Monthly Archives: December 2017

A Matter of Death and Life

Ernest Hemingway once said “Every true story ends in death.” Well, this is a true story.

This quote is the voice-over at the beginning of the 1971 television movie Brian’s Song, a story about the friendship between two members of the Chicago Bears football team, Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers.  Their bond was solidified when each faced a turning point in their lives.  On November 3, 1968, Sayers, a five-time All-Pro selection, tore ligaments in his right knee.  Piccolo, who was Sayers’ back-up at running back, was instrumental in helping Sayers during his rehabilitation, knowing that post-recovery, he would again be relegated to the second string.  A year later Picollo was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma.  Sayers was a constant source of strength for Piccolo and his family until his friend’s death in June 1970.

My thoughts turned to Brian’s Song following the death on Tuesday of Dominic Coletto, a new friend, whom I met only six months ago.  When we were first introduced, I learned he was undergoing chemotherapy.  One would certainly have forgiven him if he had turned inward and focused on himself and his family.  Instead, he devoted a considerable amount of time to helping me work through issues associated with my struggling business.  Some might say it was just a distraction to keep his mind from centering on his health situation.  But something else was clearly in play.

It was the unwelcomed call Wednesday morning from the individual who had brought Dominic and me together that triggered my recollection of Brian’s Song.  Perhaps it was the depiction of Sayers receiving the George S. Halas Award for Most Courageous Player a month before Picollo’s death.  Sayers was honored for his successful comeback when many predicted his football career was over.  Sayers told the audience:

You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you here and now I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. I’ll accept it tonight but I’ll present it to Brian tomorrow. I love Brian Piccolo. And I’d like all of you to love him, too.

However, as I Googled the text of Sayers acceptance speech, one of the links took me to the IMDB page of quotes from the 1971 film.  And before I reached the one I came for, I was drawn to another.  The voice-over at the end of the film when George Halas (portrayed by Jack Warden) reminds us we are defined by our lives, not by the timing or circumstances of our deaths.

Brian Piccolo died of cancer at the age of 26. He left a wife and three daughters. He also left a great many loving friends who miss and think of him often. But when they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember – but how he lived. How he did live!

Image result for dominic colettoExcept for the fact Dominic was 55 years old, Halas’ words are equally true of our friend.  He too leaves a wife and three daughters as well as many friends who already miss him.  And we will remember how he lived.  How he did live!

For what it’s worth.


Save the Swamp

Related imageCharles Kettering (1876-1958), an American inventor who among other things was responsible for the electric self-starter in automobiles, once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”  In other words, if you ask the right question, your chances of finding the right answer increase.  At the end of a tumultuous year, we still have more questions than concrete evidence as to the factors which resulted in the electoral college victory by Donald Trump.  But I am going to leave that inquiry where it rightfully belongs, in Robert Mueller’s office.

The inquiry at the forefront of my cerebral cortex for the past two weeks has been, “How did we end up with a tax bill which is so unpopular and is so counter to everything we know about the impact of tax policy on the general welfare?”  In a December 19, 2017 interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) called the measure “the single worse piece of legislation since I’ve been in the Senate.”  Explaining his opinion, Warner suggested three causes.

  • The process by which the bill was “cooked up in secret.”
  • Experts who understand tax policy were not given an opportunity to share their knowledge.
  • Because of the hurried time frame, lawmakers did not have the benefit of public review.

However, these are only visible symptoms of a dysfunctional system.  To understand the underlying root cause for this flawed process you have to ask a different question.  I suggest the following.  “What is different in 2017 which precipitated the violation of 226 years of what John McCain called ‘the regular order’?”  For the answer, all you need to do is listen to Representative Chris Collins (R-NY).  “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.'”

Bottom line.  It all goes back to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4 declared the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from limiting independent political expenditures.  While it is true this decision is seen as corrupting the electoral process by allowing individuals and organizations (including for-profit corporations) to finance campaigns, an overlooked consequence is its equally devastating impact on the legislative process.

