Getting Carried Away

President Trump is easily the most deeply, passionately hated American political figure in my lifetime.  No other nationally known politico — not Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, not Sarah Palin, not President George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — really even comes close.  Among some people, at least, the wellspring of absolute loathing for Donald Trump is off the charts, and it’s causing them to say and do things that are amazing.

hqdefaultConsider, for example, this op-ed piece published last Friday in USA Today.  One of their “opinion contributors” argues that President Trump has “broken the presidency” and that the office needs to be abolished.  It’s not exactly a reasoned essay about constitutional principles and structural reforms in the government of our republic.  Instead, the article says things like “[t]here is a bloated authoritarian lounging in his bathrobe in a 200-year-old mansion that used to symbolize the principal republic of the world” and “[i]f you’re stunned that President Donald Trump is still in office because he’s so horrible and so unpopular and so obviously corrupt — you are not alone — the overwhelming majority agrees with you.”

Clearly, the author thinks that President Trump is a very bad person . . . but what about the office of the presidency?  Well, the writer argues that impeachment won’t solve the problem, because “[i]t’s never lived up to its promise” and has never removed a bad president from office.  And her concern now that Trump holds the office is that the presidency has become so powerful that it is beyond repair:  “My fear isn’t Trump; it’s that the next autocrat is most likely smarter and savvier than Trump. Every partisan from every niche of American politics should be alarmed. We have a branch of government that stinks so bad it’s wafted over the entire nation and its outer territories. The entire world sees it. We’re in trouble. The presidency is broken. Our little democratic experiment is in peril.”  The answer, she suggests, is to follow the Swiss model, and replace the executive with a “council of boring bureaucrats.”

This alarmist piece in a national publication isn’t alone, it’s just one symptom of much bigger, deeper issue:  how their disgust with everything President Trump does and stands for is causing some people to seriously advocate for actions that could affect the foundations of our republic.  I’m not sure how serious the USA Today op-ed writer really is, but after more than 200 years and more than 40 Presidents, good and bad, I’d say the Office of the President can withstand the election of Donald Trump.  And I wouldn’t like to even think about how a “council of boring bureaucrats” would have dealt with guiding the Union through the horrors of the Civil War, or leading the country forward to victory during World War II.

The people who hate President Trump are entitled to their views and have the right to express them vigorously.  I just hope that everybody recognizes that there is a difference between a man and an office.  We shouldn’t let our feelings for the current occupant cause us to make changes to how our government works that could have serious repercussions down the road.

Advertisements

Rethinking Prison

It hasn’t gotten a lot of media attention — at least, not compared to Twitter wars and Russian collusion claims — but Congress and the Trump Administration appear to be working hard, and making progress, on a tough topic:  prison reform.

The House of Representatives passed a prison reform bill in the spring, and the Senate is now working on its version of the legislation.  President Trump has weighed in by hosting meetings of governors and federal officials and pointing to the issue in some of his tweets.  And, in an era where it seems like Republicans and Democrats never agree on anything, the prison reform bill seems to be attracting bipartisan support.

prisonerjaildeathpenalty2The House legislation, called the First Step Act, seeks to reduce recidivism by funding education, drug treatment, and job training programs, and allowing inmates who complete programs to earn credits that would permit them to leave prison early and complete their sentences through home confinement or a stay at a halfway house.  The Senate bill would add to the House legislation by tacking mandatory minimum sentence measures.  Among the topics being addressed are changing the “three-strikes-and-you’re out” mandatory sentence for drug offenses from life in prison to 25 years, reducing the disparity in sentences given for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, and reducing the mandatory sentences imposed when a firearm is used in an offense.  Still other provisions would give judges more flexibility to depart from mandatory penalties when sentencing offenders for less serious offenses.

I’m glad Congress and the President are focused on prison reform.  Studies indicate that there are significant racial disparities in sentencing, and although the gap is closing, black men are still much more likely than white men to be imprisoned.  It seems that prison often makes inmates more violent and irredeemable.  And if you speak to a federal judge about their job, one topic they’re likely to mention is their frustration at the mandatory sentencing guidelines and the lack of discretion they currently have in recognizing special circumstances that would allow them to shape more appropriate sentences that are tailored to the individual defendant and his or her specific conduct.  All of these are important, substantive topics that need to be addressed.

One other thing:  prison and sentencing reform is politically thankless.  It’s easy for politicians to rail about crime and boast about tossing people into prison and throwing away the key; it’s a lot harder to look thoughtfully at a broken system and try to figure out how to fix it in a sensible way.  A vote for prison reform today might produce campaign ads about a Senator or Representative being “soft on crime” when the next election rolls around.  We’ll have to see whether these kinds of political considerations derail the prison and sentencing reform effort.

For now, though, I’ll give President Trump and Congress credit for stopping the name-calling, rolling up their sleeves, and actually working on a challenging issue.  If only other important issues could be addressed that way!

El Cheapos

Yesterday, during a torrential downpour, I felt dampness underfoot and discovered my well-worn pair of sneakers had a hole in the sole.

(Have you ever noticed that you don’t discover a hole in your shoe until you’re out in the rain? Just like you never discover you’re out of coffee until that morning when you desperately need a cup. But, I digress.)

By the time I got to the office my sneakers were water-logged and ruined. So, I added a trip to the shoe store to yesterday’s to-do list. I ended up going to Famous Footwear, where I made a beeline directly to the clearance rack and bought this perfectly good pair of size 13 walking shoes for only $35. I’m no runner or roundballer, and I really could care less about style. Shoes are a consumer good where I can easily save a few bucks by going the discount route.

I can also report that it’s nice to have some extra cash in my wallet, and that my first few walks in these El Cheapos were perfectly satisfactory.

A Device-Free Summer

When UJ and I were kids, we spent a few weeks one summer at Camp Y-Noah, located somewhere in northern Ohio.  We took hikes, made crafts, swam in a pond, sang around a campfire, slept in a cabin, learned how to ride a horse, played capture the flag, and ate camp food in a large mess hall.  We also shot bb guns, tried to hit a target with a bow and arrow, and used an outhouse for the first time.  As a tubby, bookish kid, I wasn’t a huge fan of camp, frankly, but it was a good experience to try different things.

ssnl-campynoah-2Those camps are still around.  And, surprisingly to some, they remain attractive to kids — even though many of the camps ban the smartphones, iPads, laptops, and other electronic gizmos that kids are supposed to be addicted to these days.

According to the American Camp Association, there are about 8,400 sleepaway camps in the United States, and about 90 percent of them ban campers from bringing personal electronic devices.  And while some kids — and, surprisingly, parents — try to sneak their way around the rules, and camp counselors have to spend part of their time on the lookout for devices that violate the camp rules, most campers apparently quickly adapt to a life that is focused on the outdoors, without texting, or YouTube, or handheld games.  When they’ve got other fun things to do, the urge to constantly text their friends is apparently less compelling.

I’m not a diehard opponent of technology; electronic devices are a reality of the modern world and kids inevitably are going to use them.  But I do think that it’s good for people to step away from constant connectivity now and then, and enjoy some fresh air and exercise.  I’m glad to see that so many camps have decided to stick to their (bb) guns on this issue and take steps to get campers to leave their devices behind and see what nature offers instead.  I’m not surprised that kids are enjoying the break.

A Good Neighbor In Telephone Hell

This morning when I walked to work in a torrential downpour I found a person’s debit card on the street.  Wanting to be a good neighbor, I picked it up rather than leave it for a potential fraudster to find, and abuse.

The card was issued by one of the Big Banks.  There was a phone number on the back of the card, as well as a stern, all-capital-letters notice advising me that the card was the property of the Big Bank.  So, I called the telephone number to let the Big Bank know that I had found its card in the rainwater sluicing down Third Street.

phone_from_hellBut when I called the Big Bank’s phone number, no one answered.  Instead, I was routed immediately into telephone hell — one of those seemingly impenetrable automatic phone thickets, where a computer voice gives you a range of “press one, press two options,” and those options in turn lead to new levels of “press one, press two” options.  After going several levels deep, and retracing my steps to try different routes, without finding any options that dealt with reporting a lost card — or that allowed me to press for a real person to talk to — I gave up in frustration.  I figure I’ll just stop by the branch of the Big Bank when it’s open on Monday and, assuming that Big Bank employs actual human beings, give the card that I found to somebody who can figure out what to do with it.

I’ve been blessedly sheltered.  In our family, Kish is the poor soul who makes the calls to the automatic phone lines and suffers the frustration that inevitably results.  I’ve got a new, even greater appreciation for her willingness to handle that thankless task and an even deeper gratitude that, thanks to her, I’ve dodged that particular bullet.

But I do find myself wondering — is putting people who just want to do the right thing into computerized telephone hell really how American businesses conduct their affairs these days?  It makes me think that maybe we should attach a few conditions the next time Big Bank comes to us taxpayers for a bailout — like, say, giving people the option of talking to an actual, human customer service representative.

Betting On Sports

The Supreme Court made a lot of important rulings earlier this year.  One ruling that got a bit lost in the shuffle may end up having an important impact on states across the country, colleges that play big-time sports, and professional sports franchises, too.

300px-eight_men_bannedIn May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that effectively banned gambling on sports, with some exceptions, in all states but Nevada.  The federal law, called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was based on concern that allowing widespread gambling might undercut sports as a form of wholesome entertainment.  Nevada, which already permitted gambling on sports, was allowed to continue, but other states were largely barred from doing so.  New Jersey passed a state law allowing gambling on sports and then challenged the federal law, and the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey, ruling  that while Congress has the power to regulate sports betting at the federal level, it can’t dictate to states what their individual laws must be.

Why did New Jersey decide to challenge the federal law?  Do you really need to ask?  Of course, the answer is money.  New Jersey’s casinos were struggling, and it objected to Nevada having a federally sanctioned monopoly on sports gambling.  If sports gambling were allowed in its casinos, New Jersey reasoned, it might promote tourism and increase tax revenues.  And these days, states are all about increasing their revenues.

With the Supreme Court ruling, Ohio legislators are now looking at whether Ohio, too, should legalize gambling on sports.  One argument made in favor is that many Ohioans already bet on sports through the underground economy — so why not take the activity above ground and get some tax revenue from it?  But the existence of the illicit sports betting also poses a challenge, because states that want to legalize the activity in order to earn revenue have to figure out how to make legal gambling as easy and attractive as calling the local bookie.  One issue for legislators to consider, for example, is whether Ohio should allow on-line gambling, so long as the website has some Ohio presence and the state gets a cut of the action.  Or, should such betting be limited to licensed casinos?

And colleges, universities, and professional sports leagues are holding their breath, too.  They opposed New Jersey’s effort to overturn the federal law, because confining legal sports gambling to Las Vegas kept it separate and apart from 99.9 percent of campuses, stadiums, and sports arenas.  Now legalized gambling on sports will be out in the open, and there are concerns that gamblers hoping to get an edge might bribe professional and amateur athletes to throw a game or do something to affect the point spread.

College sports administrators and professional sports leagues are worried about another Black Sox scandal — who can blame them?  After all, it’s been 100 years, and the 1919 American League champions from Chicago are still called the Black Sox.

Rainy August

Normally, August is one of the hottest months of the year. It’s typically the month when your lawn dries out and finally gives up the ghost, and you squirm with embarrassment when your neighbors arch an eyebrow at the carpet of brownness.

Not this year, though. We’re in the midst of the wettest August I can remember, where you need to carry your umbrella every day just in case another gullywasher is going to roll through town. We had a big cloudburst this afternoon, and another one tonight. It’s as if August and April traded places.

The lawn seems to be enjoying it, though. What’s next? August mushrooms?