Gerrymandering

OUR UN-DEMOCRATIC DEMOCRACY

In our representative form of democracy, the will of the majority can only be translated into reality through the election of the Representatives and Senators who then exercise the power invested in them to enact laws. To come to fruition, our common desires must be able to flow through the sequential processes of election and legislation. One element of the former is vulnerable to an abuse that can convert it into a choke point.

Each state’s alloted number of Representatives are elected in individual districts, the boundaries of which are laid out by it’s legistature. In order to be able to accomodate the preponderant will, the perimeter of each district should be relatively compact and include a roughly representative group of voters.

Too frequently, however, the footprint will appear like scattered rohrshak blobs connected by varicose veins so as to enclose voters of a narrow point of view. This is called ‘gerrymandering.’ It is possible in states that are dominated by a party which holds unwavering allegiance to particular biases that are out of step with prevailing opinion.

Contemporary means of instant communication broadcast spores of these ideas throughout the country where they can then take root in discrete areas of diverse states with hospitable legislatures. This process may be promoted by monied interests that are seeking to expand their wealth into political dominance. When the number of such Representatives reaches twenty or thirty, this tiny unified minority can exercise disproportionate power in the political menagrie that is the House of Representatives. It’s members have no incentive to engage in the give- and-take horse-trading that has allowd our diverse democracy to actually govern. Representatives elected by these sequestered voters are beholden only to the rigid views of their constituents. Indeed, the ability to retain their seats depends upon adherence to the district’s prevailing dogma.

Such a gerrymandered minority can become a tail that wags the majority dog, with the power to frustrate it’s will. This is not democracy at work.

Let it be understood that those who construct gerrymandered electoral districts are not practising democracy. They are dismanteling it.

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To Scott Wagner: Become A Unifier

Dear Scottie

Even as you are at full cry in pressing your campaign, you also need to hear your constituents’ concerns.

It is important that you recognize what is probably the gravest overarching issue we now face.

Divisiveness and polarity, arising out of the vitriolic uncivility we direct toward each other, are the most serious threats to the continued vitality of our nation and, perhaps, even the continued hospitality of our earth to life itself. Few will dispute the soundness of the strategy of ‘divide and conquer.’ Russia and others, who wish us ill, are making strenuous efforts to accomplish this. We have been helping them.

As Benjamin Franklin warned our founding fathers: “We must all hang together, or each of us will surely hang separately.”

America has often, in the past, demonstrated an unparalleled problem solving capacity. But this disrespect for others with whom we disagree prevents us from arriving at a consensus on sensible solutions to our common problems. The resources we consume in these efforts to destroy each other are not available to confront our universal challenges.

And the disadvantage which we have thus created for ourselves also extends to challenges where there is no national or organizational antagonist which is deliberately attempting to harn us. As for example, the precarious course of the environment, lack of affordable, universal,

broad medical care, good paying jobs and qualified employees to fill them and assistance to the unemployed and underemplyed during the time it takes for the jobs to actualy materialize. These are some of the areas that fall within a governor’s purview.

To be effective, a unifyier must display compassion for the less fortunate, a willingness to listen and to consider. There must be an honesty with ones own self that does not allow political dogmas to alter truth once it is clear. And perhaps most important, a decent regard for one’s own human fallability. Arrogance will get in the way. Though not commonly evident, examples set by our leaders can show the way. As, for instance, by the late John S. McCain III.

For all your toughness, I believe you have the capacity to unite and lead. Indeed, that quality has endowed you with a unique opportunity to do so. Paraphrasing a remark by former President Jimmy Carter: a strong person can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, restrained and to extend a helping hand to others.

I hope you will seize the moment, look past political tribalism and dogmas. Reach out to the other side and grasp the reins.

 

Best wishes to you and Tracy.  And Godspeed.

Sincerely,

HARRY L. MCNEAL, JR.

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Refugee Children Dispersal

 Consider the implications of the following passage:

“He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind . ., .”

Proverbs, 11:29

The cruelty President Trump & Attorney General Sessions have inflicted on refugee families who are fleeing their violent homelands, by separating children from their parents & scattering them, has troubled the entire nation.

King Solomon’s lack of specifity allows a range of consequences facing troublemakers, including the emptyness following a mere puff that is here briefly & then gone, a gale, & a tornado.