Take the recent tax bill as an example.  In the old days (pre-January 21, 2010, the date of the Citizens United decision), the fate of legislation was somewhat determined by the effectiveness of those D.C. swamp creatures known as lobbyists.  However, the ability of these “guns for hire” to influence members of Congress depended largely on their ability to provide accurate information to support the policies or provisions their employers wished to see enacted.  This information was provided either to a member of the appropriate committee, committee staff or presented in testimony before the committee.  Contrary to popular belief about lobbyists, this was a valuable service in support of healthy public debate.  Don’t believe me.  I refer you to James Madison in Federalist No. 10., who argued the true danger lay in uniform thinking not the give and take between individuals with competing personal interests and passions.

While Citizens United metaphorically compares money to free speech, prior to 2010, a better analogy would have been information, facts and statistics to free speech.  In this latter case, lobbyists are akin to compensated “messenger gators” who inhabit the swamp along the Potomac.  However, there were safeguards.  These “reptiles” had to register.  And, as mentioned above, members of Congress who used bogus information could find themselves in embarrassing situations.  And the purveyor of bad data would not survive for long.  Even in a quagmire, trust is everything.

So when you hear Donald Trump and his followers cry, “Drain the swamp,”  it is not because they think lobbying is evil.  It is because the lobbyists are no longer needed.  Not when their employers can “buy” a member of Congress’ vote instead of influencing their deliberations with information that makes a valid case for their position.  Remember Congressman Collins’ statement?  One of those donors is none other than Charles Koch.  According to a May 18, 2017 article in USA Today, “Koch, who viewed Trump’s candidacy warily, now is racing to build public and congressional support for plans to overhaul the tax code.”  As an example what this means in monetary terms, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the committee which wrote the tax bill received $10,000 from the Koch Industries PAC in 2017.  Or remember “Mr. Regular Order” John McCain?  He received $16,360 from Koch’s PAC and supported the tax bill.  Why go to all the expense of paying lobbyists and staffing a high-rent K Street office when you can directly feed the kitty for a fraction of the cost?

Like most things, we may not fully appreciate the swamp and its inhabitants until they no longer exist.

For what it’s worth.


Genesis 18:16-33 Revisited


One of my favorite scenes from the original 1984 Ghostbusters is when the boys are called into the office of New York mayor Lenny Clotch (David Margulies) to explain the appearance of specters throughout the city.  In the following dialogue, the Ghostbusters reveal the extent of these catastrophic supernatural events

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Dr. Raymond Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr. Raymond Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!

Related imageIt does not take much of an imagination to recognize a similar level of delirium has engulfed the nation during this past year.  Therefore, if this current crisis be of biblical proportions, should we not look to the Old Testament for a response.  Perhaps, the story in Genesis of Sodom and Gomorrah, with some poetic license?  Consider the following.

16 When the founding fathers got up to leave, they looked down toward the Nation’s capital, and the voters walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the founders said, “Shall we hide from these citizens what we are about to do?18 In 2018, the voters can surely become a great and powerful force in the nation, and all citizens will be blessed through them. 19 For the voters can choose new leaders, so that they will direct their children and their households to keep the way of the founding fathers by doing what is right and just, so that the voters will bring about for those who understand the true values and promise of the nation we envisioned.”

20 Then the founders said, “The outcry against attempts by Donald Trump and his minions to violate constitutional principles is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that we will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached us. If not, we will know.”

22 The voters turned away and went home, but one remained standing before the founders.  23 Then that one, brave voter approached the founders and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  24 What if there are fifty righteous Republicans in the Senate and House  who will join the Democrats to end this national nightmare? Will you really sweep them away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the voters across the country do right?”

26 The founders said, “If we find fifty righteous people in the city of Washington, we will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then the brave voter who remained behind spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the founders, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole nation for lack of five people?”

“If we find forty-five there,” the founders said, “We will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to them, “What if only forty are found there?”

The founders said, “For the sake of forty, we will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the founders not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

The founders answered, “We will not do it if we find thirty there.”

31 Then that brave voter said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the founders, what if only twenty can be found there?”

The founders said, “For the sake of twenty, we will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the the founders not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

The founder answered, “For the sake of ten, we will not destroy it.”

33 When the founders had finished speaking with the lone voter who pleaded on behalf of the Nation, they left, and the man returned home.

