The Dirty Little Secret That Destroyed US Politics

PrintbookFinal8Most Americans are sick of hearing about “Polarization in Washington.” Voters are angry, and they demand change. However, neither party has been able to get much accomplished in the past ten years. Cable news channels have built an industry by exploiting the vast and growing gap between Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats as the defining feature of politics in Washington.

What has created this apparent hatred that causes elected officials to refuse cooperation with one another? Pundits, retired officials, and long-time journalists all decry the situation and opine different potential causes. Most agree that the complete failure to cooperate with each other is a relatively new phenomenon. Some blame it on specific events, like the impeachment of President Clinton, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Affordable Care Act, Racial tensions, lies or misleading statements by years of White House occupants.

Others blame ideologies, including more than the simple liberal versus conservative beliefs. There are also libertarian, progressive, evangelical and mainstream voters. Each of these has advocates in Congress.

Though any of the cited issues may have had some part in the destruction of our political system, few people realize that one single event was the major driver of government incompetence. Technically it wasn’t a single one-day event like an election. It was an ongoing process that went under the radar. Very few Americans knew it was happening or understood how it would affect us.

The event, occurring primarily in 2010, was Redistricting. At first view, it seems to be a boring, technical, and benign process, but it created the havoc we see in Washington.

What is redistricting and how does it work?

Redistricting is a process of changing district borders in each state, to compensate for demographic changes. Theoretically, every state examines the borders of each of its districts and may make some changes, every 10 years. Some districts may become larger, some may become smaller, some may maintain the same amount of geography but may change shape. Any of these changes may affect demographics in any district. New district outlines typically reflect changes in population size, area ethnic population, average income level, average age, and (most important) voting registration history.

The change of a district’s shape, therefore, may determine which parties and candidates are most likely to win. Either party may gain or lose, according to the newly included and excluded areas.

A key tactic in changing a district is called gerrymandering. It is a process of making changes, usually for political reasons, that are not logical extensions or reductions. To visualize the result of gerrymandering,  consider a district map that was previously nearly round in shape, and changing it by adding a larger oblong area to the east and subtracting half of its previous boundaries from the west.

Though the redistricting process is supposed to be nonpartisan, it’s different in each state. It is almost impossible to detect specific reasons for many changes, but each party seems to have an overall strategy for affecting changes in each district.

In 2010 redistricting, the Republicans apparently wanted to become dominant in the state legislatures by bringing new winning candidates into many small districts.

Democrat strategy was apparently a combination of two things. One piece was to strengthen the voting majority for existing elected seats in the House. The other was to take advantage of immigration and re-shape districts in which they could grow their base by appealing to minority voters.

Both parties got their wishes. Democrats got firm control of the states with the largest voting populations, like California and New York. They made inroads in Texas and Florida, largely by creating immigrant blocs, though not enough to win electoral majorities.

The Republicans won the majority of the governorships, state legislatures, and congressional seats. To the dismay of their mainstream leaders, however, most of their additions on the congressional  level were aligned with the so-called “Tea Party.” This group now dominates a separate group known as the House Freedom Caucus. Though this group publically defines itself as conservative Republicans, it operates much like a “fifth column,” covertly operating against programs supported by moderate Republicans.

How did those results affect Washington? 

Democrat leaders in the House found themselves in conflict with the so-called “progressives,” composed of disaffected young voters, millennial female voters who don’t subscribe to the traditional Democrat talking points of women’s issues, and followers of Senator Bernie Sanders.

House Republican leaders found themselves between two groups that are virtually irreconcilable: far-right conservatives and moderate mainstream members. Every proposed bill is either too conservative or too expensive for one group or the other.

The overall result is that few bills can move through the House since a majority vote depends on support from progressives, mainstream Democrats, far right Freedom Caucus members, and mainstream Republicans.

In the Senate, these splits haven’t had as much of an effect as in the House, because senators are elected for six-year terms, while House members serve only two-year terms before a turnover can take place. If advocates of term limits succeed, however, the Senate will soon face conflicts with newly elected members. 

