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Repeat After Me: It Should Not To Be This Way

June 20, 2017

Last week marked one year since the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and two years since the shooting at a church in Charleston. And the world watched in shock as members of Congress were targeted while practicing baseball.  If this were a book idea 20 years ago no editor would have agreed to print such trash.

But listen now.  These shootings I mentioned above are only the shootings that made headlines.

The reality is 93 people are killed by gun violence every day in this country, and few of those deaths make the papers. Between these shocking mass shootings and the daily toll of gun violence, one can run out of language to talk about the carnage. In fact, as I have mentioned many a time on this blog all the media coverage, and all the vigils seem to have numbed Americans to the point many now consider all this as the new norm.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It should not be this way.

What say you?

Thinking About Role Of White House Press Secretary

June 20, 2017

On my bookshelves that line this office are ones written by Jody Powell, Ron Nessen, and Marlin Fitzwater–all having served as White House Press Secretaries.  I fully understand that most do not have these books in their homes, have probably never read them, and I would bet my entire Elvis album collection do not recognize those names.  But mention Sean Spicer and the image of a Saturday Night Live skit comes instantly to mind as well as a number of purely painful episodes of real-life from the press room at the White House.

Before I venture further let me add that I do have some sincere feelings for the spot Spicer now finds himself.  After all, he was once a respected Republican spokesman and strategist, and worked for four members of congress.  But like so many others who fell into Donald Trump’s orbit they have become cannon fodder and slimed with orange muck.   Without regard for anyone other than himself Trump has permanently damaged many once skilled men and women.

In Spicer’s case who can forget his first press briefing when he showed pictures of the inauguration crowd and angrily insisted the crowd was larger than it actually was. It was a completely bizarre and tortured beginning.  And while I truly feel bad for him when he is asked to explain statements and tweets from Trump that are nearly impossible to reconcile, especially when they contradict facts, I also must stress that there are times when people just have to stand up and say “ENOUGH!”  Spicer seems unable or unwilling to make such a statement and detach himself from his crazy surroundings.

The important role that Powell, Nesson, and Fitzwater undertook–in the midst of their individual and political crises, should be a lesson to others like Spicer.  But there seems no interest to learn or be lifted by history in this White House.

To be a laugh line is not the way Spicer wishes to be remembered, but that is the way he seems content to use his time on the national stage.  It does not serve him well, and truly is not what the nation needs or expects from a press secretary.

Why Andrew Weissmann Scares This White House

June 20, 2017

All sorts of reporting today about the reasons Andrew Weissmann is making cramps for President Trump and his team at the White House.

Reuters reports, “A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and President Trump’s 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.” 

“Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section before joining Mueller’s team last month, is best known for two assignments — the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York — that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation.”

Jonathan Swan adds, “Trumpworld has been worried about Weissmann since they first got wind that Mueller added him to his team. I started getting phone calls from Trump associates about two weeks ago suggesting I look into his background.”

 

Poor Megyn Kelly

June 20, 2017

I am a bit old school at times.  OK, many times.

I think either one has talent–as with singers or baseball players–or they do not.  To try and spin the latest person who sings a song on a reality show into the next legend is just not appealing to me.  I tend to think those singers who rode in a cramped car from grocery store parking lot to courthouse square in the 1940’s and after singing a few songs sold their own 45rpms to fans before driving to their next event were my type of people.  But today everyone can be a star, if you listen to the PR experts.

Which leads me to Megyn Kelly.

Her PR moves over the past roughly 18 months has certainly increased her name ID and presence on television.  But is her ability as great as her strategists would have us believe?  I have not thought so.

This past Sunday both viewers and advertisers stayed away from the final product of her show as it was helping to promote Infowars founder Alex Jones.  No one wanted to come near this disaster of an interview dealing with Jones who creates news stories and perspectives that are just plain false.    That is why most of the big-name advertisers featured in the first two episodes of the show—including Bank of America, Mazda, McDonald’s, Toyota, Tide and movie studios like Columbia Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox—were MIA from Sunday night’s episode.  NBC looked odd to say the least as in their place they aired 12 promos from their programming.

What is prompting the concern about all this is that viewers are not watching her. About 3.5 million viewers watched Kelly Sunday night, which is her smallest crowd to date on her new program. Sunday’s airing averaged a 0.5 rating in adults 18-49. The previous two episodes of the freshman news show have averaged a 0.7 and 4.9 million viewers.  The show also trailed a re-run episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes, which brought in 5.3 million viewers. Among 18-to-49-year-olds, the demographic most prized by advertisers, a repeat of America’s Funniest Home Videos also beat Kelly.  

