Wednesday, May 23, 2018

We May Have Hit Bottom - Senator Flake

“We May Have Hit Bottom” – Senator Jeff Flake to the Graduating Class of Harvard Law Today.

“Dean Manning, graduates, Class Marshalls, families and faculty:
“It is such an honor to stand before you today, on this very special day of celebration and accomplishment for you and your families, in this annual season of advice-giving. That is why I am here. I am very much hoping you can give me some advice.
“I’ll soon be in the job market myself. 
‘I feel truly privileged by your invitation. Congratulations to the Harvard Law Class of 2018! To be here in this place that has produced so many of our nation’s leaders and our finest legal minds is deeply humbling. An institution that gave the world Oliver Wendell Holmes, a majority of the current Supreme Court, and not only Barack but Michelle Obama, too – well, it all has me wondering if I didn’t somehow receive this invitation by mistake.
“I’ll always remember the decadent celebration after graduation at my beloved alma mater, BYU. Bowl after bowl of rocky road, double fudge chunk and butter pecan. Hey, when you’re Mormon, ice cream is all you’ve got.
“I am not only humbled by this place, I am also humbled by this moment in the life of our country. You see, you are set to inherit the world in just the nick of time.
“I am also especially humbled given the fact that I come to you today from the political class. In utter seriousness, it is I who could benefit from listening to you today rather than speaking to you, as I am not so sure that there is much distilled wisdom to be imparted from Washington these days, given what has lately become the tawdriness of my profession. I am here today as representative of a co-equal branch of our federal government, which is failing its constitutional obligations to counteract the power of the president, and in so doing is dishonoring itself, at a critical moment in the life of our nation.
“And so, with humility, let me suggest that perhaps it is best to consider what I have to say today as something of a cautionary tale –
“about the rule of law and its fragility;
“about our democratic norms and how hard-won and vulnerable they are;
“about the independence of our system of justice, and how critically important it is to safeguard it from malign actors who would casually destroy that independence for their own purposes and without a thought to the consequences;
“about the crucial predicate for all of these cherished American values: Truth. Empirical, objective truth;
“and lastly, about the necessity to defend these values and these institutions that you will soon inherit, even if that means sometimes standing alone. Even if it means risking something important to you, maybe even your career. Because there are times when circumstances may call on you to risk your career in favor of your principles.
“But you – and your country - will be better for it. You can go elsewhere for a job, but you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.
“Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation’s capital. First, the good news: Your national leadership is…not good. At all. Our presidency has been debased. By a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division. And only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.
“And our Article I branch of government, the Congress (that’s me), is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily. I do not think that the Founders could have anticipated that the beauty of their invention might someday founder on the rocks of reality television, and that the Congress would be such willing accomplices to this calamity. Our most ardent enemies, doing their worst (and they are doing their worst), couldn’t hurt us more than we are hurting ourselves.
“Now, you might reasonably ask, where is the good news in that?
“Well, simply put: We may have hit bottom.
“(Oh, and that’s also the bad news. In a rare convergence, the good news and bad news are the same - Our leadership is not good, but it probably can’t get much worse.)
“This is it, if you have been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time. You could say that we are witnesses to history, and if it were possible to divorce ourselves from the obvious tragedy of this debacle, I suppose that might even be interesting, from an academic perspective. The way some rare diseases are interesting to medical researchers.
“But this is an experience we could and should have avoided. Getting to this state of distress did not occur naturally. Rather, this was thoroughly man-made. This disease of our polity is far too serious to not be recognized for what it is, the damage it threatens to do to our vital organs is far too great for us to carry on as if all is well. All is not well. We have a sickness of the spirit. To complete the medical metaphor, you might say that we are now in critical condition.
“How did we arrive at a moment of such peril – wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens – on Fox & Friends, historians will note -- to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President – offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process – not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.
“I pick this egregious example of recent presidential conduct not because it is rare in terms of this president’s body of work, but because it so perfectly represents what we have tragically grown accustomed to in the past year and a half.  Who would have thought that we would ever see encouragement coming from the White House for chants at rallies calling for the jailing of a defeated political opponent. When you don’t even know that there are limits on presidential power, then you might not even care when you are abusing that power.
“How did this happen to us? And what might we learn from it? How did we get swept up in this global resurgence of the authoritarian impulse, which now has democracies teetering on the brink, strongmen placing themselves above the law, and in our own country a leader who reveres some of the most loathsome enemies of democracy in our time?