What the voters in this parable did not realize, it is not the founders who are responsible for finding the 50 righteous persons.  And if such righteous representatives do not exist, it is not up to the long deceased founders to rid us of them.  The voters, themselves. have that power.  All they need to do is exercise that power.

For what it’s worth.


Lexington & Concord 2018

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

While the above quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, this is not the case.  It is officially credited to “Anonymous.”  But its origins do not matter.  Regardless of source, it still makes sense and deserves our attention.

These words seemed particularly relevant yesterday when I opened my e-mail in-box and found not one, not two, but three requests from different organizations to sign petitions.  The ACLU wanted me to tell Congress that I “support a free, fair and open internet.”  Lin-Manuel Miranda asked me to join him in “telling Congress the people of Puerto Rico need help now–it’s part of the United States too!”  Finally, CREDO Action asked me to sign a petition addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell imploring him to postpone be the vote on the GOP tax bill until “Alabama’s newly elected senator, Doug Jones, is seated.”

I wholeheartedly agree with all three of these efforts and have previously signed petitions relating to net neutrality, the tax bill and disaster relief for Puerto Rico.  Yet net neutrality no longer exists, the tax bill is likely to pass sometime in the next 24 hours and hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power or potable water.

I’m sorry, but signing petitions has proven to be a waste of time and energy.  It’s time to try something else.  In fact, maybe it’s time to take something out of the Republican playbook.  Twenty-nine years ago, in response to GOP voters’ disappointment in George H. W. Bush for breaking his “Read my lips. No new taxes” pledge, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), headed by Grover Norquist, proposed the “No New Taxes Pledge.”  According to ATR:

Politicians often run for office saying they won’t raise taxes, but then quickly turn their backs on the taxpayer. The idea of the Pledge is simple enough: Make them put their no-new-taxes rhetoric in writing.

The same can be true of the resistance and those who proclaim they are unhappy with the country’s direction.  It is time to put the “rhetoric in writing.”  Therefore, I am starting what I call the “NO Action/NO Vote” movement.  And like the ATR pledge, the concept is simple.  It is a written commitment to withhold your vote in 2018 for ANY candidate of either party who does not represent your views on core issues.

For example, I want to scream each time Donald Trump claims the GOP tax bill will cost him money.  Of course, he could prove that by releasing his 2016 tax return.  But you and I know that is not going to happen.  Therefore, I take the following NO Returns/NO Vote pledge:

Until Donald Trump releases his 2016 tax return so I can see how he is personally impacted by the GOP tax plan, I will not vote for any Republican at the federal state or local level. Furthermore, I will not vote for any candidate who voted or supports the bill without first having the opportunity to review their tax returns.

Concerning net neutrality, I take the following NO Net Neutrality/NO Vote pledge:

I will not vote for any candidate for the House or Senate who does not, in writing, pledge to overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.

Concerning sensible gun control legislation, I take the following NO Universal Background Checks/NO Vote pledge:

I will not vote for any candidate for office who does not, in writing, pledge to sponsor and vote for universal background checks prior to the purchase of any firearm, including gun shows, on-line sales and private sales.

Concerning Dreamers, I take the following NO DACA/NO Vote pledge:

I will not vote for any candidate for House or Senate who does not, in writing, pledge to sponsor and vote for legislation to ensure permanent status for immigrants who claim they came to America before the age of 16, have been here continuously for five years and are currently under the age of 35 (the technical definition of a Dreamer).

So instead of signing petitions, start listening to your family, friends and colleagues.  And when they voice concern about an issue, tell them you share their concern and ask them to take a NO Vote pledge.  Let me give you an example.  This morning I was meeting with a high school student I mentor.  He asked me, “Why would FCC chair Ajit Pai get rid of net neutrality when 83 percent of voters support it?” He also said all of his friends think it was stupid.  He will be 18 in July.  We talked about how young voters are lining up behind progressive issues.  And how, if they vote in November, they can help change things including overturning repeal of the net neutrality rule.

Revolutions are not fueled with petitions.  Consider the NO Vote movement as the first volley in a new political revolution.  Do not expend efforts telling tone-deaf politicians what you want them to do.  Tell them what YOU are going to do.  It’s time to get on your horse and shout, “The VOTERS are coming. The VOTERS are coming.”

For what it’s worth.


