Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Last Trump

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The Last Trump
by David Trumbull - April 15, 2016

"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." --1 Corinthians 15:52

I have the honor of serving as a lector at Saint Joseph's Parish in the West End. That means that, from time to time, I read aloud to the congregation the passages from the Holy Scriptures chosen for that Sunday's Mass. Recently I was speaking to my friend Jim, who also attends the Saturday vigil Mass, and he expressed his strong support for Mr. Donald Trump's candidacy for the presidency. My response was that, this being the season of the resurrection, perhaps I'll have the opportunity of gratifying him by reading 1 Corinthians 15:52 in church.

Joking aside, none of the Republican candidates for president has won me over. Trump's pronouncements on international trade and immigration I agree with, but he seems wanting as to the details. However, I have greatly enjoyed watching the incompetence of the anti-Trump people.

The Sunday, April 9, "2017", Boston Globe front page "Deportations to Begin" headline has to be about the most clueless thing a major newspaper ever did. How could they not have seen that it will help, not hurt, Trump's standing among the electorate. It's just as when Mitt Romney blasted Trump, causing Trump's ratings to rise. I cannot figure out what the Globe thought they would accomplish with a stunt more worthy of the Harvard Lampoon. As for Romney, it's clear he believes the GOP has a problem and he is the solution. Well, if Romney is the answer, it must have been a pretty dumb question.

Yes, the GOP has a problem, but the problem is not Trump. Trump is the symptom, not the cause.

I sum up the appeal of both Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders in three letters, CCC. Over the past three decades if you were clever, college-educated, and connected, you have most likely done very well. But if you are a non-CCC person, the past three decades have likely been fairly grim. The ABC television show "The Middle" is a humorous, yet with more than a little faithfulness, depiction of the difficulties faced by "middle" America. Or as someone recently said on Fox News (I paraphrase because I can't find the exact quotation) "The Democratic Party has abandoned the middle class and the Republican Party isn't sure it wants them."

I am certain that Trump is more popular than the polls show. Almost daily I get in conversations with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who ask, "Can they stop Trump?" It's always said in a way that implies that stopping Trump is a good thing. But once I reveal that I'm not strongly anti-Trump, they, in turn, slowly, over the course of the conversation, reveal that they are Trump supporters. When I ask them whether they would admit it to a pollster they always say no. The media and the political establishment think they have done a good job of turning Trump into an unelectable villain, but in the privacy of the voting booth, the people may just trump them all.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It Ain't Necessarily So

POST-GAZETTE -- Res Publica
It Ain't Necessarily So
by David Trumbull
April 1, 2016

"The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never be sure they're authentic" -- Abraham Lincoln

As I write this column to be published on April Fools Day, I am thinking of my friends on social media, most of whom, in the frenzy of the current presidential nomination media circus, seem to have lost all common sense. My Facebook feed is full of false memes, fake quotations devised to support this or that political view. My friends, both Republican and Democrat, appear to have temporarily lost the ability to distinguish news from parody and truth from phony "quotes."

"A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." -- George Washington.

FAKE. There is no record that Washington ever said that. If you have read any of Washington's writings you know that in an age when "flowery" prose was in style, he was flowery even for his age. Had Washington ever expressed the sentiments above (which I somewhat doubt in view of his role in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion), he would likely have done so in at least three times as many words. Often I've wanted to quote Washington in my columns, but I find it very difficult due to his prolix prose. A good rule of thumb is that any Washington "quote" brief enough to fit in a Facebook meme, is likely not a real Washington quote. The website has a list of this and other spurious Washington quotes.

"If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they'd still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific." -- Donald Trump, in People magazine, 1998.

FAKE. There is no record that Trump said that in People or anywhere else. One tipoff is that while Fox News existed in 1998, it had been around for just over a year and wasn't even available in all parts of the country, it was hardly, in 1998, the massive voter influencer that the meme suggests.

"The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations." -- Thomas Jefferson.

