THE LAST HURRAH: SURVIVING OUR POLITICS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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Marilyn stirs the pot for this piece on our political porridge — which is boiling over.

So many seemingly poor choices on the menu of presidential candidates. How do you choose without a four to eight year siege of mental Montezuma’s revenge?

The potty mouth exchanges between the Republican candidates are less and less funny with each passing day. It’s no longer Spring Training. They’re playing for keeps — with our baseballs.

John Ford’s classic, “The Last Hurrah”, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It’s still very timely. I frequently used a clip from the film during my working years until it was suggested I was riding a dead horse.

I didn’t agree then and don’t agree now. Spencer Tracy, aka Frank Skeffington, aka James Michael Curley, explains how Politics has become a media show — the number one spectator sport in the land.

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I knew many of the real life characters from the movie based on the popular novel about Boston politics. “Tip” O’Neill, the late, legendary Speaker of the House, was my friend, confidante, and muse. O’Neill frequently explained how he cut bi-partisan deals while orchestrating “good cop-bad cop” scenarios so no one looked bad on “the hill.”

O’Neill said he used an end-game big picture hand to win big political pots. He knew how to bluff the bully boys who didn’t know when to walk away from the game.

Today, there’s a lot of bluster from the bully boys. Who has the best hand? Some have already folded and walked away. The cards appear a bit grimy. Maybe they need a new deck.

Tip O’Neill urged me to always look and listen beyond the sound and fury. He smiled in recollection of the deals brokered while end-of-days threats filled Congress. Sadly, there are no Tip O’Neills today, but his advice about not yielding to the bully boys remains valid — and relevant.

When the rhetoric abates, it’s our duty to vote with intelligence — and not fold our hand.

 

PICKING THE PRESIDENT – AMERICAN-STYLE

The United States isn’t a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. Over all, the system is pretty good and usually works, eventually. Except when it comes to election law and picking a president.

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The first time this became apparent, it was 1800. The U.S. was a mere 24-years old. It was only our second real national election because George Washington was selected, not elected. Due to a glitch in the architecture of the electoral college, the Democratic-Republican candidates — Thomas Jefferson, for President and Aaron Burr for Vice — had the same number of electoral votes.

According to History Central: 

… no one had the majority of votes, and the election was turned over to the House of Representatives. The House deliberated from February 11th to February 17th and voted 36 times. The Federalists had decided to support Burr … (and) would have won since they were the majority of the outgoing House. However, the constitution called for the election of a President by the House on a state-by-state basis. The Federalists could not carry enough states. On the 36th ballot Jefferson was selected.

That glitch got fixed in time for the election in 1804, but the fun was just beginning. Twenty years later, there was a four-way election starring John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William H Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. The electoral vote broke down thusly: Jackson – 99, Adams – 84, Crawford – 41, Clay – 37. The three leading candidates went to the House of Representatives for a final decision. With a little help from media-fueled scandal, J.Q. Adams won on the first ballot of the House … and after taking office, appointed Henry Clay as Secretary of State. Hmm.

This was also the last time the House made the pick. But it wasn’t the last race to be decided outside the ballot box.

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In 1876 the Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden while the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won the popular vote by 250,000 votes (out of approximately 2 million), but the vote was tight in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Exactly how this got resolved is complicated. Suffice to say, it was a cooperative bag job by Congress and the SJC. The final decision landed Hayes in the Oval Office and brought an end to Reconstruction. Which, oddly, is what the south wanted.

Tilden won the battle. Hayes won the war.

In the election of 1888 Grover Cleveland (incumbent Democratic President) faced Republican Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. Harrison became President, but lost to Cleveland in a rematch four years later. Making Cleveland the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. It’s also the only “disputed” election settled by an election.

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In my lifetime, the first memorable election was the very tight race between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. It was the first election I watched on TV. It went on through the night and was still not decided as the sun rose.

kennedy election posterI was 13. I liked Kennedy. He had excellent hair, didn’t sweat, made great speeches, and was cute. He looked honest. The electoral vote was extremely close, but Kennedy held a lead in the popular vote for the entire race. This was the first time I remember hearing everyone say, after Nixon had conceded: “We should overhaul the electoral college.” I’m still waiting.

