Widespread Ignorance

One of the major reasons the Trumpet has been so successful in convincing people to follow him wherever he leads is that there are a great many ignorant people in this country. I’m not talking about ignorance of rocket science or nuclear physics. I am talking about ignorance of the most basic truths about this country and its history and political machinery.

The problem is of special concern to me as an educator because I feel like I am a part of the problem and even though I sense how to solve the problem I don’t see any serious attempts being made. The solution is not to attack the public school system by increasing the number of charter schools or allowing for “vouchers.” The solution is to eliminate schools of education with their ridiculous “methods courses”; require a solid academic major of our teachers; pay the teachers more; eliminate the bureaucracy that controls public education; keep politicians out of the mix; and truly commit ourselves as a nation to an education system that will be worthy of imitation.

But let me turn to the evidence that steps such as these are absolutely necessary: let us probe the depth of ignorance in this country for a bit. It is not new, of course, since there has always been a strong anti-intellectual strain in this country that leads many to suspect well educated people of being cynical and judgmental — and, worse yet, liberal. This may or may not be the case, but it is irrelevant. The fact is, we are failing our young people and they are easily led.

As far back as the Korean war it was known that the young men who were captured during the “police action” were easily “brain-washed,” that is, led to change their allegiance and believe what they were told. It was discovered that the North Koreans were very good at convincing these young men because they were ignorant of their own history. The captors were able to tell them things about their own country’s history that were either altogether false or only half-true, and the captives were generally helpless to ward off the disinformation and were easily led to believe what their captors wanted them to believe.

More recently an interviewer asked one of Donald Trump’s followers why he was convinced that Barack Obama was a terrible president — one of the cardinal tenets of the Trump dogma. He responded that Obama was responsible for 9/11 because he wasn’t in his office, he was not attending to business. Asked where Obama was at that time the man responded that he didn’t know but would love to know that. Apparently the fact that Obama wasn’t president when the Twin Towers were destroyed had escaped this man. And, I dare say, if it were pointed out to him he would dismiss the fact as a liberal fiction. Again, ignorance creates a blank slate on which demagogues are able to write their own program and have it believed without question.

There are other examples, of course, and anecdotes don’t prove much of anything. But national and international tests reflect the same wide-spread ignorance on the part of those who graduate from America’s schools, which is frequently dismissed (by educators themselves) as simply a reflection of the fact that this country must educate so many of the poor.  This excuse will not stand up to criticism, as evidenced by the recent Program for International Student Assessment results:

According to this line of reasoning, the US doesn’t make it on the list of the top 25 countries in math (or top 15 in reading) because America has higher poverty and racial diversity than other countries do, which drags down the national average. . . .Wrong!

. . . PISA test results, released Dec. 3, 2013, show that the U.S. lags among 65 countries (or sub country entities) even after adjusting for poverty. Top U.S. students are falling behind even average students in Asia. . . . Asian countries (or sub entities) now dominate the top 10 in all subjects: math, reading and science.

And that ignorance makes it relatively easy for a demagogue to present half-truths and blatant falsehoods as the truth and have them believed. Without reservation. If something is repeated often enough and there is no factual frame of reference for questioning what has been said, it will be believed; it will be held to be the TRUTH. And this problem is exploding with the recent revelations that bogus news on the internet is being taken as legitimate by a great many ignorant people who previously relied on such publications as The National Enquirer for their news.

It is fair to say, I do believe, that the root cause of this ignorance is the failure of our schools and that radical steps need to be taken in order to remedy the situation. If this does not happen (and I am not optimistic) then the number of followers of demagogues such as our president-elect will continue to grow.

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Top Ten Reasons

In a recent post on Facebook one of the contributors noted that she didn’t like Hillary Clinton at all but since Hillary was friends with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders she thought that together they could accomplish a great deal in the next four years. In addition, she was vehemently against the thought of Trump as our next president and was therefore determined to vote for Hillary despite her misgivings. I tend to agree with her take on Hillary as a person, but as I have noted in past blogs, this election is not about her personality — or Trump’s — and when it comes to policies and experience Hillary, as has been said, may be the best qualified candidate ever to run for president.

Thus I regard this writer’s reasoning as weak even though I agree with her. It focuses too much on personalities to be considered strong reasoning in a political race of this magnitude. I tend to agree that Hillary’s public persona is a bit off-putting: she seems to be a very private person not given to opening up in public, not warm and cuddly like her husband. I have no problem with that however, and while I also disagree with some of the decisions she has made in the past, this race is too important to overlook her exceptional qualifications for the job at hand.

