Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fire And Fury

The world needs to step back from the cacophony around the book about Donald Trump's White House. I have not read the book and do not intend to (I had a free copy). This is one man's version of what other people told him and may include malicious lies, unintended inaccuracies, and just plain mistakes. That is not why I will avoid the book.

The myths and lies that have been circulated about sitting presidents would fill more than one book. Some rumors may be true, e.g. JFK's womanizing. So what? A president is elected to perform certain functions and needs to be judged on the basis of that performance. Measuring a president's performance is most likely purely political; Ds will say it is bad and Rs will say it is good. Personal conduct is a separate issue. Who cares if a president likes cheeseburgers or is in a plural marriage as long as the government is properly run?

Some points to remember

  • The informants could be lying
  • The informants could be wrong
  • The author may have gotten some facts wrong
  • Anyone inclined to disbelieve the president is predisposed to believe these stories
  • Anyone inclined to support the president will disbelieve the stories

None of the information in Fire and Fury is evidence. The special counsel cannot indict a president with this sort of information, indeed the special counsel cannot indict a president at all. The only action that can be taken against a president is by the House of Representatives and then the Senate in a process called impeachment. They supposedly need evidence too although a Republican Congress is unlikely to impeach and remove this president under any circumstances.

None of this changes my evaluation of the president's performance. It does drive book sales and shouting matches on cable news.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Lost Cause

The tragedy in Charlottesville and ensuing cacophony has inspired me to offer my perspective of the history involved.

The monuments in question, hundreds, even thousands of them, were erected by proponents of The Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War, a series of myths that sought to rationalize Southern suffering. The purpose of the monuments was to say, "We lost the war, but we will win the peace." These edifices and their inscriptions were the work of local groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederacy in the first decades of the 20th Century, people who did not personally experience the war. The monuments honored Confederate leaders and the common soldiers, but they stuck a thumb in the eye of the Union and the United States (there are at least as many monuments to Union leaders and soldiers).

The important thing about each of these monuments is that they were the work of local groups often with local political approval—a statue in a city park. Other monuments went up on private property. These were local decisions to put up the monuments and we see today local decisions to remove them.

The Lost Cause also dominated local and state textbook committees with myths like, the war started over states rights, secession was about unfair tariffs, the defeat was Jefferson Davis's fault (he was later rehabilitated), Robert E. Lee was a flawless leader, slavery was good for the slaves. They called the Civil War, The War of Northern Aggression. Southern children were imprinted with these faulty messages for more than a century. Even academics repeated many of these myths. In the 1960s, scholars started showing that the Secessionists sought to protect slavery and fired the first shots.

No matter what a Confederate soldier's personal motivations, he served a government that was protecting and even expanding slavery. A soldier drafted at gunpoint still served to support slavery.

Absent from any of the decisions to build monuments or draft textbooks were those most impacted by the Civil War, slaves. Their descendants serve today as local officials who exercise the same authority that the Confederate sympathizers had a hundred years ago.

These are local issues and the white supremacists who invaded Charlottesville are guilty of the same aggression they (erroneously) accuse Abraham Lincoln of.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Measure of Success

The email was a surprise and then it wasn’t. The man was in my scout troop in San Francisco thirty years ago and as a teen was not the best example of the principles of Scouting. In his first interaction with my son, Matt was left in tears. The man tracked me down on the Web in order to make amends. Although unnecessary from my point of view I recognized this step in recovery and agreed to help.

I became a scoutmaster mostly to insure that Matt had a safe experience. Boys can be bullies and some adults can be rather juvenile. It was best to take on some responsibility. The Boy Scouts are great with their training and they had wonderful resources for activities particularly camping. I enjoyed my own scout experience and had a great time in San Francisco doing all the things my first troop did not. My volunteerism became a part-time job and excellent managerial training for my day job. I never had a goal of transforming anyone’s life, but I hoped to add molecular experiences that nudged a few of them in positive directions. The man who wanted to talk on the phone was not one of the bright spots. By the time I joined the troop he had been there several years and had met other adult leaders. Within a year or two the man received his Eagle and left for college. My goal with him was to keep him from hurting others.

Fast-forward thirty years. He explained he was sober now and wanted to apologize for things he had done as a scout. I accepted his amends and offered the one enduring memory I had of him. The occasion was a Court of Honor, the annual troop awards ceremony attended by the families. The scouts received their merit badges and their promotions, and the adults got kudos for their contributions followed by juice and cake.

The seventeen-year old came to the event in his scout uniform with his dad in a suit and tie. The dad was falling down drunk, literally. The young man held his father up and, despite my low opinion of him the mortification and shame on his face just about broke my heart. His family secret was public as if his pants had fallen down. He remembered that episode too amid the rest of the violence and abuse as he grew up. Still, he did not sound like he blamed anyone else for his actions. He took full responsibility.

