A Crisis of Character: America at it's best, and worst

When the situation first developed with my daughter and son-in-law stranded in Morocco, and I sought to make people aware of their situation through social media, my reaction to the sophomoric, churlish, and idiotic comments about their plight, and that of thousands of other Americans, was one of rage.

Angry, intense, unmitigated rage.

Anger which, if allowed to express itself, results in prison terms. They directed these comments at my daughter and son-in-law and many other Americans. And they came from “my fellow Americans.”

To say it incensed me is an understatement.

Before I took to the usual recourse of writing about these things, I knew I needed to let the rage subside. I wanted to be sure everything I wrote came from my rational and reasoned side and that it was accurate and sincere.

I am now at peace with the rage. Here are my thoughts on this situation.

This country contains a significant number—not a majority, yet perhaps just enough to populate a small town—of moronic, self-centered, intellectually compromised nitwits. This small town of Moronville would contain enough people to give every other village, town, or city an abundance of idiots and still have leftovers.

Where do I begin?

When I contacted the local media to publicize the situation facing American citizens stranded overseas, I expected some negativity. I knew there would be a few dimwits, ensconced in their zealous xenophobic ignorance, who’d offer something less than charitable suggestions or ignorance-laden nonsense.

Yet I did not understand how many of our fellow Americans have absolutely no consideration or empathy for others.

I won’t dignify the keyboard courageous by repeating the comments, but they took great pride in parading their obliviousness. Their lack of fundamental knowledge about contagion, or even basic understanding that readmitting stranded Americans would have ZERO effect on the spread of the virus in the US, is frightening.

We are well beyond that.

Yet the absolute absence of any empathy, from those who I’m sure proudly claim their Judeo-Christian heritage, is astounding.

“What Would Jesus Do?” might be a bumper sticker on their car, but I dare say it was there when they bought it and no one has read or explained it to them.

Now here is the real kicker. While there were many comments wishing my daughter and son-in-law a speedy and safe return, they were in the minority. Yet one stuck out of the cacophony of overwhelming ignorance. A person who doesn’t know my daughter, and who doesn’t know me, offered to help.

This person was a Moroccan living here in Rhode Island. Surrounded by so many Americans who wrap themselves in the flag, foaming at the mouth about Making America Great Again, none offered any help.

But this Moroccan did.

This one exception showed what being a humane and caring member of the human race is all about. Think about that. Let that soak in for a moment. Americans offered criticism and “too bad, it’s on you for going there,” while a Moroccan offered to help by putting my daughter in touch with their family in Morocco.

Americans offered callous criticism and snide remarks, a Moroccan offered shelter from the storm.

That’s one reason why we travel. One of the many reasons we encouraged our daughter to travel, One of the reasons we encouraged her to go to countries like Morocco. To see the world beyond the borders of this country; to see there are good people all over this planet.

Now there is a second, and perhaps more troubling, aspect to this story.

The failure of the US State Department and the Embassy to offer even the slightest bit of help is a symptom of the incompetence of this administration.

It began long before the current crisis with the loss of many career State Department employees. In the face of the President’s policy ignorance, lack of Foreign relations skills, and callous disregard of advice from those with enormous experience, we lost decades of knowledge and expertise with the exodus. The President then replaced them with sycophants, wealthy campaign contributors, and co-conspirators.

Here’s a frightening example of how ill-considered appointments put Americans at risk.

Ambassadorship are often offered to patrons of a candidate. They are the plum positions rewarded for contributions and political support. Yet any competent administration should realize that world situations are fluid, fast moving, and prone to develop in the most unlikely circumstances.

Like a Pandemic.

Having competent people on the ground, even in countries such as Morocco with its relative stability, is critical. Political contributions are not a qualification, it’s a down payment or a bribe.

Even with the reality of politics, competence should enter the equation.

The American Ambassador to Morocco, David Fischer, is a Trump appointee. His previous experience was managing a collection of auto dealerships. There’s a comforting thought. The man on the ground taking care of our fellow American citizens has vast experience financing auto purchases and zero experience in diplomacy or emergency preparedness.