The 28th Amendment


One of the most valuable lessons I learned from working for other people was the importance of internal dissent, the right to challenge the strategies and tactics employed to reach the organization’s goal. But that was just half the exercise.  Effective dissent requires more than identifying what one dislikes, but also offering an alternative.

As suggested in yesterday’s post, passage of the GOP tax plan that accelerates, rather than addresses, income inequality in the United States should be a catalyst for an organized “get out the vote movement” in 2018.  Several news outlets and pundits have compared the backlash to the political tsunami which inundated Democrats following passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  As succinctly stated by Dana Milbank in this morning’s Washington Post, “Congratulations, Republicans. Now you have your own Obamacare.”

How does this happen?  All you need to do is listen to some of the justifications espoused by Republicans who voted for the measure, especially when challenged on its merits as an economic stimulus and middle-class tax relief.  The fallback position goes something like this.

This is what voters in 2016 sent us to Washington to do.  We were given a mandate.  We need to keep our promise to cut taxes.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I would argue NEVER in American history has an election been a mandate for a specific piece of legislation.  Even Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 was not a mandate on the abolition of slavery.  Much of the debate focused on the how slavery would be treated in the territories (not the existing states) and the broader question of states rights.  I am sure none of Lincoln’s voters thought they were casting a ballot in favor of the Civil War, and I doubt any of John Breckinridge’s supporters did either.

Which brings us to 2016 and some valuable insights from the exit polling?  When asked, “What is the most important issue facing the country,” voters responded “the economy” by an overwhelming 52 percent.  But even among this cohort, more Democrats (52 percent) chose this issue than Republicans (41 percent).  You can bet your 401K or IRA those Democrats were not urging the winner to drastically cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Equally important, one can argue the election turned on factors having nothing at all to do with policy.  Even stipulating Russian interference did not affect the outcome (which I personally do not), there were multiple influences which could have made the difference in voter preference–e.g. the Clinton e-mails, the Access Hollywood tape.  On this basis, I voice my dissent the 2016 election was a mandate for the Tax Cut and Jobs Creation Act of 2017 or what I call TRUMPCARE, as it takes CARE of the wealthy donors who underwrote TRUMP’s campaign.

What is my alternative?  I hereby propose a 28th amendment to the Constitution which provides a mechanism by which the American people, by referendum, can reverse an act of Congress.  Such referendum would require an express percentage of voter signatures to be placed on the ballot during the next general election (presidential or mid-term).  Sound radical?  Consider the fact 26 states and the District of Columbia now include some form of public initiative in their constitutions.

  • 15 states allow voters to initiate both statutes and constitutional amendments
  • 6 states allow only statutory initiatives
  • 3 states allow only constitutional initiatives
  • 2 states allow only public referenda

The basis for this proposal is two-fold.  First, it undercuts the influence of lobbyist and wealthy donors.  It is significantly more difficult to curry favor with a majority of 135 million voters than it is to buy the support of 535 members of Congress.  I know some will say those same lobbyists and donors can spend millions of dollars (thanks to Citizens United) to influence the outcome on any public referendum.  California Proposition 8 in 2008 which made same-sex marriage illegal will be held up as an example.  But, as we learned in this case, public initiatives are subject to judicial review.  Therefore, there remains a system of checks and balances for referendums which violate the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections.  Within constitutional boundaries, if proponents of a specific measure can garner a majority of voter support for their policies, more strength to them.

Second, voter initiatives provide a non-violent means of honoring Thomas Jefferson’s suggestion “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”  In those instances when either political party misinterprets the electoral process as a justification to serve special, or worse personal, interests, I argue “a little rebellion” is exactly what the founders called for.  Do not confuse this with the alt-right’s misquoting of Jefferson, “Every generation needs a new revolution.”  In his 1787 “Tree of Liberty” letter, Jefferson is very clear.  He was responding to the British press, who reported the Shays’ Rebellion as anarchy and the end of the American democratic experiment.

Where did (anarchy) ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted?  I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

In other words, Jefferson reminded us the health of a democracy depends on open, public debate, even if at times it seems chaotic.  Especially when our elected officials prefer to conduct business behind closed doors in the dead of night.

For what it’s worth.