What Republicans Must Do Now

June, 2017

Lincoln -- In recent posts I've been hard on the man we somehow elected president, as well as on the Democratic Party for losing touch with too many voters. It's about time to focus on Republican voters who with their votes have put the country and its institutions in great peril. What do Republican voters do now to right the ship of state?

Previous posts have looked at political choices in the context of a healthy, two-party system of government. One-party government, I believe, is asking for trouble regardless of party and regardless of level – local, state, or federal. Voters in both parties should want a healthy, competitive two-party system to encourage good candidates to run on both tickets, so that there is a responsible alternative when one party governs poorly or, in the current case, dangerously.

I've heard from Republican friends who say they voted for Trump not because they wanted to, but because they did not believe there was an alternative. The choice was made easier for them because they did not think such a man could ever win, so their vote was more of a protest than a choice. And, being bombarded by ever-more divisive partisan shouting, they say they will vote for him again.

Here's what responsible Republicans can do to restore a healthy two-party system, even if they cannot bring themselves to vote Democratic:

• Vote, but understand that there is no obligation to vote in every race. Leaving some contests blank sends a protest message in itself. Sometimes it just makes sense to take a pass on a contest. In 2014, Maryland voters, in a nearly one-party Democratic state, declined to support what they perceived as a weak Democratic candidate; the Republican Larry Hogan was elected governor with largely Republican votes. This will have a salubrious effect on future races, as potential candidates in both parties will know it is possible to win.

• Oppose gerrymandering and support all efforts to eliminate it. Gerrymandering is both a cause and an effect of one-party government.

• Do not support dark money candidates funded by 501(c)4 sources with an agenda that is eager to tear down our country's most hallowed institutions. Watch out especially for those who celebrate rather than lament misrule.

• Oppose measures that limit the voting franchise. If you don't understand how such limitations work, read federal appeals court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz's opinion in a North Carolina case, a decision so well crafted the Supreme Court has no appetite to review it.

If there is one thing Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on, it is that our system of government needs candidates who can compete for votes based on their attractiveness, not on which is the lesser evil. But that will require thoughtful voters in both parties, which at this point is particularly required of decent and patriotic Republicans.

War and Peace with Germany

June, 2017

Berlin and Lincoln -- Am I the only one who shudders at the spectacle of a German chancellor addressing a crowd in a Munich beer hall, announcing that Germany henceforth will have to go its own way? It happened last week. Didn't a would-be (and future) chancellor say essentially the same thing in a Munich beer hall in 1923? Yes. We know how that turned out.

Times and issues are different, but it's worth looking at what Germany now sees as its own way and how geopolitically the situations are similar, albeit for different reasons. Germany has a fundamental interest in the Baltic States and in Eastern Europe for security reasons, with or without American partnership through NATO. Germany's relationship with Turkey, because of the large Turkish population left over from the Wirtschaftswunder, has dimensions beyond America's view of Turkey's importance. India and China are rushing in to fill a relationship with Germany being vacated by America. In technology, trade, and geopolitics, America will be left in the dust.

How will these changing relationships affect, say, America's effort to keep the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean from being taken over by China's rapidly expanding navies? It's hard to see how a split in German-American relations is going to have anything but a very bad outcome.

What if Russia continues to press forward in Ukraine and the Baltics under the ruse that it is protecting Russian nationals in those countries? Does Germany push back to protect German nationals in Kaliningrad (Königsberg, the city of Kant). Not without NATO's nuclear weapons behind it, you might think, if we are thinking the unthinkable. But Germany is aligned in continental Europe with France, itself a nuclear power, a country America seems equally intent on breaking up with.

Why is this even a topic of discussion? Didn't we Americans shed blood and treasure in two world wars to overcome the horrors of German nationalism? How can this be happening? Was last weekend's Memorial Day celebration for naught?

