My theory on why John Boehner resigned

I don’t think it’s that he is so conflict-averse or so afraid of the extremists in his own party. And I don’t think that, as has been rumored, he just wants to play golf now. He’s younger than Bernie and Hillary; why should he retire so soon?

Sometimes a wild guess pays off. I made a good try, or at least so I thought, in 2006, in predicting that then-president George Bush would rescue then-senator Rick Santorum from impending electoral disaster by appointing him US ambassador to the Vatican. I still think that was a good idea, and Santorum might think so too nine years later as he struggles to remain in the GOP outer circle for president. But it didn’t happen.

So here’s my current revelation. No, not that ambassadorship, not as Andy Borowitz imagines to “continue repealing Obamacare from his home in Ohio,” but: John Boehner is resigning to become Jeb Bush’s pre-announced running mate for vice-president.

That would be unorthodox, to be sure, but Jeb needs to do something drastic, or he’ll end up down there with Rick on the warm-up team. With Boehner at his side, Jeb can say they will be campaigning together to bring their party back from the outer reaches of anarchist irresponsibility.

And that would be a good thing to do. This country, with its two-party system imposed by our winner-take-all single-vote elections, has advanced over the centuries through a dialogue of two opposed but basically responsible parties. We don’t have that interplay any more and as a result we are becoming the wonder of the world, not in a good sense.

“Jeb and John for sanity”–not the strongest campaign slogan ever, but one badly needed, and you heard it first here, as they say!

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The Pope I hope

The Pope
I hope
is wholly
He knows
a rose
from a tank
or a bank
and when he speaks
Wall Street squeaks.
The man won’t feast
and listens to the least:
he gives one hope,
he does, this Pope.

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Brief thoughts on the political parties

Some Republicans are loyal to their party because their ancestors fought for the Union, others because their ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

Democrats: the coalition of groups that vote every 4 years.

The Republican big tent: rich people who want to make themselves even richer and non-rich people who plan to get rich by winning the lottery.

Democrats believe so much in helping the disadvantaged that they want the rich to have the honor of paying for it.

Both parties are against gerrymandering when someone else does it.

Candidates of both parties snap toothlessly at the Wall Street hand that feeds them.

Independents are so opposed to the political system that they perpetuate it by dropping out of it.

Politicians would rather stick with people who do vote than make voting easier for people who don’t.

It is said the American people get the president they deserve. The parties also get the candidates they deserve.

May the 2016 election give us the wisdom to know the difference between policy and entertainment, and the courage to choose the country’s long-term interest.

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Chesco D’s and R’s and the Issues

It seems the Chester County Republican party is starting to worry about Donald Trump.

Whatever resonances the leading R presidential candidate might find in certain other parts of the country, it’s pretty clear that his peculiar combination of the cult of personality and anti-immigrant prejudice won’t play well in Chester County.

A recent email from the Chesco R party is imaginatively entitled “Chester County Republicans! Stop the Out of Touch, Local Democrat Party!” Let’s just see who is out of touch (besides Mr. Trump, of course).

First, let’s note that the email does not reproduce any document as circulated by Chester County Democrats. It actually includes, for unknown reasons, an automatic English translation of a Spanish-language ad plus the original English-language graphic. Not good scholarship; but of course, this is politics.

The “President Trump?” motif, which obviously strikes a local R nerve, has been used in several forms. Here are the text and image as they actually appeared on the CCDC Facebook page, July 30:

Don’t kid yourself: it can happen.
If not Trump, then Bush or Walker.
And with a Republican President, we’ll see the repeal of Obamacare, a 20-week abortion ban, the end of the EPA, and war with Iran.
If we’re going to elect Hillary or Bernie next year, we must start right NOW! The Chester County Democratic Party isn’t waiting… and neither should you. If you’ve got some time, we’ve got important work for you to do… starting TODAY!
Please call us at 610-692-5811 or email to join this historic and crucial movement. Thank you!

The Spanish version dubiously rendered in the R email did refer to “a candidate who can continue in the footsteps of Obama.” For anyone who saw that email, the incoherence of the text is explained by the automatic translation, which starts out: “Do not deceive.” Though “Make no mistake” was the original thought, “Do not deceive” seems like good advice.

The email goes on to claim that “The Chester County Republican Committee is increasing its commitment to expanding our big tent and going back to the vision our strongest leaders have had for this country – small government, a strong economy, a leader in foreign policy and national security, and a voice for the middle class.