FAKE. While the quote is perfectly in tune with Jefferson's distrust of banks and of commerce, he did not say it, at least not in those words. The tipoff is "moneyed incorporations," While Jefferson would have known of what we now call not-for-profit corporations, such as colleges, churches, and municipalities, for profit business corporations, with few exceptions, did not exist until a quarter of a century or so after Jefferson's death. The website has a list of this and other spurious Jefferson quotations.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Primary Concern

Res Publica
The Primary Concern
by David Trumbull

Well, the Iowa caucuses are behind us and the New Hampshire primary election was last Tuesday.

My friend Jesse L. asked on Facebook, “Why do we let two very white, conservative states, Iowa and New Hampshire, to pick our presidential candidates? This seems wholly unfair and antiquated in a country as large and diverse as ours.” I expect he’s not the only one asking that.

The short answer is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party each want to nominate someone who can win in November and each has found that the current system yields a nominee who can win. Even in elections such as the re-election of Reagan, the re-election of Clinton, and the re-election of Obama, when the incumbent President was popular and the economy was good, the losing party nominated someone who, in another year might have won. So we keep the current system because it works.

But, back to Jesse’s question, Why?

I don’t know enough about Iowa to address that State’s role in choosing presidential nominees. I do know New Hampshire. I even campaigned there in the 1992 primary for President Bush, who was challenged by Pat Buchanan for the Republican nomination.

1. Is New Hampshire too conservative to have such an important early role in choosing the nominees? No. New Hampshire is not conservative. Nor is it liberal. It is neither Republican or Democrat. New Hampshire is a swing state. In 17 presidential elections since WWII, the winner in New Hampshire was the national winner 13 times. Of the times when New Hampshire did not follow the national trend, three were extremely close elections, some of the closest in American history, 1948 (remember the “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper headline, 1960 (nationally is was 49.7% Kennedy and 49.6% Nixon), and 2004 (Bush's margin of victory in the popular vote was the smallest ever for a reelected incumbent president). New Hampshire went against the national trend one other time, that was in 1976 when she joined with Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, “Yankee” States, in rejecting Southerner Jimmy Carter. New Hampshire is average.

2. Is New Hampshire too White to have such an important early role in choosing the nominees? No. New Hampshire is White. But so is the voting population. If I am managing the campaign of a presidential candidate of either party, New Hampshire voters are a good proxy for the voting population as a whole. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 70% of eligible voters are White and 73% of voters are White, meaning Whites have a higher than average tendency to vote. Blacks are 12% of the eligible voters and 12% of actual voters. Hispanics are 11% of eligible voters, but only 7% of actual voters. In other words, not only are Hispanics a small percentage of eligible voters, the also are less likely to vote. Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics account for 92% of all voters. Whites account for almost three-quarters of the voters. So while the American voting population is diverse, it is not as diverse as Jesse’s Los Angeles neighborhood. If you take Los Angeles, Boston, and New Hampshire and ask, Which is the better predictor of a presidential election? the answer is clearly New Hampshire.

The answer to Jesse’s question is that the parties’ primary concern is not to nominate someone who represents the diversity of America. Their primary concern is to nominate someone who can win. Winning the presidency is about winning undecided White voters. Blacks are 12% of the vote and they vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic nominee, so it doesn’t matter who either party nominates, the Black vote is not, in any significant numbers, in question. The media makes much of the Hispanic vote, but the political reality that a campaign manager deals with dictates that the Hispanic vote, outside of Florida, is irrelevant. There is the rare Republican like George Bush who got about 40% of the Hispanic vote. More typically there is something in the range of 30% of the Hispanic vote that is not already locked into the Democratic Party. That means that both parties have a chance at persuading about a third of the Hispanic vote, but that’s only one-third of 7% of the total vote, that’s under 2.5% of the vote. Now that 2.5% could make the difference in a close election, that is it could in the popular vote. But not in the electoral college where, other than Florida, the Hispanic population is largely in states such as California, which will go Democratic no matter how much Republicans court the Hispanic vote, and Texas which will go Republican no matter how much Democrats court the Hispanic vote.

Each party has “safe” states that its presidential nominee will carry, but they are not enough to win. They have to appeal to undecided voters in swing states, and the math tells us that the overwhelming majority of those undecided voter are White.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Summer of Market Basket

Just in time for Labor Day the book We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business arrived in the mail (the official release date was August 12th). A documentary film is supposed to come out soon, also.