My own family has a history of war and peace with Germany. Three of my great uncles fought Germany in WWI; all were wounded (two seriously for life). Five of my first cousins, once removed, fought in WWII; three as navy officers, one as an infantryman, one as a paratrooper. When my time came for navy service a generation later, after two tours in the South China Sea I was sent to Germany as part of the U.S. European Command. In Stuttgart, I joined a German-American friendship group, the Metropolitan Club, and married one of its members. We raised two children who attended both American and German schools. Now adults, one lives in Maryland and one in Berlin. My dear wife is deceased. She would be appalled at recent developments. She was a great friend of America. As a high school student in Stuttgart, she amassed a collection of German newspaper and magazine articles about America, especially about President Kennedy and his support of West Germany in the face of Soviet aggression. Her collection is now in Lincoln, Nebraska, resting uneasy in a state that voted for an unworthy and unfit successor president who in his recklessness dishonors patriots who fought the wars and won the peace.



Democrats: Think Culture, Not Just Policy and Ideology

May, 2017

Washington and Lincoln -- Our two-party system in the United States, and in many individual states, is in trouble. Many of our constitutional checks and balances are undermined because of it. One-party government at any level is not good, be it one party or the other.

Although much commentary these days is devoted to dysfunction in the Republican Party, that party has enjoyed much electoral success at both national and state levels. How that success was achieved is problematic (gerrymandering, voter suppression, dark money and the like), but this post is devoted to the issues in the Democratic Party that are equally a threat to a healthy two-party system. This is a continuation of an earlier post about Democratic Party failures.

That post explored the idea that party platforms and policies can be overstated in their effect on voter behavior. If voters do not feel a cultural affinity to a party, they may well vote against policies that would otherwise benefit them. The Democratic Party is slow to recognize this. It needs to show less scorn for voters it has lost and more concern for bringing voters back by offering a political culture that is a credible alternative to the wildly careening, morally off-putting culture that has come to represent the Republican Party.

Here are some suggestions for the Democratic Party that would be appropriate to recapture voters in the Upper Midwest and Plains States, especially, in terms of political culture:

• Recapture the flag of agrarian populism, once closely aligned with the Democratic Party. The issues that animated farmers and laborers of decades ago (corporate monopolies, crop price parity, credit policy, tariffs and trade) have not gone away.

• Associate policies and politicians' behaviors more closely with the religious faiths many voters hold strongly. Many religious texts teach the values of helping the poor, of being the keeper of one's neighbors, of stewardship of the land and nature, of showing compassion and humility. An outside observer would surely be astounded that the Republican Party has appropriated religion to its benefit, and that the Democratic Party, whose policies are often more attuned to such texts, has increasingly disassociated itself from religious faith.

• Be proud of America's historical role in international affairs. America has stood for universal human rights and values, through war and peace. There have been mistakes and setbacks, but now is the time for the Democratic Party to assert its continuing, hard-won vision for a world that values human rights in all countries. The Republican Party's affinity to dictators should be a cultural disconnect to many troubled voters whose families and friends gave much in the cause of human rights, fighting dictatorships.

• Advocate for good, honest, moral government, including the reduction of economic inequality, through fiscally responsible approaches. The Democratic Party must talk sense about government in the face of nihilistic theories that would have voters believe all goverment and all taxation is bad. Most voters want their local, state, and federal governments to work efficiently and for the benefit of the whole society.

The goal of the Democratic Party should be to offer voters a safe political refuge, in a cultural context they can relate to without apology. Many of these voters have voted Democratic before, so it should not be difficult to move enough voters to restore a healthier two-party system. This approach is much preferable to the recent efforts of the Democratic Party to rely on identity politics, demographics, and ridicule of the opposition to win elections. That approach has failed.

Note that there is no discussion here of ideology, as in "moving left" or "moving right." Many voters do not adhere to an ideology; their behaviors and beliefs run the ideological gamut. They can be liberal on some matters and conservative on others, and even proud of it.

It is political culture that must now be the greater concern.




Burning and Looting, 21st Century Version

May, 2017

Berlin -- The city survived another May Day (Labor Day in Germany) without burning and looting. Some demonstrators brought their own canned smoke, which is progress compared to the riots of previous years. This was the 30th anniversary of the worst of the excesses, when arson and plundering prevailed in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Around Mariannenplatz this year all was festive with many children especially delighted to get big, animal-shaped balloons from vendors. Turkish families and organizations provided dozens of tables of food up and down Oranienstrasse and several other streets, which were turned over to pedestrians. No cars in sight: less temptation for trouble-makers to overturn vehicles and set them on fire.