What do Trump & Sessions have to look forward to ?

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Remebering John McCain

John S. McCain III is gone. And along with him the direct effect of his noble qualities on our nation’s affairs. These traits are the American ideals, of which he was the protagonist during the years when his party had cast them aside. Far too complex to easily understand, here are a few. He was devoted to causes greater than himself. Courageously going into harms way as a Navy pilot, shot down, five+ years of torture as a POW which he endured with grace.

John McCain was tireless, fair, happy, funny, good company. A Republican WASP he made close friendships from widely diverse backgrounds. From a Russian dissident to an Oklahoman of Mexican descent to an African-American pro-footbal star to a Jewish Democrat Senator he unsuccessfully sought as VP running mate.

In these times of vitriolic uncivility, his respect for others – for human dignity – seemed almost anomalous. He was able to reach across the aisle and develop the trust of and working relationships with members of the other party.

He sought to unite.

A formidable foe, John McCain could be forgiving and magnanimous. Even to those who frustrated his bids for the presidency and his former Vietnamese tormentors.

There was honor and honesty. A dedication to doing the right thing. Right in terms of intrinsic merit. Not according to political party dogmas, which he defied in order to defend or advance the interests of ordinary folks.

He had a strong, abiding faith that allowed him to always look forward with confidence.

For all his nobility John McCain was far from perfect. But he had the honesty and humility to admit mistakes.

May this be a teaching moment where McCain’s ennobling qualities are restored to prominence in our national culture. And, like a breath of fresh air in an outhouse, take hold in the Congress where he was a giant among, mostly, dwarfs.

Who is to become the protagonist of the next chapter ? To those who ask, the answer boomerangs, along the lines of the reply to the inquiry “for whom the bells toll” from McCain’s favorite Hemingway novel: “it tolls for you.” We have been charged by John McCain to grasp and hold high the torch of decency from his faltering hands.

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RULE OF LAW UNDER ATTACK BY TRUMP PARTISANS

All of us should be concerned by the attacks by President Trump and his supporters on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. A barrage of widely varied accusations, far too voluminous to completely itemize, has been fired at the investigators.

In a change of direction, Trump recently indicated he thought he would be treated fairly by Mueller. Earlier he had charged that the initial Russian-collusion inquiry is a “witch hunt” and a “hoax”. And he noted the disparaging e-mails exchanged by an Agent member of Mueller’s team with another FBI employee during the campaign and characterized the FBI as “in tatters.”

His allies’ assertions include claims that the investigators are biased against him. They also point to the unflattering e-mails And they complain that the campaign contributions received by the wife of FBI Assistant Director McCabe’s wife from Democrat Virginia Governor McCaulif taint the proceedings. They seek the removal of Mueller. One Congressman called for a ‘purge’ of the Justice Department.

But the worthiness of the investigation is manifested by the manner in which it is proceeding as well as the pedigree of the participants.

In voicing heir feelings about then-candidate Trump to each other, the FBI employees were within their rights.  Bureau Code of Ethics allows individual agents to have and express personal points of view on public affairs. But the Code requires employees to act impartially, so that such opinions may not to effect their work. It is not an exaggeration to say that they have earned a reputation for having accomplished this professionalism. Indeed, their success in protecting us would have been impossible if they had not handled themselves in such an exemplary manner. And the Agent was even handed in his e-mails. He issued more numerous e-mails disparaging Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. There has been no indication that the e-mail sender’s performance during his membership on Mueller’s team was biased.

Most importantly is the stature of the leader. An unusually high esteem garnered over years of service in the Department of Justice, including as second in command and his twelve years as Director of the FBI – longer than any other except J. Edgar Hoover – preceded by, among other activities, heroic combat service in Vietnam as a Marine Lieutenant.   As Time characterized Mueller, a runner up candidate for it’s 2017 Man of The Year:

“There is barely a handful of people in all of America with the reputation and experience to take on the task of untangling a multi-pronged Russian influence operation from one of the most disorganized presidential campaigns in memory.”

In keeping with the highest standards of probity, when Mueller learned of the disparagement of Trump, he removed the e-mailing Agent from his team.   And the team’s proceedings have remained secret, free of leaks.

