Monthly Archives: May 2019

BYEnary Choices

We live in a binary world.  Computer code is driven by a series of zeros and ones.  The human genome consists of on/off switches which determine whether we are healthy or diseased.  And we are told there are TWO sides to every story.  [Historical Footnote:  This phrase was introduced into the American culture by John Adams in his 1802 Diary and Autobiography of John Adams and again in an 1817 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson.]

However, as we have seen in the past three years, this yes/no view of the world gives license to decision makers to forego the need to explore other alternatives.  And we now know, in the public arena, this is not only a dereliction of duty but a dangerous precedent in future situations.  Consider the following two examples.

On May 3, 2017, former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress about his decision to release a letter on October 28, 2016 in which he announced he had directed the agency to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.  In response to questioning by Senator Diane Feinstein, Comey justifies his actions as follows.

Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28 with me and stare at this and tell me what you would do. Would you speak or would you conceal? And I could be wrong, but we honestly made a decision between those two choices that even in hindsight — and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences — I would make the same decision.

Given only TWO options, one can argue Comey made the right choice.  And I have no doubt, Comey, based on the available polling data, honestly believed it would make no difference.  Although in hindsight he realized that assumption was flawed.  Again, from his May 3 testimony.

Look, this is terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.

What makes ME more than mildly nauseous is Comey’s lack of intellectual curiosity.  I wish he had been a reader of Deprogramming101 and seen the tagline, “Consider All the Possibilities.”  By limiting his options to a binary choice, Comey creates a win/lose situation in which he (again I believe) unintentionally put his thumb on the electoral scale.

Fast forward to March 24, 2019 and Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report.  As did Comey, Barr creates a binary choice, the Department of Justice (DOJ) must either charge Donald Trump with obstruction of justice or not.  And since Robert Mueller opted not to honor what could only be called a false dichotomy, Barr took it upon himself to exonerate Trump although Mueller explicitly did not.

While one can question Comey’s motives in the former case, this instance is not ambiguous at all.  Though Barr claims he consulted with the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), his actions are in direct violation of that office’s own policies concerning disposition of criminal cases against a sitting president.  And more importantly, as Mueller outlined in his statement yesterday, the Constitution mandates no judicial officer, a special counsel or the attorney general, has the authority to determine whether the nation’s chief executive is guilty of crimes.  That remedy lies elsewhere.

Which brings me to Robert Mueller and his eight-minute demonstration that there are more than two sides to every story.  While everyone, Trump’s supporters and critics, expected Mueller to either bring charges against Trump or exonerate him, Mueller refused to be bound by a binary choice.  In fact, he laid out a number of options yesterday, including:

  • Focus on the true threat.  Donald Trump will eventually be gone.  Cyber warfare is here to stay.
  • Do not expect me to relieve you of your Constitutional responsibility.  Do something.  But as presented below, that “something” is not a binary choice to impeach or not.
  • Follow the rule of law, as I did, deciding the Constitution, not some OLC memorandum, was the basis for disposition of the results of this investigation.
  • Identify instances where other officials violated the rule of law, e.g. Barr’s announcement the evidence did not warrant a charge of obstruction rather than rely on the Constitutional remedy.

Not bad for eight minutes of air time.

Like Mueller, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is under pressure to make a binary decision.  Begin impeachment proceedings or not.  But there are other options which, given a chance, could be long-term game changers.  And while I hate to admit it, one option is for Pelosi to take a page out of Mitch McConnell’s playbook.  What if Pelosi made the following speech on the House floor when Congress reconvenes after the Memorial Day break.

An increasing number of members of my party and one Republican are pushing for us to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.  They do this knowing the likelihood of his being convicted by a Republican controlled Senate is slim and none.

Maybe we should take a cue from the very distinguished (read lying, hypocritical SOB) Majority Leader of the Senate who said such decisions should be left to the voters.  Therefore, today I and the chairs of the Judiciary, Intelligence, Finance and Oversight Committees are announcing a series of public hearings to address questions raised by the Mueller report.  These include:

  • The chief executive’s response to the sustained and systematic Russian attacks on America’s electoral process and whether that response constitutes a violation of his oath to “protect and defend the United States and the Constitution.”
  • Instances where there is evidence of potential obstruction of justice related to the special counsel’s investigation of those attacks.
  • Abuses of power where the chief executive has rewarded his allies and threatened to punish his opponents.
  • Whether the chief executive is in anyway compromised as a result of business and financial entanglements with foreign governments or foreign-controlled entities.
  • Whether the chief executive has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from foreign patronage of properties still owned and operated by the Trump Organization.

The purpose of these public hearings is to ensure American voters can make an informed decision next year not only on the choice of president, but also on the election of senators and representatives who believe no American is above the law and will faithfully execute their oaths of office to make sure no contrary precedent is established.

