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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Are We At War With Ourselves?

Though this article reports numerous ugly statements and inappropriate actions by mass media, political parties, and social media posters, please note that the author of this article is a middle-road Independent with no affiliation or party preference. Negative remarks about President Trump, his opponents, and his critics, are results of public statements, for which this article has no partisan bias.

FullFinal-TVTW071016America has entered a new era that may be more dangerous than anything this country has experienced since the Civil War.

Following the election in 2016, we have had millions of people in bitter conflict with each other. Though most of the conflict thus far has been in social media, mass media, and political venues, we have seen a few ugly street clashes and destruction on college campuses. Unlike political fights of the past, however, the fight seems to intensify and is becoming more violent and hateful.

Of course, our country has had social conflicts before. The anti-war battles of the 1960s and 1970s are good examples, as are the African-American Civil Rights struggles of the mid-1950s and 1960s. Though there were millions of people on both sides of these movements, these fights were different from today’s conflict in one extremely significant way: insurgents in both of these battles were fighting for specific, concrete goals.

The anti-war movement fought to end the Vietnam War. When the war ended in 1973, the angry energy died down. Similarly, the Civil Rights activists fought for specific things: the end of segregation in schools and restaurants, voting rights for people of all races, the end of racial violence, and admission to all-white universities. Once they had achieved these objectives or at least had made significant progress, the violence subsided, and the movement moved to the courts and politics.

Many other protest movements had no clear goals and therefore only mustered luke warm energy. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement involved millions nationwide but had no leadership and no tangible objectives that middle-Americans could embrace. The movement, therefore, collapsed of its own weight.

The conflict we see today is a new kind of beast. Though political conflict typically has the Far-Left on one side opposing the Far-Right, the bitterness today is not only a political skirmish between Democrats and Republicans. There are splits in both parties. Conservatives fight with mainstream Republicans, and Progressive Democrats on the left remain furious with their party’s leadership and behind-the-scene operatives.

Nasty rhetoric began in the months before the November election, but when Donald Trump became President-Elect, opposition voices became more strident than at any time in recent history. Traditionally, new presidents have a so-called “honeymoon period,” in which mass media and opposition leaders permit the new Chief Executive to begin an administration free of bare-knuckle politics. Most new presidents have three to six months of this respectful courtesy. The honeymoon for President Obama was even longer. President Trump received no such courtesy period. In fact, the bombast against him began during the transition between administrations, long before his inauguration.

Many statements by leaders of the opposition party continuously use name-calling and false narratives with language and depth far worse than we have ever seen. Recently, a long-time Congressional Representative referred to the entire Trump cabinet as “a bunch of scumbags.” Other leaders have loudly called for the impeachment of the President. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of any offenses, other than Mr. Trump’s often annoying statements and tweets, his opponents continue to make nonsensical claims.

How did this fighting develop and continue to grow?

Though this unprecedented bitterness has several different causes, the growth of social media may be its strongest driver. Since President Obama’s victory in 2008, the number of social media users has nearly tripled. Moreover, President Trump’s highly publicized Tweets may have attracted more people to express themselves through this medium. Social media messaging has gained credibility with some people, especially people in the age range designated as ‘millennials.’ Though there is no way to measure this effect, social media users now seem to post or repost statements without any reliable source. In many cases, they admittedly “make stuff up” to fit a narrative, without concern for fact-checking of any kind.

More troubling is the new practice of media reporters—the internet, print, and cable news—to use social media, especially tweets, as support for a so-called news story. With so many different voices adding themselves to the fray, misinformation often takes on an aura of truth and becomes used as proof statements.

Whether antagonistic remarks are from political leaders, media opinions or whimsical social media posts, Americans read them, or hear them from others and repeat them, often augmenting them or using them out of context. Since they typically come from one side attacking the other, the aggrieved side fires back with equally irrational statements.

Why this war from within threatens America

Leaders of every country in the world follow internet reports and form opinions and strategies based on their analyses of America’s strength. Watching our current turmoil, our friends and allies may view the US as being out of control, and view American leadership with great skepticism. Our enemies may see our exaggerated conflicts as an opportunity to ignore America and continue policies that hurt our economy and safety.

For example, opponents of the President have nurtured a storyline that the Trump campaign plotted with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win the presidency. The so-called ‘proof’ of this story, is that candidate Trump stated in his election campaign that America might benefit from an improved relationship with Russia. Opponents add that Trump hired a campaign advisor for two or three months who once had consulted with the government of Ukraine.  Ukraine, of course, considers Russia to be an enemy of their country. A consultancy relationship with Ukraine has no bearing on a US relationship with Russia. Further, the former US  Director of National Intelligence has stated that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collaboration of any kind. Nevertheless, Congressional leaders have kept this allegation alive and begun investigations in multiple committees. Stories like this one shake the confidence that our allies have in American leadership.

Domestically, we will soon have an environment of lawmakers who are unable to vote for or against any issue unless it is supported by a majority of the combatants in their states and districts. This will result in leaders who are unable to lead, in a gridlock that leaves individual Americans suffering in anger.

How can we end this foolish quagmire?

All Americans have the right of free speech, guaranteed by the Constitution. Nevertheless, our leaders and mass media writers have the tools to tamp down rhetoric that makes America look foolish to the rest of the world.

Though social media enhances the viciousness, the White House, Congress, and the mass media are the original sources of it. Following are some recommendations on steps these leaders must take lower the public temperature and create a positive national direction.

Recommendation One: President Trump should limit his Twitter tweets to issues of policy, or significant announcements. Criticism of celebrities and argumentative dialog with critics add fuel to the ongoing fires.

Recommendation Two: The White House should create private dialog sessions with all leadership groups, especially opponents and media leaders. All discussions should be kept confidential. Leaders need to work together to create ground rules for public statements. Ground rules must have mutual agreement and benefit to all parties. This approach will not muzzle anyone from speaking out on their opinions on policy. But it can depressurize the nastiness that has overtaken the country.

Recommendation Three: Unless new bills are likely to become future election issues, leaders of both parties should meet together privately to identify common ground. If possible, they should agree to limit public disagreement to policy issues. Regardless of the gulf between the parties, they should ‘sell’ their viewpoints without personal attacks or implying wrongdoing by the opposition.

Recommendation Four: The White House needs to reach out to the press, to create ground rules to benefit all parties. The President needs to speak with media executives privately and negotiate. Both sides in this kind of dialog have items with which to negotiate. For example, The President can eliminate statements about “fake news” and charges of lying. The White House can offer greater access in exchange for confidentiality. Media leaders can offer advance notification of stories to advise the Whitehouse of major negative stories.

Memo to the White House and Congressional staffers: The foregoing recommendations are seen through the eyes of an outsider. You may have better approaches. If so, we look forward to your success in changing the status quo. You have a responsibility to fix the chaos that is tearing the country apart. It’s not important to select the perfect plan. What’s important is making the plan work.

Memo to Mass Media:  Words matter. Careless words often matter more. Please tell the truth.

“To borrow from the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.’” — Aldous Huxley

 

 

Here’s How the Press Can Regain Its Mojo

Most Americans believe that honest, trustworthy news media is important to keep watch on our government. Nevertheless, poll numbers show a starkly negative picture:FullFinal-TVTW071016

 Only 32% say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media

*  Only 14% of Republicans express trust in the media 

The mass media industry can change, however, and it must.

 

Here is an open letter to all members of “the Fourth Estate,” with some suggestions for transformation.

——————–

Dear ladies and gentlemen of the mass media,

This is a sincere message to you, to recommend a positive path forward. It’s not a letter of complaint. You can get that from thousands of other sources. However, the world needs you to return to your historical position of thought leadership and integrity, as a counterbalance to a political world that has lost its way.

Most of the necessary changes needed must begin with print media. Print media perform most of the heavy lifting, finding and reporting the real news. Cable news and Internet news pages copy most of their material from print publications and make a fortune in the process.This one-way relationship requires change.

Recommendation One: Your first step should be to unite the top ten print publications into an agreement to permanently separate straight news from opinion columns. Many readers resent so-called “news stories” that mix a writer’s personal opinions with actual news reporting. Each publication can print a robust opinion page or even an entire opinion section. Nevertheless, readers want to understand the news without integrated lecturing. If and when the top ten (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.) adhere to this change, most lesser publications will follow. Those who do not will lose subscribers. Cable news channels—most of whom broadcast stories already reported by print media sources—will transform themselves out of necessity. If the top ten publications unite to announce this policy change, they will bolster the reputation of print media within a few months.

Recommendation Two: Media industry leaders should create a new organizational consortium to deliver high-integrity news, somewhat like AP but executed by temporary one-year assignments of senior reporters covering a full spectrum of worldwide information. Assigned reporters would be equally balanced by political ideology. Over time, readers would gravitate to stories from this group, because they would trust the stories as written.

 Recommendation Three: Media companies need to minimize the free use of their work-product by Internet news providers. The free use of material between mass media and Internet news providers like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook evolved from the early 1990s when “more eyeballs” seemed to grow circulation. But the internet turned out to be a competitor and caused massive circulation losses. Media organizations need to work together to treat internet news pages as friendly competitors. One way would be for all of the top news providers to copyright their posted material and charge a small usage fee for each story used. Sites that refused to pay for usage would be legally required to pay court-ordered damages. The content-creation companies could share materials without paying royalties if they operated together as a consortium. Readers could visit the actual sites for each content provider for free.

Mass media companies, as experienced members of your industry, might have better ideas than my recommendations. If so, please implement them ASAP. Operating in today’s status quo environment damages America, and continues to diminish your previously authoritative reporting.

Most Americans are on your side. Are you on our side?

Do Leaders in Washington Understand Cyberwar Technology?

How important is technical knowledge to leaders running our country? In a world in which future threats will probably include cyber warfare, America’s civilian government must understand the fast-developing weapons of technology. As the President-Elect fills his cabinet and advisory posts, technology depth is mandatory in most areas.

Along with Department of Defense, senior staffs of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Transportation, FEMA, FBI, and CIA must be people who intimately understand the language and concepts of technology. These are the people who can effectively recommend and execute options available to the President in defending us against a huge array of cyber attack methods.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Most Americans know little about cyber warfare, and the news media seems to understand very little of the imminent dangers it portends. Most news stories conflate loosely related stories of computer hacking by Russia or China with cyber warfare.

Though malicious hacking may result in stolen information, it doesn’t destroy aircraft, kill or disrupt the lives of millions of civilians, or permanently cripple whole economies. Cyber warfare can do such things without warning. That means that our top decision makers must immediately understand the recommendations of technical people to respond to any specific disaster.

It also reveals that many of the most prominent political people in government are unqualified to serve in cabinet-level positions.

In the past 50 years, technology development has changed every aspect of American life. And as America changes, much of the rest of the world changes with us. Moreover, the rate of change continues to accelerate. If anyone hasn’t grown up understanding basic technology terminology, he or she is unlikely to ever catch up without undergoing a year or more of intensive training.

This breathtaking rate of development means that most people who are 45 or older do not have a background that would enable them to understand cyberwar, robotics, or other technology areas that require decisions from the highest government levels that affect our entire population. Of course, older people who have worked in IT and technology companies or have had engineering backgrounds can be effective at any age. But for the 90 percent who haven’t had those backgrounds, it’s very difficult to participate if they weren’t students in 1990 or later.

Democrats and Republicans together had 22 candidates in the 2016 Presidential primaries. The youngest, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are both 46. Both are lawyers with no apparent technical background. All other candidates were at least 50, with most in their 60s or older. The only candidate with a technology background was Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Looking at the Congress, the average age of House members is 57. The average age of Senators is 61. Of 100 Senators, 51 are lawyers, and 25 are from academia. Of 435 House members, 151 are lawyers and 80 are from academia. Others are primarily doctors, school teachers, business owners, former mayors, and pastors.

Senate and House members with technology backgrounds consist of one physicist, one microbiologist, one chemist, and seven engineers in the House. In the Senate, one member is an engineer.

Obviously, our most visible and vocal candidates for the President-Elect’s cabinet and advisory posts lack the technical background to serve in many of the key positions. A Secretary of Defense, for example, must understand the technical complexities of Cyber Warfare. Remarks made in debates and media interviews indicated that most of our senior lawmakers and governors do not know anything whatsoever about Cyber Warfare. They use a few keywords, but embarrass themselves by using them inappropriately. Though they have probably had access to confidential briefings explaining some of the vast complexities of Cyber Warfare lawmakers and senior government managers typically send staff members to such presentations.

The President-Elect’s nomination of three retired generals—General Flynn, General Mattis, and General Kelly—seems to be appropriate and smart. Many of today’s senior officers are graduates of one of the three military academies, which are engineering schools along with their military curricula. Throughout their careers, senior officers receive assignments to military universities like the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Naval War College, and the US Army War College. These institutions combine technology with group assignments to apply weaponry with strategic planning. Generals from allied countries often attend to provide additional insights.

We will undoubtedly see other military people nominated, along with technically competent business people. Future administrations should not consider the usual candidates—political allies, campaign donors, and lobbyists—unless they have the requisite tech knowledge.

Insights from Inside the Bunker August 13, 2016

(Next issue of Insights from Inside the Bunker will be November 12—just after Election Day. I may write about non-political issues in the interim, but the current avalanche of senseless political rhetoric drowns out all voices, whether serious or satirical.)

How Will a New Unpopular President from Either Party Affect US?

Media people continually remind us that the 2016 election cycle is different from any that we have ever seen. Repeating that mantra, however, does little to project our future beyond November 8. On that day, we will see one of the two most disliked politicians in recent memory declared a winner and the next President of the United States.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Along with a powerful and difficult position, every President enters a relationship with the public that is somewhat like a marriage. To extend the marriage metaphor, we can think of the media as that noisy friend who fixes someone up to date a person that he or she doesn’t especially like and continually praises that “significant other” until the couple agrees to marry. Early in the marriage, the bride and groom try to see only the positive parts of the relationship. But often, a slow, downward trajectory begins, punctuated by temporary uplifting moments, and an equal number of low points. After a few years, one or both of these people may have had enough and dreams of better opportunities.

In most marriages, both parties enter with attitudes that are at least somewhat optimistic, if not euphoric. In the same way, a new President usually enters his or her new relationship with positive feelings and high public support. But on January 20, 2017, the new President’s inauguration day, it will be difficult or impossible, to begin a Presidency with optimism. Considering the negative ratings for both candidates, the public is likely to consider the new President to be either an untrustworthy liar or a dangerous race-baiter.

Though rocky at times, President Obama’s relationship with America provides a much more favorable comparison. After inauguration in January 2009, his overall approval rating was a high 67 percent. America loved him. He was young, looked good, sounded good, was smart, and had a beautiful family. The honeymoon had begun. By September, however, his rating had dropped to about 50 percent. A year later, the rating had dropped to the low forties, with the saga of Obamacare, and in 2012, the perceived dishonesty about Benghazi. But he beat Mitt Romney in 2012 and his rating popped back up to 53 percent. Americans like a winner. Nevertheless, the rating drifted down to the low forties again and was up-and-down for the next year or two. In the past few months, it has risen slowly back up over fifty percent. This apparent improvement may be due to voters comparing him to the current two candidates to succeed him. (“Maybe he wasn’t as bad as the next President will be!”)

Approval-Chart

But what would his approval rating have been if his tenure had begun with a rating of only 40 percent instead of 67 percent? If the rating had receded at the same rate, he might have ended his presidency at 25 percent or even lower.

TTWW-FB-041516A President with a public approval rating that fluctuates between 40 and 25 percent will not be able to govern effectively. For example, Congress would be unlikely to implement tax cuts or capital spending for any major initiatives. The media would crush every decision on nightly newscasts. Muckrakers would “pile on,” dig up trivial negatives and blow them up to become major stories every day.

Can either candidate escape that fate if he or she wins the Presidency? It will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for President Hillary Clinton to gain broad public support and become an effective leader. To use the marriage metaphor again, once a spouse has lied about big things, he or she is never trusted again. Certainly, President Clinton would always have many middle-aged or older women on her side since she represents a symbolic victory for women who suffered from various inequities on past years. But that group is not large enough to sustain broad popularity.

As for President Trump, he too would find governing nearly impossible. He would have to overcome an image of racism against Hispanics and Muslims, by demonstrating positive actions. If he does that, however, he might lose his core constituency of Caucasian men who adhere to his rants against political correctness. And he would have to ignore sideshows of fighting anyone who criticizes him. He hasn’t yet demonstrated that he can resist the urge to fight back.

Is America at a crossroads where we need to change the way we elect Presidents? In the words of the great Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

 

The Curious Case of Bernie Sanders

Has anyone seen Bernie lately? No one remembers seeing him in the days before his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. An hour after his speech, BernieBernie was apparently gone, and no one has seen him since. There have been a few “official statements” purportedly from Senator Sanders. And there have been a few video clips released by the DNC. No one knows, however, if the videos are current.

Bernie’s whereabouts seemed to be a mystery, until yesterday. The only clue was the “hostage video” tone of his convention speech. Many of his supporters believe he spoke under pressure.

One enterprising investigative reporter found Bernie, in an undisclosed hotel room, somewhere in the Philadelphia area. A strong Bernie supporter, she located the hotel and learned the room number from a hotel employee she had met at a “Feel the Bern” rally.

Knocking on the door of Bernie’s hotel room, she heard a raspy voice whisper. “Is that you, Jane?” asked Bernie, hoping to see his wife.

“No, I’m not Jane,” the reporter answered, “I’m one of your loyal followers who would like to chat with you.”

A grim-faced Sanders opened the door and invited the reporter to come in.

“What happened, Bernie,” she asked incredulously. “You look like a victim of a mugging. Why are you locked up here?”

Sanders vacillated for a few moments, speaking in uncharacteristic non-answers. Then he dropped all pretense and told his story.

DNCLogo“Everything was fine as the Convention opened,” he began. “I was here in my room when two thugs from the DNC knocked and said they had a message from the Chairwoman. I let them in, and they immediately became violent. One twisted my arm painfully behind my back. The other grabbed my eyeglasses from my face and smashed the lenses against that table.

“In the next few minutes, they seemed to calm down and said they wanted to chat and to have a drink with me. We sat down at the table, and one of them took liquor bottle miniatures from the mini bar and mixed a drink for each of us.

Bernie-Glasses“We then had our so-called chat, which was just a series of demands and threats. They wanted me to endorse Hillary and apologize to the DNC. Of course, I resisted. So they stood up in unison and said it’s time for “Plan B.” They threw me on the bed, handcuffed and leg-cuffed me.

“They must have known that I’m practically blind without my glasses, but they also lowered the lights. As they left, I know others entered the room, but everything was a vague blur. I then became so sleepy, that I couldn’t stay awake. They must have put something into that drink I sipped. In a semi-conscious state I was aware of someone lying on top of me, and saw a photo flash, before everything went dark.

“When I awoke the next morning, my clothes were gone. I lay there helplessly, until the two thugs came back, uncuffed me, and offered me a cup of coffee. Now they seemed friendly until they showed me photos of myself with a strange woman, whose face turned away from the camera. I knew I hadn’t taken part in anything untoward. The pictures had to be photoshopped. But I did notice a faint scent of strange perfume and sweat.

“The two men told me that these pictures would be all over social media if I didn’t cooperate. They handed me an envelope containing that surrender speech I gave at the convention and promised to escort me to and from the speaker’s platform. And they informed me that I would remain in this room for the next two weeks.

DWS-Mask“I complied with their orders, still thinking of how I could escape from this situation. Then they gave me a new pair of eyeglasses, and I looked at the pictures, especially at the unclothed woman, who I now recognized. I was immediately sickened and nearly vomited. I couldn’t believe it! It was THAT WOMAN!! She’s a female Bill Cosby! And I thought she only rigged elections!

Insights from Inside the Bunker July 23, 2016

The Elephant in the Political Room

Despite the festive convention celebrations of both major parties, an “elephant in the room” continues to be ignored by virtually all politicians. That elephant is the ballooning Dual-Color-Elephantnational debt. One party treats it like the weather: “It’s natural—not man-made.” The other party treats it like a future problem, enabling them to “kick the can down the road,” to use a favorite Washington metaphor.

Though managing the debt appears to be nearly impossible for politicians, Congress and the next President can do it if they act like managers of a business. Here are three steps that any intelligent business executive would take.

1. Freeze all new hiring and ban replacement of people who retire or leave their jobs. This regulation would apply to every part of the government except organizations responsible for protecting the homeland and the military. Note: It could not apply to the military because single-term recruits leave after four years of service and must be replaced by new inductees.
2. Create a detailed budget, with every departmental budget reduced by one percent. Note: The US has not had a detailed budget submitted to Congress since 2009. Instead, the same old budget remains, with overall increases negotiated every year.
3. Change IRS rules, eliminating 501(c)(3) tax exemptions. This change would require non-profit organizations to pay taxes on all donations. All new taxes received by eliminating exemptions would become part of retiring the debt.

Along with these changes, there are a few more strategies that would help. For example, the US government could sell off more than 2,000 buildings that are no longer in use. Maintaining them—taxes, upkeep, insurance reserves and building security— wastes nearly $3-billion a year. If they could sell them, they might net another few billion.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Why should we pay attention to this boring subject? If America can’t curtail the growing debt, the interest alone will soon become so steep that the government will be unable to function. The vast debt size—more than $19-trillion—is impossible to pay down with tax increases. And the political fantasy of seizing billions of dollars from the wealthiest Americans would only pay for a tiny portion of one-year’s interest one time.

The US Treasury and Federal Reserve will have only one choice: to print and distribute trillions of dollars of new inflated currency. That will make the value of every middle-class dollar worth less and undercut the lifestyle of all Americans. All personal investment and retirement planning will erode. And the debt problem isn’t a forecast for the vague long-term future. The “future is now!” Inflation has already begun, and will accelerate if and when the economy improves.

 

TV Networks Fear Huge Losses

Leaks from highly placed government sources have caused grave concerns among TV news networks. According to rumors, the White House and Congress are negotiating a deal in which all tax exemptions for non-profit organizations will end. This move will terminate or sharply reduce donations to Political Action Committees. Under the current system, donors can contribute tax-free funds that organizations use to purchase TV advertising for political candidates. If only half of those donations could no longer be tax-free, that TV advertising revenue would disappear.

Led by CNN and Fox News, network executives met clandestinely to assess the potential financial damage to themselves. Following is a confidential record of the meeting,

Participating Networks: Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

MSNBC: “Where the hell are ABC, CBS, and NBC? We thought this meeting would include all networks.”

CNN: “Those three hypocrites are all supported by the Clinton Foundation, with funds running through a series of shell companies. Their sole purpose has been to support the Clintons.”

MSNBC: “Isn’t that illegal?”

Fox News: “As Bubba said to his zipper, ‘it’s only a problem if you’re caught.’”

CNN: “We three have got to keep earning those advertising dollars. What can we do?”

Fox News: ”We can always push for more advertising from drug companies, gold bullion pedlers, insurance vendors and shyster law firms.”

MSNBC: “Oh please! We get at least a thousand complaints about that stuff every day. If we crank it up, viewer’s heads may start to explode.

CNN: “We only had 22 primary debates. Maybe we can push the parties for more as we approach the general election.

Fox News: “That’s a non-starter. The campaigns won’t have money for more.

MSNBC: “Maybe we’re approaching this the wrong way. Why don’t we create a strategy that gets the Administration to back off?”

CNN: “Good thinking! What can we do to blackmail the White House, without going to jail or getting shot by a Secret Service Agent?”

TV-Screen-and-TitleFox News: “How about this? We can create an animated cartoon depicting a reality show, called: ‘Keeping Up With the Obamas!’”

MSNBC: “We can show the White House the first cut. When they panic, we can suggest a deal to keep ‘Citizens United’ and all other PACs in business.”

Fox News: “Hmmm…What can we script that will scare the hell out of them?”

MSNBC: “How about showing the President making some deals that the Republicans criticize.”

FoxNews: “Maybe we can have him making a deal with the Iranian mullahs, and then show the mullahs rolling on the floor laughing at him.”

CNN: “Or learning from MIT professor Gruber, that Obamacare is a fraud. Or maybe meeting an ISIS terrorist, with a huge knife, who says, ‘Do you really think we’re the JV team?’”

Fox News: “He’s already embarrassed about those things. We’ve got to be more original. Let’s depict him naked in a hot tub with Monica Lewinsky, smoking a cigar.”

MSNBC: “Great! Then Michele comes in and catches them!”

CNN: “OMG! Let’s do it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Fox News: “And pray that this was only a satirical fantasy!”

 

Hillary Strikes Back

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton was frantic. She had watched every minute of the Republican National Convention and couldn’t contain her fury. She called a 6:00 AM meeting with her closest campaign advisors: Chief of Staff John Podesta, deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin, foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Glassy-eyed, the candidate screamed every word, as though she was facing a hostile audience.

“LIES, LIES, LIES! It’s a vast right-wing conspiracy! We can’t let those jack-booted Republican thugs get away with those lies!”

“That story about the email server is a LIE! I never did that. Maybe it was you, Bill. Or maybe it was Huma. I NEVER DID ANY OF THAT! I always thought a server was someone who worked in a restaurant. It was probably Cheryl Mills. Not me! I don’t understand technical things!”

FullFinal“And they blamed me for Benghazi! BENGHAZI? I never heard of the place. And I wasn’t asleep during the attack. I was taking a bubble bath. Barrack was asleep. It’s not my fault. And I thought it was all about a terrible video. I read about it on Twitter. I didn’t lie! I NEVER LIE!”

“And how DARE they blame me for Iran, and Syria, and ISIS. That was all on Barrack. I didn’t know anything about that. Barrack and whatsername, Susan Rice. The National Security Advisor. They did all of those things. NOT ME! I was racking up airline miles like Barrack ordered. I’m a MILLION MILER! How could I have time to run foreign affairs?”

“I’m innocent. And very tired. I need a nap,” the candidate whispered. With that, a slumping Hillary Clinton quietly left the conference room.

Hillary’s advisors looked at each other, with jaws dropping. No one spoke for a minute. Chief of staff Podesta turned to former President Clinton, and said, “She’s finally gone full-tilt. We can’t let anyone know about this. We can’t let her in front of a microphone at the Convention, he continued. “We’ve got to implement Plan B.”

“I HATE Plan B!” whined the former President.

“It’s the only way back to the White House,” countered Podesta.

Billary“Alright,” surrendered Clinton. “I’ll be her stand-in. I’ve been practicing. I have the voice down pat. And I had the wig re-fitted to her hair-do. I can handle the make-up pretty well. Just don’t let those damn TV cameras get too close.

“I know I can pull this off. In fact, I look pretty GOOD as a woman. Imagine a Hillary that makes sense,” he laughed.

“But I’ve got two conditions. One is that I get to pick my own transgender bathroom, no matter what Barrack says. And the other condition is my wardrobe. Get me some good looking dresses and pants suits. I can’t stand her style. Think of it as a presidential body makeover!”

“Sex, Lies, and (Questionable) Video?”

The general public has made videos into the ultimate proof statements of any uncertain event. TV news people commonly display amateur videos directly on-air. Do such videos offer bullet-proof reporting of any disputed occurrence? They may offer the most reliable record possible, but they can also lead to unfair, incorrect conclusions.

TTWW-FB-041516Once authoritative voices tell us what a video is supposed to prove, it can become the defacto truth. Many viewers may then accept the video’s “proof” like people in “The Emporer’s New Clothes,” rather than admitting that they don’t see any compelling evidence.

When law enforcement, reporters, or the general public were unsure of facts of a 1950s crime, an eyewitness statement often prevailed as a proof of what had occurred. Nevertheless, most officials understood that witness statements are notoriously unreliable.

With the advent of easy-to-use photography, affordable film, and cameras, pictures became high-value proof statements that strengthened or replaced eyewitnesses. “A picture is worth 1,000 words” became a touchstone of American culture. Nevertheless, pictures can also produce false conclusions.

GoldRingBlueBallFinalMore recently, however, millions of people carry phones that can instantly shoot video sequences that are much more reliable than static pictures or eyewitnesses. In parallel, there are millions of security cameras that produce video 24/7. And, at any given moment, there are scores of professionals from TV crews or law enforcement agencies shooting video in all kinds of environments.

Videos may be immediately convincing, but they can also lead viewers to unsupportable assumptions. The well-known instant replays at NFL games are good examples. A low pass play, with the football caught by a diving receiver, requires the receiver to have control of the ball before his body—usually a knee—touches the ground. The apparent catch can happen so quickly that no one can be sure that player controlled the ball before his knee touched the turf. Whether or not the field officials call the play a legal catch, either team may disagree and request officials to review the video.

The NFL video-review is the most accurate use of video as a decision-maker. Officials typically view the recorded action from at least three different vantage points. They can review a play at different speeds and freeze-frame at the most critical points. As the review proceeds, fans in the stadium see the video evidence on giant high definition screens, and millions of TV viewers see the video on their home TVs. But when the referee announces the final decision on the field, million of fans may explode in disagreement. Even the play-by-play announcers may disagree, because the video is not always definitive, even when the best professionals view it using the best professional technology. Adding to the confusion, many people claim to see proof on the video where their conclusion is only an opinion resulting from wishful thinking.

Following the end of a Donald Trump speech in March, a woman reporter named Michelle Fields stated that a Trump campaign manager named Corey Lewandowski had manhandled her and caused minor injuries as the media and campaign team pushed forward to the exits. The campaign manager denied having touched the woman. She stated that he had grabbed her arm, and nearly pulled her to the floor. At first, there was no proof, though there were witnesses who supported each side. After a day or two, a video emerged. “Aha,” said the reporter, “The video shows him grabbing my arm.” “Not true,” retorted a campaign spokesperson, “He may have touched her, but there is no proof that she faltered.”

The angry reporter pressed charges with local police, who arrested the campaign manager and referred the case to the local prosecutor. After studying the video and the law for more than a month, the prosecutor announced that the case would close with no further action. What did the video show? The prosecutor said there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case. He added that there was some evidence that supported the reporter’s charge, but that it wasn’t strong enough to warrant prosecution.

With curiosity piqued regarding the video, I watched it on a wide-screen, high-definition TV countless times. I never saw any of the detailed proof claimed by either side. The flow of the crowd never seemed to change. The campaign manager was very close to the woman and might have been touching her arm beyond the video view. She was apparently trying to say something to the candidate who seemed unaware of her.

Like the example of the NFL replay, the video proved little or nothing. The conclusion, right or wrong, required common-sense of the viewer. Because, like eyewitnesses and photos, videos don’t always provide the absolute truth.

An errant call at a football game or a questionable dustup at a political event may be annoying, but neither is life-threatening. However, when videos stand as proof statements in criminal or personal injury cases, they can become dangerous. In many situations, their widespread dissemination by TV news programs has triggered anger and violence.

Obvious examples of videos creating harmful consequences are especially common in cases involving police and minority people who perceive situations as police brutality. To protect themselves from charges, police departments have spent millions of dollars on dashcams and uniform cams, to create videos that counter brutality charges. But adding more video may just muddy the waters.

Video evidence has inherent weaknesses. It cannot report what occurred before the camera began recording. For example, the video may show a police officer appearing to beat an unarmed person. It cannot show the time sequence a few seconds earlier when the apparent victim drew a knife. In the same vein, the angle between the camera and the altercation may not show the police officer unnecessarily wielding a handgun that caused the victim to attack in self-defense. In most cases, there is no audio or the audio is garbled. Nevertheless, media people interpret the video without additional input. The result may elevate an insignificant occurrence to a symbol that builds public outrage and violence.

Bottom line: We may love our videos, but we can’t rely on them as the ultimate proof of anything. Future technology improvements may provide much clearer details, and interpolate computer-generated alternative angles. Cameras may filter and electronically clarify audio. Other improvements may make videos nearly perfect as proof statements. Until then, however, we should treat videos with skepticism similar to our acceptance of single-frame photos or eyewitnesses.