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.

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!”

How Did Our Two-Party System Die?

Tombstone2

The American two-party system, once the bedrock of our democracy, is dead. Organizations called “Democrat” and “Republican” continue to operate, but they no longer represent broad national interests.

Americans who consider themselves to be middle-of-the-road or moderate voters clearly outnumber supporters of the far left or right. But the two named parties represent only their extremist constituencies and ignore the positions of moderates.

Extremist wings in each party have forced most moderate leaders out of power. Voters who support moderate positions have no power in either party. Most of them are registered Independents and follow no national leadership. Their only choices are extremists who typically use moderate rhetoric to win elections but seldom fulfill their promises.

Who’s Driving the Bus Now? And How Did they Take Over the Two Parties?

Our electoral system’s decline began long before the era of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

An obscure Georgia politician on a TV game show early in the 1970s foreshadowed the transformation. When Governor Jimmy Carter appeared as a contestant on “What’s My Line?” a panel of celebrities didn’t recognize him or guess his job, even though the host introduced him by name.

Realizing that he was nationally invisible, Governor Carter and his staff created a bold new strategy to win the White House in 1976. Until then, each party selected its nominees at a national convention. State primaries were quiet events with low voter turnout and minor impact. Primary results affected the first convention ballot, but candidate selection normally occurred on later ballots. State parties had changed some rules before 1976, but few people recognized their importance. A switch from winner-take-all to distributing results proportionately to multiple candidates became a difference-maker in several states.

Governor Carter and his supporters executed a plan to compete aggressively in every primary, adding to his delegate total with several second and third place finishes, while coming in first in several states. He quietly eclipsed better-known candidates and arrived at his Party’s national convention with enough pre-committed delegates to win the nomination.

Carter’s smart strategy awakened future candidates in both parties, turning early state primaries into national news events. This new political calendar then evolved into a much longer primary cycle, and much more expensive campaigns. Campaigns soon became so expensive that traditional donations were too small to fund the large organizations required for each candidate.

Some of the world’s richest individuals and organizations recognized the opportunities for power, became dominant donors to their favorite candidates, and assumed the powers of kingmakers. Though political leaders intended the primary changes to take the decisions out of the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms,” the unintended consequence was to switch the power to “cash-filled caves.”

Like President Carter, the next successful presidential candidate intended no harm to his party. But Governor Ronald Reagan faced a very difficult campaign climb, and his organization turned to new resources, religious leaders with voter-followers known as Evangelicals. Though religious leaders had a long history of endorsing candidates, their new role providing major funding to Reagan made them part of the kingmaker class of the Republican party. This new financial involvement enabled faith organizations to drive positions on social issues like abortion rights, gun rights, gay rights and personal privacy into national politics.

A few years later, liberals had continued to torment Republicans regarding the Watergate scandals of the Nixon presidency. The extreme right punched back by impeaching President Clinton for perjured testimony regarding his marital infidelities. This unprecedented attack created liberal outrage and vows of political revenge.

The election of the year 2,000 created a virtual tie that the Supreme Court broke with a legal decision favoring George W. Bush, titular leader of the right-wing. The left was now livid.

After these perceived assaults and others that followed from each side, both parties became captives of their most militant forces. Angry attack-politics replaced legislative compromise in both parties. A group of radical constitutionalists and religionists calling themselves the Tea Party, won elections that brought them to power over the Republican party.

Equally militant groups from the left amalgamated support from Pro-choice organizations, street demonstrators like Occupy Wall Street, and minority constituencies like Hispanics and African Americans, to assert control over the Democrat party. With the electoral system now controlled by the extreme wings, most traditional moderate leaders could no longer win their parties’ nominations, and retired from elective politics.

Believing the bellowing of the media, following the loudest newsmakers from each side, voters have also absorbed constant disinformation from both sides, communicated through social media. Influenced by this deluge of extremist rhetoric, pundits and poll watchers conclude that Americans are angry at Washington, and want an outsider to become president.

Unstated in that analysis is the role of Big Money in driving primary polls and election results. Along with huge campaign financing by power-seeking individuals, the Supreme Court added gasoline to the hot mix with the Citizens United decision. The ruling of the court opened the door for Political Action Committees (PACs) to spend unlimited funds from profitable corporations, unions, and other organizations. The ongoing result of unlimited money in political advertising is that successful candidates must ultimately provide access to their financial patrons, who become behind-the-scenes powers in government decisions.

The toxic mix inflaming the political process has vaulted two of the least likable and least qualified candidates in American history to compete for the presidency. Examining Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump carefully, we find that they are shockingly alike. Both are the results of a two party system that has gone awry.