Since this election is a reality show in the mind of one of the candidates, I have chosen to take a page from David Letterman’s book and list my “top ten” reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton,in reverse order.

10. She was two-term Senator for New York State.

9. She was First Lady for eight years and learned from the best how to govern.

8. She was Secretary of State and worked closely with Barack Obama.

7. She has always been willing to disclose her tax records.

6. She has never filed for bankruptcy.

5. She has no debts in foreign banks.

4. She has never been fined for racial discrimination.

3. She has fought for years for women’s rights and the rights of the disadvantaged.

2. She has openly declared her political agenda, including what the Sierra Club regards as the “strongest” stand on the environment of any political candidate for president in recent memory.

1. She understands the nuclear weapons are deterrents, not weapons of war.

Now these may not be the strongest reasons possible and it always pays to take a look at the reasons given for voting for her opponent. But hard as I try I cannot find any reasons — aside from the millennials in his political ad shouting that he “tells it like it is,” which is about as false as can be. But there does seem to be one outstanding reason that ought to be addressed.

Many voters are fed up with “politics as usual” and want change. Trump promises change and he is assuredly not a politician in any strict sense of that term. He has never been elected to any political office whatever, which many regard as a strength; I regard it as a weakness. But, moreover, I would urge caution to those who simply want change. Change in itself may not be a good thing. My temperature may change and symptoms appear that lead to a shorter life. The weather might change as it has radically in the Southeast and this change is assuredly not for the better. Indeed, much change can result in drastic results and the change that Trump promises would certainly appear to be change of that order. If president he may well bring this country tumbling down about his shoulders because he is simply in over his head and has no idea whatever how to work with others and benefit from their experience and insight. And his close relationship with Putin must give us all pause when thinking about this country’s relationships with the rest of the world.

If there are other reasons for voting for Donald Trump, I am not aware of them. And while I realize that one should keep his or her mind open to new information, I am at this point determined to vote for Hillary Clinton for the reasons given above. And, despite my reservations about her public persona, I do realize that she is a woman of immense political experience and knowledge who is bright and capable. These reasons count for something, though, as I have said, this election is not about personalities.

 

 

It’s War!

I have a second email address that I tend to ignore for the most part until I realize that it is collecting over one hundred emails — mostly spam, of course. When I was emptying the trash from that site yesterday I came to realize that there were dozens of urgent requests from some group that calls itself “DCCC” wanting me to donate money to Donald Trump’s campaign. Oh yeah! You bet. Right away: I’ll get out  my checkbook. . . .

But as I gave some of the frantic notices some attention I came to realize an odd and somewhat disturbing fact: these people don’t see this election as a campaign; they see it as war! It’s Us against Them! It’s the little guy against the giant Establishment. They sprinkle their appeals with quotations from various sources on the “enemy’s” side that prove (to them) that the enemy is on the run. They are panicking! We are winning!

For example, one recent appeal quotes Barack Obama (their favorite hate target: he is the source of all evil, together with Hillary Clinton, of course) to this effect: “All the progress we’ve made is at stake in this election.” The DCCC see this as a sign that the “other side” is weakening and is in panic mode. Every time Fact Check is quoted to show that their leader has told bald-faced lies it is dismissed as a pure fabrication, a Lie to end all Lies. They lie, we don’t. They won’t listen to criticism of their leader because they know before time that whatever that criticism might be it is pure fiction. Their man can do no wrong.

Ironically, of course, the appeals are full of lies and distortions about how their leader is winning the war, though their minions cannot possibly recognize them as such because they see only black and white: US against THEM. They lie, we don’t. The thought that they are winning the war and that they have the enemy on the run keeps them energized and (I suspect) keeps the dollars coming in. Promises of doubling and tripling donations are sprinkled throughout the appeals that include the aforementioned lies and distortions about their leader’s winning ways. And the appeals have a frantic tone to them, designed to evoke emotional reaction, not thought.

The whole thing would be funny except for the fact that it is deeply disturbing. When, for example brilliant people like Stephen Hawking convince a couple of hundred reputable scientists to sign a letter to the American people urging them not to vote for Trump this is not seen as a weakening of their own lines; it is seen as a sure sign that the “other side” is on the run. “They,” one quickly realizes, is anyone who disagrees with them. And it doesn’t matter if “they” are reputable scientists, former Republicans, Pulitzer Prized winners, or even the Pope: they all lie when they dare to say anything critical of their leader.