I’m not sure what “strongest leaders” they refer to, but probably not Democrats Wilson and Roosevelt, who led the country in World Wars I and II.

If Trump and the wall-builders are in the supposed big tent, I fear there isn’t much room there for recent immigrants. If Mike Huckabee is there, there isn’t much room for gays and lesbians. Rick Santorum doesn’t leave much air for working mothers, nor Ted Cruz for people concerned about global warming. And if the Kochs are there, no union workers need apply.

I’m always amazed when Pennsylvania Republicans talk about “small government.” Those are the very politicians who forbade municipalities from setting limits on gun sales (that law was thrown out in court) and who proposed House Bill 809 to prevent municipalities from limiting the number of tenants in a rental unit and the density of student homes.

Historically, the US economy has grown less under R presidents than D ones. The rise of the 1% and the decline of the middle class were engineered by the Reagan policies, the “trickle-down” economic theory, and the ongoing attacks on labor that have caused union membership, and consequently many middle-class salaries, to decline continuously since the early 1980s. The big hit in family net worth came in 2008 as a result of the Great Depression caused by loose government oversight of banks; the disastrous collapse of the Bush-era housing bubble made many middle class families lose part or all of their principal resource, the equity in their homes. Under Obama, unemployment has shrunk below pre-2008 levels and millions of newly insured are no longer one serious illness away from losing their assets and home.

The favorite R foreign and national security policy seems to be military action, as is clear from the calls to return to Iraq, send troops to Syria, and sabotage a nuclear agreement with Iran. But diplomacy is also foreign policy, and the health and welfare of Americans also contribute to national security.

Conversely, the R email claims that “Chester County Democrats want to continue the failed, wasteful programs put forth by President Obama that have crushed small businesses and hurt our middle class families in America.”

Over half of working Americans are employed in small businesses (under 500 employees), so I can’t see anyone being “crushed” right now. Certain tax policies, going back decades, favor multinationals, exporters, and internet vendors; but I don’t see the Chesco R’s calling for change there.

And the R’s don’t choose to mention a host of other important issues of our time, such as:

women’s rights and equal pay for equal work

a path to citizenship for worthy immigrants

reducing gun violence and proliferation, attacks on police, and killings by police

increasing the number of citizens who choose to vote (here’s a good contrast: Gov. Wolf today unveiled online voter registration, the very opposite of the Corbett policy to reduce turnout through voter ID requirements, mercifully tossed out in court)

the perception (or is it reality?) that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has cast elections to the highest bidder

more support for preschool education, job training, and all levels of public education

dealing with the crushing (yes, that word fits here) loan debt borne by many college students long after graduation

reducing economic inequality, including the recent hits to African American and Latino homes and assets; increasing the minimum wage

regulation of banks to prevent further crash and bailout cycles

fighting overincarceration of Americans and the proliferation of profit-making prisons

and the big long-term challenge to humanity: climate disruption, with the resulting record heat waves, water scarcity in many areas, wildfires, and extinctions of vulnerable species now becoming undeniable

Look at the Chesco R website; the issues just aren’t there. The main argument seems to be that Chester County is a great place to live and the Republicans deserve all the credit.

I think Democrats and Independents (who together comprise 55% of Chesco registered voters) and no doubt many R’s too would welcome local debate on those issues. And it would be interesting to hear whether the local Republican leadership disagrees that “with a Republican President, we’ll see the repeal of Obamacare, a 20-week abortion ban, the end of the EPA, and war with Iran.”

All national evidence suggests that those eventualities would come true under a President Trump or any of his 15 rivals for the Republican nomination.

Posted in Democrats, President & candidates, Republicans | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

In the Name of Trump

It can be interesting to learn the origins of public figures’ names.

For example, knowing that Secretary of State John Kerry’s family name was chosen by his paternal grandfather Fritz Kohn can save us from making assumptions based on his Irish-sounding name.

But Vice President Joe Biden’s name really is of Irish origin, right? No, his ancestry is Irish on his mother’s side, yes, but English on his father’s, except that his middle name Robinette (his father’s mother’s maiden name) is a clue to French Canadian ancestry.

How about Donald Trump? I had guessed that his last name might have been shortened from some longer Eastern European one, but not so. According to Wikipedia:

Trump’s mother was a Scottish immigrant, born on the Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland, and Trump’s paternal grandparents were German immigrants. His grandfather, Frederick Trump (né Friedrich Drumpf), immigrated to the United States in 1885, and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1892. Frederick married Donald’s grandmother, Elizabeth Christ … at Kallstadt, then Kingdom of Bavaria….