The last time this much effort was made to create the image of a serious news reporter and journalist was when some tried to make Katie Couric into more than she was capable of delivering.   We are seeing the same story play out again with Megyn Kelly.

‘Process Democrats’ And The Redistricting Case

June 19, 2017

Those who care about the process of governing are pleased there is now a high-stakes legal drama in the offing which may allow for some sanity to be brought to the matter of how states construct their internal political boundaries for election purposes. The Supreme Court announced they will take up the most important gerrymandering case in more than a decade.

There is no doubt that partisans on each side will claim all sorts of things over this news in an attempt to shore up their line of defense.  But the ones who can claim the most solid position on this issue are those who know how we govern is as vital as what that process produces for policy.

The way a sports car is made may not seem as interesting as what it can do out on the open road but the fact remains it all starts out on a drawing board.  The same can be said for the importance about the art of governing.

The absurdity of crafting lines for nefarious reasons runs all the way back to 1789 when Patrick Henry helped draw the lines in Virginia in such a way as to place his enemy, James Madison, in an anti-Federalist district.  In fact before the term ‘Gerrymander” was in vogue there was a term called “Henrymander”.   (The odd things one can learn on vacation in D.C.)

The case that was announced today for a hearing before the court involves district lines in Wisconsin that challengers say were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit Republicans.  What many are hoping is that this case will have a major impact on how district lines are drawn up nationwide.

In the past the court has said that too much partisanship in map drawing is illegal.  But past rulings have been too narrow so the court never added how much political chicanery–my word for this mess–is too much when it comes to partisan lines being created.

The fact is that both parties have been guilty over time in a raft of states by creating boundary lines that simply defy logic.  If comes then as no surprise, given the hyper-nature of politics and the degree to which the ‘creative’ use of drawing lines has been pushed, that this new examination of whether redistricting plans can be unconstitutional because they’re too partisan comes into sharp focus for the court.

Last November, a three-judge panel ruled, 2-1, that the Republican-drawn maps for Wisconsin’s state assembly were biased against Democrats.  The State of Wisconsin then asked the Supreme Court to summarily overturn the decision, or at least to put it on hold. The high court also signaled Monday that it may well split along partisan lines. The justices voted, 5-4, to stay a requirement that the state file a new redistricting plan by Nov. 1. All the Democratic appointees dissented

So what happened today means this matter is likely headed to a full hearing in the fall before the court.  That makes some partisans nervous.

The problem has long been that too many partisan heads in our legislature are not able to think beyond their narrow interests, and consider the greater good when it comes to redistricting. And I mean both parties as this matter was also front and center when Governor Doyle was in charge and had a friendly majority with which to work.  In recent years there was not even the ability to have a public hearing in our statehouse about the method employed by Iowa which bypasses the elected officials in favor of a commission to draw the lines.

Political parties have for too long used the boundaries of districts to inoculate elected officials from the need to truly compete about ideas at election time.  One of the more outstanding figures offered  over the past years about immigration reform is that 70% of Republican congressional districts around the nation have less than 10% Hispanic/Latino voters.  In some cases that can be explained, but in many others it is due to crafty manipulation of district maps.  That type of political chicanery from both sides of the aisle creates far more problems when it comes to solving issues than perhaps anything else other than the heavy amounts of campaign money that is allowed to be raised, and not allowing merit selection for state supreme court justices.

Wisconsinites who talk about the need for better jobs and higher wages and stronger schools need to also be mindful about the foundations that are essential to making our government stronger. We need to again think back to our civics lessons as to why being a process (small d) democrat matters. Unless the way we elect people is based on a more equitable and level-playing field all the grand ideas we may hold about building a stronger society will be left in drafting folders on a shelf.  

Mount Vernon Memories: Thoughts Of Military Might, Constitutional Compromises, And Too Many Teenagers

June 18, 2017

As I walked the long hall at Mount Vernon I thought of what it must have been like to see George Washington, perhaps after his arrival back home after duties with the Revolutionary War, or perhaps as an older man following two terms as president.  He would open the doors to the large front of the house and look out on the sloping hill that bent down towards the Potomac River.   Throughout the day spent at the home of our first president I tried to stop and just reflect what that place represented.  Who had stood on those grounds, felt the heat and humidity, and pondered the great issues of a people who championed liberty.  They had to not only grapple with how to attain freedom from England but then later when the union of colonies was created determine how to manage and adapt to the  growing and changing demands of nationhood.

How many times might Washington have seen this view from his home porch and wanted so badly to stay and enjoy the beauty but still felt the call to participate in the frothy construction of a new nation?