The Ugliest Result of Redistricting

Finding themselves unable to pass meaningful legislation, both parties have fallen back to name-calling, negative hyperbole, anonymous leaks to the media, and other tactics to block success by either party. This is likely to go on, until the rise of a third party, or the virtual death of one of the existing two.

The press and pundit narrative of “parties that just don’t like each other” is false. Most honest lawmakers would like the situation to change. Some thought that election of a well-liked President might lead to compromise. But we haven’t had a universally liked President since the 1960s.

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Insights from the Bunker This Week

June 11, 2016

History Question:
Other than being President, what does President Obama have in common with every POTUS since Lyndon Johnson?

The answer: They all claimed that the President controls the US economy. They all know it’s a lie, but they have all perpetuated it as part of politics. Liar-MeterIf we take a closer look, we know presidential wannabees who run for the job blame the incumbent for bad management. But when they win, and economic problems persist, they blame the economy on others. When Senator Obama ran in 2008, he blamed President Bush for running the debt up to $10.6-trillion. He accused Bush of being unpatriotic regarding the debt. After being elected and theoretically managing the economy for nearly eight years, the debt is approaching $20-Trilion. But…IT’s NOT ENTIRELY THE PRESIDENT’S FAULT. Most of the ballooning debt was inevitable due to actions of previous Congresses going back to the 1970s. Presidential power to give us more jobs and a better economy is a crazy myth.

 

We’re Looking For One Honest Person

Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher who traveled, carrying a torch day and night, in search of an honest man. Note: He specified “man,” DiogeneseApparently PC language had not yet reached Greece. Or perhaps honest women were common, while honest men were rare. There is no recorded history on whether Diogenes found one or more honest men.

Nevertheless, in his spirit, we are searching for someone even rarer. He or she is an active user of social media. We’re searching for someone who viewed a graphic on Facebook touting the opponent of their favorite candidate. But noting how good the graphic appeared he-she said, “I’m so impressed that I’m ditching (Clinton, Trump or Sanders) and embracing the other party. I’m so excited! I’ve supported my old candidate for a few months and knew that he-or-she represented my issues. But that wonderful graphic with the black background and white text just got to me. And despite the misspelling of ‘voter,’ I’m switching!”
If you know such a person, please let us know. Then handle him-her with great care!

 

And finally…We wonder how the Donald would react to breaking a gender barrier. Would he emulate Hillary?

Trump Wins the Presidency

Donald Trump has become the first man in history to become president of TrumpCryN.O.W., the National Organization for Women. An emotional President Trump sobbed that he was proud of finally breaking through the Glass Ceiling.

“I owe everything to the pioneers who almost got here. Courageous men like John Kerry, Dan Quayle, John Edwards and Al Gore. They all wanted this so much. But I am the first man to win this office, and it’s an historic moment.

FullFinal“I’ve dreamed of this victory since I was a little boy. Our family was very poor, but my parents kept the dream alive. The great Betty Friedan was President then, and everyone on our block worshiped her. We owe her so much! She helped the world answer a crying need by proclaiming rules for politically-correct language. She added words like misogyny and chauvinism to our new vocabulary. And she pioneered demands for college courses like ‘Elements of Feminism,’ and ‘Our Bodies, Our Choice!’ Those are big shoes to fill, but color me ready to serve!

“And tonight I have an announcement. I have invited Senator Ted Cruz to be my vice president. I love Senator Cruz! Of course, I called him ‘Lyin’ Ted, during the N.O.W. primaries. He did lie a lot, but hey, we all did. Who among us is perfect?

“This victory is for the millions of little boys out there, who dream of a better world. Someday you might be just like me!”

Why Are American Voters So Angry?

NewStripesFaceYes indeed, voters are angry. Media people, candidates, and pundits have been saying it for the past few months. They have reported it, as a phenomenon of the ongoing political campaigns. Some have reported it specifically as an effect of the Donald Trump campaign. Others report that it’s about resentment of big government. Somehow, they all seem to miss two essential points.

1. Voter anger is not new. The rage has been simmering since the late 1990s and has been escalating rapidly for the past few years.
2. Outrage is not only about the economy and jobs. Diverse population segments focus on a wide variety of aggravations and grievances.