I have instructed each chair to ensure the hearings are fact-based, relying on physical evidence and the testimony of individuals with first-hand knowledge of an event or action.  And I encourage my Republican colleagues to assemble and present any fact-based evidence they believe will contribute to this process.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “To impeach or not impeach.  That is NOT the question.”  The only question is what is the best way to preserve the rule of law and return to a sense of normalcy.  It is not a question answerable with a series of zeros and ones.

For what it’s worth.


The Floundering Fathers

You might say the United States has beat the odds.  The Library of Congress credits Scottish philosopher Alexander Tyler with documenting the average life of a great civilization at 200 years, consisting of eight stages–bondage, spiritual growth, courage, liberty, abundance, complacency, apathy, dependence and eventually a return to bondage.  As we approach the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the 230th year of constitutional government, it is no wonder the Founding Fathers are given such credit as  both visionaries and practitioners when it comes to the affairs of state.

However, as a contrarian, I also have to ask whether we are living on borrowed time.  When less than 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2016, it appears we are somewhere between complacency and apathy.  And when a candidate who claims “only I can fix it” garners enough support to carry the electoral college, one can argue voters are ushering in an era of increased dependency.  Instead of MAGA caps, supporters of the current occupant of the White House might as well be wearing apparel which says, “Just Let Donald Do It!”

Is this what a majority of Americans really want?  If you can believe the polls, Trump has never had the support of 50 percent of the U.S. population.  An ABC/Washington Post survey in April, 2019 found 55 percent of respondents would definitely not vote to re-elect Trump in 2020, although half were waiting to see who the Democratic challenger would be before deciding whether to cast a ballot at all.

Where does that leave us today?  After all the lies, embracing adversaries over allies, being named an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Stormy Daniels cover-up, shredding Article I of the Constitution and NOT being exonerated for criminal obstruction of justice and abuse of power by Robert Mueller, we are arguing over whether to impeach Trump or take him out at the ballot box in 2020.

Which leads me to the title of today’s post.  Despite the fact the authors of the Constitution feared tyranny, did they make a mistake by creating such a convoluted process for removal of an out of control president and other civil officials under Article II, Section 4, it is virtually toothless?  Unless the chief executive voluntarily steps down, as in the case of Richard Nixon, the procedural and political threshold to oust a president is so high, the process has no value.  Does anyone really believe, over the last two and a half centuries, no commander-in-chief has done anything that would justify forced removal from office?

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have given their voters another path to remedy an electoral “mistake” by way of recall.  And the ability to prosecute and convict state and local elected officials with crimes punishable by imprisonment leaves them no choice but to step down.  Outside the United States, parliamentary governments provide for votes of “no confidence.”  Only among dictators and when it comes to federal officials in the United States, are citizens at the mercy of a leader who chooses to do the right thing.

Yes, the Founding Fathers got a lot right.  But they were not perfect.  Especially when you realize they floundered when it came to designing a process to handle the thing they feared most, the ascension of a wannabe monarch who believes in unlimited authority.  And the intentionally difficult options for amending the Constitution pretty much guarantee nothing will change in the foreseeable future.  The drafters of our controlling documents could have made it clear no official, including the president, was immune from prosecution for crimes instead of leaving that decision up to the Office of the Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice.  Sadly, they did not.

Bottom line?  By its very nature, impeachment is a “bridge to nowhere.”  Which to some extent, helps justify Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hesitancy to move forward with impeachment proceedings. She has to take into account the fact a narcissist like Trump would never do the honorable thing and spare the country from a protracted and divisive impeachment by resigning, as did Richard Nixon, regardless of the evidence compiled by the House Judiciary Committee.   I can even imagine her and Trump on a debate stage arguing the issue.  She looks at Trump and pulls a Lloyd Bentsen, “Donald, I served with Richard Nixon.  I knew Richard Nixon.  Richard Nixon and I both came from California and he was a friend of mine.  Donald, you’re no Richard Nixon.  And just in case you think I’m complimenting you, I don’t mean that in a good way.”

For what it’s worth.


Karma Burana

The title of today’s post is a play on “Carmina Burana,” a collection of Latin poems and prose from the 11th and 12th centuries believed to have been written by traveling theologians and scholars.  Many are described as irreverent satires targeted at the Catholic Church.  I thought I would add three more to the collection based on events from the past week with a focus on American fundamentalists.

The first comes straight from the an article in Friday’s Washington Post, “Lawyers for Noah’s Ark theme park are suing its insurance company for rain damage.”  Although the deluge did not last for 40 days and nights, the nearby city of Williamstown, Kentucky recorded over 40 inches of rain during the preceding 12 months.  While the $120 million tourist attraction was unharmed, the road leading to it was washed out.