We’ve trusted a diplomatic mission to someone who amounts to a step above a used car salesman. I know that’s harsh, but other than politically supporting Mr. Trump, the man has zero qualifications. (https://ma.usembassy.gov/our-relationship/our-ambassador/)

The consensus among those on the scene, my daughter among them, is the Embassy has been useless. Local authorities say there’s been no communication from the Embassy and they advised my daughter and the others they were on their own.

The French, while understandably allowing their citizens to travel first, have been less than cordial with the Americans. They are allowing Americans on the Air France flights after taking any French citizens, but they are not happy about it and wonder why the American government has done nothing.

In contrast, the British Ambassador, Thomas Reilly, has received high marks for coordinating the return of British citizens. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/travel/coronavirus-americans-stranded.html?fbclid=IwAR3qX0uAJJ-FbVGHzoXrOHAIsG3W7PLkzeW1M5EthzAeAvmoSL1coip51e0)

Absent any presence of American Government authorities at the airport, American citizens are at risk. And this is happening all over the world.

To their credit, staff in the offices of Senators Reed and Whitehouse have remained in touch, made efforts to get information from the Embassy, and move the government to deal with the issue. For that I am grateful, but they can only do so much from here.

The President does not bear the responsibility for this pandemic. He does not bear the responsibility for the global financial collapse. But he bears the responsibility for the incompetence and lack of planning in his administration’s response.

And if there is any doubt about the sinister nature of this administration and those who support it, there’s this gem. Senator Richard Burr- R-NC, a member of the Intelligence Committee receiving classified briefings about COVID-19 before the widespread pandemic, dumped stock and warned a group of well-connected constituents to prepare for the financial meltdown with the spread of the Corona Virus.

No doubt there will be more such noble actions brought to light by that evil enemy of the people, the media and the First Amendment. And I have no doubt there will be Democrats among them. (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/19/818192535/burr-recording-sparks-questions-about-private-comments-on-covid-19)

Something we need remember come November.

Can we afford such incompetence in the face of a such challenges? Because there will be more. Much as many would like, we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world, nor should we. The very idea underscores the idiocy of many Americans.

I hope this does not dissuade my daughter from the joy and experience of travel. I hope she can remember traveling was not the issue, nor the pandemic, it was being abandoned by her own government, leaving her to her own devices, that was the biggest disaster.

And I hope she keeps in mind how the people in Morocco took care of them as best they good, and the kindness of the person from Morocco here in Rhode Island, to remind her there are good people all over the world.

*Author’s Note: My daughter and son-in-law are now on a flight to JFK having made their way out of Morocco on their own with little communication from the Embassy.

That, they will remember, and I will remember these things as well.

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A Rising Tide

Hope for America

The hope of America lies not in her great history or in the resiliency of her people, but in the ability of our system of government to survive regardless of the level of quality in our leadership. The founding fathers understood this more than anything else; if you rely on just the good nature of most people you will leave a way for those with evil intent to thrive.

America is like a pristine beach; warmed by the sun with a gentle surf changing the shore in subtle but continuous ways.  Men such as Mr. Trump come along and build intricate sand castles that mesmerize those who cannot see their vulnerability.  They become enamored of the spectacle, ignoring the fundamental flaw in the foundation.

When the storm arrives, as it will, such structures last but a moment in the face of the onrushing waves. Yet the shore, with just the millions of grains of sand bound by a common purpose, not only survives but over time erases the remains of the turbulence.

We are now facing the storm of rising mistrust in America by the rest of the world. By the disdain of former allies abandoned by ill-considered policies based on a self-aggrandizing charlatan and his sycophantic minions. By opposing governments feeding the ego of the President to interfere in our elections with his consent. By the constancy of American resolve to bear any burden abandoned in the face of challenges we once welcomed.

The sand castle that is the Trump administration will not withstand the coming storm, a storm of outrage and disgust by the American people who see their country roiled in the minefields of racism, injustice, virtual foreign invasion, and nationalism.  The storm will sweep away the sand castle and the shores of America will bask in the sun of a powerful but considerate, wealthy but generous, and vigilant yet hopeful nation once again.