This is not merely the refusal of someone to hear or read anything that might sully their leader, because they have determined that their leader defines the Truth — though this is certainly the case. This is not a matter of any attempt to draw rational conclusions from scattered, legitimate evidence. It is pure, unadulterated, visceral, hatred-driven determination to beat the opposition at any cost. And this is deeply disturbing because it suggests that these folks will stop at nothing to see their man win. And if he doesn’t win there will be Hell to pay, because it means that they have lost as well.

So much for the democratic ideal of open and honest debate among different political ideologies in an attempt to persuade voters to back their man or woman. This is the darkest form of warfare disguised as a political race — which Trump himself describes as a “movement.” He’s right. It is a movement, much like a cult. And reason and logic have no place at the table. It’s all about gut feelings, rage, hatred, and fear bundled up against the Establishment that has always been out to get those who are ready and able to do battle for their man.

Lipstick On The Pig

What is it they say? If you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig? This appears to be an application of that adage! The Donald is making every attempt to pretend he is something he is not — since what he is turns off so many people. This is part of his effort, initiated by his new PR people (staring Kellyanne Conway) to create a different image for him and make him out to be someone else. Note the brief excerpt below:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is planning a Thursday morning meeting with Latino and African-American activists at his Manhattan headquarters in Trump Tower. The activists are fellows from the Queens, N.Y., office of the Republican Leadership Initiative, a program designed to train young, diverse recruits to be campaign field operatives.

Multiple GOP sources confirmed plans for the meeting and characterized it as part of Trump’s outreach efforts in the African-American and Latino communities. While the initiative is not solely focused on training minority activists, a source said the Queens office of the program is in a predominately African-American and Latino area and has attracted its participants from the community.

An email circulated earlier in the day Tuesday indicated that former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, current chairman of the Queens County Republican Party, was helping to organize the event, which was initially set to take place in Queens. Turner told Yahoo News the event had subsequently shifted to Trump Tower and described it as part of Trump’s efforts to court Latino voters.

We all know how The Donald feels about minorities generally and this is almost funny — having them come to Trump Towers to meet with the great one (in his surroundings) to see what he can do to placate these folks and convince them he’s really not a racist and orthodox bigot so they will go forth and spread the word to their peers. He had his fingers crossed the whole time! Right!

There are so many things wrong with this one hardly knows where to begin. But I suppose we could start with the fact that he is not going to these people, he is asking them to come to him. The meeting was “shifted” to Trump Towers. I dare say he wants to intimidate them with his opulent surroundings and the emotional effect it must have on these folks to have to visit the great man in his palatial surroundings. It borders on the sick, if we find it difficult to laugh at the shenanigans of this man and his supporters.

It is so clear to any disinterested bystander that this man is making an effort in the final two months of this campaign to unsay some of the things he has said, win over new voters, and bring back many of those who have defected from the Republican Party. One would hope those people cannot be this naive. And I gather from this snippet that many of those targeted will not fall for this codswallop:

Many rank-and-file black voters, meanwhile, dismiss the overtures as another racially charged pitch from a campaign aimed exclusively at whites, from Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” to his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive. It was Trump in 2011 who fiercely challenged Obama’s U.S. birth.

“Any minority who would vote for him is crazy, ought to have their head examined,” said Ike Jenkins, an 81-year-old retired business owner in the predominantly black suburb of East Cleveland.

It’s all about selling the candidate, and his name has grown sour and isn’t selling very well to the uncommitted voters, especially minorities whom the man has eviscerated repeatedly, while driving away many of those loyal to the Party. So we change the image and present the new version to those out there who haven’t already decided that voting for this man would be the greatest of all possible mistakes. Seriously. There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make this pig look like anything but what he is. He remains the same belligerent, bellicose, bigot with an ego the size of the Pacific Ocean.

Outside the Mainstream

I have been having a back-and-forth with a friend on Facebook who simply cannot bring himself to even consider voting for Hillary Clinton. He seems determined to vote for a Third Party candidate, probably the Green Party’s Jill Stein. In any event, as I have been thinking about the reasons for and against such a decision, I have checked on Dr. Stein’s credentials and they are rock solid. In fact, her program is almost identical to the one I would choose if I were in a position to do so. She shines like a jewel in the mud that is today’s politics.

