Martin Dyckman, Author at Florida Politics

Martin Dyckman

Donald Trump, government is not a business. Reject Rex Tillerson.

If it is to be believed, as Donald Trump evidently does, that government is just another business, then Rex Tillerson is a plausible nominee for secretary of state. Hasn’t he been running one of the most powerful and profitable businesses in this corner of the universe?

But government is not a business.

The duty of a business is to produce profits for its owners. Period. How it’s done rarely matters so long as there are profits. Whether a business treats its customers and employees with consideration or stiffs them, as Trump so often did to his, is “right” or “wrong” only in the light of the profit margin or loss. A CEO who doesn’t put profits first won’t last, and he or she is most unlikely to find a soft landing on a business school faculty.

The competitive situation of a business requires keeping certain secrets from the public. In a proper democracy, however, there are no secrets to be kept from the public, other than those that directly implicate national security. The personal assets of a wealthy Cabinet nominee are no such exception. And certainly those of a president are not. We deserve to know, we need to know, what conflicts of interest may exist. Florida Governor Reubin Askew maintained that full financial disclosure was the only way to earn the trust of the people, and the voters agreed with him overwhelmingly.

A business can fail. It can declare bankruptcy, freeing its owners to foist off the losses on other people and start over, as Trump has done four times. A local government can do that too, but a national government, one with the power and the duty to maintain the economy, cannot do that without catastrophic consequences. It cannot even suggest renegotiating its debts, as Trump casually speculated during the campaign, without risking the collapse of its currency and runaway inflation.

The fundamental duties of a government are so obviously different that they shouldn’t need explanation, but there seem to be more than a few folks who don’t grasp them.

One of the differences is that a government’s stockholders and its customers are one and the same, and its duty to them is to protect and serve them as efficiently as possible. There is no place for profit in that equation. Pay-as-you-go projects, like toll roads and park fees, should take in only enough revenue for operation, maintenance and improvement.

I’m speaking of a democracy, of course. The other kind of government, the kind run by Vladimir Putin, gauges its success by the extent of its power over its own people and others. Its loyalty is to the tyrant, not the citizens.

And that inescapably calls into question the loyalty of multinational corporations, like Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil, which occasionally find it necessary to do business with such despots. When a man who would be our secretary of state can’t acknowledge the simple fact that Putin’s conduct in Syria is that of a war criminal, he is tacitly confessing the moral cost of doing business with Putin. Tillerson’s professional accommodation to the realpolitik of the international energy market is an inherent conflict of interest with the duty of a secretary of state to put our country first and always.

We have Senator Marco Rubio to thank for making that point in his deft interrogation of Tillerson at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing. As someone who hasn’t exactly been one of his fans, I have to say that would have been anyone’s finest hour. It certainly was Rubio’s.

That brings us to the second profound difference between a democratic government and a business. Most people expect their government to embody, represent, assert and advance their national character and ideals. We don’t really expect that of a business. This is why the British still support and revere their monarchy long after it was reduced to a splendid but powerless symbol. This is why until now, Americans have believed that character is what defines the suitability of a candidate for president. When we think of George Washington, what comes to mind? His towering reputation for patriotism and personal integrity.

We revere our country. We don’t revere corporations, not even the ones we work for. We don’t sing, “My company, ‘tis of thee.” We sing of purple mountain majesties, not towering smokestacks. We pledge our allegiance to our flag, not to the Chamber of Commerce.

Americans have been accused, sometimes fairly, of preaching too much to people elsewhere about the superiority of our form of government. Most of the time, though, we do it for the best of reasons: our belief that democracy is the only suitable environment for personal liberty and economic opportunity and a sincere wish to see others enjoy what we do. We are proud of what we have. It speaks well of us that we want to share it. Our hearts fill with pride and admiration for those who gave their lives for our country and for those who still risk theirs.

That does not mean trying to be the “world’s policeman” in places where our influence is unwanted or likely to be ineffective. It does mean taking care, in consort with allies, to keep our part of the world safe from a hostile power’s quest for unhealthy dominance in trade and military affairs. World War II was in large part a consequence of the self-centered isolationism that led to the Senate rejecting the League of Nations and to our indifference as tyrants rose “over there.”

We expect — reasonably so — that those we elect or who are appointed to serve us will embody the ideals that make us proud to be Americans. That’s what so confounding about Trump’s impending presidency. What’s done is done, but as it considers the qualifications of his Cabinet nominees, the Senate can still redeem our national character. Rejecting Tillerson’s nomination would be a good start.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Jan. 20, 2017: A day that will live in infamy

When a family member or another loved one dies of natural causes, we understand that death is the price we pay for life. We must accept it and count on memories to console us.

But how do you grieve for your nation? How do you move beyond the death of everything you held sacred about the land of your birth? Whose uniform you wore proudly? Whose virtues you have tried to teach to your children and to anyone else who would listen? When you know that the tragedy owes not to an act of God but to the malice of a man and so many of his supporters? How can you accept this? How can you rationalize it?

For me, Jan. 20 will be the saddest day ever. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

Donald Trump is the most undeserving, unqualified, and untrustworthy person ever to seek the presidency, let alone obtain it. He is a clear and present danger to our principles, our economy, our self-respect and our national security.

No one has put that better than J. M. “Mac” Stipanovich, a trusted adviser to two Florida Republican governors, expressed it in a Facebook post earlier this month.