Thirty-six years later, in 2000, the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped the recount of the tightest election in our history. Just over 537 votes out of more than 6 million separated Gore and Bush. Evidence strongly suggests Gore was the true winner, but the Supreme Court called the play. Which they had — have — no authority to do. The problem is, no one else had (has) the authority to decide a disputed presidential election. What’s a country to do?

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There are precedents, but each is a one-off, a Rube Goldberg solution cobbled together to patch up the crack in the liberty bell. If it happens again — we can safely assume it will — a new quickie solution will be thrown together.

When the Supreme Court stopped the recount in 2000 — a vote which was entirely along party lines (party lines don’t officially exist in the Supreme Court), nothing in the Constitution gave the SJC the right to do it. But in the U.S., the Supreme Court is “the final word.” You can’t argue with the Supreme Court, can you? With no precedent for disputing the authority of the Supreme Court, we accept it.

The buck stops there. We grumble, complain, rail, and rant. But no one refuses to obey a Supreme Court ruling.

It’s something to ponder while we watch a terrifying election. Maybe it’s not the most terrifying election ever. As Stephen Colbert noted the other night, “Trump might not actually be the worst ever president. We’ve had some really bad presidents …”

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Indeed we have. That’s the awful part of freedom. We are free to be stupid, free to trade our freedom for empty promises. We wouldn’t be the first or last country to choose a terrible leader. I just hope we survive our choices.

ABOUT SUPER TUESDAY

I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something about Super Tuesday.

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Thing is, I looked at the numbers. Trump is not exactly home free. He has barely more than 300 delegates. He needs more than 1200. So … not to rain on anyone’s parade? But he hasn’t won yet.

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There’s a lot of winning he has to do before he could maybe be a candidate. If he goes to the convention without nailing down the delegates he needs for nomination, the odds are he won’t be the nominee.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson, weirdo MD wannabe candidate, dropped out. I’ll miss Trevor Noah’s (host of “The Daily Show”) impressions of him. Trevor does Ben Carson better than Ben Carson does himself.

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Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are pretending they won. They may  be delusional … or maybe they think we are.

Bernie Sanders, on the Democratic side, is doing the same thing, but that’s okay. If I could have voted twice, I’d have voted for him, too. Regardless, Hillary Clinton is a lot closer to clinching the Democratic nomination than any Republican is to getting the GOP nod.

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We have a long, long road to walk before this political year is over. We’re not even half way there yet. Let’s all take a deep breath and save our strength. We will need it.

THERE ARE SECRETS … AND THEN, THERE ARE SECRETS

A BIG SECRET. VERY BIG.

Yesterday, Donald Trump said he didn’t know who David Dukes (leading American white racist and general professional hater) is … OR … what the Ku Klux Klan, aka the KKK is about. For Trump, it’s a secret.

A secret? Really? Never heard of them?

He’s ready to deport every Muslim and Mexican person in the U.S. which is many millions of people, but he’s not clear on who those guys are in the white sheets? The very symbol of hatred and racism?

The lynchers and cross burners?

Never heard of them? It’s such a well kept secret? And Donald Trump, big bad billionaire — the guy who’s gonna “make America great again” — has never heard of them. Not sure if he wants their support.

Wow.

Let us, briefly, digress and define the word “secret” in case anyone in this audience isn’t clear on its meaning.

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So. Was information about the Klan kept from Trump? Another conspiracy perhaps? A cabal of astonishing proportions?

You think? Do you really think?

WHY TIME TRAVEL DOESN’T WORK – BY TOM CURLEY

A word from Marilyn:

I want to introduce you to one of Garry and my best friends. I would say oldest friends, but he’s not all that old. We have, however, been friends … forever? Since college, anyhow. We were at the radio station at Hofstra — back in those long ago days when we and the world were young and stupid. His lovely bride, Ellin, started writing for Serendipity a few months ago and I dragooned Tom into it too.