The man commented that my positive comments and my encouragement of him and the other boys really stuck with him. The other adults in his life were probably just keeping order and annoyed because he was such a jerk. I approached leadership and even parenthood and grandparenthood with how would I want to be treated here? How does a four-year old or a fifteen-year old or a rookie investigator want to be talked to, to feel respected?

Well I guess it worked. In addition to the call last week I’ve had other compliments like “best boss” and “someone to look up to.” Those are good to hear.

The man asked how he could make it up to the troop so I suggested he call the Scouts and volunteer. Maybe he will learn what I learned.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


The number refers to the 46th president of the United States probably Mike Pence. It is clear to me that number 45 is cruising to either an impeachable offense or resignation both under pressure from a Congress dominated by Republicans. Get enough Republicans to realize 45 is dangerous not just to the nation, but to the their own political fortunes and the machine will grind out an end to the most embarrassing episode in American political history.

Just yesterday, a cabinet nominee withdrew because he could not get 50 Republican votes in the Senate allegedly because he didn't pay taxes on a domestic worker. All the other nominees and even the SCOTUS pick will probably be confirmed, but the solid wall of Republican votes is cracked. In my view the removal of 45 is inevitable.

Two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, both unsuccessfully. Johnson was acquitted in 1868 by a single vote in the senate, but his administration was nearly over. What did happen was that Congress assumed the dominant role in government for the next generation. Since Lyndon Johnson, the presidency has assumed more and more power and the Congress acquiesced. Things are shifting the other way even now.

Number 46 will not have an agenda other than the one determined by Congress dominated by the Republicans. Will he be satisfied with 45's cabinet picks? I suspect that even now the VP's insiders are constructing a new White House. Just as in pool, don't look at the next shot, look at the one after.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Preaching to the Choir

I am as disappointed as anyone about the apparent election of Donald Trump. I say apparent because he did not get the most votes and recounts in states with critical electoral votes have not been completed. Trump will be inaugurated as president in January. I see reports of street protests, editorials bemoaning the prospects of the Trump Administration, and even calls for “resistance.”
What does that mean, resistance? Resist what? I surfed the headlines of a Trump Resistance group on Facebook and felt like I was looking at the mirror image of the alt-right. There are online petitions to oppose Trump’s campaign promises like some kind of Muslim registry, but Trump has already backed out of many promises. No need to resist things he is not going to do.
Trump’s cabinet picks are right out of the Republican talent pool. They will go from splashing around in the shallow end to swimming the deep end of DC where their departments are legislated to implement policies like clean water and collecting taxes. Failure or refusal to perform leaves the department head open to a lawsuit. DC lawyers are leasing more copy machines to meet the demand. Changing the laws have to go through Congress, controlled by Republicans, but with a Democrat filibuster in place. No resistance needed there. Save your bandwidth and quit complaining to people who already agree with you. 
Instead of resistance, the rest of us should be lining up behind the reforms that will prevent a minority of voters from choosing a majority of electors. At the state level gerrymandering has resulted in Democrats getting the most votes, but Republican candidates getting elected.
There’s no guarantee that idiots won’t get elected, but at least they can be elected by a majority of the voters. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Day After

Unless the members of the electoral college surprise us Donald Trump will be president on January 20. I am just as disappointed as a majority of US voters, but I don't feel compelled to whine and bellyache and march and publish some sort of apocalyptic screed which seems to be the currency online now.

The election was entirely constitutional and we need to accept it and push ahead with changes to make it all more equitable. The best ideas I have heard are

  • A National Popular Vote agreement where states allocate their electoral votes according to the national vote instead of the statewide vote. R voters in a state like Washington are overwhelmed by the D voters and Washington electors vote D. Candidates don't bother much in Washington. Instead they spend their time and money in swing states. Ten states have signed on for this system. 
  • To avoid Gerrymandering by the party in control of a state legislature either have non-partisan redistricting commissions or redraw the congressional districts entirely to super districts each with several members of Congress. Ranked choice voting—first second and third—would allow the majority to elect candidates, but the minority gets candidates too. 
  • Ranked choice voting and instant runoff allows a first, second, and third choice to determine the two choices for the general election. 
None of this requires a constitutional amendment and benefits all the parties. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Online discourse

I am being charitable in the term discourse.

Recently I added a comment to a Youtube file, the audio of fire department radio transmissions following a spectacular gas explosion. I was critical of the commander's conduct on the air, something I think I can do based on both my professional background and the fact that I am a tax payer in Seattle.

I was quickly flamed by anonymous posters who not only disagreed that the commander's conduct was inadequate, but castigated me for being critical of a first responder. What would I have done? I finally took down the original post and reposted with a link to a news video of the distraught commander in the arms of a subordinate.

What I would have done was not the point. The point was, what should the commander ($200,000 paycheck and decades of experience) have done? Are first responders somehow immune from comment because of their position. These are highly paid and well trained professionals. Their concern should be in doing as good a job as possible and then doing it better the next time. The idea that police and fire can never do wrong is just wrong.