“Ignorant, unprincipled and amoral,” he wrote. That was in reply to a friend who had wearied of “my constant carping” against Trump and had challenged him to state his three “foremost objections” to Trump’s presidency.

There’s no need to try to summarize here the vast evidence of Trump’s unprincipled amorality. Everyone is aware of it, although only some care. In a world bristling with economic rivalries and nuclear-armed powers, Trump’s ignorance is the greater danger than what he might steal.

“I am concerned,” Stipanovich explained, “about what Donald Trump does not know, the fact that he does not know what he does not know and will not listen to those who do know.”

Some Republicans, perhaps most, may relish what Trump will let the Congress do to the Affordable Care Act and to Medicare and Social Security despite his transparently worthless promises to protect them. Some will rejoice in the destruction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in the neutering of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But my hope is that there are still members of both parties who understand that character — defined as integrity, trustworthiness, fidelity to principle and fundamental decency — is what America has assumed in its presidents since the Constitution was written with George Washington in mind. It was to prevent the ascension of someone like Trump that the founders opted against direct election. Ever since, Americans and the world have looked to the presidency of the United States as an avatar of America itself. But what do we see now? What does the world see? A braggart, a bully, a libertine, a cocky ignoramus, an infantile personality in the body of a 70-year-old man who has never cared, even once, about anyone or anything other than himself, who breathes contempt for the four freedoms of the First Amendment, who craved the presidency for self-aggrandizement and whose election was sought and applauded by the most vicious people among us as a license to make America hate again. For the first time, Nazis and Ku Kluxers have helped elect an American president. Think about that.

And if that weren’t enough, he is an apologist and sycophant for a murderous foreign tyrant who means to eliminate the United States as an obstacle to reviving the Soviet empire and dominating Europe. John LeCarré, whose novels envisioned a mole secretly subverting British intelligence, never imagined a scenario as wild as that of the cousins, as he called us, being taken over so openly at the very top. The most unenviable job in the United States today becomes that of an intelligence officer who remains faithful to duty and principles.

I don’t know which is more discouraging — that such a person is actually president or that so many people voted for him knowing what he is. That he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes is some consolation but the awful truth is that he is in the White House and the radical Republicans in Congress no longer have anyone there to check their worst ambitions.

The awful truth is that even with Russia’s assistance Trump would not have won but for the racists who haven’t forgiven the rest of us for twice electing a black man, the misogynists who couldn’t abide the thought of a woman president, the cynical opportunists who saw in Trump a reactionary Supreme Court, and the idiots who swallowed Trump’s absurd lies along with the false equivalency the media assigned to Clinton’s mostly decent record and Trump’s utterly deplorable one. These people are not going away, although more of a few may come to regret their votes when their Medicare is sacrificed to the insurance industry, Social Security is sold out to Wall Street, and they’re forced to wait until they’re 70 to begin collecting what’s left.

Is American democracy dead? Can it be resurrected? The answers depend on those of us who do not celebrate Inauguration Day. What we must do, for love of country and self-respect, is to make ourselves heard every day in Congress, and especially in the Senate, where there are still some grown-ups on the majority side, and which can’t be gerrymandered like the House.

We must never, never give up. The United States of America is too precious to waste.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Retiring Justice gives final voice of reason on Florida’s death penalty

There are some things that only lawyers can explain.

This is one of them.

But I defy them to make sense of it.

Just in time for Christmas, the Florida Supreme Court in two cases last week gave new leases on life to 213 convicted killers but turned down about 173 more.

The only difference between the two groups is the turn of one page on the calendar.

Those whose sentences — or new sentences after appeal — became “final” on June 24, 2002, will, in most cases, have another chance to persuade juries that they shouldn’t die. This time, all 12 jurors would have to agree that they should.

Those whose sentences became “final” on June 23, 2002, or earlier are out of luck, unless they can persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to correct the Florida court one more time.

It should. As Florida Justice James E.C. Perry protested in dissent, the majority’s ruling “makes constitutional protection depend on little more than a roll of the dice.”

The significance of June 24, 2002, is this: On that date, the U.S. court — hereafter, SCOTUS — ruled in Ring v. Arizona that a jury, not a judge, must determine the existence of any fact that increases the maximum penalty for a crime, as in the difference between life in prison and death.

But for 12 more years, the Florida court — hereafter, SCOFLA — continued to swat down defense lawyers’ arguments that Ring meant Florida’s death sentencing law was just as unconstitutional as Arizona’s. And SCOTUS took no opportunity to say so until last January, when it ruled in favor of Timothy Hurst, a killer from Pensacola.

Florida’s law left it to the judge to determine what factors the jury found in favor of a death sentence. It did not require — in fact, did not even allow — juries to report how they voted, except as to the ultimate vote on life versus death, which didn’t have to be unanimous.

Hurst left SCOFLA to decide how far back his ruling should be applied. In a rather inartful compromise, five justices settled on the date the first shoe fell, in the Ring decision of 2002. But two of them, the conservatives Charles Canaday and Ricky Polston, also argued that Hurst shouldn’t apply retroactively to anyone. (Canaday is on Donald Trump‘s short list for SCOTUS.)

A third, Fred Lewis, said it should apply to anyone who challenged the constitutionality of Florida law at any time.