“Have we really grown tired of democracy? Are we watching its passing, cheered on by the America First crowd even as we cast aside global institutions that have fostered freedom, prosperity and peace for more than a half-century?
“For just a moment, let us marvel at the miracle that is the rule of law. We have seldom been moved to pause for such an appreciation, as we have been too busy taking it for granted and assuming its inviolability – like gravity. But unlike Newton’s Laws, the rule of law was neither innate nor inevitable. What goes up must come down is a piece of cake compared to curbing the impulses of man and asking free people to abide rules and norms that form a country, and foster civilization.
“It took centuries of war and sacrifice and social upheaval and more war and great civil rights struggles to establish the foundational notion that no one is either above the law or unworthy of the protections afforded by a robust legal system, a system that took us from feudal servility to a constitutional model that is the envy of the world. And will continue to be, with your help.
“We trace the beginnings of this radical egalitarianism – of the awesome and leveling effect of the law - to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw the death of the divine right of kings, as even the monarch from that point forward would be subject to the law – and the parliament even threw in a bill of rights for good measure.  
“But we are now testing the durability of this idea that William III first had the good sense to agree to, an idea which was then forged and tempered over the ensuing centuries. And we are seeing its vulnerabilities. In other parts of the world where democracy’s roots are not so deep, we are seeing it being torn down with sickening ease and shocking speed. And worse, we are seeing the rise of simulated democracies, Potemkin democracies, democracies in appearance and affect only.
“Rule of thumb: If the only acceptable outcome in a matter of law or justice is a result that is satisfactory to the leader, then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. If the leader attacks the legitimacy of any institution that does not pay him obeisance – say, the independent judiciary, or the free press – then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. Further to that point: when a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
“It will be the work of your generation to make sure that this degradation of democracy does not continue – to see to it that our current flirtation with lawlessness and authoritarianism does not become a heritable trait to be passed down from this presidency.
“The rule of law is an elemental value, a value that preceded and gave rise to our Constitution. It is not an ideology subject to the pendulum swings of politics, or something to be given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down in a call-in to your favorite morning show. It is the basis of our system of self-governance. America without the rule of law is no longer America.
“I am a conservative Republican, a throwback from the days when those words actually meant something, before the collapse of our politics into the rank tribalism we currently endure. My sounding this alarm against a government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing this president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy - it is, rather, an act of fidelity. 
“Because we forget this fact far too often, and it bears repeating a thousand times, especially in times such as these: Values transcend politics.
As a conservative Republican, I dare say that my idea of government may differ with the beliefs of many of you here today. I will be thoroughly presumptuous and assume that in terms of policy prescriptions, we disagree on much. (Call me crazy.)
But I have long believed that the only lasting solutions to the problems before us must involve both sides. Lawmaking should never be an exercise in revenge, because vengeful people are myopic, self-interested, and not fit to lead. I believe that our government should include people who believe as I do, just as I believe it must include people who believe as my friend Tim Kaine does, or as my friend Cory Booker does, to name but two.
The greatness of our system is that it is designed to be difficult, in order to force compromise. And when you honor the system, and seek to govern in good faith, the system works.
Which brings us back to our current peril. It is a testament to our times – and to the inflection point that we face - that I am here today. For, setting aside the usual requirements of politics, and the usual ways that politics keeps score, the things that normally divide us seem trivial compared to the trials that have now been visited upon our democracy.
“In the face of these challenges, we agree on something far more important than a legislative program, even more important than our thoughts on the proper role of government in the economy and in the lives of individuals: We agree on the need to safeguard the health and survival of constitutional democracy in America and the preservation of the American idea itself – at a time when the values underpinning our constitutional system and that extraordinary idea are under threat, from the top.
“The values of the Enlightenment that led to the creation of this idea of America – this unique experiment in world history - are light years removed from the base, cruelly transactional brand of politics that in this moment some people mistakenly think is what it means to make America great.
“To be clear, we did not become great – and will never be great - by indulging and encouraging our very worst impulses. It doesn’t matter how many red caps you sell.
“The historian Jon Meacham, in his splendid new book, The Soul of America, reassures that history shows us that “we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness, and strife.” The good news, he says, “is that we have come through such darkness before.”
“Perhaps. But not with both nuclear weapons and Twitter. And certainly not with such an anomalous presidency as this one. But I take your point, Mr. Meacham, and am heartened by it.