Media outlets report anger as a headline, without acknowledging the breadth of issues behind it. Political reporters and pundits typically limit discussions to standard observations, often copied from one another.

What, then, are some of the real reasons for voter anger? Following are a few that are among the most prevalent: _____________________________________________________________________________________

Important note: The author does not necessarily agree or disagree with any assertion of the following section. The factors listed are not political statements for or against any candidate, party, or political leader. They are observations, derived from careful listening, and viewing material from multiple sources. _____________________________________________________________________________________

  • Many Americans are angry that they cannot trust their leaders, and distrust most of the current candidates for President. Some are especially angry with the President, who promised ‘hope and change’ but under-delivered.
  • Young people—especially college students and recent graduates—are angry at the excessive rise in college tuition, and the resulting mountains of personal debt that students must repay. The lack of post-college job opportunities further exacerbates their resentment.
  • Black people—especially those with high expectations for the nation’s first African-American president—are angry that their situations have not improved during the Obama presidency. Many middle-class black people believe that the president’s actions indirectly fuelled riots in Ferguson and Baltimore; and created unhelpful actions by Black Lives Matter.
  • Many Americans are outraged that the government does not enforce laws barring illegal immigration. They are further angry that “Sanctuary Cities” can flout federal laws by permitting illegal immigrants to remain.
  • Workers who cannot find good paying jobs are angry that the government manipulates labor statistics to portray an artificial prosperity. When the President celebrates the statistics, rage and resentment increase. Workers are also angry that pay levels have remained stagnant for several years while large corporations have prospered.
  • Many people angrily realize that the ballooning national debt is already affecting every American while elected leaders continue to imply that problems are far into the future.
  • A growing number of women are angry that government leaders push for laws that affect their privacy and personal autonomy regarding sex and reproductive issues.
  • Many voters are disgusted with the pervasive political correctness that comes primarily from California, New York, and Washington, but is forced onto all Americans. The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage appears in many regions to violate religious beliefs for the sake of a politically correct minority.
  • Those who pay attention to foreign affairs are angry that the administration has undercut America’s position as a world leader by failing to handle ISIS, by bungling the conflict in Syria, by permitting Russia’s aggression, and by mismanaging the post-Ghadaffi situation in Lybia.
  • People are angry about the President’s nuclear agreement with Iran and believe that it ultimately puts the US in grave danger. Israel supporters are angry that the President has pursued an agreement with a Muslim country that has openly called for the destruction of Israel and encourages street demonstrators to chant “death to America.”
  • The Affordable Care Act has driven anger among many Americans. The promise that the new law would permit people to keep their existing health insurance and to keep their current doctors appears to be a cynical government lie. Small business owners are angry that the law inhibits business growth, and forces businesses to downsize their workforces.
  • Supporters of actions to fight climate change are angry that the government has no long-range plan to wean the country from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, people from coal-producing areas are outraged that the administration has taken actions to destroy the coal industry.
  • Nearly all engaged voters believe that the government does not listen to them, and ignores the needs of the people.

The preceding list is far from complete. Nevertheless, it represents a broad view of reasons for voter anger.

Politicians Beware!

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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My Firsthand Memory of the Day of Infamy

Arizona-Monument

Iconic pictures of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor this week marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and reminded me of my first-hand experience of that day. I remember being awestruck on a cool Hawaii morning, watching Japanese aircraft fly through Koli Koli Pass on Oahu, strafing Quadrangle D at Schofield Barracks on their way to Pearl Harbor.

Nevertheless, I should explain that the historic attack occurred years before I was born. My “first-hand memory” was watching the filming of Tora! Tora! Tora! about 30 years after the historical event.

As Army journalists in the Public Information Office, our team had assisted the movie crew planning the scene. We had watched a few days earlier as the special-effects team from Hollywood drilled hundreds of tiny holes in the cement block walls of the unoccupied Army barracks quad. The crew placed .22 caliber blank cartridges interconnected with electrical wiring into each hole. The wiring, invisible to the ultimate movie audience, fired off the cartridges in a sequence that mimicked machine gun firing. The machine gun sound effects that accompanied them were added later in the film room. One day after completing the scene, the movie crew removed the cartridges, patched the holes and repainted the walls to match the original color.