“This court need not tumble down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing,” he protested.

Much in the two majority opinions really is dizzying, involving gibberish about the differences between “jurisprudential upheavals” and “evolutionary refinements” and other distinctions that matter only to lawyers. Was Ring a “development of fundamental significance?” Was it of “sufficient magnitude” to require new sentencing hearings for all or most of the 383 people on death row?

If you ask me, nothing is more fundamental than the right to trial by jury. It appeared that way to Justice Barbara Pariente as well. In dissent, she argued against what she considered overblown fears of too much pressure on the justice system.

“I would conclude,” she wrote, “that Hurst creates the rare situation in which finality yields to fundamental fairness … The majority’s conclusion results in an unintended arbitrariness as to who receives relief depending on when a defendant was sentenced, or in some cases resentenced.”

Fundamental fairness? That’s what often sets “law” apart from “justice.”

And so it has again, in Tallahassee, Florida, on December 22, 2016.

Perry, in his last major decision before his mandatory retirement for age next week, wrote an even more passionate appeal to Florida’s conscience.

He noted that Mark James Asay, the test case defendant whose conviction was final eight months before Ring, would be the first white man Florida ever executed for murdering blacks. (He gunned down two in Jacksonville, exclaiming after the first that “you got to show a n—-r who’s boss.) On the other hand, said Perry, who is one of Florida’s two African-American justices, three out of every four blacks whom Florida has executed were convicted of killing whites.

“This sad statistic is reflection of the bitter reality that the death penalty is applied in a biased and discriminatory fashion, even today,” he wrote. “Indeed, as my retirement approaches, I feel compelled to follow other justices who, in the twilight of their judicial careers, determined to no longer ‘tinker with the machinery of death.’  I no longer believe that there is a method of which the state can avail itself to the death penalty in a constitutional manner.”

John F. Mosley, whom the court spared in the other test case, strangled the mistress who bore him a child and left the baby to suffocate in a plastic bag. It appears that the murderer and victims were all black. He gets a new sentencing hearing because his crime was in 2004, after Ring, and his lawyers raised that issue at every opportunity.

Perry had the best answer to all this bloody business. That was to invoke a 1972 Florida law providing for automatic life sentences whenever its death penalty is ruled unconstitutional.  It would treat everyone alike, it would spare the courts any new burden, and it would let no killer out of prison. It would moot any more appeals to SCOTUS, leaving 386 killers in prison for life, where they belong. That would be finality with a capital F.

But Perry’s was the only voice of pure reason. His retirement is Florida’s loss.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Politicians can learn lesson from LeRoy Collins balance of public, private speech

Thanks to Vladimir Putin‘s hackers and his outlets in the American press, we know that Hillary Clinton said different things in public and in private.

Imagine that.

But I suspect that you couldn’t find very many politicians (or other people, for that matter) who don’t speak differently depending on who’s listening. Money could safely be wagered that what legislators say to their spouses about guns, abortion and the death penalty does not necessarily reflect how they vote.

Some politicians are two-faced by nature, but with most, it’s more often a wise choice to not get so far out in front of the people that they can no longer see or follow.

Florida Governor LeRoy Collins (1955-61) often cautioned his staff in those words.

Had he spoken of some things in public as he did to some close friends, spiritual advisers and trusted aides, he would be remembered not as Florida’s greatest governor but as a failure who was voted out after serving only the last two years of a deceased predecessor’s term.

Sometime in 1956, most likely during his difficult campaign for a four-year term, Collins or someone on his staff put to paper words that could guarantee his defeat.

“I do not contend,” the document said, “that segregation in public schools or at public meetings or on public conveyances is consistent as a matter of principle with Christianity or the basic American belief in equality before the law…

“But the end of segregation, if and when it comes . . . can only come when its acceptance is developed in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s “great power,” it said, “those hearts and minds are beyond its reach and control.”

Collins, or perhaps an aide who drafted it at his request, also wrote that the South should be “ashamed” of neglecting the health, education, and opportunity of its black citizens.”

The document eventually went to the state archives with a penciled notation, doubly underlined “not issued.”

Florida then was as firmly segregationist as Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi. Unlike their bombastic governors, Collins refused to resort to demagoguery. He pledged to maintain school segregation only by peaceful means and could boast that the strategy was working.

But he had three serious challengers for the Democratic nomination, including a former governor, who accused him of being soft on segregation if not actually against it. The most strident was Sumter Lowry, a retired National Guard general who talked about nothing else and came very close to forcing Collins into a runoff he likely would have lost.

A close friend who had been traveling through North Florida warned him that he could lose the election if he did not throw more red meat to the racists.

“I don’t have to be re-elected,” he replied, “but I do have to live with myself.”

The political establishment was in a panic over a U.S. Supreme Court decree ordering — ineffectively, as it turned out — the long-delayed admission of a black applicant to the University of Florida law school. Although it pertained only to graduate study, it prompted Collins to call a post-primary special session to pass a set of laws, including a pupil assignment scheme, that were intended to keep grades K-12 firmly segregated.

Collins was deeply conflicted. Like most Southerners of his day, he had been raised with faith in segregation that was as implicit and unquestioning as his religion. He was, however, a fundamentally decent man. As a state senator, he had passed a bill to unmask the Ku Klux Klan. As the times were changing, so was he.