So, as in Kerry’s and many other cases, a name was changed in the US: Drumpf (the u would be short, as in “put”) to Trump (after seven years in this country). Probably a good choice: the real estate mogul Donald Drumpf, Drumpf Tower, Drumpf for President—those just don’t have such a convincing ring to them.

So what is the origin of the name Trump to which Donald’s grandfather chose to Anglicize the ancestral Drumpf?

According to, the name Trump is

English (Devon): metonymic occupational name for a trumpeter, from Middle English trumpe ‘trumpet’. German (Bavaria): metonymic occupational name for a drummer, from Middle High German trumpe ‘drum’.

The Internet Surname Database accepts the trumpeter or drummer meaning but gives the name a French origin:

This early English medieval surname is derived from the pre 8th century Olde French ‘Trompeor’, and as such was introduced by the Norman invaders of England in 1066. It is a metonymic or job descriptive name either for a trumpeter or a maker of trumpets, and is recorded in the modern forms of Trump and Trumper.

Another form of the name, according to Coat of Arms Store, is Trumbo, and

The surname of TROMBO was derived from the Old French word ‘trompeor’ a name given to one who played the trumpet. The name was brought into England from France in the wake of the Norman Invasion of 1066.

And here (to the left) is the Trumbo coat of arms. trumbo-coat-of-arms-trumbo-family-crest-3

At any rate, the name of Trump, with its variants, has its origin in the trumpet—a fitting association for a man who is so skilled at broadcasting his own name and fame (see also here). Since our word drum came from the same root in the 16th century, we could get a drum and trumpet duo going just from the name of Trump.

The root tromper in French also means “deceive”—not a meaning that Mr. Trump would probably wish to broadcast. Sources suggest that this meaning may have arisen, in the 14th century, from the idea of “playing the trumpet at someone” to draw them to a huckster’s wares or otherwise lead them astray—sort of like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, perhaps?

The English word trump has several meanings of interest, as we find from the Online Etymological Dictionary

as a verb:
1) “surpass, beat,” 1580s
2) “fabricate, devise,” 1690s

as a noun:
1) “playing card of a suit ranking above others,” 1520s, alteration of triumph (n.), which also was the name of a card game
2) “trumpet,” c. 1300
3) “elephant’s snout,” 1560s

If you want an association of this rich word family with its prominent bearer today, you can’t miss with any choice.

Mr. Trump’s supporters could emphasize the “winning suit” meaning and its derivation from the idea of triumph.

Or a rival could choose to apply to Mr. Trump’s political persona the expressive derivative trumpery , originally “deceit, trickery” but now (Oxford) “1) Attractive articles of little value or use; 2) Practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value or worth.”

As in: “That’s enough Trumpery for one campaign!”

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Trump, DiGiorgio, and the Big Tent

It’s nice that local Republican chairman Val Di Giorgio has felt he needs to dissociate the Chester County party from part of Donald Trump’s offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants (letter “Local GOP not in line with Trump behavior,” Daily Local News, 7/31/15).

The part DiGiorgio criticizes Trump for is “his blanket condemnation of Mexican immigrants as rapist[s] and criminals” and “his comments about Mexican immigrants as a whole.”

The part he agrees with is “focusing debate on the human and financial costs of allowing criminals access to our borders.”

That’s a rather fine line to walk, isn’t it?

And what does Mr. DiGiorgio have to say about actual immigration issues? Do undocumented immigrants have a right to health care, a drivers license, and education for their children? Should parents be deported leaving their US citizen children behind? Should we establish a practical path to citizenship beyond the ridiculously long wait through official visa channels? Should we really build a “great wall,” which Trump was for before he was against it? Readers will scan Mr. DiGiorgio’s letter in vain for any answers.

Mr. DiGiorgio goes on to mention two local Republican African-American office-holders as evidence of the local GOP commitment to “building a truly big tent party.” Well, not exactly Mexican immigrants, are they?

The national GOP, unfortunately, has not rejected Donald Trump and his prejudices. In fact, you can still vote for him (or 17 others) in a straw poll at the Republican National Committee site. I wonder if he will come in first there as he has in public polls among his party members.

I hope voters will watch carefully for any GOP progress in renouncing Trump and all he stands for or in getting serious about the well-worn Big Tent principle.