Tom’s a funny guy. Really. Funny. This piece is so on target for today, I just had to run it. Probably he would have liked to work on it some more, but … well … I pulled the trigger.

Say hi to Tom. (Hi Tom!)

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WHY TIME TRAVEL DOESN’T WORK – BY TOM CURLEY

So there I was. Thinking. Not quite awake. Not exactly asleep. You know. The funny place between.

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And it hit me. Fixing all this craziness is simple. The question is WWCKD? Or, to put simply, “WHAT WOULD CAPTAIN KIRK DO?” If you look at the problem like that, the answer is simple. Obvious.

Travel back in time to a point where you can change the present from happening. As any Star Trek fan knows, Kirk did it all the time.

Now that I had the solution, the question became a matter of coördinates. To when and where do I go back to fix this? And the answer came to me as if in a dream …

Go back to 1998. Convince President Clinton to stay the hell away from Monica Lewinsky. There would be no scandal, no impeachment. Bill could campaign for Al Gore — like he was supposed to — and George Bush would never get elected. Everything that happened after that would not happen!

Brilliant!

So as I was drifting off to sleep, I imagined finding a time machine. Going back to 1998. Actually getting an audience with Bill Clinton … in the Oval Office.

How do I do this? Who knows? I’ll let the writers will work out those plot points later. I’m more into the “Big Picture Stuff”.

But … this is also where the whole idea fell apart because the conversation would go like this:


President Clinton: “Well for some reason the writers haven’t figured out yet, I believe you are a time traveler from the future with important information for me.”

Me: “Yes Mr. President. You must not have an affair with your intern, Monica Lewinsky.”

President Clinton: “Whoa! How’d you know about that?”

Me: “I’m from the future, remember?”

President Clinton: “Oh yeah right. I guess that makes sense. So, why shouldn’t I do that?”

Me: “Because you will get caught. The public is going to find out about it. The Republicans are going to impeach you because of it.”

President Clinton: “Well, that’s not good.”

Me: “Don’t worry. You don’t get convicted. Your approval ratings go up to over 70%.”

President Clinton: “Well that’s good, right?”

Me: “Not really. Because when Al Gore runs for president, he won’t let you campaign for him. Or let you anywhere near him.”

President Clinton: “Really. Hmm. Who’s he running against?”

Me: “George W. Bush.”

President Clinton: “You gotta be kidding me!”

Me: “Nope. And even though Al runs a terrible campaign, he will only lose the election by 500 votes. Well, actually years later, when a full recount is done, it turns out Al actually won. But in 2000, the Supreme Court steps in and stops the recount. And appoints Bush as President.”

President Clinton: “I don’t think the Supreme Court can do that.”

Me: “Neither did anybody else. Until they did it. So George W. Bush becomes the president. One of the first things he does is ignore all the intelligence agencies warnings that Osama Bin Ladin is going to attack the US.

Because of this al-Qaeda hijacks four 747’s out of Logan in Boston — and La Guardia in New York … using nothing but box cutters as weapons. They crash two planes into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon.

The Twin Towers are destroyed, thousands of people die. Now, even though all the hijackers are from Saudi Arabia — and Bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan — Bush invades Iraq. Totally destabilizing the Middle East.

Wall Street creates a bubble based on the housing market and that causes a world-wide financial crash in 2008 in which trillions of dollars are lost, and millions of people around the world lose their jobs.

So in 2008 America elects a black guy — Barak Hussein Obama — as president, then in 2010 a bunch of billionaires help create something called the Tea Party. And the Republicans swing so far to the right, Barry Goldwater would be considered a Communist.

By 2016, which is what I call ‘the present,’ it seems pretty likely your wife is going to be running for President against … wait for it …

Donald Trump.”


At this point, the Secret Service enters the Oval Office and drags me away. As I’m being carried out, I see The Truth.

Wow. When you actually say all that out loud? I don’t believe it either.

Then I fell asleep.

DOOMED? PROVE ME WRONG!

My mother was deeply cynical. She considered herself an atheist, but I think it was more that she felt God had done such a crappy job, he didn’t deserve worship.