His second inauguration, in January 1957, took place during a contentious bus boycott in Tallahassee. He told the audience that Florida would maintain school segregation “for the foreseeable future.” But he also made it plain that Florida would eventually have to yield to the U.S. Supreme Court. To defy it would be “little short of rebellion and anarchy.” He also said he didn’t think that most whites objected to non-segregated seating in buses.

In March 1960, there were lunch counter sit-ins across the state and threats of violence against the demonstrators. Collins went on statewide television to denounce segregation, in effect, as un-Christian, un-democratic and unrealistic. Few white Floridians had heard even their clergy say such things.

By then, of course, Collins was a lame duck, barred by the Constitution from running again. After a short tenure as president of the National Association of Broadcasters, where he wore out his welcome denouncing cigarette advertising to children, he accepted President Lyndon Johnson‘s offer to head the Community Relations Service, a conciliation agency established by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

That duty took him to Selma, where his successful peacemaking between Alabama forces and civil rights demonstrators contributed to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and put an effective end to his political career. He was defeated in his last race, for the U.S. Senate, in 1968.

His career would have ended 12 years earlier had he made public how his views on segregation were changing.

History abounds with other examples. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that the United States would eventually be at war with the German and Japanese tyrannies, but he had to speak and act cautiously because the Congress and public were isolationist.

Lyndon Johnson became the great champion of civil rights after participating in Senate filibusters against them.

As for Clinton, there wasn’t anything terribly startling in the hacked emails that seemed to suggest a softer line on regulation than she was saying to the public. Did she promise Wall Street a veto? No. Did she retract what she was saying in public? No. She simply threw the insiders some flattery: “the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.” She promised only to hear them. The Associated Press report that hyped the remark belonged on the editorial pages rather than in the news sections.

Let’s just hope the press will be as tough on Donald Trump‘s apparent inconsistencies as they were on hers. Those income tax returns are a good place to start.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. This column is based in part on his book, “Floridian of his Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins,” published by the University Press of Florida in 2006.

Martin Dyckman: In post-truth America, responsible news more important than ever

There’s a scene in the musical “Chicago” that could be adopted virtually intact when they make the one I’d call “Trumpistan.”

It’s the number in which a cunning criminal defense attorney, Billy Flynn, works the press as a chorus of puppets, dangling from strings, as they dance to his tune and parrot his words.

That Donald Trump did that with much of the media is, aside from the result itself, one of the two most uncomfortable truths about the 2016 election. The other is that truth itself didn’t matter to enough people.

The media is many things, as Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron remarked in a commencement speech last week. It ranges from responsible entities such as his paper and The New York Times to social media posts that are accountable to no one and are petri dishes for fake news. In between are the cable networks that let Trump mesmerize them.

The Post and the Times reported heroically. So did many others. As Baron put it, the mistake was in not catching on to how Trump’s bombast was working.

But as he added, “There were some lapses … For one, cable networks should not give any candidate hours upon hours of live coverage for virtually every rally held. That is not journalism.”

“All that breathless cable coverage of Trump’s Twitter wars and the live shots of his plane landing on the tarmac didn’t help either,” writes Susan B. Glasser, who edited POLITICO during the campaign, in a Brookings Institution essay, “Covering Politics in a ‘Post-Truth’ America.” Read it here.

Certain print and network editors relentlessly led their front pages and TV screens with more pictures and coverage of Trump than he deserved or any other candidate could command. He was, of course, the most repulsively hypnotic and the most outrageous. But for every voter put off by his mean looks and his lies, there was another who said, “Yeah!”

Trump played the media like a pipe organ. He also made it his foil, with nonstop attacks — still continuing — on what it said about his policies, his reckless tweets, and even his hotels and restaurants. Calling out, sometimes by name, the reporters who covered his rallies, he worked the crowds to frenzies and put the journalists in fear of their lives.

Glasser’s essay details the other uncomfortable truth of the election — that truth itself is losing its potency.

” …(T) he media scandal of 2016 isn’t so much about what reporters failed to tell the American public; it’s about what they did report on, and the fact that it didn’t seem to matter,” she writes. “Stories that would have killed any other politician — truly worrisome revelations about everything from the federal taxes Trump dodged to the charitable donations he lied about, the women he insulted and allegedly assaulted, and the mob ties that have long dogged him — did not stop Trump from thriving in this election year. Even fact-checking perhaps the most untruthful candidate of our lifetime didn’t work; the more news outlets did it, the less the facts resonated. Americans are increasingly choosing to live in a cloud of like-minded spin, surrounded by the partisan political hackery and fake news that poisons their Facebook feeds.”

Trump means to keep feeding on that. His postelection tour has been only to states that he won; he could not care less about voters elsewhere who saw him for what he is. Many of his voters don’t believe even the unanimous view of our intelligence agencies that Russia influenced the election. Trying to tell them otherwise recalls the old adage and attempting to teach a pig to sing: it does nothing but frustrate you and annoy the pig.

Glasser cites a Pew Research Center report that most Americans got their information from questionable sources. Social media were the primary source for 35 people age 29 and under. For those over 50, the leading source was cable TV. Among conservatives, nearly 50 percent relied only on Fox.

Trump’s percentage of the popular vote is 47th lowest among the last 49 election winners. Hillary Clinton led by nearly 3-million votes. But a half of all Republicans say they believe Trump won the popular vote. They will never believe otherwise because they just don’t want to.