An Enemy of the People

A recent piece I wrote called The Price of War (https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2020/01/13/the-price-of-war/) drew some interesting comments and criticisms; the responses were markedly disparate.

The majority agreed with the sentiment of the article but had serious doubts we will ever eliminate war as human condition.

Many of the concerns were sincere yet tainted by resignation to something I believe within our power to change.

There was a significant number who focused on one or two negative comments directed at the President. In a nutshell, I find him ill-suited for dealing with complex geopolitics issues. His usual act is saber rattling the power of our military. Creative and nuanced solutions elude him. He plays to some of his supporters like a character on WWF, not the President occupying the Oval Office. Latching on to these criticisms, they tagged me as a progressive leftist liberal.

Leftist I am not, but I am guilty of the other charge. No one has yet explained the negative value of being progressive or liberal. It seems the founding fathers of this country were very progressive and liberal about their continued allegiance to the King. British loyalists considered them terrorists and an enemy of the crown.

However, some went full bore, wishing me an unhappy, painful, and imminent demise. I am an enemy of the people. In light of such threatening behavior, I must poke the dragon once more.

I will dispense with the history aspect I so painstakingly wrote, play the role of “advocatus diaboli,” and argue for a more aggressive response to the perceived threats to this country. Since we will never, in the eyes of many, eliminate war, let us prosecute it with vigor and resolve.

Do unto others before they do unto you.

Perhaps my new found militancy will improve my reputation and earn me an upgrade me to plain liberal or, god willing, a conservative.

But I must set the stage with a small bit of history. Growing up a child of the sixties, I knew the godless Russians and the Chinese hated us. They wanted to either kill us or enslave us all. I knew this despite having never actually met a “Chinamen” or a “Ruskie.”

Yet all the adults seemed to know and accept this as fact, which is why many supported spending much of their tax money on building nuclear weapons. Enough to kill every human six or seven times over.

Of course, what they might have thought was to kill all of “those” people twelve or fourteen times over and keep us god-fearing Americans alive to repopulate the world.

Better dead than red, I always say.

What I don’t understand is, if the Russians and Chinese hated us, and for a time we had the advantage in nuclear weapons, why didn’t we strike then and be done with it?

As Madeline Albright, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, once said, “Why have all these nuclear weapons if we can’t use them?”

Perhaps she has a point.

Instead, we waited and hoped the Russians and Chinese would see the fallacy in Mutually Assured Destruction.

They have so far. But the world has changed. Can we afford to take the same chance?

Now it is the Muslims who hate us. And we do not want them to get nuclear weapons, so maybe we should not risk it again. Give the command. Turn the launch keys. Send them to their god, It might be a smarter choice.

One more historical point. Allah, the God of Islam, is the same Abrahamic God of Judeo-Christian tradition but why get hung up on a technicality. As a good Christian Crusader once said, “Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”

Iran is the devil of the moment. The country that hates us the most. It was North Korea for a while, but they’ve dropped into second place. They have a better chance of nuking themselves before they get us. Iran is the “Raison du moment” we are playing chicken with armed conflict. But I do not understand something.

Pakistan has nukes. They harbored Osama bin Laden, the hall of infamy star of Islamic terrorism. They are supposed to be our ally and we could not tell them we were coming to kill Osama. Why haven’t we nuked them?

Saudi Arabia supplied nineteen of the hijackers. If we were keeping score, the Saudis are responsible for more American deaths than that Iranian General we spread all over the tarmac. Once again, an ally in name only. Why haven’t we nuked them?

Since Mr. Trump and his BFF, Mr. Putin, control thousands of nukes, and seem to be engaged in a mutual admiration society, perhaps a return to the alliance we shared in defeating the Nazis is in order with our target the new enemy, Iran.

Oh, wait, Russia backs Iran. Perhaps there’s a reason for Mr. Trump’s confusion with allies and friends like these. There’s that pesky geopolitics again.

I would suggest we approach China, considering our new trade deal, but they may be too busy enjoying their 6.1% economic growth. Why can’t we have that? Maybe we can learn something from them on that front.

Let’s just keep this simple.

Here is my plan.