Though of minor importance, it bears mentioning that Mueller is a registered Republican, as is Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein to whom Mueller reports.   And FBI Director Wray is a Trump appointee.   Hardly a band of partisan political opponents.

Obviously Trump’s allies and, perhaps Trump himself, want to shut down the inquiry. They do not want to allow it to run its course. With this as the goal, their war against the investigators inflicts collateral damage to our system of justice – the rule of law. We enjoy this arrangement of open forums in which our disputes are resolved, in an evenhanded manner, by individuals who have no axe to grind, according to established rules. And this takes place in public where what transpires is open for all to see.

If allowed to proceed to completion, the Mueller probe’s work product – including whatever evidence they have uncovered concerning Trump’s activities – will be publicly disclosed.   It can then be analyzed, objectively, according to applicable legal rules, in full view of all members of our body politic.   This effort to avoid scrutiny in the established institutions and under established procedures is grossly disrespectful and undermining of the sanctity of our legal system – the rule of law – that has served all of us so well.

Until Kingdom Come and our Creator takes control of day to day operations, a group of FBI Agents, Justice Department lawyers and others recruited and led by Robert Mueller will come the closest to accomplishing justice, under law, as fallible humans are capable.  Perhaps that is the problem.

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CRITICISM OF MUELLER REVEALS TRUMP’S PERIL

Claims by President Trump and his supporters that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are prejudiced against him brings to mind an old saying among prosecutors and defense lawyers:

“When the defense has the facts, they argue the facts; when they don’t have the facts, they argue the law; and when they have neither the facts, nor the law, they attack the proceedings.”

It provides an insight into what the criticism of Mueller tells us about the critics’ expectations as to the outcome of his investigation into Russian interference in our election.

It also reveals their own inability to comprehend the notion that highly disciplined professionals exist who are able to put aside any personal feelings they may have in the performance of their duties. Who remain objective and true to their oaths to uphold and protect the constitution. Characteristics that are foreign to them.

Special Counsel Mueller’s 12 years as FBI Director was preceded by service in several positions at the Department of Justice, including as Acting Deputy Attorney General. In these roles he has been scrutinized globally, inside and out. And he has come away with a sterling reputation for competence and probity.

Mueller would be the first choice of the innocent to be their investigator. And the last choice of the guilty.

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NET NEUTRALITY: KEEP IT !

 

Given the internet’s fundamental importance to American society’s ability to function, the impending danger inherent in the FCC’s proposal to repeal the ‘net neutrality rule’ compels all of us to take action to defend it. In somewhat public-utility- like fashion, the rule requires internet providers to treat all users equally. Blocking, or slowing-down some transmissions, or overcharging some customers is prohibited.

Not unlike the nervous system which carries sensations to the brain and instructions back to our various members, the net might well now be our most important communication route. Free flow of these transmissions is the expectation on which our governmental, business and personal relations are built.

Absent the neutrality requirement, net providers are free to act as gate-keepers to the flow of information. In the current Information Age, this is far too much power to concentrate in any such private, profit-seeking artificial entities. Advancement of their own interests (economic or political), or those of favored third parties, provides a powerful inducement to those who have the power to manipulate our communications to do so.

Disruption of our fundamental understanding of how we relate to each other is threatened.

And it impinges on our constitutionally protected Freedom of Speech. We would still be free to utter our thoughts. But the great volume of those we attempt to broadcast to others over the net would, in effect, ‘fall on deaf ears’ if this frequent means of communication is throttled. A bit like the tree that falls in the forest where no one is present to hear it. But, unlike that harmless event, it would undermine a favorite & frequently relied upon aspect of our way of life.

Each of us must tell our elected representatives to prevent the repeal of ‘net neutrality’.

OBAMAVARE MANDATE REPEAL & TAX BILL: TWO BAD IDEAS

Republicans now propose to repeal the Obamacare individual health insurance mandate by attaching it to their tax bill. Whatever the deficiencies of Obamacare – and there are many – the requirement that each person participate is not one of them. Insurance simply does not work if only those who feel vulnerable take part.

Mandate repeal would save the Treasury $388 billion in insurance subsidies over a decade as many become insured, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Together with the tax increases on folks of ordinary means which are part of the tax proposals, this would make possible the enormous gifts to large corporations an the super rich It would also leave millions without protection against the potentially bankruptingly high costs of unforeseeable future injury or illness.