However, I will not vote for her for reasons given in a previous post, but also because I realize that (a) the president of this country has very little real Constitutional power to effect change, and (b) someone so far outside the mainstream who would have to work with a large group of seasoned politicians, each with his or her own agenda, would be even less effective than was Barack Obama — and that says a lot.

To take the first point, the Constitution was written by men at a time when they were struggling to free themselves from the grip of one of the most powerful monarchies on earth. They distrusted power and above all else they distrusted the so-called “right of birth.” They didn’t like aristocrats. So when it came time to write the section of the Constitution that dealt with the Senate — which was the closest thing they could come up with to the House of Lords without being housed by Lords — they stumbled and sputtered and wound up with the notion that those with wealth would be the best guarantee of a safeguard to ward off the machinations of the President and the House of Representatives, the latter of whom would be made up of the “vulgar” (as they liked to say) who would only keep their seats for a year or so and would then be back off to their farms. They gave the Senate immense power and they gave the president almost none. They worried more that the president would abuse his power than that the Senators would abuse theirs. Henry Adams saw this as a terrible mistake about a hundred years later and hoped that President Grant would modify an old document that was in need of correction, that he would untie the hands of the president.

Well, that didn’t happen and as things now are we have a president who, while he or she may have a certain amount of de facto power based on the prestige of their position, must still work with a Congress made up of professional politicians (the founders never saw that coming!) who know their power and blindly exercise it. They have proved it recently in refusing to act to confirm (or deny) the president’s Supreme Court nominee. And the president, as we have seen, cannot effect profound change, such as meaningful gun control, without the blessing of the Congress.

So a political novice, relatively speaking, no matter how well qualified and well-intentioned she may be, cannot possibly hope to effect change in such a system stacked as it is against her. The argument that  we need to change the system, that “if everyone thinks a vote for Stein is a throwaway vote then it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy” is weak. It is tritely true but in the real world it is irrelevant, because radical changes in the system are extremely improbable and predictions by a handful of people cannot alter the votes of enough people to affect the outcome of this election in any significant way. We may not like it, but that’s the way things are at present. And until that changes a vote for Stein, or any third party candidate, is in fact a throw-away vote. As attractive as Jill Stein is, I honestly do not think she can win and if I were wrong and she did somehow win, she would be largely ineffective.

We could argue until the proverbial cows come home as to whether a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump, but that argument gets us nowhere; we must make tough decisions in the here and now in the world as it is — and not the world as we might like it to be. And this is why I would vote for Clinton, despite any reservations I might have, because she can win and she knows how to deal with professional politicians. She can make the most of an office that would hinder the novice.

From reading about Hillary, however, I have come to have fewer doubts and I do think she will make an excellent president. She is certainly not “evil” and therefore not the lesser of two evils. She espouses many worthy ideals (including a Constitutional amendment to rid us of the cursed “Citizens United” decision that gave unlimited power and influence to the corporations); she, is bright, tough, and progressive. And she is so much better than the only other viable alternative that it is really, as they say, a no-brainer.

Gridlock

It is common knowledge that the Republicans in the Senate have vowed not to allow President Obama’s nominee for the vacancy in the Supreme Court ever see the light of day. It is also common knowledge that those same Republicans are deep into the pocket of the NRA and recently voted as a group not to pass any laws restricting the use of AK-15s and other weapons of mass destruction. They have bought into the dream of the gun manufacturers, who support the NRA, that every man, woman, and child in this country should be armed against….every other man, woman, and child.

Furthermore, it is widely known that the core of the Republicans in Congress met soon after Barack Obama’s election and vowed not to pass on any legislation the man favored, to adopt what has been called a “scorched-earth” policy of no compromise. But, as has recently been pointed out, this policy goes back further than Obama and those who chalk it up to the determination of a group of racists not to cooperate with a black president may have to rethink their position. It appears it is not racism; it is simply twisted political thinking. As a recent article points out:

The link between the design failures of the presidential system itself and these failures is clear enough. The worse things go for the president, the better the chances for the opposition party to regain power. Cooperating would merely give the president bipartisan cover, making him more popular and benefiting his party as well. Republican leaders have openly acknowledged these incentives. In the Obama era, this has forced the Republican leadership to mount a scorched-earth opposition, demonizing the president as an alien socialist who threatens America’s way of life.
This Republican belief that compromise always helps the White House, at least when it comes to electoral politics, goes back further than the Obama years. It started in force with Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and the Republican reaction to Bill Clinton’s election in 1993, and what they did in the year that followed was a model for how Republicans acted in 2009. The GOP’s midterm victories in 1994, 2010 and 2014 seemed to validate it.