  1. Recall all American military personnel to the US. Notify all Americans living abroad now might be a good time to visit the homeland. Advise them to sell all their furniture or find a solid storage facility.
  2. End all foreign aid to everybody except other nations based on a Christian tradition
  3. Hold a referendum on exempting the Israelis from this requirement. They are not Christian but, in all likelihood, Jesus was Jewish so that bodes well in their favor.
  4. Ask each nation to support what we do. Make a list of all who agree, add to the target list all who refuse.
  5. Start the countdown.

It makes about as much sense as our current covfefe foreign policy.

Rationality Reemerges with Attorney General Peter Neronha’s Drug Policy

It would seem we have an Attorney General who embraces rationality and realism over politics and rhetoric and I, for one, am pleased.

The drug problem in the United States, and worldwide, is complicated. On the most visible side, you have addicts, deaths from overdoses, hospitalizations, and lost opportunity by convictions for possession.

On the other side, you have the intricate relationship of governments of producing countries with the enormous money generated by the cartels. Drug money funds politics, political candidates, and corruption.

Over the last several decades, the trend in the US was to increase punishment and eliminate rehabilitative services for inmates. There was an apparent shift to warehousing more inmates with no consideration for what happens when released.

Recidivism among drug offenders reached 60-70%. Most offenders released from prison are rearrested within a year. Something is not working. There is another troubling trend buried within the change toward punishment that should concern us all. The shift to private prisons. Logic would dictate that businesses with a vested interest in a steady, or growing, supply of “customers” would have little incentive to reduce crime or incarceration rates.

In 2008, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo ordering a reduction in using private prisons by Federal authorities. Just days after Jeff Sessions became US Attorney General, he rescinded the order. Private prison stocks soared as the prison industry resumed its growth. Once again, money and politics trumped rationality. (https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/18/politics/private-prison-department-of-justice/index.html)

AG Neronha’s proposal brings rationality to our drug policy. Recognizing the accepted medical definition of drug addiction as a treatable mental health condition, shifting the focus from punishment to treatment and prevention is sound policy.

While the policy is welcome, it must go further. Reducing the number of minor offenders sent to prison is a good start and removing the stigma of a felony conviction will help reintegrate those with drug issues back into society but treating those with mental illnesses, both inside prisons and in society, is also a pressing problem. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/criminals-need-mental-health-care/)

With the trend toward punishment, they incarcerated those with mental illnesses at an even faster rate than the general population. Until we recognize the revolving door of the mentally ill sent to prisons lacking any mental health services, released after they complete their sentence, and rearrested because of lack of mental health services nothing will change.

AG Neronha wisely recognized the Criminal Justice system in Rhode Island needed a change. He is in good company with other states who have reduced recidivism through “Second chance” type programs, increased treatment opportunities, and punishment tempered by a goal of reintegration into society. (https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Reducing-Recidivism_State-Deliver-Results_2017.pdf)

Some would argue that such policies will encourage drug use, will increase the number of addicts because it reduces the preventive effect of punishment, will be only a progressive “feel good” effort with little to no benefit.

In the 1980s, Congress passed some of the most Draconian criminal sanctions to deal with the then rising scourge of crack cocaine. Possession of relatively small amounts resulted in life sentences. Yet the effect on the street was minimal, and the adverse impact on the minority population was devastating.

The numbers do not lie. We lead the world in prison population, and the numbers are growing. Whatever we have done to this point, it is not working. (http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All)

We can do better than that, and Mr. Neronha’s proposal is a tremendous step in the right direction.

A Naked Woman Dancing in the Street

A naked woman dancing in the street is not an invitation for sexual activity.  While societal norms might frown on such activity, it is not an open invitation for men to “have their way” with her.

Whether such things happen is exclusively up to her.

But that is not the way much of America sees it.

She was asking for it.  What did she expect? Look at how she’s dressed, she knew what she was doing.

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Image copyright Elon News network

The plague of sexual assault is one of the biggest threats to women in the world. In theory, we abhor rapists. Even within the insular walls of prisons, rapists must be protected from other inmates because of the inherent evil of their crimes.

