Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Now That Biden Is the Presumptive Nominee, I Suggest He Name a ‘Shadow Cabinet’

My June 21, 2018, page 3 column had a secondary article with the headline, “A Couple Modest Proposals for Saving America.”  One of those proposals was that the Democratic Party follow Britain’s example and create a “shadow cabinet,” consisting of a Democratic counterpart to each cabinet secretary.
Wikipedia describes the concept as follows:
“The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet's responsibility to scrutinize the policies and actions of the government, as well to offer an alternative program.”
That suggestion, obviously, was not implemented, and I harbor no expectations this time either, but it would sure be useful and effective if it were.
If, as I hope, Trump is defeated in November, the new president, Joe Biden, will have a lot of repairing to do in each and every department.
Take, for example, the EPA. One of Trump’s most childish and odd orders was that the phrase “climate change” be banned and that it be removed from the EPA website and from any documents issued by that agency. Doubtless there were numerous other orders implemented within the EPA that were not publicized but probably need to be reversed.
   The climate change order is an example of something that was reported. We don’t even know much of what was done in each of the other agencies but was not reported.
Behind the scenes, it’s important that Biden’s future department and agency appointees hit the ground running, and that means starting now with their research. Previous secretaries or under secretaries under Obama would be the best candidates for these shadow cabinet positions, because they know the agencies and probably have contact info for the career officials who may or may not still be at work and can identify the changes that have been implemented since Trump took office.
There are Executive Orders signed by President Trump every day that are of public record but don’t make the news. Each Biden “appointee” could start the process now of studying all the executive orders signed by Trump relating to their agency so they can determine whether those EOs are beneficial or detrimental in their impact on the agency and on public policy.
Naming such a Shadow Cabinet has a benefit beyond allowing Biden and his team to “hit the ground running” next January. It will allow Biden and his appointees to be specific and informative now — during the presidential campaign — about the changes Trump has made to the government that the public — the voters — need to know, whether they love those changes and want Trump re-elected or think they should be undone by a Biden administration.
By calling these appointees his “shadow cabinet” instead of his actual nominees for each position, Biden would avoid being accused of presuming his election.  A shadow cabinet is a concept that can be easily explained to the public, especially by referencing the British example. The opposition party should always have a shadow cabinet, and I welcome the Republican Party adopting the concept when/if they lose the Presidential election.
A shadow government, as I wrote in June 2018, is simply a “good government” idea. We shouldn’t expect Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be the sole persons responding to Trump’s latest tweet or action. It would be so much better to have a “shadow” secretary of each department or agency speak with the authority of having credible knowledge of the topic being addressed.
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This post appeared as a half-page ad on page 2 of the March 26, 2020, edition of the Denver Post's YourHub section for the City & County of Denver and all of Jefferson County. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

What Values Would You Like to See Reflected in Our Social & Political Discourse?

Like many of you, I have stood by in dismay, watching the decline of civility and the rise of extremism in American society over the past few years.
There was a time — very recently, in fact — when politicians spoke respectfully of their political opponents, when they didn’t assign them crude nicknames, and when they weren’t outright mean to each other.
There was a time when the anchor of the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite, was “the most trusted man in America” and factual reporting of events was respected and not discarded as “fake” or “partisan” news.
There was a time when the work of scientists was respected. Indeed, the word “STEM” entered the dictionary as Americans saw the value of promoting science, technology, engineering and math in school curricula.
There was a time when 99% agreement (actually, less than that) among scientists on topics like global warming was considered enough to consider it “settled science.”
Americans fooled themselves after the election of Barack Obama into thinking we had entered a “post-racial” era, but now we realize racism will never die. Instead there are times when it’s not considered appropriate to voice those impulses or put them into action.
The election of Donald Trump was different. Seeing and hearing the President of the United States mirror one’s own thoughts emboldens him or her to express them or perhaps take to the streets with them, as we saw in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Thus emboldened, they often go further than the President, such as when the demonstrators chanted, “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” Making matters worse afterwards was when the President said there were “very fine people” among those demonstrators.
What brought this topic to mind for this inaugural edition of this column was a segment on last week’s Bachelor program on ABC, “The Women Tell All,” in which Rachel Lindsay described the hate and death threats which she endured as an African-American celebrity when she was the “Bachelorette.” The black women who were contestants in this season’s Bachelor program nodded their heads in acknowledgement of experiencing similar hatred.
That’s what has been so destructive of the current presidency — the emboldening of racists, white nationalists and others who in years past would have kept those thoughts to themselves and their loved ones, and certainly not acted on them as they so freely do nowadays.
But there’s more.
The President’s baseless demeaning of the mainstream media, abetted shamelessly by Fox News, has not been fatal — the press will survive and thrive after this president is gone — but it has contributed to the emboldening referred to above.
The most serious long-term effect of this presidency, however, will be the four-year hiatus in the national effort to address climate change. This is a president who has given voice to that 1% of climate scientists who are blind to this worldwide threat at a time when action is so critical. Fortunately, cities, states and corporations have understood the threat and are, to an extent, taking up the battle without the White House support they should be receiving.  Let’s hope it’s enough.
From the beginning, most Americans recognized Donald Trump as a narcissist and pathological liar, someone who returned love only for those who loved or pretended to love him through flattery, such as smart ex-KGB officers like Vladimir Putin.
What’s most surprising to me is not just the self-serving Republican enablers who have tied their wagon to Trump’s star, but how many day-to-day Americans see in Trump’s personality something to admire.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Why Wouldn’t the Russians Want Trump Re-Elected? Look at His Accomplishments.

