or political system it’s always possible to extract benefits by being among the first to break widely accepted norms. In a small town where people don’t lock their doors or windows, the first thief can effortlessly get into anyone’s house. But once broken, the system is never the same. Everyone has to buy locks. Trust deteriorates.

Those, like Mitch McConnell, who break institutional norms for selfish or partisan gains are bequeathing future generations a weakened democracy.

The difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms and rules of our democracy, and winning by subverting them, could not be greater. Political victories that undermine the integrity of our system are net losses for society.

Great athletes play by the rules because the rules make the game. Unprincipled athletes cheat or change the rules in order to win. Their victories ultimately destroy the game.

In terms of shaping the federal courts, McConnell has played “the long game”, which, incidentally, is the title of his 2016 memoir. Decades from now, McConnell will still be shaping the nation through judges he rammed through the Senate.

But McConnell’s long game is destroying the Senate.

He is longest-serving leader of Senate Republicans in history but Mitch McConnell is no leader. He is the epitome of unprincipled power. History will not treat him kindly.

The Electoral College … Keep, Abolish, or Circumvent?

One of the big debates in Washington and around the nation is whether it is time to get rid of the electoral college.  It’s funny in retrospect, but after President Barack Obama won his second term of office, Donald Trump tweeted this …

trump-tweet

But, when the electoral college put him, against the majority vote, into the Oval Office, suddenly he didn’t mind it so much anymore.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?

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One of Elizabeth Warren’s talking points as she campaigns for next year’s presidential election is the abolishment of the electoral college, and it seems a majority in this country are in agreement.  A Pew Research Center poll last year found that a 55% majority support picking presidents by popular vote, compared to 41% who prefer keeping the electoral college.  The usual 4% were asleep … again.

Most of the candidates from both political parties, a number of members of Congress, and others have opined on this issue in recent weeks, but I don’t really care about any of that right now.  I prefer to talk facts … you know, those pesky statements that are supported by hard data?  Let’s first take a look at the rationale behind the electoral college as it was first written into the U.S. Constitution.

There were two primary reasons for the electoral college.  The first was to ensure that only a qualified person becomes president (are you laughing yet?).  The framers of the Constitution believed that with the Electoral College no one would be able to manipulate the citizenry. It would act as check on an electorate that might be duped.  The founders did not trust the population to make the right choice. The founders also believed that the Electoral College had the advantage of being a group that met only once and thus could not be manipulated over time by foreign governments or others.

The second reason for the electoral college system was to mitigate the disadvantage of states with smaller populations.  That, however, is rather a myth, as I will show in a bit.

Now, the majority in this country believe the electoral college has outlived its usefulness.  I have to agree … it is obvious that in the 2016 election it did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do and put the candidate who actually lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, or 2.1%, in office.  This was the least qualified candidate imaginable, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  It is time for a change.

However, the only means to repeal or abolish the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment, which is not even remotely likely to happen at this point.  But … there is another option.

Contrary to popular belief, the Constitution does not mandate that the winner take all in each state … that was the decision of the individual states over the course of the 19th century.  A state can decide, as 12 states plus the District of Columbia have recently done, to essentially bypass the electoral college.  The states that have signed onto this plan, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, are …

  • District of Columbia – 3 electoral votes
  • Colorado – 9 electoral votes
  • Connecticut – 7 electoral votes
  • Hawaii – 4 electoral votes
  • Illinois – 20 electoral votes
  • Maryland – 10 electoral votes
  • Massachusetts – 11 electoral votes
  • New Jersey – 14 electoral votes
  • Washington – 12 electoral votes
  • Vermont – 3 electoral votes
  • California – 55 electoral votes
  • Rhode Island – 4 electoral votes
  • New York – 29 electoral votes

If enough states pass the bill to account for 270 electoral votes, the bill will become law of the land and as a result, would ensure that every vote will be equal throughout the U.S. and that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.  Not only would this bypass the electoral college, but would also make gerrymandering* pointless.  There are 8 additional states, totaling 72 more electoral votes, where the bill has passed one chamber of the state legislature.  If all 8 pass the bill and the governors sign it into law, added to the 181 electoral votes above, that accounts for a total of 253, a mere 17 short of the magic number.

Under the compact, states pledge to allocate all their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote in presidential elections.  While this would not abolish the electoral college, it would guarantee that the candidate with the most popular votes would win the election.  Seems to me there can be no logical argument about that … it is as it should be.  We the People are supposed to elect a president, not the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party … We The People!

The argument against this compact mainly comes from the Republican Party, and their argument is that a popular vote system would encourage candidates to only campaign in the larger (population) states, and the smaller states would suffer.  The reality is that in 2016, two-thirds of the visits by both Clinton and Trump took place in just six states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan), and 94 percent of the visits went to just 12 states. Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia got zero campaign visits.  Kind of puts that argument to rest, don’t you think?