“We will get through this, of course. But at the moment, we are in it, and we must face it squarely. Because too much is at stake for us to turn away, to leave it to others to defend the things we hold most dear.
“A culminating event such as the election of our current president scrambles normal binary notions of politics, and I am as disoriented as many of you are at this dealignment. We find that many of the day’s biggest issues simply don’t break down neatly to familiar ideas of left v. right, but rather more along these lines:
“--Do you believe in democracy, or not?
“--Are you faithful to your country, or to your party?
“--Are you loyal to the law and the Constitution, or to a man?
--Do you reflexively ascribe the worst motives to your opponents, but somehow deny, excuse, or endorse every repulsive thing your compatriot says, does or tweets?
“These questions have sent some of us wandering into the political wilderness. And it is in that wilderness where your wonderful letter of invitation reached me.
“Well, the wilderness suits me fine. In fact, I so love the way Washington has become that in recent years, during congressional recesses, I have taken to stranding myself on deserted islands in the middle of the ocean to detoxify all these feelings of love out of my system. I am not kidding.
“I once spent a week alone, voluntarily marooned, on a tiny island called Jabonwod, a remote spit of sand and coconut trees in the central Pacific, about 7,000 miles from Washington.
“As penance, and determined to test my survival skills, I brought no food or water, relying solely on what I could catch or collect. That, it turned out, was the easier part.  More difficult was dealing with the stultifying loneliness that set in on the first night and never left me. 
“By day three, for companionship, I began to mark the hermit crabs that wandered through my camp with a number, just to see if they would reoccur. By the end of the week I had 126 numbered friends. I still miss number 72, who rarely left my side after developing an addiction to coconut scraps. I was less fond of number 12, who pinched my big toe.
“Now, I would not recommend such drastic measures to escape your situation, but I hope that should you be presented with the hard choice, you too will eschew comfort and set out into the wilderness rather than compromise your conscience.
“From my cautionary tale to you today, I urge you to challenge all of your assumptions, regularly. Recognize the good in your opponents. Apologize every now and then. Admit to mistakes. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness. Listen more. Speak up more, for politics sometimes keeps us silent when we should speak.
“And if you find yourself in a herd, crane your neck, look back there and check out your brand, ask yourself if it really suits you. From personal experience, I can say that it’s never too late to leave the herd.
“When you peel off from the herd, your equilibrium returns. Food tastes better. You sleep very well. Your mind is your own again. You cease being captive to some bad impulses and even worse ideas. 
“It can strain relationships, to be sure, and leave you eating alone in the senate dining room every now and then. But that’s okay. To revise and extend a remark the president himself may recognize: You might say that I like people whose minds weren’t captured.
“That one was for you, Senator McCain. We’re all pulling for you.
“Politically speaking, I have not changed my beliefs much at all. But my goodness, how I have changed. How can we live through these abnormal times and not be changed?
“Our country needs us now. Our country needs you.
“We need each other, and it is a scoundrel who would prosper politically by turning us against each other.
“From our time, let us send a message into the future that we did not fail democracy, but that we renewed it. That a patchwork of populist resentments and authoritarian whims that for a while succeeded in its cynical mission of discord had the ultimate effect of shaking us from our complacency, reminding us of who we are and of our responsibilities to each other. Of reawakening us to our obligations as citizens.
“Let us be able to say in the future that we faced these forces that would threaten the institutions of our liberty and tear us apart and that we said: NO.
“I leave you today with more good news and bad news. This time I will start with the bad news, which is: All of this is yours to fix. All of it.
“And that of course is also the good news: All of this is yours to fix, and our country could not be more fortunate than to have people of your high character, strong principle and awesome talent soon taking the helm.
“I grew up as a kid on the F-Bar Ranch in rural Arizona, and if we needed to gauge the condition of the range or to measure the damage after a flood, we would find the highest hill or butte and ride our horses to the top. From such a vista we could dispatch cowboys to gather cattle, machinery to shore up roads, or workers to repair fences – to restore some semblance of order.
“There are no tall buttes in Washington. But it is nonetheless our obligation to assess the condition of our politics, then to mitigate and repair the damage.
“It is the story of America, though, that we will be better for the hard lessons of this experience. We are much better and more decent than Washington shows us to be. We are a good people. And we are a deeply resourceful and resilient nation, and our greatness is based on no one man – no one man who “alone can fix it,” but rather on enduring ideas of self-governance and the rule of law that have been a model for the world for centuries. Ideas that can be mocked, but not marred.
“No, there are no high buttes in Washington, but still we must gain the high ground, and survey the damage. And the thing about gaining the high ground is from up there you can see beyond the damage, too. You can see everything. Everything that is good and decent.
“That is the job before us – to get through this, and beyond it. And you’re just the ones to take us there.