In some ways I think of last summer, the summer of 2014, as the summer of Market Basket (or, Demoulas, as we still call it in our household). The Market Basket workers' strike, which began as a protest rally at the Chelsea store on June 24, 2014, and ended on August 28, 2014, (the Thursday before the Labor Day 2014), was on everyone's lips that summer. We nearly lost friends over the issue of whether to continue to shop there or support the strikers (Mary and I joined the boycott). Here we are, a year later, the strike is part of history, recorded in book and movie, and we are at another long Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day honors every working man and woman in America, but we all know that its origin lies in the recognition of the advances in employer-employee laws and practices wrought by organized labor, that is to say, labor unions. And, therein, lies two ironies. The summer of 2014 witnessed a successful organized labor action on a scale we haven't seen in decades. Organized? Yes. Unionized? No.

With their livelihoods at stake, how, went conventional wisdom, could semi-skilled workers have any chance of prevailing over management without a union? Throughout the protests employees were quoted in the press saying, "We don't need a union, we have something stronger, we are a family." It's truly an inspiring story. But, also, an unusual, almost unique, story. Who needs a union when you have a boss, Arthur T., who gives you better pay, benefits, and sense of being stakeholders in the company than you are likely to get under a union contract?

1. Don't discount how past union activity benefited the Market Basket employees. When the employees walked off, the new management threatened to fire them. Now, from a practical standpoint the board would have been sore pressed, even in a weak labor market, to quickly find qualified replacements for the entire workforce, Nevertheless, the threat of losing your job surely would have forced many protesting workers back to the job, at least one would expect. But they did not return. Why? Because you cannot fire workers for striking. Its a federal law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (commonly called the "Wagner Act"), guarantees the right to unionize and to strike without retaliation. When management threatened to fire the workers, the workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, using that pro-union law for protection.

2. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act) modified the Wagner Act. Specifically it placed some restrictions on striking, among other things, requiring an 80-day notice period before a union strike. Taft-Hartley placed no such restriction on non-unionized workforces. Therein lies the second irony. These non-unionized workers successfully used a pro-union law, but had they been unionized, the strike would have been illegal, at least as it was conducted.

From the summer of Market Basket I take two lessons. (1) Labor still has power when organized, and when the laws protecting the rights of working women and men are enforced. (2) That labor laws written 70 or 80 years ago may not always reflect the realities of the current labor market, and to question whether they may need revision is not to be anti-union or anti-labor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

From Hiroshima to Tehran

Seventy years ago tomorrow, on August 6,1945, the U.S. Army Air Forces detonated an atomic bomb, code named "Little Boy," over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on 9 August, the U.S. Army Air Forces detonated a second atom bomb, code named "Fat Man," over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

Seven decades later the strategic value and the morality of dropping atomic bombs on Japan continue to be subjects of debate, with strong opinions on both sides. In a sense, the decision to use the A-bomb was perhaps the logical outcome of another controversial decision made by the Allies. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, President Roosevelt said that the Allies' goal was unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. The Conference adopted that goal, thus assuring that victory would be complete, but also messy, as no terms of surrender would be entertained.

After defeating Germany (Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945, the Allied occupation began, and the final peace treaty was not signed until September 12, 1990) the Allies met at the Cecilienhof palace in Potsdam (not far from Berlin, today it is an historic site well worth visiting). The Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, stated:

"We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."

Eleven days later we dropped the first atom bomb. On May 8 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and on May 9 we dropped the second bomb. Even after the events of the 8th and 9th, Japan was still seeking surrender under certain conditions. After days of internal dissension within the government of Japan, including an attempted coup d'état, the Japanese authorities reluctantly accepted the reality that the Allies would accept nothing short of unconditional surrender.

On August 15th, the Empire of Japan surrendered unconditionally to the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the other Allies. Victory Over Japan was widely celebrated throughout the U.S. until 1975. Rhode Island only retains that holiday, renamed "Victory Day," moved to the second Monday in August.