I’ve put together a chart showing each state’s population and electoral votes (electoral votes, by the way, are equal to a state’s representation in Congress).

State Electoral Population # of people represented by each elector
Number of Electoral Votes % of Total Population % of Total
Alabama 9 1.67% 4,874,747 1.50%          541,639
Alaska 3 0.56% 739,795 0.23%          246,598
Arizona 11 2.04% 7,016,270 2.15%          637,843
Arkansas 6 1.12% 3,004,279 0.92%          500,713
California 55 10.22% 39,536,653 12.14%          718,848
Colorado 9 1.67% 5,607,154 1.72%          623,017
Connecticut 7 1.30% 3,588,184 1.10%          512,598
Delaware 3 0.56% 961,939 0.30%          320,646
District of Columbia 3 0.56% 702455 0.22%          234,152
Florida 29 5.39% 20,984,400 6.44%          723,600
Georgia 16 2.97% 10,429,379 3.20%          651,836
Hawaii 4 0.74% 1,427,538 0.44%          356,885
Idaho 4 0.74% 1,716,943 0.53%          429,236
Illinois 20 3.72% 12,802,023 3.93%          640,101
Indiana 11 2.04% 6,666,818 2.05%          606,074
Iowa 6 1.12% 3,145,711 0.97%          524,285
Kansas 6 1.12% 2,913,123 0.89%          485,521
Kentucky 8 1.49% 4,454,189 1.37%          556,774
Louisiana 8 1.49% 4,684,333 1.44%          585,542
Maine 4 0.74% 1,335,907 0.41%          333,977
Maryland 10 1.86% 6,052,177 1.86%          605,218
Massachusetts 11 2.04% 6,859,819 2.11%          623,620
Michigan 16 2.97% 9,962,311 3.06%          622,644
Minnesota 10 1.86% 5,576,606 1.71%          557,661
Mississippi 6 1.12% 2,984,100 0.92%          497,350
Missouri 10 1.86% 6,113,532 1.88%          611,353
Montana 3 0.56% 1,050,493 0.32%          350,164
Nebraska 5 0.93% 1,920,076 0.59%          384,015
Nevada 6 1.12% 2,998,039 0.92%          499,673
New Hampshire 4 0.74% 1,342,795 0.41%          335,699
New Jersey 14 2.60% 9,005,644 2.76%          643,260
New Mexico 5 0.93% 2,088,070 0.64%          417,614
New York 29 5.39% 19,849,399 6.09%          684,462
North Carolina 15 2.79% 10,273,419 3.15%          684,895
North Dakota 3 0.56% 755,393 0.23%          251,798
Ohio 18 3.35% 11,658,609 3.58%          647,701
Oklahoma 7 1.30% 3,930,864 1.21%          561,552
Oregon 7 1.30% 4,142,776 1.27%          591,825
Pennsylvania 20 3.72% 12,805,537 3.93%          640,277
Rhode Island 4 0.74% 1,059,639 0.33%          264,910
South Carolina 9 1.67% 5,024,369 1.54%          558,263
South Dakota 3 0.56% 869,666 0.27%          289,889
Tennessee 11 2.04% 6,715,984 2.06%          610,544
Texas 38 7.06% 28,304,596 8.69%          744,858
Utah 6 1.12% 3,101,833 0.95%          516,972
Vermont 3 0.56% 623,657 0.19%          207,886
Virginia 13 2.42% 8,470,020 2.60%          651,540
Washington 12 2.23% 7,405,743 2.27%          617,145
West Virginia 5 0.93% 1,815,857 0.56%          363,171
Wisconsin 10 1.86% 5,795,483 1.78%          579,548
Wyoming 3 0.56% 579,315 0.18%          193,105
Totals 538 100.00% 325,727,661 100.00% ————–

As you can see, the smaller states are better represented in the electoral college than the more populous ones.  Take a look, for example, at California, the most populous state, that gets only 1 electoral vote for every 718,848 people, versus the least populous state, Wyoming, with 1 electoral vote for every 193,105 people.  Something doesn’t seem quite fair here, don’t you think?

It is my belief that the electoral college has been proven not only unnecessary, but a direct impediment to a fair and honest democratic election.  Since at this juncture it is virtually impossible to pass an amendment to repeal it, the next best thing is to pass legislation to make certain that every vote counts equally.  I also think this might go a long way in overcoming voter apathy, one of the biggest stumbling blocks we have.  Let us hope that enough state legislatures and governors will see this as the best way and choose to do the right thing.

* This small graphic explains the effects of gerrymandered districts as well as any I have seen.gerrymandering