If you’re looking for a simple solution to America’s crisis of willful ignorance, I don’t have one.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it’s too late for tears; the hour calls for ceaseless toil and copious sweat. We can’t persuade those who will not hear. Our call, rather, is to work harder to win the Electoral College as well as the popular vote in the next election and to take back the Congress. We need to work tirelessly to remind policymakers in Congress and capitols that the truth still matters to more people than those who ignore it, and remind them that Trump has nothing resembling a “mandate.”

Emails and calls to Congress cost nothing. The First Amendment belongs as much to the individual citizen as to the media. Use it.

And subscribe, if you don’t already, to a responsible newspaper or two. You need newspapers now, more than ever. They need you now, more than ever.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: The Red Menace redux

Early in the Cold War, Hollywood was targeted by politicians and flag-waving pundits who accused Communists in the motion picture media of trying to subvert the United States with pro-Soviet propaganda.

Hundreds of people were blacklisted and 10, including the Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, went to prison for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The 2015 film “Trumbo” deals with that episode and how the blacklist finally was broken.

There was never any evidence, though, that the Hollywood Ten had accomplished anything more dramatic than joining what was a legal political party.

But 70 years later, the Kremlin has exploited a more modern mass medium — the internet — to subvert the United States to the extent that Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, could not have imagined.

If owning a piece of the American president-elect isn’t subversion, what ever could be?

The Soviet Union is history. Russia, its largest component, is now nominally capitalist rather than communist.

But its president, Vladimir Putin, who is not much less of a tyrant than Stalin was, is hellbent on rebuilding the Soviet empire, one piece at a time — first Ukraine, then Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. No nation in Eastern Europe is safe.

Toward that end, Putin is intent on destabilizing if not demolishing NATO, the American-led alliance that won the Cold War — or so we thought.

Nothing could be more helpful to Putin than an American president who is disinterested in NATO, and whose chosen secretary of state — the recipient of a high honor from Putin himself — personifies a historic conflict of interest. Rex W. Tillerson presently heads ExxonMobil, which had an Arctic drilling deal with Putin that was blocked by U.S. economic sanctions over the aggression in Ukraine.

If those sanctions are off the table, ExxonMobil stands to make billions from Russian oil. Blind trust or not, Tillerson would be in line for enormous stock profits, not to mention the moral disaster of legitimizing Putin’s conduct.

Donald Trump is more than merely a friend and apologist for the new Russian tyrant. The income tax returns he has yet to release despite promises may conceal massive debts to Russian banks. His national security adviser took money to go to Moscow to sit beside Putin at a ceremony honoring him.

The evidence is overwhelming that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and other targets to selectively leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton‘s campaign and helpful to Trump.

The intelligence agencies have consensus on that. The only disagreement is whether Russia meant to actually elect Trump or only to shatter faith in the American election process. What’s the difference? The result is what matters. Whether Putin’s cyber warfare actually tipped the election to Trump is beside the point. At the very least, it helped immensely—and Trump knows it.

The proof of that is his savage denunciation Saturday of the intelligence agencies that will soon be under his control. Although he’s been too busy holding Nuremberg-style victory rallies to attend intelligence briefings, his transition dismissed the consensus as coming from “the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

That they were wrong then doesn’t mean that they’re wrong now. Or does Trump think the Democrats hacked themselves?

He should have said something like this:

“I denounce and deplore any foreign intervention in our election, and I strongly support a bipartisan investigation by the Congress.”

But by simply denying the evidence, without proof, Trump tacitly concedes Russia’s guilt and his own debt.

For frightening insight into the perils of the internet, see The Atlantic’s November cover story—published before the election—”How Social Media Got Weaponized: War in the Digital Age.'” It is well worth your time. Here’s the link.

War is not too strong a term for it, even if the aggression was carried out remotely.

It’s not just Russia that has made the internet into a theater of war. ISIL’s mastery of the medium has figured hugely in terrorizing targeted populations in Iraq and Syria and in recruiting adherents in Britain, America and elsewhere.

The article describes in detail how the Kremlin assigned vast resources “to studying the finer details of how the internet works, coordinated by the Russian Federal Security Service—the successor to the KGB.”

The Russian cyber warriors do more than hack. They post false news stories, troll people who post comments critical of Russia, and do everything imaginable to undermine faith in western institutions including election processes.

“Russia’s infiltration and invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine was preceded by a relentless online campaign to stoke pro-Russian protests and cast the new (Western-friendly) Ukrainian government as, quite literally, a bunch of Nazis,” the article says.

According to The New York Times, Russia is suspected of planting child pornography on the computers of critics whom it wants to destroy.

In Charleston, meanwhile, a young man is on trial for his life for the murders of nine people at a church that had welcomed him to a Bible study session. Dylann Roof has said he was inspired by racist content on the internet. In Washington, another young man awaits trial for an armed invasion of a pizza parlor where — he had read on the internet — Hillary Clinton was participating in a child sex slavery ring.

Every invention can be a tool for evil as well as good. In the case of the internet, it’s the evil side that seems to be winning.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.

Of Donald Trump and Abe Lincoln

Donald Trump, who stays up late watching himself being satirized on “Saturday Night Live” and snarling at his critics on Twitter, could make better use of his time by reading some American history—specifically, about Abraham Lincoln.