What this means is that the commonsense notion that politics is all about compromise, reaching the decision that works best for everyone — even though it may not be the decision that each individual wants — has been displaced in our era by a group of small-minded men and women whose only goal is to oppose the opposition, to see to it that their party is strengthened and the opposition party rendered weak and helpless. The central notion of the “Common Good” that goes back at least as far as St. Thomas Aquinas, has been preempted in our era by “what’s good for the party is good for me.” The idea is that the political party that one belongs to demands complete loyalty because it is that party — and the money that goes into that party’s coffers — that will determine whether or not I keep my high-paying job. And please note: this is not about party loyalty. It’s about self-interest.

If the Supreme Court must limp along with only eight members for a while, or if more and more people must be killed by weapons designed for modern warfare (and not for killing deer) so be it. What matters now is ME. If I am an elected official my only goal is to remain in office and do whatever it takes to remain there. What is good for my constituency matters not a whit. What matters is what is good for me and for my ability to remain in public office.

The two main players in this sick drama are, of course, the PACs and the lack of term limits in public office. The entire situation could be remedied if the Congress were to address these two issues. But they will not because those two factors are what keep them in office. And professional politicians, which is what we are surrounded by today, know what side their bread is buttered on — if they know nothing else.

Noam Chomsky’s Prediction

I have decided to borrow the following article from a site called “Salon” despite the fact that Chomsky worries about the rise of an “honest” charismatic character and what we have is a dishonest charismatic character in Donald Trump (who, admittedly appears to be honest to the blind mice who follow him). But the prediction is remarkable and worth pondering. Can anyone still have doubts about this nation being a de facto oligarchy?

In an interview with Chris Hedges in 2010, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and dissident intellectual, remarked that he has “never seen anything like this.”
By this, he meant the state of American society, relative to the time in which he was raised — the Depression years — and to the tumultuous state of Europe during that same period.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky said. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
For decades, Chomsky has warned of the right turn of the Democratic Party, which has, in an effort to win elections, adopted large swaths of the Republican platform and abandoned the form of liberalism that gave us the New Deal and, later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
“Trump has been viewed with bewilderment by politicians who have divorced themselves from the needs of the people and who have sold them false goods to get ahead. But Trump, as Chomsky’s prescient interview demonstrates, was inevitable.”
This new approach was canonized by Bill Clinton, who triumphantly declared that the “era of big government is over.”
With this declaration, Clinton ushered in a new era of the Democratic Party (the so-called New Democrats), which left behind the working class and cultivated amiable relationships with corporate executives and Wall Street financiers; many of them would eventually occupy key positions in Clinton’s government, and many of them emerged once more during the presidency of Barack Obama.
The philosophical bent of the New Democrats was best summarized by Charles Peters in “A Neoliberal Manifesto,” in which he defines neoliberalism as an ideology perfect for those who “no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business.” Democrats, since Peters penned his manifesto, have far exceeded the bounds of this seemingly neutral stance.
Bill Clinton, for his part, destroyed welfare, deregulated Wall Street, worsened the growing mass incarceration crisis, and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, a sweeping deal that harmed millions of workers, in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Today, President Obama, in partnership with congressional Republicans, is lobbying aggressively for the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been deemed by critics “NAFTA on steroids.” The agreement, if made the law of the land, will encompass 40% of global GDP and will grant massive companies unprecedented power.
Despite President Obama’s promises of transparency, the public has been forced to rely on leaked information to glean any specifics about the deal — and, based on the information we have, the agreement is a disaster for workers and the environment and, unsurprisingly, a boon for multinational corporations.
Democrats, in short, have left the working class in the dust, often using “the excuse,” as a recent New York Times editorial put it, “that they need big-money backers to succeed.”
Republicans, meanwhile, as Chomsky has observed, are “dedicated with utter servility” to the interests of the wealthy, and their party, with its longing for war and denial of climate science, “is a danger to the human species.”
So we are faced with a political system largely devoted to the needs of organized wealth, which leaves working people anxious, worried about the future, and, as we have seen, very angry. In essence, political elites — on both sides — have created a vacuum into which a charismatic and loudmouthed demagogue can emerge.
As Chomsky noted in his interview with Hedges, “The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen. Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response.”

Bernie?

I recently came across a most interesting piece on-line that deserves thoughtful consideration. It was written by a woman by the name of Rebecca Unger and it begins as follows:

I am a 22-year-old Democrat living in New York City. I work in a creative industry that pays a low salary. I am socially liberal: I believe in LBGT rights, a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights across the board, racial equality, gun control and confronting climate change in a major way. I am upset about income inequality. I believe rich people should be taxed more to help fund policy initiatives that benefit poorer people: healthcare and education and better infrastructure, for example. And yet the idea of voting for Bernie Sanders never once crossed my mind.

This is not about disagreeing with the message Bernie is preaching to Americans — I happen to agree with a lot of what he says. This is about the simple fact that his is an idealistic, naïve agenda that could never be put into practice in America. In this country, to legislate even one tenth of such an ambitious plan would take degrees of cooperation, sacrifice, even manipulation and such an immense amount of ‘give-and-take’ tactics that an idea that once stood untarnished, glistening at the campaign podium, would come out looking like a child’s napkin after a meal of spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, there may be some white patches left around the edges, but no bleach will ever get out all the stains.

Rebecca says much better than I do something I have been trying to say for some time. As exciting as Bernie is and as attractive as he is to all of us who care about the future of this democracy, there are serious questions about his ability to get a single thing done were he elected to the presidency. Unless he could somehow bring enough Democrats along with him into office (who are not bound to corporate sponsors), he would face a belligerent and uncooperative Congress — the same Congress that Barack Obama has had to deal with for eight years — and there is simply no way such a group would support any of his programs. And this is true even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that his programs are feasible and of tremendous benefit to the country — as, indeed, they are.

The problem is the Congress, of course. It has been bought and paid for by the corporations and they are not about to allow a politician of Bernie’s ilk to stand in the way of inreasing their profit margins. They will doubtless meet and agree, as they did upon Obama’s election, not to support any of Sanders’ programs. And we will have another four years (at least) of gridlock. This would be bad for the country, to say the least.

Thus, despite the fact that Hillary has many battle scars and is a far less principled politician (and there are precious few of them any more) she does have the experience and political savvy to know how to get progressive programs through a recalcitrant Congress. She is flawed, to be sure, but those who now support Bernie Sanders and who insist that they will not support Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee are terribly naive. After all, the alternative — given the nature of the Republican candidates, especially the one who is currently leading the pack — is simply unacceptable. In the end, we must be realistic. And in this regard, Ms Unger’s determination not to vote for Sanders strikes me as equally unrealistic. Again, consider the alternative.

The sad fact is that Bernie has been an outsider all along as an Independent Senator from Vermont. He has few, if any, powerful friends in the Senate who could support, much less sponsor, any of his programs. He is right about so many things. But he is reminiscent of Don Quixote flailing against windmills. And, as we all know the windmills win in the end. It is sad, because Bernie represents a possible way not only to restore the middle class, as he says, but also to return a semblance of the democratic system to a government that is heading non-stop toward oligarchy. Hillary wouldn’t stop that trend, sad to say. But she is assuredly preferable to the alternative — no matter which off those clowns the Republicans finally come up with. And if Sanders were to become the candidate I would most assuredly vote for him even though I agree with most of what Ms Unger says. I prefer an ineffective idealist to an ignorant despot.

The Power of the President

I want to develop an idea I mentioned in passing in an earlier post. It has to do with the limited power of the President and the absurd promises our presidential candidates make about what they will do when elected — given the fact that by themselves they cannot do very much at all. Witness Barack Obama’s pathetic attempts to promote some sort of gun control.

Our Constitution borrows from the pages of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws in dividing power among the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Limiting power was a prime concern among political thinkers in the age of Enlightenment as they sought to wean themselves from the whims of various corrupt Monarchs. If one reads our Constitution one immediately realizes that Congress is the main body in the thinking of those who wrote and later adopted that document. The very first Article in the document deals with legislative powers. There are ten Sections in that Article. On the other hand, there are only four Sections in the Article dealing with the limited powers of the President. Most of them stress the need for the legislative body to “advise and consent” or the manner of election and impeachment of the president. Clearly, those men were worried that they might be creating another monarch. And this they did not want — even with George Washington ready at hand.