One cannot help but believe the Post writers Eli Rosenberg and Karen Heller viewed this assignment as an opportunity to have some creative fun.  In their background coverage of the origins of the project, Rosenberg and Heller report, “The theme park was met with no small amount of controversy when it opened, focused mainly on its sources of funding, including the $62 million in junk bonds that were floated by the town of Williamstown.”

So far, founder Ken Ham (not to be confused with his brothers Shem and Japheth) and his company Answers in Genesis have recovered only a small portion of the $1.0 million spent on a retaining wall to protect the entrance road from future damage.  Maybe he needs better lawyers.  I wonder if he ever considereed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, LLP.

As a preface to the second story, let me say I find no joy in the pain and suffering of innocent people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But I do wonder if televangelists like Pat Robertson appreciate the irony when tragedy coincidentally strikes those to whom he caters.  Remember, Robertson blamed liberals for the September 11 attacks, claimed devil worshipers caused the 2010 Haiti earthquake, told viewers in 2012 tornadoes in a Pennsylvania town were the result of “divine wrath” for teaching evolution in public schools and most famously linked Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks to legalized abortion.

However, I doubt Robertson believes what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  As yet, he has not professed any connection between the death and destruction four days ago due to several tornadoes in Jefferson City to the recent enactment of draconian anti-abortion legislation by the Missouri legislature which just happens to convene in (drum roll) Jefferson City, Missouri.  Now that’s what I call divine targeting.

Which leads me to my third addition to Carmina Burana titled, “Does God Hate Red States?”  Since the beginning of 2019, the federal government has announced 27 emergency declarations based on “acts of God,” including floods, tornadoes and fires.  Of this total, incidents occurred in 14 states which voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election.  In contrast, only four states which supported the Democratic candidate have been subject to these types of natural disasters.  Do fundamentalists not see the theological contradiction?  Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, explains Donald Trump’s victory as follows:

For these states to go the way they did, in my opinion, I think it was the hand of God. It wasn’t hacking. It wasn’t Wiki-leaky or whatever. It was God, in my opinion, and I believe His hand was at work, and I think He’s given Christians an opportunity.

If that is the case, why would God punish the very people who carried out his political directive?  I gave God an opportunity to respond to this post.  He did not return my call.  Maybe trying to understand the preachings of some American fundamentalists is above his pay grade.

For what it’s worth.


Sodom and King’s Landing

Spoiler Alert:  If you have not yet seen Season 8 of “Game of Thrones” and plan to do so, you may want to wait before reading this post.

“Game of Thrones” has certainly generated its share of post-finale press coverage.  Unfortunately, most of it has been about viewer reaction to the resolution of the question, “Who would eventually end up sitting on the Iron Throne?”  Or the pace of storytelling in the final season.  Yesterday, I had a little fun with those issues myself.  Following my mandatory post-episode debriefing with our daughter and one more night to sleep on it, this morning I realized the creators missed an opportunity to engage the 19.3 million viewers (live and delayed streaming) in a more important debate.

In Season 8, Episode 5, the major controversy centered on Daenerys Targarian’s “take no prisoners” approach to reclaiming King’s Landing, a theme which was reinforced at the beginning of Episode 6 when Grey Worm at his Queen’s command, slashes the throats of warriors who had been captured during the battle for the city.  Her justification being the need to rid the Kingdom of anyone who had been loyal to Cersei Lannister, even if it included the murder of innocent children.  Where would anybody get such an abhorrent idea?

How about the Old Testament?  Not once, but three times in the first two books (Genesis and Exodus), God takes Dany-like revenge against populations he feels have not been loyal to his laws.  [NOTE: I only use masculine pronouns to be consistent with the biblical narrative.  Daenerys proved the desire to unleash mass destructive forces is gender neutral.]  The first time is the great flood.  I have always wondered why any deity would instruct his servant to save two of each animal species while showing no compassion or mercy for innocent children.

Related imageThe second iteration is at Sodom and Gommorah, pictured here.  Look familiar?  The only difference is God did not need dragons to obliterate a city.

Perhaps the biblical story which best aligns with the death of innocent children at King’s Landing is the tenth plague in Exodus, when God takes the life of Egypt’s first-born sons to break Pharaoh’s will.  Only then are the Israelites freed from their bondage of slavery.  When Jon Snow asks Daenerys if she has seen the burnt bodies of the children, she says it was necessary to “break the wheel which enslaved them.”  Two mythological narratives which very well could have been written by the same author.