“Thank you.  And once again, congratulations to the Harvard Law Class of 2018!”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

George Will's Close Look at Mike Pence

If you’re looking for a great political observation that frolics with imagery and animation while delivering a scorching portrait of its victim Mike Pence, look no farther than George Will’s opinion piece in the May 9th Washington Post. 

Entitled “Trump is no longer the worst person in government,” the essay is a spot-on vocabulary lesson reminding us all that the call to Washington in Trump’s climate is synonymous to the call of dark creatures to Tolkien’s Mordor in Lord of the Rings.   Amusing and terrifying – and only an impeachment away.

George Will's Opinion:

“Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.
“Last June, a Trump Cabinet meeting featured testimonials offered to Dear Leader by his forelock-tugging colleagues. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, caught the spirit of the worship service by thanking Trump for the ‘blessing’ of being allowed to serve him. The hosannas poured forth from around the table, unredeemed by even a scintilla of insincerity. Priebus was soon deprived of his blessing, as was Tom Price. Before Price’s ecstasy of public service was truncated because of his incontinent enthusiasm for charter flights, he was the secretary of health and human services who at the Cabinet meeting said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me.’ The vice president chimed in but saved his best riff for a December Cabinet meeting when, as The Post’s Aaron Blake calculated, Pence praised Trump once every 12seconds for three minutes: ‘I’m deeply humbled. ... ‘ Judging by the number of times Pence announces himself ‘humbled,’ he might seem proud of his humility, but that is impossible because he is conspicuously devout and pride is a sin.
“Between those two Cabinet meetings, Pence and his retinue flew to Indiana for the purpose of walking out of an Indianapolis Colts football game, thereby demonstrating that football players kneeling during the national anthem are intolerable to someone of Pence’s refined sense of right and wrong. Which brings us to his Arizona salute last week to Joe Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa County until in 2016 voters wearied of his act.

Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio “another favorite,” professed himself ‘honored’ by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as ‘a tireless champion of ... the rule of law.’ Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.”

Read the entire essay at the Washington Post’s site below

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“We Should Not Have This In Common”

Actually, “THIS” has become so common, that we have become inured to the slow walk to nothing in response.  Santa Fe, Texas.

Number 45 promises that this will and must stop, but other than finding a moment to make it all about himself (remember Parkland: “I think I would have run in there and stopped the shooter, really, I do.”) : he’ll do nothing.

Sound cynical?  Read the messages from David Hogg and others from Parkland.  They’ve suffered and know already the cold reluctance of those in the thrall of the NRA to assist them or all of us in any way.  At my age, cynicism might be expected with the pains of aging.  At their young ages, living in our current America is just as debilitating for their souls.  God bless them for the fight.

“Prepare to watch the NRA boast about getting higher donations,” one Parkland student, Cameron Kasky, said on Twitter. “Prepare to see students rise up and be called ‘civil terrorists’ and crisis actors. Prepare for the right-wing media to attack the survivors.”

Usually after the mass shootings – Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas, Parkland – data indicates a quick jump in gun sales, but surprisingly that expected increase seems to be dropping off recently. 