Granted, “Trump” and “Lincoln” don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, but there are parallels, and a distinction, that would be in the nation’s interest, as well as his own, for the president-elect to take to heart.

For one, he’s on track to become the most reviled president since Lincoln, who was universally honored only after his assassination. Various Lincoln websites recount an unceasing torrent of venom.

“He is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion,” said the Salem Advocate, a newspaper in Lincoln’s home state before his inauguration. “The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President.”

It got worse. The Chicago Times called the Emancipation Proclamation “a monstrous usurpation, a criminal wrong, and an act of national suicide.” In 1864, when even Lincoln was sure he would be defeated for re-election, the New York World quoted with approval from the Richmond Examiner, “The obscene ape of Illinois is about to be deposed from the Washington purple, and the White House will echo to his little jokes no more.” Some in the press panned even his inaugural and Gettysburg addresses, now considered among the greatest ever spoken.

“He was called a coward, ‘an idiot,’ and ‘the original gorilla’ by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan,” wrote Mark Bowden in the June 2013 Atlantic.

Here’s the distinction. Although Lincoln had nothing like Twitter to bite back at his critics, he would not have used it.

“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business,” he told Francis B. Carpenter, a portrait artist who spent six months in the White House in 1864. ” … If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Such wisdom, it’s plain to see, is not one of Trump’s virtues. But if anyone has his ear, he needs to be told that his Twitter outbursts are harmful not only to the country, but to him.

Each one inspires more criticism than it answers, and sharpens the perception of him as a narcissistic, thin-skinned and undignified bully.

The potential for harm to others is real and it is great.

A union leader in Indianapolis received threats against his children after debunking Trump’s claim to have saved as many as 1,100 jobs at a Carrier factory. Trump’s tweet threatening to cancel Boeing’s contracts for two new presidential airplanes, sent shortly after its CEO had warned of the costs of a trade war with China, temporarily carved nearly $1.5-billion out of its market value, a severe loss for any stockholder who was panicked into selling.

“The President-elect’s tendency to go after people who criticize him by spreading false and provocative statements about them to his 16 million Twitter followers is not only dangerous to those people,” wrote former labor secretary Robert Reich on Facebook. “The practice poses a clear and present danger to our democracy, which depends on the freedom to criticize those in power without fear of retribution. No President or President-elect in history has ever publicly condemned individual private citizens for criticizing him. Unchecked, this is the start of tyranny.”

Trump acts as if thinks he’s Teflon-coated — and his outrageously bad Cabinet choices so far certainly reflect that — but it’s his “petty” and “vindictive” outbursts, as Reich describes them, that will wear thin on the public faster than anything else.

Electing a bomb-thrower who’ll “clean the swamp” is one thing. Watching him disgrace the office he won is much different.

Among other things, his outbursts stoke the fear of him taking rash actions with disastrous consequences. What is the point, he wondered aloud during his campaign, of having nuclear weapons if we don’t use them?

Abraham Lincoln could not have imagined nuclear weapons, but he would have known the answer to that question. Trump’s hot-blooded temper tantrums serve warning that he hasn’t learned it yet.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Spreading fake news, a dangerous bell that can’t be unrung

So Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a Northwest Washington restaurant. Imagine that.

Actually, someone did. The fake “news” then raced around the internet like chicken pox through a kindergarten.

But who could possibly believe such trash?

Actually, people did. The restaurant and its neighbors were besieged with death threats.

And Sunday, a man from North Carolina barged into the restaurant with an assault weapon to search for the children he believed were being held there. He reportedly fired at least one shot as everyone fled.

No one was hurt — this time.

The nation is on notice now that the clamor over fake “news” on the internet is more than much ado about nothing.

Our nation abounds with fools who are willing to believe anything they see, no matter where they see it, especially if it caters to their prejudices.

Internet fakery contributed to Clinton’s defeat — to what extent, we may never know.

The worst of it is not personified by Edgar M. Welch, the 28-year-old from North Carolina who took the sex ring slander seriously and whose two children may have to visit their father in prison for a long, long time.

No, the worst of it is the people who have duped so many folks like him. They belong behind bars even more than he does, but can’t be put there.

Where they definitely don’t belong is in public offices like that of the president-elect’s national security advisor-to-be, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Both he and his son, Michael G. Flynn, have used Twitter and other social media to spread some of the lurid stories associating Clinton with sex rings and other crimes. On Nov. 2, for example, the general posted this to Twitter:

“U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc. … MUST READ!”

You decide?

Flynn attached a link to his source, truepundit.com, which is to the internet as the National Enquirer is to print. The defamatory article is still featured on its site.

After Sunday’s alarming event, Flynn’s son, who was said to be on Donald Trump‘s transition team, took to Twitter to defend the slander that had provoked it.

“Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story …” he said.

Hours after Mike Pence insisted that the younger Flynn had “no involvement in the transition whatsoever,” the transition spokesman admitted in effect that he had been, but was no longer involved.

Both Flynns should have been fired.

What will deservedly remain a story is that Trump chooses advisors with such base instincts and execrable judgment. The possibility that the Russians originated these libels makes the national security adviser’s irresponsibility all the more ominous.

If somebody puts out the false news that North Korea is preparing to invade the South, would the national security adviser retweet that, saying U decide?