A more meaningful event, to me, was held two days before on Petersburgerplatz in nearby Friedrichshain, where a few hundred people gathered to protest the Bayer-Monsanto merger. It was organized by farmers, bakers, bee-keepers, and environmentalists. Some in the crowd wore bee costumes; one man came as a bear (to show love for honey, presumably). I joined the marchers as they proceeded down the boulevard toward Frankfurter Tor.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln daily newspaper reports an effort to save monarch butterflies and other pollinators by planting milkweed, but treads lightly on who and what is killing the pollinators off. That would be, in significant part, the Bayers and Monsantos of the world. It will take more than planting milkweed for pollinators to recover, and more than using pesticides and herbicides carefully as directed, as this and other such articles always advise. It is the ubiquitous use of these products that is the problem, not a matter of following application directions. This is the issue that must be faced. We are burning and looting our natural resources.

Varieties of Anarchists

April, 2017

Berlin -- It is three days before May Day in Berlin. Near my place in Berlin-Kreuzberg, I am having lunch in a small cafe a short walk across what used to be the Berlin Wall. To the sound of Turkish music, I see a headline in the Berliner Morgenpost stating that the "Linksautonomen" will be allowed to march here in the big celebration on May Day without obtaining a permit.

This is news, as leftist anarchists have often provoked May Day violence in the past. The responsible Berlin city official explains that "the police are the guarantor of the right of free assembly in our country." But the article goes on to say that the police will be reinforced by uniformed officers brought in from Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Nordrhein-Westfallen, Hessen, Rhineland-Pfalz, and the federal police.

Toward evening, on the big plaza in front of the Bethanien Arts Center, I see young men and women lined up with revolutionary flags and banners practicing for May Day. They are in a military formation and are being instructed on what to do in case of clashes, presumably with right-wing trouble-makers or with police. On command, the leaders challenge them to a shoving scrum. A few fall to the ground. They back off and do it again. This looks like more than free assembly.

Meanwhile, in an ironic coincidence, America's right-wing economic anarchists have been planning their attack on federal revenues at none other than the Cafe Berlin on Capitol Hill, according to the Washington Post. Larry Kudlow, Steve Forbes, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore gathered there last week to sketch out new tax legislation over dinner and were joined by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Laffer, we should all remember, does his economics on napkins, which is apparently the reason they are meeting at the Cafe Berlin rather than at the Treasury Department. Make no mistake; this group is about starving the government, ballooning the federal deficit, and endangering national security. Tax cuts do not pay for themselves and everyone knows it.

Both of these varieties of anarchists, from the left and the right, are dangerous. May they both fail.

The Eat Crow Tour

April, 2017

Lincoln -- One of the best things the national Democratic Party could do for itself, and for the country, is to take an Eat Crow Tour through regions where it did so poorly in the 2016 elections. The tour should make stops especially in the rust belt and the farm belt, in counties where Democrats once did well. The theme of the tour would not be how Democrats were cheated by Putin, or Comey, or McConnell; it would be a sincere apology for running a national campaign that did not offer, in the minds of too many, a credible alternative to the Republican ticket.

The 2016 election should have been easy. The top of the Republican ticket was headed by a man with such flaws even many die-hard Republicans had trouble accepting him. But Democrats were so tone-deaf to many regions it didn't matter. Instead of listening to the people in abandoned areas, and offering policies that related to their concerns, it offered a national campaign based on identity politics, demographics, and ridiculing the opposition. It was not a winning strategy, as some of us pointed out well in advance.

Before launching such a tour, Democrats should read Nobel-laureate Paul Krugman's insightful analyses about how they must not only offer credible policies to these populations, but how they must understand the regions' cultures. People will vote against their own interests, policy-wise, if they do not have a cultural fit with the party asking for their votes. Policy is important, but culture often supersedes policy.

In 2016, Democrats offered little by way of either public policy or cultural identification to huge swaths of the nation. Consider the Upper Midwest, where the agricultural economy is in big trouble, but Democrats' and Republicans' farm policy platforms were hardly distinguishable, if they existed at all. In terms of culture, Democrats failed to take advantage of the rich heritage of agrarian populism, allowing the mantle to be claimed by a Republican tied closely to big, eastern banks. Do national Democrats even know of the Cross of Gold speech, or Fighting Bob? It's time to learn, or face even more election debacles.