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I knew a lot of the experiences that had made her the way she was. The Great Depression. Two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam. She believe people were mostly stupid, racist, and cruel. That all government was oppressive by its nature.

Although not a conspiracy nut, she was pretty sure someone was out to get us. Probably a hangover from the Hitler era followed by HUAC witch hunts of the 1950s — shameful periods of history we are apparently determined to repeat.

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I’m pretty happy in my personal life, but the body politic is appalling. Sickening. I find myself watching CNN with my jaw hanging open. I would never have believed our electorate could be so stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, bigoted, and bent on self-destruction as they obviously are. If we used the same amount of energy we use for hating each other into improving society, we could fix everything that’s wrong with the world — fast.

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It’s depressing. I don’t see a positive outcome. I think we are doomed. As a species, we probably deserve it, but personally, I resent it because I’ve done my best. There ought to be a payoff for doing the right thing, don’t you think?

Some of my friends are more optimistic, but I think i’s because they don’t want to believe what’s happening. In a world where Donald Trump is the leading candidate in the party of Abraham Lincoln, what light could be at the end of the tunnel? Bets on the headlights of an oncoming train.

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I really don’t care what Democrat you vote for. Just please, vote for one. I’ve never been sure about God, but I look around, I believe in the Devil. His paw prints are all over this world — and I’m pretty sure he’s running the Republican Party.

By the way … I’d be very pleased to be proved wrong.

A PLAGUE ON BOTH PARTIES

t_donkey1I am a Democrat. A liberal, but Democrat is close enough.

I currently get about 20 emails a day asking me to contribute to someone’s campaign or just to the party coffers for some good cause or other. I support many of these causes, but I’ll never give a penny to any political party.

Why? Am I a fervent advocate of campaign corruption reform? Do I harbor a passionate and idealistic need to change the system and reform how politics is funded?

True, but that’s not why I refuse to contribute to any kind of political anything ever again.

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In 2008, I donated a few dollars to Obama. I was pleased when he got elected. I donated a few more bucks in 2012.

As a thank you, I got spammed. Every Democrat running for office, every liberal group with a cause, sent me a thousand emails a week. Maybe more.

It kept getting worse. A new cause, a few hundred more emails. It reached an insane crescendo and I found myself just deleting everything without even trying to see what it was. One day, I spent an entire day, morning to evening, unsubscribing to what seemed to be every politician and cause looking for money. The incoming mail dropped to a bearable level.

Every time I had signed a petition or gone online to read a political post, I was automatically — without notification or permission — subscribed to the site and multiple mailing lists. I was just a piece of data being mined.

I don’t care how good the cause may be, that’s wrong. And it’s spam.

These days, I’m ultra careful what I read. More importantly, where I read it. I do not answer surveys. Ever. Nor do I fill out petitions, no matter how much I sympathize with the cause it represents.

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The Democratic Party — all political parties, their candidates and causes (I actually found myself on the Conservative Republican mailing list because I read an article somewhere and they also signed me up) — are on my “not one red cent” list. Because a $3 dollar donation got me spammed. I was buried under electronic propaganda.

Know that if you are sufficiently naive to provide your phone number on a petition or survey, expect never-ending intrusive phone calls on your home or cell phone asking for donations or that you answer surveys.

If they want my opinion, they can pay for it.

The political funding system needs reformation. Equally in need of reform is the way all political groups feel free to use your personal information for their own purposes. They will subscribe you to their mailing  and calling lists because you tried to read their literature. Which, in theory, is what they want you to do. Participating in politics — trying to be a good citizen — will get you bombarded with propaganda until you declare a plague on all their houses.

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It’s not okay. Really, it’s not. It’s intrusive and sneaky. It is a massive abuse of my right to privacy. I did not agree to let everyone in the world use my personal data for their own personal goals.

Visiting a web site does not imply permission to invade my privacy. I do not know how other people handle this sort of thing, but it means that I will never donate a penny to anyone running for office — or in support of any of their causes. Ever.

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They — both parties, all parties, all the pols — have done it to themselves.  Before pointing fingers at “the system,” they need to admit that they are the system. They are the abusers.