Trouble is, Trump’s own instincts are as bad, or worse. He plays Twitter like a pipe organ without a care as to whether what he tweets is true. His apologists would have us believe that it’s like shooting the bull over beers in a bar, that he doesn’t care that much whether what he says is true. Nonsense. He cares. He lies deliberately, knowing that the bigger the lie, the more people will swallow it.

There wasn’t a speck of evidence or truth in his Twitter claim that he would have won the popular vote but for 3 million illegal voters. To their credit, most of the media finally called the lie on that one.

But that bell can’t be unrung. There are doubtlessly more than 3 million fools who will go on believing it, and other Republicans are counting on them to help sell more voter suppression schemes to compliant legislatures and gullible courts.

“The long-running Republican war against the right to vote has now gone national at the instigation of President-elect Donald Trump,” observed a New York Times editorial.

Vice President-elect Pence, who surely knows better, was on ABC Sunday defending Trump’s “right to express his opinion.” When host George Stephanopoulos challenged the truth of it, Pence replied, “I don’t know that that’s a false statement, George and neither do you.”

This is the same deplorably deceitful diversion as Michael T. Flynn’s tweet, “U decide” and his son’s claim that the “Pizzagate” lie will remain a story until it’s proven false. The bigger the lie, paradoxically, the harder it is to prove to some people that it’s false. But that’s beside the point. If Trump or Pence have any evidence of anyone voting illegally, let them produce it.

They won’t—because they can’t. Indeed, in Michigan, Trump’s lawyers opposed a recount, saying that “all available evidence” shows that the election “was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

At least truth still matters somewhere, if only in courtrooms.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: On Jeb Bush’s relevance

Aiming to regain some relevance in the Republican Party, Jeb Bush argues that it should show voters that it stands “for a few a big ideas” rather than only for things to vote against.

Regrettably, four specific ideas that he proposed in a Nov. 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed are not simply big but bad.

“Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory powers than the Founders intended,” he wrote.

By far the worst is the notion of calling a constitutional convention to pass anything. The Constitution obliges the Congress to call one upon the request of 34 states, but it says nothing about how delegates would be chosen or whether the agenda could be limited to any one issue or set of issues. The uncertainties are so potentially dangerous that this method of amendment has never gone far.

A convention could call for scrapping the entire Constitution, replacing it with we know not what.

The Constitution itself is the product of a convention that was called to revise, not replace, the feeble Articles of Confederation.

That was progress. In the current sour national mood, would a convention respect what’s good about the Constitution — the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary? Or would it reward the authoritarian instincts of an incoming president who has no respect for any of that?

Just this week, our budding dictator called for revoking the citizenship of people who burn the flag. Never mind that it’s the approved method for disposing of one that’s tattered or soiled.

Could a convention abolish the Electoral College? No, because there are not 38 states that would ratify such an amendment.

Would convention delegates be elected or appointed by the state legislatures, which are so badly gerrymandered as to be essentially unrepresentative? If delegates were to be elected, would the Koch Brothers and their big-money allies effectively buy themselves a convenient Constitution?

Bush’s suggestion of a convention as a means to term limits looks like a deep knee-bend to Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has already told Trump to forget about that one.

“We have term limits now. They’re called elections,” says McConnell. For once, I agree with him.

Senate elections can be brutally competitive—we’ve just seen some—except in the most extremely red or blue states. Everywhere, party primaries can and do dispose of seemingly entrenched senators. Indiana’s Richard Lugar comes to mind. As The Washington Post has noted, 64 of the 100 senators have been there less than 10 years, and slightly more than half the 435-member House are new since 2008.

House elections are not nearly as competitive as they should be, but that’s because of gerrymandering. The federal courts are finally showing signs of doing something about that.

The term limits initiative that Bush’s buddy Phil Handy foisted on Florida in 1992 ranks as the second worst mistake — behind secession — the state ever made. It did little to promote more turnover. It made the Legislature worse, dumbing it down and leaving it weaker against the lobbyists, its leadership and the executive branch.

If it weren’t for term limits, Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd—widely disliked but still powerful—could not have said, as he did in 2004, that his members were “like sheep, waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

The damage works this way: Having only eight years to make their marks in the House or Senate, new members must follow the leaders or their bills won’t be heard and they will never become committee chairs.

In older, better days, legislators could dare to be independent in the knowledge that they could outlast unfriendly leaders. That was true of some who went on to become speakers and Senate presidents themselves. But now, in the House, a future speakership can be nailed down by a freshman who has not yet shown any good judgment or any other leadership quality.

“If you’ve sided with the wrong people, you’re in the doghouse or in the mid-tier, you are more likely to get attracted to any open county commission seat,” departing Sen. Daniel Webster told the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas in 2008.

Klas calculated that only 31 legislators remained from the 83 who had been elected when term limits disposed of their predecessors eight years earlier. But only five of the 83 had been voted out of office before their time ran out.

Although term limits have increased competition for open seats, they seem to be discouraging opposition to incumbents. Potential challengers wonder, reasonably, why they should invest time and money against an incumbent rather than wait for his or her enforced departure. The result: some incumbents could not care less what the voters might think of their deeds in Tallahassee.

What’s most wrong there, as in other state capitals, is the redistricting that leaves too many seats safe for one party or the other, giving the voters no effective choice. Of the 120 Florida legislators voting on new districts during a special session in October 2015, nearly a third—50—were elected without any primary or general election challenge.