No world leader has done more to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin and Russia than President Trump. I write this as a former student of the Russian language (in which I am still semi-fluent) and thus as a student of the Soviet Union and now Russia. I traveled to Moscow and Leningrad in 1978 as part of an MIT alumni trip, and again in 1986, 1987 and 1988 on “citizen diplomacy” trips under the auspices of the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in Bellingham, Washington. My last trip was to Vladivostok, the Pacific port and terminus of the Trans-Siberian railroad, in 1995, on a tour of China, Korea, Russia and Japan.
First, let’s consider Putin’s interests. As a former KGB officer for the Soviet Union, Putin watched helplessly as the Soviet empire disintegrated under Gorbachev. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russian President and appointed Putin acting president on December 31, 1999, Putin made it his goal (after pardoning Yeltsin) to return his country to its former glory as a super-power and to bring as many of the former Soviet republics as possible, including Ukraine, back into Moscow’s orbit.
Key to strengthening Russia was the weakening of NATO and the European Union, and annexing strategically important Crimea. Although that annexation occurred before Trump took office, he helped Putin succeed in weakening NATO and the EU. As a candidate, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and, as president, he hesitated to endorse Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was in connection with the Sept. 11th attack on the United States. Trump’s reluctance to support it must have made Putin very happy. He was made even happier when Trump enthusiastically supported the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union, and encouraged other European countries to follow Britain’s example.
Withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from the Paris Accord on climate change, combined with other international actions, have contributed to a reduction in America’s standing on the global stage, allowing for a bigger role by Russia.
Trump’s criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its ongoing aggression against Ukraine can be described as half-hearted at best. The entire theory of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, as recounted under oath by Fiona Hill, was a Russian narrative adopted hook, line and sinker by President Trump. It is fair to say that Trump has been duped by the Kremlin in this and other ways. Why wouldn’t Putin want to keep him in the White House for another term?
Forget about collusion — it wasn’t necessary for Trump to collude in 2016, and it’s not necessary for him to collude now. Putin saw in Trump the perfect man to become President when he was the Republican nominee, and is happy to join the chant, “Four More Years!”
What, you might ask, about Russia helping the Sanders’ campaign?  I suspect that is also in support of Trump, since Sanders would be easier for Trump to defeat as a “socialist.”  If true, you can expect Russian social media postings that trash Sanders' opponents to help him win the nomination.  Then their posting would trash Sanders as a socialist to help Trump. 
The lingering question is why Trump wants to advance Putin’s interests.  A cynic might say that there's a Trump Tower Moscow in Trump's post-presidency future. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Hopefully, the ‘Post-Factual’ Era Is Drawing to a Close

It’s no coincidence that the founding motto of Golden Real Estate was “Hometown Service Delivered With Integrity.”  Raised by a New England patrician father and mother, telling the truth was ingrained in me as an essential value, and the willful lying of our current President is what has bothered me the most. And it’s a trait that his Republican enablers in Congress have adopted as their own. But “the truth will out,” as Dad taught me, and I look forward to that happening, beginning with this week’s hearings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Facebook employees were embedded in the Trump Campaign

I remember it was disclosed that Facebook provided employees to help the Trump campaign make the most of Facebook's tools for targeting and reaching voters.  This wasn't scandalous because it's the kind of support that Facebook would provide to any big advertiser.  However, it would seem worth mentioning in the current context, don't you think?

Trump's Tax Returns

I don't understand why no one in the media (as far as I know) has asked Trump the following question:

"Okay, you won't release your 2017 tax return because it is being audited, but why won't you release the most recent tax return that is past audit?  Surely your 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax returns aren't under audit, or are they?"