But that is the tip of the iceberg. It is the wink and nod tolerance of “boys will be boys” in committing sexual assault in all its variations that places the onus and the burden on the victim for bringing it upon herself.

She shouldn’t have gone to that party. She shouldn’t dress that way. She shouldn’t have acted like she wanted it.

The double standard is appalling.

The normal progression of a child to puberty and the learning curve of acceptable behavior in controlling hormonal-driven feelings are complicated by this unequal expectation between males and females.

Sexual assault is the most underreported crime. We, as a society, place such burdens on victims they fear reporting the offense because of this. Can there be any more horrifying concept than a culture that blames the victim?

Much of this is cultural. There are still social practices throughout the world where women are nothing more than chattel, to be bargained with and traded by a male-dominated culture.

The vestiges of a father “giving away” his daughter at her wedding persist to this day. While we may view this as symbolic and harmless, it reflects a time when it was an absolute right of the family to determine who a woman marries.

A man was never given away, he was endowed with the right to “take” a bride.

When my then future son-in-law asked to speak with us about marrying my daughter, I appreciated the gesture. But I had about as much chance of telling my daughter who she could marry as I have of winning Powerball.

And that is how we raised her. She is not my property to do with as I please. She determines her own life.

In society, there is still the shadow of sexual assault victims somehow being responsible for the crime. Often, agencies tasked with investigating such incidents are wary because of the possibility of it being false.

That is precisely why a thorough and effective investigation is necessary. It should never be viewed as a waste of time because of anything the victim may have done, said, or where she went.

The recent confirmation hearing illustrates the problem. While the sense of fairness to both sides is essential, we must always lean on the side of innocent until proven guilty.

Yet it also underscores the problem.

Had Professor Ford felt more comfortable reporting the incident when it first happened we would not have to make a choice. And let’s be clear, it is our fault as a society that victims feel unable to report these crimes because of what we may do to them for merely standing up for themselves.

Sexual assault survivors bear the burden of being a victim twice. Once by the perpetrator, and again by those responsible to protect them. We live in a world where the President of the United States can mock a victim in the name of politics and many Americans applaud the behavior. If that is what the moral majority represents, we are indeed in decline.

Until that changes, there will be more victims left in the shadows of our immoral morality.

Passages

William Shakespeare said life is an “uncertain voyage,” and, as I add more days to my past, it seems the uncertainty grows.

Except for one thing.

timeThroughout this uncertain voyage, we share experiences. Often, we experience the most meaningful ones with good friends. It is in this friendship that life’s uncertainties can be managed and endured.

I have been most fortunate to have a group of friends I have remained close to since we first met in the 8th grade almost fifty years ago. The warranty on most things doesn’t last that long, yet we have.

Ralph Ezovski, Tony Afonso, Cam Nixon, Clyde Haworth, and I have almost five decades of being friends. During those many years, we’ve experienced the many stages of life.

High school with all it’s cusp-of-adulthood explorations of the trappings of life; girlfriends, surreptitious beers, parties, driver’s licenses, and graduation, followed by college and jobs and marriage and children and all the highs and lows of being human.

The one consistency of life is change. Nothing, no matter how permanent it may seem, remains the same.

The passing of one’s parents is one of those shared elements. For some, that experience came way too early. For others, it was spaced over the course of our friendship. Yet these shared experiences, whenever they occur, are the threads that hold the fabric of our lives together and bind us to each other.

One of the other realities of life is that parents of friends influence our lives even when we don’t realize it. How they raise their children, the expectations they set and the character they mold, affects us all. It is one of my great fortunes to have friends raised by kind, intelligent and most of all caring parents.

Firm when necessary, gentle when possible, and caring about us all.

One parent, Clyde’s father, recently passed away. He enjoyed a long and plentiful life enriched by his family and friends. His manner and example having an untold influence on this group of friends.

For that, we are all the better for it,

It is at these moments we reflect on such things. While no one can alter the passages of life, we can take time to appreciate how fortunate we are to experience them.

Friends are not something one collects or counts. Good friends make this uncertain voyage worth the journey.

TSA and Body Cavity Searches: A Look Inside in the Name of Safety

I recently heard a story of a female Irish citizen, married to an American, who claimed she was subjected to a strip search in the presence of several male and female TSA agents. She claimed that they used a camera to do a body cavity search.

https://izismile.com/2010/12/02/funny_tsa_comics_29_pics.htmlMy first reaction was bullshit, no way TSA agents would be using body cavity probes in an airport environment.

Wrong. Sort of. I’m not sure what happened during the search as for technology, but the TSA can do full strip searches, and the guidelines are a nightmare. Nowhere on the TSA site refers to using cameras in body cavity searches. However, one part of the policy is clear.  The search must be conducted in the presence of TSA agents of the same sex and the person subject to the search has the right to ask a companion to be with them to observe the process.  If the story is accurate, somebody in TSA screwed up.

But my guess is they don’t care.

This woman also claimed, after she explained she was married to an American and held a valid permanent resident green card, the TSA agent told her, “get used to it if you’re traveling here on a green card.”

That I do believe. Having both worked for an airline, and as one who travels frequently, the caliber of TSA agents in my experience, on the whole, is less than optimum. While it may not be a fair characterization of all TSA agents, in general, they are mall cops with a better pension plan.

The attitude toward intolerance of people from other countries and inconsiderate behavior coming out of Washington clearly plays a part in encouraging TSA agents to act in such a belligerent manner.

The change over the past year is dramatic.

Now, having been a police officer for 20 years, I heard wild and incredible (in the original meaning of not credible) stories of atrocious things done by cops.  It was clear they were made up, exaggerated fantasies of someone pissed off they got arrested or received a summons.

Not that some cops don’t engage in some egregious behavior, but it is easy to detect the bullshit stories.

So again, my first reaction to the body cavity search at an airport was one of disbelief.

A slight bit of research on the TSA site and other resources and I was proven wrong. To say I was stunned that TSA agents would be doing internal body cavity searches is an understatement. But the data out there, both anecdotal and reported in the media, is stunning.

Like most government agencies, the TSA website is as clear as mud. I couldn’t find a clear and well-articulated policy on the how and why of the TSA search policy. It leaves one to suspect their internal policy is not any better.

Body cavity searches approach the level of a medical examination. To think TSA agents can be trained to do such procedures is ludicrous. I’ve never encountered a TSA agent where I thought, “this person is wasting their talents here. They should go to medical school.”

Never mind medical school, some of these people wouldn’t be accepted as cadavers.

Now I know I will hear from agents, their friends, or family members about how dedicated and wonderful some TSA agents are. I agree, most are. The problem is, with the level of qualification to become a TSA agent, the position attracts some more enamored of the perceived power invested in the position than out of a sense of purpose, which casts a dark shadow on the good agents.

What the TSA needs is a better appreciation of how the public perceives them. They have no clue.

When most people are queued up at a security checkpoint they don’t see a level of protection for their safety; they see a roadblock to travel. An inconvenience to their getting to the plane.

For most people in line at a TSA checkpoint, the agents and screening process is the equivalent of a marked police car parked on the side of the road slowing traffic and making their commute even longer.

Combine this feeling with a TSA agent who thinks he is the Guardian of the Universe, snarling commands at the great unwashed masses, and you have an agency that serves an important function thought of as bullies and incompetent fools.

Add in the possibility they can take you into a back room and probe areas usually reserved for the most intimate of encounters and resentment will only grow. Until they work on their reputation and mold these agents to be mindful of the public perception, whatever they do, no matter how critical it is to safety, will be met with incredulity and ridicule.

funny_tsa_comics_640_08“You want to look where?  I don’t freakin’ think so…”

I don’t know about you, but that is the LAST place I’m hiding anything.

 

 

(Cartoons copyright by https://izismile.com/2010/12/02/funny_tsa_comics_29_pics-8.html)

 

Guest Post: The Political Machine Reexamined by Professor Nicholas Easton

Guest columnist Nicholas Easton is a community activist, former member and President of the Providence City Council during the turbulent Cianci administration version 1, and Political Science Professor. 

My recent book, The Political Machine Reexamined, for which I am still seeking a publisher, examines in considerable detail, the political machines that so dominated American politics for over a century.  What is unique, though, is that I mount not a critique, but a strong defense of this phenomenon.  Furthermore, I make an argument that the Democratic party should return to building machines. I synopsize that argument herein.

democrat-donkeyTo begin let me lay out a few propositions. First is the idea that, generally speaking, for at least a century or so the Democratic Party has represented the economic interests of the poor and the Republican Party has represented the economic interests of the wealthy.

Second is the idea that, generally speaking, there are only two sources of power in our democracy, money, and people.

Finally is the idea that, given the two previous assertions, Republicans will win most political battles based on money and Democrats will win those based on superior organization and mobilization of people.

Many Democrats have come to recognize this problem and urged the party to focus more on capacity building and the so-called ground game. When it does so, however, it tends to approach the problem by trying to raise even larger sums of money and use that to support efforts to knock on doors and make phone calls before individual elections. While this seems to have worked fairly well in the special elections since 2016 one wonders if such an effort is sustainable with nationwide elections this year. There is also the question of whether Democrat’s recent success is simply a function of having a great enemy in Donald Trump.

There are two fundamental problems with this recent approach. First, it again relies on money, a game the Democrats simply can’t win. Second, it addresses only short-term wins and doesn’t really build capacity at all, it simply gins up turn out at a particular time. What’s needed is a fundamental reexamination of the way the party approaches elections.

My invocation of the machine model is not accidental as it serves several purposes. First of all, it is provocative and meant to be so. The Democratic Party needs a profound shakeup. It is absolutely ridiculous that the party that represents the interests of an overwhelming majority of Americans is so out of power. Second, the party needs to re-examine the fundamentals of its approach, not just individual pieces. Knocking on doors is great and communicating with voters is great but communicating with them only at election time is insufficient to building long-term change. And long-term change is indeed what is needed. The Obama election offered an opportunity for sweeping change, but it only lasted for two years as we got completely outmaneuvered in congressional elections for the following six years and with the possibility of losing complete control of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future the party has to think about long and broad change in its approach.

Third, there are significant reasons why the machine model worked and I lay out some of those reasons in my detailed examination of 18 characteristics of the machine, characteristics that are both significant and separable. Foremost among these is the so-called “exchange system” which basically means you do something for people before asking for their vote as opposed to making vague promises of the Nirvana that will result from your ascension to power. Another very significant characteristic is the 24/7/365 full-time nature of the machine.

Finally, my book debunks the myth that machines were more corrupt than present-day politics. For example, hiring people based on a test as opposed to who they might know only assures that higher social classes will beat out lower ones for jobs that may not require any specific skills. Such practices turn the poor into Trumpers.  And contracting out public services means that jobs are handed out by the same people who contribute tons of money to Republicans to get the contracts, and they are certainly no less corrupt. Think Blackwater and Kellogg, Brown and Root (a division of Haliburton).

In my book, I examine these things in much greater detail. Thus, people can reject my central claim of a need to return to the machine and yet, by looking at how the machine worked, find many valuable pieces that can be very useful to rebuilding the party. For example, I note that machines were usually a coalition.  The present-day party which relies on women, African-Americans, Hispanics, environmentalists, gays, Jews and others has a lot to learn about the management of coalitions. I also included 80 interviews with former residents of the machine neighborhoods in Providence indicating strong support among the populace for this institution.

At this point in time, I find myself extremely torn. I believe and I hope that the outrages that we have endured under Trump will indeed bring the expected Blue Wave and bring Democrats to significant power in 2018. The question is, in their euphoria will they believe that the problem was messaging and now they found the right one and all is well. The problem is not the message it is the messenger and he needs and deserves a thorough self-examination.

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Could This Be the One?

Under the Heading Giving the Devil his Due.

President Trump has potentially achieved two things no President has ever done before. He’s created an opportunity for the formal end of the Korean War and the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But, as history shows us, this is not the first time this has been tried. Let’s hope the formal negotiations come to a swift, successful, and verifiable conclusion.

As Mark Twain (allegedly) once said, “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”  We can turn to history for a perspective on negotiations with the Hermit Kingdom.

The number of agreements with North Korea that have been successful.