Did God snap like Daenyrus?  Was this an overreaction in the heat of the moment?  It’s hard to make that case when we find the descriptions of the plagues in Exodus 7:14 through 12:36.  And then, having had time to reflect on his own actions, in Exodus 34:7, God states that although he will lavish steadfast love for thousands,  he will, “…by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

“Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss want us to believe the problem is solved through the election of a new monarch incapable of producing heirs.  As is too often the case today, those with the power to change the course of history are day traders, interested only in the next transaction.  The future is about the long game.

Having said all this, what do I believe would have been a more appropriate and meaningful conclusion to a story about power, revenge and destruction?  One that might have driven a more productive dialogue among fans of the show?  If, when Samwell Tarly presents Tyrion Lannister with the chronicle of the competition among rival houses for the Iron Throne (conveniently titled, “A Song of Ice and Fire”), Tyrion had said, “This is old history (read our “Old Testament”).  Perhaps it is time we tell a new story.  One that does not glorify death and blind obedience.  One that does not require a king or queen to tell us how to behave toward each other.  But lays that responsibility at our own feet.”  This is a dilemma every civilization from ancient times through the present has faced.

Yes, Samwell is soundly ridiculed when he suggests, “Maybe the decision about what’s best for everyone should be left to, well, everyone.”  The Seven (or Six) Kingdoms are not ready for democracy.  But a constitutional monarchy would have been a step in the right direction.  As we know, democracy is messy and takes time to accept and appreciate.

For what it’s worth.


A Show About Nothing New

SPOILER ALERT:  Do not proceed if you plan on watching the “Game of Thrones” finale.

Add me to the cast of thousands who were disappointed with the “Game of Thrones” finale.  It’s not who did or did not end up on the Iron Throne or what was left of it.  Nor was it who lived and who died.  My problem is that I had seen it all before.  It lacked the originality which was the cornerstone of the program during the first 72 episodes.  Let me share a few examples, beginning with the ending.

Ghost and Kit Harington as Jon Snow in 'Game of Thrones' Season 7The showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weisd, who also wrote and directed the final episode are too young (both 48 years old) to have been faithful viewers of Jack Paar, the second host of “The Tonight Show,” who is largely credited with the interview format associated with late night entertainment.  But Jon Snow’s reunion with his direwolf Ghost and his return to the Watch was derivative of Paar’s farewell appearance in 1965.  Seated on a stool, with his dog at his feet, Paar explained his decision was based on a belief he had said everything he ever wanted to say on television TWICE.  He then looked down and closed the show, saying, “Come on, Leica, let’s go home.”  For Jon Snow, home was where it all began ten years ago.  [NOTE: Is it a coincidence Leica was a white German Shepherd who resembled Ghost?]

Likewise,  Arya Stark’s exit was a variation on the departure by a young protagonist in another fantasy epic.  George R. R. Martin admits “A Song of Ice and Fire” was inspired by the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  And just as Frodo boards a boat for a journey to another world, Arya prepares for a voyage that will take her beyond the boundaries of Westeros to an undiscovered land about which there is no knowledge.

Related imageThen there was the panoramic view of Snow holding Queen Daenerys’ arched body after he had literally broken her heart.  It was 1939 all over again when Rhett Butler swept Scarlett O’Hara off her feet.  Instead of titling the finale “The Last Watch,” perhaps a better moniker would have been “Gone with the Shiv.”

Or maybe it was the multiple homages to “Seinfeld.”  Most obvious was the first meeting of the new king’s council.  It might as well have been held at Monk’s Diner.  Instead of arguing which superhero has the best powers, the Seinfeld dopplegangers Tyrion, Davos, Bronn and Brienne quarrel over whether brothels are a priority for public investment.  Clearly, a discussion about nothing.

As long as the writers were drawing on  memorable moments in television and cinema history, here are my suggestions for other unconventional endings inspired by past series finales.

Dany is enjoying dinner at one of her favorite King’s Landing restaurants when Jon Snow walks through the door.  The screen goes dark.

Bob Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette and says, “Emily, I just had the strangest dream.  I lived in this ancient kingdom surrounded by the most unusual people.  And I was in love with a beautiful white haired woman.  And she had dragons.”  Emily turns out the lamp on her side table.  Bob turns it back on and says, “Emily, maybe you should braid your hair.”

Ygritte goes into the bathroom as Jon Snow steps out of the shower.  She realizes their deaths and his reanimation by Melisandre was just a dream.

Dany, Jon, Tyrion and Samwell are escorted to a jail cell by several of the Unsullieds.  Jon says, “Well, it’s only a year.  That’s not so bad.  We’ll be out in a year, and then we’ll be back.”

Arya is shown in a small apartment holding a snow globe with King’s Landing inside.  Bran and Sansa are watching TV, wondering how they can continue to take care of their autistic sister on their meager income.

Not only does life sometimes imitate art.  Art often imitates other art.

For what it’s worth.