The ten sections under Article One describing the powers of the legislative body are detailed and extensive. They go on for pages and outline a body that not only manages the purse strings, but also has the capacity to control the excessive urge to power of any president. And if those latter restraints are insufficient there is always the Supreme Court that further limits the President who might wish to get too big for his or her britches. The document is all about limiting power because these men knew better than anyone how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton once said.  And the reason these men put so much faith in the legislative branch is because they were convinced that those elected would represent the will of the body politic. In the small country at that time they envisioned the representatives serving with little remuneration for a very short time and in that time visiting their constituents on a regular basis and merely parroting the wishes of those who voted them into office. If the representatives varied too much from the will of the voters, they would be voted out. That was a given at the time, as is clear from the Federalist Papers.

We have seen how this hasn’t worked out, of course, with no term limits on those elected to Congress and huge salaries now attached to political offices. Men and women get into office and their primary urge is to remain there as long as possible. They don’t give a hoot for the needs of their constituents, since they answer only to the wealthy persons whose money can guarantee them a long term in office. The founders never saw it coming.

This is why, in the end, when we are thinking about which political candidate might make a good president we should be thinking about which candidate could work most effectively with a Congress that holds the purse strings and which is the seat of power in this country. Personally, I think Bernie Sanders stands out above the rest of the presidential candidates, because he has the best sense of what would be good for his country and is willing to take on the powers that be. He realizes, as the rest of the candidates do not, that the real contest in this country is not between the Republicans and the Democrats but between the corporations that would take all the power and the people who are supposed to have it. But, the question is, can he work effectively with what has become a recalcitrant (for want of a better word) Congress tied to the wealthy by their purse strings?  I suspect not, sad to say. I suspect he is regarded as an outsider and would find himself running in place — unless by some miracle the voters manage to alter the make-up of the Congress and give him enough legislators to work with.

That, it seems to me, is the main question.

All In The Timing

In an interesting story on CNN recently, we are told about President Obama’s preparations for issuing an executive order that would address the issue of gun control:

Washington (CNN)As his administration prepares an executive order tightening access to guns, President Barack Obama met Wednesday with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of new gun laws who has become the chief enemy of the National Rifle Association.

Obama has met with a series of gun control advocates in recent weeks as his aides complete work on a potential order expected to expand background checks on gun sales by closing the so-called “gun show loophole.”

A timeline on the order — which has been tangled in legal and administrative questions — is still unknown. The President met with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on December 4 to discuss gun control.

But even as he works to tighten access to firearms, a new survey shows dwindling support for an outright ban on assault weapons, which both Obama and Bloomberg have advocated as a means to prevent gun deaths.

Obama is meeting with Bloomberg because New York has fairly tough gun control laws, though, apparently, they have not yet been overly successful. In any event, the comment at the end of the above quote is of most interest. To be sure, there is the question of whether an executive order at this time that is not supported by a Republican Congress could have any effect whatever. But in addition to that issue, there is the question of timing.

Since the recent mass killings in San Bernardino there has been minor hysteria in this country about possible terrorist attacks here at home, hysteria encouraged by some of the loudest and most unconscionable of the Republican candidates for presidential office. The mood has shifted from the 90% of the people who supported some sort of gun controls after Sandy Hook to considerably less at this time. It would appear that many of those who would have supported Obama then are now having second thoughts. Perhaps they think that by buying an automatic weapon themselves they will be safer from terrorism.

Apparently they have not heard about probabilities. The likelihood of another attack like the one in California is extremely low and the likelihood that a family of four, say, would be safer by providing themselves with automatic weapons is even lower: the likelihood that there would be an accident with that weapon and that someone in the family might be shot dead is greater than the probability that there would be any danger from terrorists in the first place. This is not to say that there won’t be any more mass killings. In this country with hysteria the order of the day — encouraged by political candidates like the Trumpet and his ilk — there is every reason to believe there will be more such attacks. My point is that the purchase of weapons will not reduce that likelihood or make us any safer.

But more to the point, Obama missed the boat. He should have gone before the TV cameras with his considerable rhetorical skills and obvious charisma and asked the citizens of this country to flood their Congressmen with requests for stronger gun laws immediately after Sandy Hook — when there was such strong support for such a move. To be sure, with the NRA and its millions of dollars hanging about in the background in Washington any sort of gun laws are extremely unlikely. But at that time, the chances would have been much better than they are now with the thought of terrorism clouding the judgment of so many of our citizens. It’s really a question of timing, isn’t it?