One*

*(The Armistice ending open hostilities of the Korean War. Technically, the war is still on-going.)

The number of agreements, in particular, those seeking to prevent the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that have succeeded.

None*

*The number of agreements made, and broken, by the North Korean are too numerous to count.

This piece from the Arms Control Association (www.armscontrol.org) gives an interesting chronological perspective on negotiations and agreements with North Korea.  I’d include it here, but it would run to almost forty pages.

Click here for the full article https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron

If I were inclined to bet, I’d say the odds ain’t good for the world’s greatest dealmaker.  There is hope, and we all should embrace it in the interest of world stability, but the hope is tainted by the reality of this administration.

All we have so far is our unilateral decision to end joint US-South Korean military exercises (a decision that surprised both South Korea and our own Pentagon and Defense Department.)

ChosenI suppose Kim Jong-Un can argue the first step to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be the withdrawal of US forces. He seems to have maneuvered us into the first stages without giving much up except an offer to continue talking. (Remember, the peace talks at Panmunjom took two years to reach a conclusion that paused the Korean War in 1953 with a promise of a formal end that has never happened.)

Somehow, in the last few weeks, our new BFF is Kim Jong-Un and North Korea and our new worst enemy is Pierre Trudeau and Canada. This is the frightening reality and mindset of those who are negotiating this agreement.

A success here would be a major accomplishment for this administration. A failure here will make the Iran Nuclear Agreement look like an unconditional surrender by Iran. If it does succeed, we can move all those troops from the 38th parallel and put them on the Canadian Border.

 

A School Shooting and America’s Collective Sigh of Relief

You could almost hear America breathe a sigh of relief with the “good” news of the latest school shooting. The sounds of high-fives echoing from the NRA serving as a rhythmic background to the glad tidings. Their fondest dreams come true.

A gun solved the problem. A police officer shortened what could have been a much more severe situation. Just two wounded kids, one in good condition and one in critical, and a dead bad guy is a cause to celebrate.

Nothing is good about this story.

A police officer faced his worst nightmare. He had no choice but to kill the 17-year-old suspect. The personal cost to his emotional well-being is something our ‘shoot’em up, kill five before breakfast’ flooded TV and movies don’t show.

There are no Dirty Harrys on Police Departments, and if there were we’d do everything we could to get rid of them.

Killing someone because it’s your job, be it a cop or a soldier, does not lessen the trauma. You can learn to live with it, but your humanity suffers. Only sociopaths enjoy killing a fellow human.

The NRA and those opposed to any review and restructuring of gun laws will point to this with a smile and say, “see, we told you. Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.”

The implied message is two kids with bullet holes is better than five, or ten, or twenty.

Friendly_Fire_-_Saints_Row_The_Third_logo (1)But, like friendly fire as a cause of death in battle, those lying in the hospital might have a different perspective.

The outcome of this incident, through the brave actions of that police officer, is better than the possibilities if the officer had not been there. Let’s make sure that officer is both recognized for his courage and supported in his road to reconciliation with the trauma.

That some would take this as proof positive that guns solve violence is a sign of just how embedded the problem is.

The officer did what we expect cops to do, stop crime and prevent loss of life. The shooter is dead, understanding what drove him to such actions will be more difficult to understand but no less critical.

A seventeen-year-old should not be able to get his hands on a firearm. Laws already restrict that, but they can only go so far. Getting to the heart of the matter will take more than new rules. It will require a fundamental change in our approach to this phenomenon of gun violence.

Change starts with research and study. Backslapping celebrations of “problem solved” by a gun battle won by the good guys ignore reality. America should not be willing to merely hope for the same outcome on the next one, betting the lives of innocent victims on chance.

We can do more than be grateful for the limited number of victims here. The outcome was better than Parkland, better than Sandy Hook, better than Columbine.

It doesn’t make it a good outcome.

No law, no police force, no army of armed civilians can prevent every incident just by their existence. Until we understand the culture of violence seen here, something absent in most other modern societies, and work toward permanent solutions, nothing will change.

I, for one, see this as just as tragic as Parkland; more so, if we take this as a win.

P.S. Okay #Neveragain and we mean it, this time.