It’s noticeable because “recently” can be tracked quickly from data and numbers of background checks and purchases of weapons (especially long guns) with the many mass shootings we have in 2018. 
After Sandy Hook, the terrifying image of a deranged child killing children with an AR15 and a sensible President disconnected from the political bridle of the NRA caused a tidal wave of anxious gun-wanters to purchase weapons they figured would rightfully be blocked from sales. Later with a new occupant in the White House, reactions to shootings no longer presents a fear of any ban whatsoever: not on bump stocks, not on refusing purchases for the mentally ill, not on age limits.   

We're only 20 weeks into 2018, and there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week.”
After the Parkland shooting, background checks for long guns like AR-15’s leaped up 12.6%.  I know that sounds amazing, but it’s way down from earlier numbers – when Obama was President.  After Sandy Hook, for example, the percentage increase for long gun purchases (again, assault weapons) was over 50%.  Now with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the fear of political or legal response to any mass shootings by those who want their long guns has noticeably decreased. 
 The graph below shows an arrow pointing to Trump's Inauguration and the drop in sales of one company (Smith & Wesson).  Other sales in other companies have dropped as well.

Quite opposite this national right-wing relaxation of fear and paranoia, local gun manufacturers in Illinois like Springfield Armory are going to the mat with a Democratically controlled General Assembly and their partner in Bruce Vincent Rauner.  The last messages sent out by the Geneseo based company demand everyone prepare to fight any attempt to override the Governor’s veto of a bill to demand Illinois gun retailers to become licensed. 
In addition, Springfield Armory wanted everyone to stop the following bills: (HB1467) banning bump stocks, etc., (HB1469) banning high capacity magazines, (HB1664) Hotlines for people to call in individuals who are demonstrating clear and dangerous behaviors who have guns, (HB1465) raising the age for gun purchases to 21.  But you can also get a special deal on the new “Saint” from Springfield Armory if you hurry:
And so, we stumble along as a nation playing this pattern of horror  è  surprise  è  thoughts and prayers  è  blame of mentally ill, students themselves, number of doors in a school  è  START OVER. 
Scientific American produced a careful exegesis/study of what guns specifically do in our country and how such weapons alter our lives.  It’s a very worthy and sobering read.
Since Wayne LaPierre and Grover Norquist and the K Street lobbyists have fallen like a hard rain on Washington’s willing swamp-dwellers, the numbers of Gun related deaths from increased ownership of guns have not changed in many ways – EXCEPT ONE.
Police interventions have by and large remained the same.  Accidental shootings have remained stable or decreasing.  Homicides have shown nothing significant in any increase, altho0ugh data used by Scientific American does not include this last year when we have been under the weight of 24 hour news reporting. 
The difference is suicides.   In 2014, according to Scientific American, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths occurring in the United States were suicides: 21,334 people. A jump of nearly 5000 people.

Bring a gun into the house, and you have changed the possible outcomes of your own or another’s life’s end in significant manner.  How?  You’ll never quite know, except that statistically, when you’re having that down moment, or that feeling of despair, there’s an ultimate outcome in a box next to your bed or on the shelf above your sweaters. 
“Several studies now confirm that suicide is often a decision made suddenly. If the moment somehow passes safely, the evidence suggests, lives can be saved in the short and long term.
“There's a fair amount of research showing that the suicide crisis is time-limited,” says John Mann, a professor of translational neuroscience at Columbia University who studies suicide. Two thirds of those who survived a suicide attempt, according to one 1991 study, had started planning their course of action less than an hour beforehand. Another study notes that almost half of the 82 people who attempted suicide said they had started thinking about their current attempt less than 10 minutes earlier. Moreover, in the case of guns especially, an investigation by the New Hampshire medical examiner's office showed that nearly one in 10 suicides by firearm from 2007 to 2009 involved a weapon that was purchased or rented the preceding week—often within just a few hours.”
The danger to yourself from yourself or your family, therefore, is magnified once you purchase a weapon; more terribly, it is confirmed when you provide such agents of death for your children – returning their arms to them after confiscation, leaving them free to take and use, allowing them to purchase or hold them even as you know the mental angst of someone who needs intervention.  These are other issues facing the person who might jump at securing their Second Amendment right after Santa Fe…or the next catastrophe. 

Please consider what the NRA will never tell you.