Reliable millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the monied interests proves to be a seductive inducement to accept hoakie theories in order to justify a preference for the privileged  few over the ordinary majority.

I am lifelong, but disappointed, Republican.

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ELIMINATION OF MEDICAL EXPENSE DEDUCTION: CRUEL !

 

After the Republican Congress left millions staggering under bankruptingly high health care costs, the Republican House of Representatives is poised to increase the burden on many of us. If they have their way, we will no longer be able to use the amounts we pay out in our struggle against illness to reduce our federal income tax. Deductibility of these expenditures is a precious benefit to those middle class millions who are forced to part with large amounts in the effort to advance their health. For those of us who itemize our deductions, the ability to further this most vital aspect of our being – our health – would be adversely effected by this proposal.   Elderly folks, with our greater need for medical treatment, would be particularly vulnerable.

Several tax breaks for others would be paid for in part by the lost deductions.

The increase of the personal exemption from $6,000.00 to $12,000.00 for a single person and from $12,000.00 to $24,000.00 for a married couple will provide some tax savings to some lower middle income persons. But the lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, without removing the loopholes that have allowed many to pay even less than 20%, will give these artificial entities an enormous gift. This comes at a time when businesses are making money at the existing tax rates and do not seem to be in critical need this sort of boost. Additionally, humongous benefits will flow to the absolute richest of all, who already have so much more than they could possibly spend in many lifetimes, under other aspects of the measure, including the elimination of the federal estate tax.

Would-be-itemizers of ordinary means, who are locked into punishing, costly outlays by their health needs have been targeted. They have been chosen by the Republican House to provide tax relief to big business and the richest among us. Here’s what this tell us about this arm of the Grand Old Party.

It reveals a callousness to the plight of those who find themselves confronted by the twin challenges of severe illness and the accompanying huge financial demands. Fundamental fairness has not entered into their calculations. Infliction of more financial pain on those already suffering, as a means of benefitting those who do not need it, is unsupported by equitable considerations. The judgement that arrived at the political trade-off to take from the medically/financially challenged in order to give to the opulent is so lacking in humanity as to suggest the work of a malignant heart.

Proposed elimination of other popular deductions is subject to somewhat similar criticism.

Republicans assert that the proposed benefits to business and the wealthy will cause them to invest more and create more jobs. The ‘trickle down’ theory. But if this has ever worked, will it work now? How long will it take ? What are those who will now suffer more to do in the meantime ? Will business actually use the tax breaks to generate additional employment, or will they purchase robots and hire fewer human workers ? “If” and “when” sots of promises by political snake oil salesmen are poor comfort to those who will be adversely effected.

Perhaps the Republican Senate will rescue the House from themselves and millions of Americans from even further financial pain.

I am a lifelong Republican.

 

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JUNK POLICIES TO REPLACE OBAMACARE ?

 

Congressional Republicans would now allow insurance companies to issue healthcare policies with only limited benefits, so long as they also offer some policies with the broad Obamacare coverages. Among the features of such plans might be a limitation on the sorts of maladies for which protection would be provided, the right to choose which sorts of pre-existing conditions would disqualify one for coverage and a low cap on the amount the company would pay out. Presumably these low benefit plans would cost less and appeal to those who perceive themselves to be healthy, articularly the young. Older folks with less means to pay would be relegated to more expensive plans.

This will surely be trumpeted as the ‘freedom to choose’ the coverage that suits one’s needs. But it simply ignores the reality that none of us can foresee the maladies or injuries for which we will need medical treatment.

An, as yet missing, honest portrayal of the stark consequences of being stranded with less medical treatment than needed must precede further legislation. How many of us , when stricken with a life threatening health problem, would simply say: “O.K., I did not choose the plan that would provide the treatment that would cure me. Just take me home to die”

“Junk” is a fair characterization of such policies, as these are certain to be worthless to many who would purchase them. In blessing health insurance policies which offer little assistance in this area of bankruptingly high medical costs, the Republicans are foisting a cruel hoax on the public.

Expanding Medicare to include the Obamacare congregation would provide these folks with affordable, broad healthcare coverage. It would also infuse Medicare with this enormous group of younger, less claim-prone insureds and provide badly needed reinforcement for this vital and popular program.

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