That experience was only one of many that our PIO team shared as part of the Army’s representation to the civilian community. Occasionally we helped the TV crew of Hawaii Five-0 by arranging to make an Army roadway available as part of a chase scene. A few of us even wore Army uniforms for walk-on parts, though I never personally experienced that 15 minutes of fame.

With a war raging in Vietnam, my teammates and I were the luckiest draftees in the Army. The 11th Infantry Brigade was training a short walk from our building. We covered the brigade as a news beat, writing stories and taking photos for PR releases or the Army’s weekly newspaper. As the brigade prepared to deploy to Vietnam, we said our goodbyes and good luck wishes to many young men, some of whom would never return.

Every year on December 7, I think of those days in Hawaii. I learned a lot about journalism and many other subjects. Overall it was a good experience. And many years later, it gave me the opening scenario for my novel, “The Victory That Wasn’t”.

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What Do We Learn from Presidential Debates?

Candidates

As a young teen in 1960, I watched history’s second televised presidential debate, pitting John F. Kennedy against Richard M. Nixon. I viewed it at the home of my first girlfriend’s parents.The dad was a local politician, a city councilman. Also attending was the dad’s closest friend, a political columnist for the local newspaper. Both men were staunch Republicans.

Sitting on the living room floor with the girlfriend, I understood that the dad had set this evening up as a teaching opportunity. He probably didn’t like having me around, but would grudgingly let me live if I would become a future Republican.

Most Democrat pundits had claimed that Kennedy had won the first debate. Most Republicans had called it a tie. As we watched the second debate, the give and take seemed to be much like the first one. But as the debate concluded, the two men in the room cheered with raised fists. Like the winning quarterback and receiver of an NFL game, they high-fived and congratulated each other on a job well done.

When approached, I joined in the celebration. I had no idea what I was celebrating, but I really liked the daughter and was happy to act without understanding the script. The next day I read about the debate in the New York Daily News, and in the local paper. The News (then a Republican paper),  called it “a good night for Mr. Nixon.” Though I was a relatively savvy kid I didn’t get it. What made Nixon the winner? The best information seemed to be that he didn’t sweat as much as he had during the first debate.

As odd as that 1960 memory might seem, opinions on this week’s debate appeared to be just as fatuous.

In a live focus group composed of about 30 Democrats facilitated by Frank Luntz, Bernie Sanders was the clear winner. Why? Various individuals in the group said that Sanders won because he had firm conviction for his beliefs. By that measure, nearly any absolutist would be a potential president.

Then Carl Rove, called “the architect” by President Bush, said, “it was a good night for Hillary Clinton.” Why? “She didn’t say anything to hurt herself.” That sounded like pretty thin evidence.

But that appears to be the way most people see presidential debates. People without strong feelings for any candidate or party are unlikely to watch them.

But voters with strong feelings about a candidate view the debates through the mental prism they bring with them. They applaud their candidate’s favorable lines and discount those of the opposition. Do they ever listen to the opponent and change candidates? Has any voter, a year before an election, suddenly become engaged in the election because of a snappy one-liner?

Though the TV networks would disagree, evidence indicates that the debates are anachronistic rituals that contribute very little to the voting public or the ultimate winner.

Unless, of course, we need to recognize people for sweating less.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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Warren vs. Fiorina Would Offer Best Choices for Voters

WarrenFiorina-Headline-2

Most politicians and pundits would scoff at the news clip depicted here, declaring a 2016 presidential election pitting Elizabeth Warren vs. Carly Fiorina. Nevertheless, if these two candidates were the Democrat and Republican nominees, America would experience a more informative election than any in recent memory. Arguably, we might also elect the most effective leader  since FDR, JFK, or Ronald Reagan.