The goal of the Eat Crow Tour would be to get back in touch with voters who are not happy with the electoral choices they were offered in 2016, to admit responsibility more than cast blame, to listen carefully to concerns of voters, to remember cultural heritage, and to commit to better efforts in the future. This would go a long way toward being competitive again, especially with voters who were mortified about having to vote for Trump but felt there was no alternative.

Soil Health as Infrastructure, Redux

April, 2017

Lincoln -- Last December, I posted "Topsoil as Infrastructure," which suggested that soil health should be considered a key component of our nation's infrastructure, to be included in any Congressional legislation to rebuild the country.

In the Lincoln newspaper today, "Make Our Soil Great Again" expresses many of the same thoughts. The author, a professor at the University of Washington, writes, "...degraded agricultural soils is one of humanity’s most pressing and under-recognized natural infrastructure projects..."

It would be good to see this cause taken up by the University of Nebraska, and by Nebraska's congressional delegation. When I sent my post in December to my two senators and one representative, I got back one reply but nothing from the two others, which was disappointing. Clearly they are not thinking along these lines. This should be a bipartisan effort if there ever was one.

A Little Good News in Higher Education

April, 2017

Washington -- Finally, there's good news in higher education. The Maryland Legislature has passed legislation prohibiting egregious practices of scholarship displacement in student financial aid packaging in Maryland. In February of 2016 I wrote about the issue in a blog entitled Switcheroo Algorithms.

Hats are off to Central Scholarship of Maryland and to several Maryland legislators for shepherding the prohibition through the House and Senate. It will help low-income students pay for college more with grants as opposed to loans. It strikes a blow for honesty and transparency in financial aid packaging.

Here's hoping other states follow suit. Is it too much to ask that the U.S. Department of Education also crack down on scholarship displacement? It would make federal grant money go much further than it does.

Will the Senate Stand Up for Itself?

April, 2017

Washington -- There is a reason for Senate Democrats and even Republicans to vote against the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. It is not based on:

• his judicial philosophy
• his unwillingness to answer questions at his confirmation hearing
• his being out of the mainstream (witness his opinion on services to handicapped children being overturned 8-0 by the Supreme Court during his hearing)
• payback for shabby treatment of Judge Garland the previous year
• partisanship

Rather, it is based on separation of powers and the system of checks and balances provided by the Constitution. When one branch overreaches, the others have remedies at their disposal. In this case, the overreach was the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, in which an activist court majority overturned Congressional legislation on campaign finance. Whereupon political organizations created "dark money" operations that have funded advertising campaigns to pressure Senators to confirm Judge Gorsuch. The result of this effort would require the Senate to change its own rules and diminish the body as an institution that protects minority rights and encourages compromise.

The remedy is for the Senate to vote no on the dark money nominee, as provided in the Constitution.

Recall a similar challenge to Congress posed by Richard Nixon when he aggressively impounded funds appropriated by Congress for programs he did not support. Had Nixon's actions not been met with resistance, Congress's power of the purse, granted by the Constitution, would have been severely undermined. Congress responded with the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974, putting the executive branch back in its constitutional place, not just for the programs at issue but for the principle of separation of powers.

The Senate should do likewise on this occasion, to act on constitutional principle rather than on the merits or lack thereof of the particular nominee at issue. This is a test of the Senate as an institution and fundamentally an issue of our system of checks and balances.

Real Man March for Washington

March, 2017

Lincoln -- What Washington needs is a Real Man March. Thousands of Real Men could gather in view of the White House so as to provide role models for the current occupant who, try as he might, comes up short.

If you have any of the ten following attributes--even one--you qualify as a badly needed Real Man role model:

1. Veteran
2. Good Samaritan to the unfortunate
3. Not a braggart
4. Selfless in charity
5. Never stiffed contractors
6. Truth teller
7. Never filed for bankruptcy
8. Friend and protector of nature
9. Never divorced
10. Respectful and decent to all

Of course many women would also qualify as Real Men. So much the better. When do we march?