From down the slope of the hill one can perhaps image the tall and sturdy-built man looking out from his grand home.

I admit to only once over the entire trip wanting to spin around and inform a large group of school children ranging in ages from 7th graders to freshman in high school to “Shut up”, or some variation thereof.   May is the month every state sends this age of student on a class trip and only a very small percentage that I witnessed over 10 days had any care or interest in any part of what they saw.  They could have been at a beach or theme park and had just as much fun.  Their absence from D.C. would have made it so much more enjoyable for all the rest.

So it was as we passed the room at Mount Vernon where receptions would take place for the likes of Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry that I wanted to tell these sweaty teenagers to stop and think about the place they stood and who had graced these halls and helped usher in a grand experiment that still plays out today in this land.  If these walls could talk!

There is no way to be at this home and know the role of Washington and the times in which he lived without feeling the chasm of the stated ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence on the one hand and the sad reality on the other of how blacks were used as slaves.  The kitchen table of Martha always had a Virginia ham and places were usually set for many as Washington was adored and honored by visitors.  There was food to be made in the kitchen at the end of the home so to not heat up the residence.  Clothes and household items needed to be washed six days a week.  The slave quarters were small and would have been wretchedly hot.  There were over 8,000 acres in Washington’s hands and slaves made those farms economically sound.

Reading since a teenager of the disputes at the Constitutional Convention and the needed compromises to ensure passage by the states is one thing.  But it was really sobering to be where the joining of such high laudable hopes that Washington symbolized also was met and meshed with the immoral nature of slavery.  There was no way to walk on a very steamy Virginia day past the place where slaves would have toiled at washing or weeding crops and then look back up where the home was located and know who lived there and what was proclaimed in a document from 1776 and not feel another heat hotter than that of the sun.  It was that real of a feeling for me.

Granted, that perhaps comes from my love of history and all that I have read over the years.  On the way home that day I wondered how many others who made that same tour felt the same sense of unease and discomfort and pondered the complexities that some of the Founding Fathers lived every day.

The start of the end of Washington’s life has been told often–my favorite historian of this era, Joseph Ellis–writes the best narrative in His Excellency.  Bad weather and a long horse ride and wet clothes is the start of the end.  At Mount Vernon the resting place for the first First Couple is simple and yet quite remarkable.  It was one of four presidential burial sites we visited on this trip.

The resting place for President George Washington (below)

 

The resting place for Martha Washington (below)

I had often read of presidents taking the presidential yacht, USS Sequoia, down the Potomac for evening outings or to show a leader of another country a part of this nation’s charms.  So when James and I planned to visit Mount Vernon the idea of seeing the home of our first president via a trip on the Potomac was simply irresistible.

The War College is but one of the many sites that ones passes.  As it came into view the role that the military plays in the power structure of our nation’s capital was once more most obvious and clear.  The day we visited Capitol Hill there were members of the off-duty military walking about with uniforms emblazoned with medals.  The lady we rented our apartment from worked for the NSA.  The city pays tribute to past wars and soldiers with statuary everywhere.  One could easily sense Jack Ryan could pop out of any scene and get to work.

The military aspect is both historical and also very real.  To see a grouping of large Navy helicopters fly overhead and hear the intense beating of the rotors or to look out on the Potomac and know not so far away the battles that Lincoln was concerned about once raged makes for a sense of pride, and awe, and respect.  It creates a mood and a feel that is old-fashioned and that is just fine.

Needless to say D.C. takes on an epic feeling as you take the river route.  And as we came back to the city there above the fray of politics and all that we have endured for centuries stands the symbol of sturdiness and steadfastness–the Washington Monument.

TROUBLING NEWS: Watergate Prosecutors Had Evidence Nixon White House Plotted Violence

June 18, 2017

As a Nixon history buff this is both intriguing and troubling.

Watergate prosecutors had evidence that operatives for then-President Richard Nixon planned an assault on anti-war demonstrators in 1972, including potentially physically attacking Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, according to a never-before-published memo obtained by NBC News.

The document, an 18-page 1973 investigative memorandum from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, sheds new light on how prosecutors were investigating attempts at domestic political violence by Nixon aides, an extremely serious charge.

NBC News is publishing the memo, and an accompanying memo about an interview prosecutors conducted with GOP operative Roger Stone, as part of special coverage for the 45th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

READ: Prosecutors’ Memo on “Investigation Into The Assault On Anti-War Demonstrators On May 3, 1972”

READ: Prosecutors’ Memo on “Interview with Roger Stone, re: May 3rd Incident”

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