Doubters might consider the following differences of this candidate choice, vs. the usual election menu:

  • This election would be free of rhetoric about wars on women, or any other fictitious claims of gender politics.
  • Voters anxious to elect the first woman president could select a woman without concern that their candidate is otherwise unpalatable.
  • Both candidates would be free of political baggage for past misdeeds. Neither would make charges about email scandals, family foundation financial chicanery, or misogynistic name-calling on Twitter.
  • As female political pioneers, both candidates would demand to be taken seriously. They would therefore likely avoid emotional non-starter issues like abortion and birth control, and speak to issues like jobs programs, healthcare reform, the out-of-control national debt, and protection of the homeland.
  • Even though one candidate is associated with the far left, and the other is associated with the far right, both appear to be high-integrity leaders who will do the right thing, and eschew the politics-only thing.
  • Though both have been outspoken voices against racism, neither would pander to ethnic groups with political promises that could never be fulfilled.
  • Disaffected voters would see fresh faces, and wouldn’t have to vote for another Bush or another Clinton.
  • America might see another Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, or Indira Gandhi, instead of the same old business-as-usual leaders. The change would be refreshing.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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How Long Can America Remain On Top?

GenisOfPowerImage

By many popular measurements, the USA is the most powerful and enduring country on earth. American politicians and pundits extol the country’s robust economy, military might, and institutions. They attribute them to a series of subjective attributes, such as:

1. Brilliantly designed governance, created under the US Constitution.
2. American “exceptionalism”.
3. The power of Capitalism.
4. Equal opportunity for all citizens.
5. Freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
6. A mix of ethnicities, each contributing to the culture.

BUT…How long can America remain as the world’s leader?

Although each of these qualities contributes to American strength, none can be ranked as the country’s single most important advantage. To claim that any one of them alone represents the primary underpinning of America’s dominance is like saying that the world’s fastest automobiles are supported only by good paint, catchy advertising, or exciting model names.

The actual genesis of America’s dominance is GEOGRAPHY. And that dominance today may not be sustainable.

The US landmass has coastal ports to the world’s two largest oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The only other large landmass with comparable access is Australia, which is isolated from much of the world.

Ocean access on two coasts has provided a huge advantage in commodity trading with every country on the globe. Before the advent of air cargo transport, companies at US port cities could demand the highest prices for sold goods, and benefit from lowest pricing for commodity purchases. Though air transport has leveled the advantage somewhat for consumer goods, heavy commodities like steel, coal, grain and lumber continue to provide a US trade advantage due to ocean access to or from anywhere.

Besides trade advantages, the oceans to the east and west have made the US easier to defend militarily than most other countries. The nation’s northern border—Canada—is populated by a friendly ally that is somewhat dependent on the US, and presents no threat. Though enemies might attempt attacks from the air, no enemy troops or heavy weaponry have ever effectively attacked the well-defended US coasts.

US geography also provides huge areas of agricultural land with available water and a temperate climate. No other country has the land and climate to feed its people within its own borders, while selling food products in large volumes to other countries.

Because the country’s enviable geography permits individual self-sufficiency, most Americans have little need to travel extensively within other cultures and languages. This fact enables the country to operate with a single language—English—and easily communicate from coast to coast. This advantage makes manufacturing, education, commerce and governance much cheaper and more efficient.

Each of these advantages is the result of geography that permitted the US to become a preeminent military power. The nation’s robust economy created a manufacturing base that produced military matériel faster and in greater volumes than enemies in European and Asian wars. Military victories then permitted the US to lead and manipulate world affairs.

Could America’s enviable size and location have supported dominance with alternate governmental forms, and achieve the same “exceptionalism?” Politicians and pundits express a range of opinions to maintain and grow their voter bases. But it is fortunate geography that has created and sustained the nation’s real power.

Unfortunately for today’s Americans, Geographic position may not be enough to provide long-term protection.  In today’s technology era, military or terrorist offensives can cross oceans in just a few hours. In our global trade environment, porous borders may be easily breached, and weapons can be imported to elude security inspection. The nation’s southern border permits massive migration of undocumented people, as well as substantial smuggling of illegal drugs and weapons.

The huge geographic advantage enjoyed by America is rapidly dissolving. The nation’s substantial head-start may sustain leadership for a few years, but political leaders must create aggressive new strategies, if the US wants to retain prosperity and world leadership.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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