As for Jeb’s other dubious reforms, I know of not nation that hogties itself the way a balanced budget amendment likely would, giving extreme power to minority voices in event of an emergency. History suggests an alternative: elect Democrats. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress balanced the budget and generated a surplus.

As for the Commerce Clause, it was perhaps the single most important provision the Founders established to knit together the 13 independent states into a functioning economy. There is already a check on the Commerce Clause: It’s the Supreme Court, as the court implied in rejecting the clause as a justification for Obamacare, which it upheld only under a different provision, the power to tax.

The future of our country is already uncertain enough in the hands of an unqualified and irrational president-elect. We hardly need a constitutional convention, or any of Jeb Bush’s other bad ideas, to make things worse.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times.

Martin Dyckman: Our ‘flawed’ Electoral College, mistrusting the people

When the news flashed on Facebook before the election that Queen Elizabeth II had offered to take us back, some people failed to recognize it as one of Andy Borowitz‘s deft satires from the New Yorker.

And some, I’m sure, now wish it were true.

Afterward, a friend in Britain wrote to offer refuge — many thanks, Bob, but not yet — and remarked that “there must be a flaw in a system which produces such an outcome.” He was “rather surprised at how many people failed to vote.”

That flaw is the Electoral College. For the fourth time in our history, and the second in 16 years, it has given the presidency to the candidate who polled fewer votes — significantly fewer in this case — than his principal rival.

That is hard to explain — actually, it’s indefensible — even to our own people. How can a country that calls itself a democracy tolerate it?

The founders didn’t trust the people.

“Your people, sir, is nothing but a great beast,” Alexander Hamilton is supposed to have said to his bitter enemy, Thomas Jefferson.

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God,” Hamilton told the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second…”

So they created a republic, not a democracy. In particular, they didn’t trust the people to elect a president. They meant for the less populated states to have an outsized influence. That had a lot to do with protecting slavery.

There is still no guaranteed right to vote, though it can no longer be denied on account of race, color, gender, or to persons over 18.

In the Federalist papers, Hamilton remarked that presidential selection was the least controversial aspect of the pending Constitution.

It would be “made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station … A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”

 The electors have long since been reduced to ceremonial functionaries (do you know or even care who yours are?), but the mechanism and the malapportion persist. Wyoming’s three electors each represent 187,922 people. A California elector speaks for 677,354. The Wyoming voter has more than three times the weight of one in California.

Among the 16 smallest states and the District of Columbia, Hillary Clinton actually won more electors — 39 — than Donald Trump, who had 29. But those 29 were eight more than his winning margin. The eight small states that he won have barely one percent of the U.S. population, but they accounted for 10 percent of his electoral votes.

Another feature of that founding flaw is that it discourages turnout in any state where the vote isn’t expected to be close. If that Wyoming voter is a Democrat and the California voter is a Republican, their votes don’t matter at all. With direct election, every vote would weigh the same. The presidential campaign would not be confined to a dozen or so “battleground states,” those that neither side can take for granted.

So, what can we do about this?

For one thing, we could amend the Constitution. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to do that. But this will likely be the last you hear of it. Amendment requires a three-fifths vote in each house (not two-thirds as I erroneously wrote recently) and approval by three-fourths (38) of the states. Democrats are short of even a majority in those categories and Republicans are quite unlikely to favor reform.

That’s because every candidate who won the popular vote and lost the election was a Democrat:

— Andrew Jackson, 1824. With four candidates splitting the electoral vote, the House had to decide and gave it to John Quincy Adams instead. Jackson spent the next four years railing about a “corrupt bargain” and wiped out Adams in 1828.

— Samuel J. Tilden, 1876. He led by some 250,000 votes, but a Congressional commission awarded the electors from Florida and two other disputed states to Rutherford B. Hayes, who promised to withdraw federal troops from the South and end Reconstruction. That really was a corrupt bargain.

— Al Gore, 2000. Florida’s famously fouled up vote-count was decisive for George W. Bush by the official margin of 537 votes

— Hillary Clinton, 2016. Her national popular vote margin and her electoral vote deficit are both larger than Gore’s.

There’s another remedy, simpler and more feasible than a constitutional amendment. The Constitution leaves it to the legislatures to determine how electors are chosen.

Under an active proposal called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, states would instruct their electors to vote for whoever wins the popular vote. Ten state legislatures and the District of Columbia have already agreed to this, but it’s effective only when states representing 270 electoral votes, the majority, have joined. The 11 account for 165, more than halfway there.

But it’s hard to see where the remaining 105 electoral votes could be found. All 11 present members of the compact voted for Clinton. The other states she carried would add only 47 more votes, and most of them have Republican legislatures, as do most of Trump’s states.

What would it take to persuade the Republicans?

A reverse of 2000 and 2016 could do it: A Democrat loses the popular vote but wins 270 or more electors. That’s a long shot, but it’s not inconceivable. A moderate Republican in the mold of George H.W. Bush could hold the Democrats to narrow victories in the swing and safely blue seats while winning by large margins in the others.

Trouble is, it’s hard to imagine a moderate being nominated by the GOP in its present mode. If the popular vote is to prevail in the near future, the Democrats may just have to nominate stronger candidates, show a more compelling sense of purpose, and run better campaigns than they did this year and 16 years ago.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons