Is Impeachment A Political Tool Or A Moral Obligation?

For the last umpteen months, almost since he took office, impeachment talk has centered on the most hated/admired President since Andrew Johnson, Donald Trump. 

Wait. Since Nixon… No. Clinton.

Wait! Franklin Roosevelt was really, really hated in 1932. Then he was loved and went on to four terms. Which, by 1951, caused another change of heart: limiting a President to two terms via the 22nd Amendment.   

We are a fickle country.

If you want to get rid of a President or other high official, you have two options, the 25th Amendment for mental incompetence, and Article 2, Impeachment for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Article 2 also gives The House of Representatives the “sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “the sole Power to try all impeachments”. 

When she was only 28 and the House of Representatives first considered impeaching Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton helped write a report on Impeachment. It noted that 83 federal officials had been served with Articles of Impeachment since the Constitution made it out of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1789.  

In 1974 the House used the report in deciding to impeach Nixon. It must have been a pretty impressive piece, because Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.

Over the years, only 8 Presidents have faced impeachment and, of those, only two have actually been impeached: Andrew Johnson and, ironically, Hillary’s husband, Bill. Both were acquitted.

More ironically, Congress is using the same report today as they consider impeaching Hillary’s nemesis, Donald Trump. 

At 0 for 3 since 1789, it is small wonder Pelosi is leery of impeaching a President.

Of course that leaves out all those non-presidents who have been impeached over the years. 

The first judge to be impeached was John Pickering in 1803. He was nominated by George Washington, no less. Even so, he lost his job due to mental instability and intoxication on the bench.  

Mental instability and intoxication are pretty common excuses today for everything from petty theft to wife-beating and mass murder; Impeachment is a high bar.

Since 1803, 15 judges, two presidents, one Secretary of War, and one Senator have been impeached. Eight were found guilty and removed from office. One case was dismissed. Seven were acquitted. Three resigned.   

The most recent federal judge to lose his job, Thomas Corteous, of Louisiana’s Eastern District, was caught taking bribes and lying about it. Too bad he couldn’t use the instability/intoxication excuse.

Which brings up Brett Kavanaugh. Remember him from way back in July of last year? And Christine Ford, the woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her during high school? Remember Trump and GOP leaders preventing the FBI from a complete investigation of Ford’s claims? Or Deborah Ramirez’s claim, corroborated by at least 7 others, that Kavanaugh waved his penis in front of her at a Yale party? 

At his hearing, Kavanaugh admitted to liking beer, but despite of some weird tears and outbursts, he was never accused of mental instability or intoxication. Instead he was approved for the Supreme Court in a historically close vote, 50-48.

It is now being reported that another Yale woman was also visited by Kavanaugh’s waving penis. So, now Democrats are calling for him to be impeached. 

That makes two people the Democrats want to impeach, Kavanaugh and Trump (for some reason, they’ve left out Senate Leader Mitch McConnell – must be his good looks).

The problem for Democrats is that impeachment efforts usually fail. With a Republican Senate, the prospects of impeaching Trump or Kavanaugh are about the same as either one retiring and moving to the Bahamas. 

So, why even start impeachment if you know it might fail? 

Beyond that, the impeachment of Trump or Kavanaugh may well define the entire 2020 Presidential campaign, smothering a long list of kitchen table subjects, such as climate change, healthcare, economic inequality, education, infrastructure, etc…  

Politics is not included in the Constitution, beyond some ground rules. The Constitution doesn’t suggest when to do anything about “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It simply offers a way to stop them. House members decide when, or even whether, to do so.  

So, if Congress sees “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” should it use the Constitution or not? If it doesn’t act now, will it weaken the Articles of Impeachment for future use? Is Impeachment a political or moral tool? 

If the House does nothing, is it doing something?  

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Phrases That Don’t Mean What They Say

I remember distinctly the first time anyone said, “Have a nice day.” It was in the last century, circa 1970’s. I was in Baltimore where I produced and directed The Arnold Zenker Show, a morning talk show at WJZ-TV. Carrie Peterson, an Associate Producer was seeing a guest out. Instead of just saying “Thanks for doing the show” or even “Bye!”, she cheerily said both and then added a phrase I’d never heard: 

“Have a nice day!” she said. 

Carrie was a very cheery person. She was also smart and nice. If I had to use just one word to describe her, though, “cheery” would be it. 

Or “chipper”, maybe. She was chipper, too.

They shook hands and off he went. As she walked by me, I said, “what’s with ‘Have a nice day?’”

“I just heard that the other day”, she said. “I thought it was a cool. You know. And new.” 

(Did I mention this was decades ago?)

“Well, I guess. But …‘Have a nice day’ as opposed to what,  ‘Have nasty day’?” 

And then:  “Hey, Carrie! How about, ‘Have a really nasty day… and a nastier night!’” 

She gave me a “whatever-you-had-for-breakfast-get-over-it!” look and went into her office.

Guess who was not having a nice day? Yep. Arnold had just informed me that the guest I had booked that day was duller than a preacher on Monday morning and making him seem interesting was like a being nice to IRS agent.

Since then I’ve noticed we say a lot of things to each other don’t mean anything close to what we say.

You go to a restaurant with your son and the waiter says, “I’m Fred (or Sally or Bozo). I’ll be taking care of you.”

(Really? How about paying my electric bill? My grandmother thinks I’m my father. Could you straighten her out? Or my son here. He plays video games all day instead of looking for a job. Could you get him to take a shower, or maybe pick up his room? How about just getting him to answer his phone!) 

Later on, just as I’m finally convincing my son that growing up is a good thing, the waiter butts in with “How’s the food?” And while I am answering politely, my son rethinks the whole thing!

The newest way of saying, “I don’t know” or “I have absolutely no idea”, is “I’m not sure”. 

You go into a grocery store and ask a worker where the light bulbs are. 

“I’m not sure”. 

“Well, where do you think they might be?”

“I’m not sure.”

“The paper goods aisle, perhaps?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Stationary aisle?”

“I’m not sure”

“Meat? Cereal? Produce?”

“Not sure.”

“Any idea what day it is?”

It took a few times, but now I give up at the first “I’m not sure”. It’s just better for the universe. I’m sure.

Back to the restaurant. The server brings your food and says, “Enjoy!”. Not “I hope you enjoy this”, or “please enjoy”. Just “enjoy”. It’s an order. I haven’t done it yet, but one day I’m just going to blurt out, “Uh, No!”

As time has gone on, I’ve become much smarter about phrases that don’t mean what they say. For example, the first time I heard, “Your call is important to us” and “We value your time”, I knew neither was true. The robot had never even met me. 

I am waiting for the time when I can leave a message for the robot: “No, it isn’t important to you and no, you don’t value my time. But you know what? They’re both important to me.” Followed by a loud Bronx cheer.

When I was a kid and someone asked, “How are you?” I might have answered, “Not good. I got an F on my English test and the dog pooped on the rug and I got blamed for not taking him out and …” And they might have said, “Well that’s too bad… or “Boy, dog poop? That stinks!” 

In other words, “How are you?” was once a real question.

Today when I’m out walking my dog, and someone walks up and says, “How are you doing?” they keep walking. What they really mean is “I’m just being nice – Do not even think about talking to me.”

So I respond with “How are you doing?” And I keep walking. Then I tell my dog how I am. 

I haven’t seen Carrie Peterson since the 70’s, but I have a feeling she started the whole thing.

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What’s Happening To Capitalism?

My call for a doctor’s appointment was on hold 15 or 20 minutes. Every 60 seconds or so a recording told me my call was important to them and … you know the rest.  

The only blessing was I didn’t have to listen to medical ads, too. Those are the sole content of the waiting room TV.

There is a reason for this: doctors don’t practice medicine any more; they practice capitalism.  Capitalism is the practice of making money; medicine is the practice of diagnosing and treating disease. The two used to coexist, but more and more they conflict.

That’s because medicine has been swallowed whole by insurance companies whose job is to lower medical costs, so they – insurance companies – can make more profits.

Well, duh! Right?

Except the doctor who used to need one office worker now needs many – just to deal with insurance companies’ efficiencies – thereby cutting the doctor’s income. 

It’s called “income shifting” – in this case from doctor to insurance company. Oh, and increased co-pays by the patient.

The least valued person in the chain of capitalism in almost every field, from retail to medicine to law, is the customer, the person to whom the robot says: “your call is important to us”.  

There are two components that once made capitalism successful for everyone involved, from innovator to employee to supplier to the final customer: competition and innovation. 

Mankind is essentially competitive. Whether it was a caveman finding the best cave or Tom Brady firing TD passes, we compete with each other. Over time, we’ve tempered competition by forming tribes, cultures and countries. Even there, though, competition reigns. Thus wars, from the Crusades to the current trade wars. 

The US has thrived on competition by harnessing the inherent strength of capitalism: innovation. Thus advances from the six-shooter to the aircraft carrier, from leather chaps to Dior gowns. It’s all about being faster, bigger, stronger, smarter, funnier, better looking… than the competition. The US has more inventions than most other countries combined, a major reason we have outstripped other countries.

But the US brand of capitalism has been sidetracked in the last few decades because of its sole focus on “increasing shareholder value”. 

Some people attribute the idea to economist Milton Friedman who, in a landmark 1970 NY Times piece said CEO’s who pursued a goal other than making money were “unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”

Some say it was when Henry Ford was starting his car company and paid for transmissions made by the Dodge Brothers with stock. Ford’s success inspired the Dodge Brothers to start their own car company, funding it with Ford stock dividends. Ford responded to the new competition by cutting dividends. The Dodge Brothers sued and lost, because Ford claimed he was using the dividends to lower costs, thereby selling more cars, thereby “increasing shareholder value”. 

Raw capitalism is the law of the jungle. The lion wins every time. But capitalism’s strength is also its weakness, because, if the lion – the biggest company – wins every time, there is less innovation and competition, so capitalism stagnates. Think Comcast, Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc…

Two things are causing our capitalism to stagnate.

One is a lack of shared morality. We used to frown on cheating, lying, stealing, etc. We tried to codify those beliefs into laws, because we learned that, without regulation the lions win. In 1901, for example, Theodore Roosevelt tamed Rockefeller’s Standard Oil by outlawing monopolies. But in recent decades, new kinds of monopolies have circumvented Roosevelt’s law. 

Think Comcast, Amazon Facebook, Google, etc. again.

For every new regulation there’s a new loophole. It turns out we can’t regulate morality, even if we still agreed on what is moral.

The second is the focus on shareholders. It devalues everyone else, from employee to supplier to the final customer.

Socialism, which thrives on cooperation vs competition and on constancy vs innovation is starting to looking pretty good to those subsumed by the corporate oligarchies.

But socialism did not trigger Ford’s assembly line or The Wright Brothers’ airplane or the moon landing or Jobs’ iPhone or myriad other world-affecting innovations.  

Capitalism needs fixing, not replacement.

In a hearing last April California Rep. Katie Porter asked JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon how one of his employees could survive on the salary he paid her. He didn’t have an answer.  

Four months later, 181 CEO’s, including Jamie Dimon, came up with one. They issued a statement saying corporations should benefit all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, and communities as well as shareholders. 

Innovative, huh.

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Getting away from angry politicians, climate change, “Breaking News!”…

…Packing for a shore vacation for the whole family, including another  “Grandpa”. Let’s see, they’re coming from Brooklyn, Queens, Summit, Basking Ridge, Malvern, Florida. What to bring: Wash and fold towels, sheets and pillow cases. Don’t forget soap (dish, dishwasher and hand), then kitchen stuff. A trip to the grocery store for staples… remember favorite cereals, tea, coffee, beer, wine,… Oh yeah, there’s a birthday. 

And everyone is bringing at least one dog. That will be an event in itself.

Stuff it all into the SUV, including the… Oh no! He almost forgot the dog! Oh yea… and dog food, dog bed, leash, toys…. 

(Here’s a question: how did people go on vacations before SUV’s?). 

Finally on the freeway two hours later than planned, his back saying “what the *&^!8!”, he can’t remember if he locked the house or not.

He drives for an hour and a half, at… well, just a tad over the speed limit. 

(Now, what is that about?! Why would anyone get all pent up and race to a vacation place to mellow out? Because everyone else on the road is doing the same thing? Maybe it’s our competitive nature. Maybe to have more time to mellow out than the other guy. Maybe both – “I got more mellow-out time than you did! Hah!”.)

He gets there within fifteen minutes of everyone else – it turns out they all got a late start, too. 

Unload all the stuff (more complaints from that stupid back). Say hi to everyone. Decide who gets what room. Have that first beer or coke and try not to complain about Jersey traffic. (Unfortunately, we can’t all come from PA.)

They walk the dogs, then stroll a few blocks to a local restaurant for dinner. A woman in a long skirt and floppy sunhat riding a fat-tired bike weaves through desultory traffic. Cars don’t even honk at her. Hmmm.  

Shrimp scampi to drool over and on a paper plate. And some of the worst looking, best tasting french fries ever. There are quiet, catching up conversations, punctuated with occasional bursts of laughter.  


Grandpa’s a birthday boy today and he has presents to open. He brings his own cake – carrot cake – because it reminds him of his daughter’s carrot cake (the best ever! No contest. The best!). She’s told him she can’t be there for this birthday, or bring his grandchildren. So he decided to just get a store cake this year instead. So there!

But one taste and Grandpa details the store cake’s inadequacies. As good as it is (and – Yum!!), he convinces everyone it’s not real carrot cake at all. 

(What everyone else knows is that Grandpa’s daughter and grandchildren are going to arrive for a day-after-birthday-surprise the next day. The real surprise?  No-one breaks the secret).

The next morning he takes the dog for a long walk, past expansive Victorian beach houses adjacent to sleek contemporary ones. Next to a small park with swings is the town’s City Hall, a building that looks more like a college dorm than a government office.  A vintage MG TD purrs down the street, the driver looking left and right for attention. It has been beautifully restored and triggers memories of black and white British movies.  He passes an early 1950’s pickup truck, shiny red, with an upright cab and a long bed – also looking new.

They all sit in wicker chairs on the wrap-around porch after a late breakfast. There is some talk of current events, but more of childhood, jobs, the New York commute and, of course, jokes about the relatives who aren’t there to defend themselves. 

Sometime later in the afternoon, when he least expects it, Grandpa answers a knock at the door and there stand his daughter and his two grandchildren. 

Shouts of glee. Hugs. Laughs. And later, the carrot cake he had bragged about. And yes, it is as good as he said.

For the rest of the week: walks on the beach, reading books that they got two Christmas ago, long naps, reminiscing about childhoods and family lore, playing cards and board games, watching dogs peacefully work out a pecking order amongst themselves (well, fairly peacefully).

No radio. No TV. Checking email, maybe. 

Grandpatakes the grandchildren for a stroll in town. They see a newspaper stand, stacked with crisp, unread newspapers. 

Grandpa takes the grandchildren for a stroll in town. They see a newspaper stand filled with crisp new papers, stacked and ready to be read. 

“What are those, Grandpa?” 

“Right now, nothing of importance. But I had a great birthday!” 

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It’s All About The Fear

It’s time for everyone to “take 5”, “have a cup of Joe”, “chill” – whatever you want to call it. Because this country is feeling like a CNN news crew at a Trump rally. 

The US we know today was started by white European Christians. And that’s been the dominant culture ever since.

In recent decades, millions of Hispanics have crossed the border from Mexico illegally. Being big-hearted and optimistic, Reagan gave 3 million of them amnesty, convinced Congress would stop the flow with stricter laws. Today, there are over 11 million. The two branches didn’t cooperate very well then, either. 

In some ways white Americans really like low-skilled – illegal – immigrants. They do the jobs we won’t do, like working in the fields or slaughter houses, washing dishes or cleaning toilets. And we don’t even have to pay them decent wages. 

On the other hand, now we have bilingual everything, from restroom signs to recorded messages. Not to mention a heavy dose of Hispanic culture. We’re not as happy about that. No me gusta.

Our culture has always valued immigrants, but the white, European kind, n’est pas? 

Today diversity in the US, once theoretical, is becoming reality.  So, with the influx of more non-white, non-European immigrants, a lot of white Americans are fearful of our culture being diluted and dominance weakened. 

That’s the fear Trump has been fanning for 4 years by focusing on criminal elements and terrorism. 

You see the fear in rural, homogeneous areas, more than urban areas. There’s a simple reason: cities, especially big ones, are melting pots with lots of diverse people crammed together. In these places, your culture or heritage matters less than your ability to get a job done. People rub shoulders and eventually get to know the person behind the ethnicity. As they do, fear is replaced by respect, even friendship.

Is the fear of immigrants justified? Not according to most national statistics. Two examples: in 2001, the crime rate in El Paso was higher than the national average but by 2017, as immigration increased, the city’s crime rate steadily decreased to below the national average;  according to the FBI, crime in the 10 cities with the most refugees also decreased between 2006 and 2015. 

Is Trump a racist, a xenophobe? His quotes imply both, for sure. But he also clearly stops short of direct racism. Is he anti-Semitic? He certainly stereotypes Jews, but he doesn’t denigrate them; he hires them.

So, I don’t know if he is racist, per se. That’s too narrow. I think he’s a “Poorist”.

He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, the son of a wealthy white European developer who cared only about winning and wealth. I think he dislikes and looks down upon poor people, those on the bottom rung, most of whom are black and brown. And he always has.

So he denigrates them. He highlights the poverty of Baltimore and talks about “sh**hole” poor countries that send rapists and killers into the US. 

But he’s very afraid of poverty and all its accouterments, from roach infestations to disease to crime. People’s skin color and ethnicity are tangential to their poverty. To him, wealth and privilege are protections from the great unwashed. 

The additional fears he promotes are extensions of that primary fear. Geo-politics is bad. Nationalism is good. Welfare is bad. Oligarchy is good. 

Let the poor eat whatever they can; the cake is for us. 

The biggest mistake for those who oppose Trump (Republicans or Democrats) is to counter his fear mongering by promoting their own fear: of unregulated capitalism, of authoritarianism, of climate change, of economic disparity, of abuse of power, etc…

Why? Because fear – especially his fear – begets anger, which is already tearing the country apart, not to mention killing people in Dayton, El Paso, etc…

What the country needs today is less fear, less anger. We need Franklin Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” after which he calmly led us to victory and the world to safety.

I have good friends who share traditional American values: integrity, love of family, hard work, patriotism, and the like. The major difference between them (beyond accents from New England to Texas) is the politics of fear. 

If those who oppose Trump meet fear with fear and fight anger with anger, the country will continue to turn against itself. If they meet fear and anger with inspiration and rectitude, with ideas and ideals, we will all win.

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