Neither candidate has a consistent political core. Each of them will say whatever comes to mind without regard for the truth. They each create illusions of support from moderates with contradictory rhetoric that changes with the speed of a Twitter tweet. And each of them has an attack-first mentality without regard for fact or fairness.

That may be the epitaph of the American Two Party system. Or perhaps Americans can hope that a few wealthy patriots put love-of-country above personal power and form a legitimate third party. Only a third party can challenge the excesses of extremists from each side, recreate a voice for moderates, and breath life back into our once-great electoral system.

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

CoverDraft4P

How Scary is Another Government Shutdown?

Closed for Politics

Congress and the White House are  circling each other again, and brandishing metaphorical switchblades like two gangbangers, each warning of another government shutdown if they don’t get their way.

Surprisingly, the only people who care are the bored media people, the political party heads, and the people actually making the threats. Most Americans yawn, because they have lived through several shutdowns and never felt a moment of loss or inconvenience.

Depending on how they are counted, there have been at least 10 shutdowns since the mid-70s. Because of the rhetoric and over-the-top metaphors, many people have imagined that all sorts of terrible things would happen. Nevertheless, Social Security checks continued to arrive on time, the military continued to fight or stand guard, and the FBI continued to arrest bad people. Even the billions of dollars in congressional earmarks continued to flow. The only visible losses are temporary closing of the National Parks, and the White House Tours, items that 99 percent of the public are willing to endure.

The most significant damage from a government shutdown occurred in President Clinton’s term. Because some of the White House staff received temporary furloughs, unpaid interns filled some vital roles. One young woman intern took on the awesome responsibility of delivering pizza to the world’s most powerful man. In the process, she purportedly displayed her thong, thereby jump-starting events that eventually led to an impeachment, and a legendary blue dress. That demonstrates the dangers of a government shutdown.

But why would we now have another shutdown? The Republican congress wants to pass a new budget with wording that will deny funding to Planned Parenthood. But the President claims that he must protect Planned Parenthood from a funding loss, and will permit the government to shut down in order to avoid the defunding.

OK, let’s clear away some of the fog.

The Republican Viewpoint: Republicans officially oppose abortion, and believe it should be illegal. Planned Parenthood has become the political symbol of abortion. Recent evidence of Planned Parenthood selling organs from aborted fetuses have energized Republican condemnation. The government apparently provides around $500-million annually to support Planned Parenthood. Republicans are apparently saying this financial support must stop. Would defunding stop abortion? No, of course not. Abortions are legal and available from countless providers. The Supreme Court made abortions legal in a 1973 decision. So…the current crisis is only symbolic.

President Obama’s Viewpoint: Though his party holds only a minority in both Congressional houses, he’s the President, and loves to demonstrate his power. Defunding Planned Parenthood would change nothing. Besides, his administration would find a way to move the money to Planned Parenthood anyway. But if the President can publicly veto an expected bill, he and other Democrats can reprise the election rhetoric, charging Republicans with shutting down the government. And as an added bonus, they can call the whole thing a “War against women!” But as for the actual crisis…it’s only symbolic.

Bottom line is that both parties are making threats regarding shutting down the government.

We need to tell both sides to knock it off. The US has real problems to confront. We have an out-of-control national debt of $18-trillion. We have foreign policy disasters in Syria and Iraq. We have Russia and China challenging us for world leadership. We have the most brutal regime since 1944 burgeoning in the Middle East. We’ve had a year of racial tensions, violent demonstrations, fires and looting. And how have our leaders responded? With symbols and shutdown threats around Planned Parenthood. Don’t we deserve better?

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

CoverDraft4P

America’s 200th Birthday—July 4, 1976

Tall-Ships2

Happy Birthday America celebrations on the 4th of July, typically mean fireworks, outdoor parties, barbecues, baseball, and hot dogs—Americans enjoying a summer day off, marking the date of America’s birth.

But for me, July 4, 1976, America’s 200th birthday, was special.

Planning began years earlier for extraordinary celebrations in major cities. But nothing could top the Tall Ships Salute at the Statue of Liberty, viewed from the shores of the Hudson River, between New York City and New Jersey.

In an event called “Op Sail,” the peacetime armada included 50 sailing ships, many of which dated back to the 19th century. They sailed from their respective navies around the world, to salute and celebrate America’s birthday. Even the Soviet Union—then in the midst of the Cold War—participated.

President Gerald Ford traveled down the river aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Wainwright, and received a 21-gun salute aboard the USS Enterprise. He then formally reviewed the international parade of tall multi-mast warships as they sailed past the Statue of Liberty.

The event had taken years to plan, and we eagerly anticipated the big day. Many of us arrived at the statue’s island home by 5:00 AM, seven hours before the president’s scheduled arrival. Though park police had anticipated crowd-control and traffic problems, people were extraordinarily polite, and ensured that kids and older people got front-row positions.

Nearly everyone carried a pair of binoculars. The ships passed only a few hundred feet from us, but we all wanted to see the president and details of each ship.

The mood was a mixture of celebration and a surprising dash of patriotism seldom seen among New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, reminding us of something bigger than ourselves.

 

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

CoverDraft4P

Is Today’s Military Strong Enough to Protect US?

Military-logos

Every Memorial Day, Americans spend at least a few seconds remembering the fallen, service men and women who gave their lives in war. For the past few years, however, more and more of the Memorial Day statements by political leaders and the news media have focused on the people serving today. That gradual shift is understandable. Less than nine percent of today’s Americans are old enough to have known service members who fought in World War II. So most people think of the military in terms of actions since 1990.

Interestingly, most public statements made today about the military, are from people who really don’t know much about it. They don’t know how it works. They don’t understand the people who serve. They themselves haven’t served, nor have many of their friends and family members. And most of the people making war movies understand even less about the military.

President George H.W. Bush (AKA Bush 41) was the last US president to have served on active duty in war. Younger presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (43) and Barack Obama never served on active duty. And in today’s environment of an all-volunteer military, few future presidents will be veterans.

How does the all-volunteer military compare with the Vietnam era Army that included millions of men who were drafted? Along with draftees, the Army of that era included millions more who volunteered to ensure non-combatant military specialties instead of being sent directly to the battlefield.

Since the Army of the 1960s and 1970s included many draftees with advanced education, was it a stronger, smarter Army?

As a draftee who served in that era, and proud father of a son who volunteered for an Army Reserve unit activated during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I have a good view to compare the two eras. And I can say unequivocally that today’s Army is far stronger and more effective than the Army in which I served.

In fact, I believe that today’s US Military is the best-trained, best-equipped, and most effective military force the world has ever known. Nevertheless it faces one overarching challenge that makes our future security somewhat shaky.

To maintain a balance of power, the country’s Founders ensured that the commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces would always be our civilian president. That was a preferable structure for the first 200 years of the republic. Our last three presidents however, men with limited understanding of the military, haven’t managed military strategy effectively.

All three have used the hackneyed talking point, “We don’t want to be the world’s policeman.” Professional military strategists know that we MUST act as the world’s policeman. That doesn’t mean that we will attack other countries. It means that we will keep the peace through visible strength, and will use that power to protect others. If we do not act as the world’s policeman, ambitious dictators, oligarchs and jihadists will seize power as their region’s police. The world will be a more dangerous place, millions of people will suffer and die. If we don’t act as the world’s policeman, people like Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Ayman al-Zawahiri will rule, and eventually threaten the American People.

Recent politicians have also manipulated polling results to proclaim that “Americans are tired of wars, and don’t want to see more boots-on-the-ground.” Poll results of course, depend on the questions asked, and the population chosen for polling. What political talking point would we hear if the question was, “Would you favor using American troops to ensure that ISIS doesn’t gain power in the United States and threaten your country’s security?”

To consider the military leadership capabilities of recent presidents, we might ask these questions:

  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have permitted Osama Bin Laden to prosper in 1999 when his position was known, and our military had a means to stop him?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have invaded Iraq, knowing that Iraq’s Sunni army was our only counterbalance to the rise of Shiite Iran to become the dominant power in the Middle East?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have dismissed the conquered Sunni Army in Iraq, and allowed them to become a guerilla force to kill our service members and Shia civilians for the next seven years?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have delayed the Surge for years, knowing that it was the only way to control the civil war in that country?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have pre-announced our departure timetable and left Iraq’s poorly organized military to defend themselves?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have REPEATED the grievous error of pre-announcing our departure plans, by doing the same in Afghanistan?
  • Would a knowledgeable military strategist have declared an air campaign against Isis to be restricted to Iraq, knowing that ISIS has consolidated its power in Syria?

It appears obvious that the American Military, despite its enviable manpower, training and equipment cannot be wholly successful when led by today’s politicians. Americans cannot ensure the safety of their children and following generations, unless we can move more decision power and planning leadership to military professionals and away from vote-chasing amateurs.

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

CoverDraft4P