Nuclear weapons are back in the news, now in the context of President Obama "deal" with Iran that will result in that deadly regime joining the nuclear club. Had the U.S. not used the atom bomb in 1945, some other nation probably would have used it in some other conflict. As horrific as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were, at least they showed the world that this is something we don't want to have to do again. I'm not so confident at Iran can be trusted to exercise the restraint that the over nuclear powers have.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not Machiavellian At All

Res Publica
Not Machiavellian At All
by David Trumbull -- May 15, 2015

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (May 3, 1469 РJune, 21 1527) was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat and philosopher. He was a high official in the government of the Republic of Florence during the times when the Medici family governed the republic.

He wrote several books and it is from the content of one of his books, The Prince, that we get the adjective Machiavellian, which describes as "characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty." For example --

In Chapter 5, he advises the conquering prince that a conquered republic must be utterly reduced, because history shows that more clement treatment fails to hold the territory.

In Chapter 7, rather than condemning, he cites the notorious Cesare Borgia as one to be imitated.

In Chapter 8 he says that a prince who rises through wickedness may, nevertheless, hold his principality securely if injuries are inflicted all together and not spread out over time.

In Chapter 15 Machiavelli advices the prince to follow vice if so doing brings security and virtue would bring ruin.

In Chapter 17 he says it is better to be clement than cruel, however, some cruelty is necessary and justified to maintain order and to withstand the violence that will break forth when there is not firm leadership.

In Chapter 20 he says that sometimes it's a good idea to pick a fight with another prince, just so you can look good when you defeat him.

If the only thing from Machiavelli you read is The Prince, then you might well conclude that his political philosophy is diabolical. That would be unfortunate, for Machiavelli's writings in support of republics and of freedom are much more extensive than his one, thin volume on how a prince may conquer and hold territory.

The key to understanding Machiavelli's The Prince is in the final chapter. It's a call for a reunited Italy, free of oppression by foreign occupiers. Italy was cut up into several city-states that were constantly at war with each other. The French and the Spaniards seeing opportunity invaded and ruled extensive tracks of the peninsula. Machiavelli dedicated the book to Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (September 12, 1492 – May 4, 1519) the ruler of Florence, and exhorted Lorenzo to raise an army, drive out the foreigners, even if that meant crushing some of the independent republics and principalities. To Machiavelli, the choice was clear, either the nominally independent states would be forever in peril from each other and from foreign invaders, or they could lose their independence but gain freedom. Lorenzo did not take up Machiavelli's cause of a united Italy, and Italian reunification had to wait until the 19th century.

Charter of Liberty

Res Publica
Charter of Liberty
by David Trumbull -- May 8, 2015

"We hold here that the right to a speedy trial is as fundamental as any of the rights secured by the Sixth Amendment. That right has its roots at the very foundation of our English law heritage. Its first articulation in modern jurisprudence appears to have been made in Magna Carta..." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren delivering the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Klopper v. North Carolina, March 13, 1967.

Magna Carta (or, in English, "the Great Charter") was signed by King John (best remembered in the popular mind as "Bad King John" of the Robin Hood tales) on June 15, 1215. The document, which marks its 800th anniversary next month, is, in important ways, the foundation of the liberties of English and American law. The origin was a dispute between the king and the barons, and neither was wholly satisfied with the compromises contained in the Charter. At the request of John, Pope Innocent III annulled it. But the genie of liberty was out of the bottle and the Charter was amended and reaffirmed through the next few yeas and, in 1225, took the final form that makes it a foundational document in the English system of government and in every nation whose legal system owes something to English law.

Magna Carta did not create trial by jury, but it did enshrine it as a right, as well as the concept of due process.

"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."

Even though England, to this day, has a State Church, Magna Carta laid down the law that even the king must respect certain ancient liberties of the Church. In America this became the religious establishment and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.

"The English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever."

President Ronald Reagan summed it up well in his April 16, 1986, Law Day Proclamation --

"The foundations of freedom upon which our Nation was built included the Magna Carta of 1215, English common law, the Mayflower Compact, the Act of Parliament abolishing the Court of the Star Chamber, and numerous colonial charters."