Is there room in the tent for the long-term unemployed, Americans in need of vocational and professional training, the earners of minimum wage, children who would benefit from the universal pre-school, students who have had to run up huge college loan debts, people who depend on public transportation, union members, homeowners still reeling from mortgage fraud, women needing family planning assistance, seniors and the disabled depending on Social Security, the many millions who receive health care through Medicare and Medicaid or who have gained health insurance from the Affordable Care Act, and other groups currently under attack in the Boehner-McConnell Congress?

Will it take Donald Trump to loosen up GOP tongues?

Come on, Donald, please start the conversation in your party with some more controversial pronouncements in tomorrow evening’s debate!

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Referendums and democracy, Greece and West Chester

Democracy – politics – oligarchy – … We wouldn’t have those words without the Greeks of over 2000 years ago. The Greeks have been at this governing business for a long time, though the rest of Europe now wants to tell them what to do.

The recent Greek nationwide vote was properly a plebiscite: “a direct vote of the qualified voters of a state in regard to some important public question.”

Under the Roman republic, plebiscites were laws passed by the Plebeian Council, which (in contrast to the Senate) represented the vast majority of Romans who were free non-patricians.

For some reason, our press prefers another Latin word, referendum, “the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.”

The Greek word used today is Δημοψήφισμα (transliterated dimopsifisma), literally “decree of the people.”  And “decree of the people” is the underlying meaning of both plebiscite and referendum today.

On July 5, as their leaders recommended, the Greeks voted No to the austerity program imposed on them by Europe and then the government went ahead and implemented Yes, so go figure.

The French have used national referendums at various times in their history to approve constitutions or for other purposes. In 1969, the negative vote in a referendum caused president Charles de Gaulle to resign.

Scotland held a referendum earlier this year on the question of independence from Great Britain, which in turn will soon be holding a referendum on its membership in the European Union.

Puerto Rico held a referendum in 1952 to approve its constitution and more recent plebiscites to determine if voters wanted to change their current status.

But no question or crisis is great enough for the US to consult all its people directly. We do have an occasional local referendum, such as to see if voters approve a county bond issue, but our system of government is basically indirect: we elect people to make decisions for us (except in some towns small enough to make decisions at town meetings).

Voters in West Chester may soon have the opportunity to vote in a referendum to add a “Community Bill of Rights” to the Borough’s Home Rule Charter. See more information and text here. The organizers are aiming to gather 500 signatures by August 4 to put the measure on the November 2015 ballot.

The text starts out:

We the people of West Chester Borough, Pennsylvania, find that reliance on unsustainable sources of energy, and allowing continued expansion of infrastructure that supports that dependence, prevents us from creating and maintaining the kind of healthy community that is our right…

and goes on to take aim at fossil and nuclear fuel production and transportation, among other threats to local quality of life. Three particularly noteworthy “statements of law” are:

(5) Right to Water. All residents, natural communities and ecosystems in West Chester Borough possess a fundamental and inalienable right to sustainably access, use, consume, and preserve water drawn from natural water cycles that provide water necessary to sustain life within the Borough.

(6) Right to Clean Air. All residents, natural communities and ecosystems in West Chester Borough possess a fundamental and inalienable right to breathe air untainted by toxins, carcinogens, particulates, and other substances known to cause harm to health.

(7) Right to Peaceful Enjoyment of Home. Residents of West Chester Borough possess a fundamental and inalienable right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, free from interference, intrusion, nuisances, or impediments to access and occupation.

The overall intent, as I see it, is to give the citizens another layer of protection against state, corporate, and institutional intrusion. What do we need protection against? Three examples:

1) West Goshen recently went through a hard-fought battle involving a corporate plan to carry gas through a pipeline from the fracking fields in the western part of the state to Marcus Hook for redistribution and sale elsewhere. Though the township reached an agreement with Sunoco Pipeline, L.P., in May, requiring shut-off valves and limiting the use of the Sunoco property, there will still be a pumping station, a gas flare, and a big pipeline subject to accident.

If West Chester passes the Community Bill of Rights, it could help protect the Borough against, say, a large-scale gas-related use of the Wyeth-Pfizer property on the east side of town.

2) The horrendous House Bill 809, the recent subject of a hearing in West Chester, is now before the state House of Representatives. See my highly negative view in The Times of Chester County and another vociferous local view in the blog Chester County Ramblings.

Having a fraternity move in next door or a 7-bedroom house become the abode for 14 unrelated individuals would clearly violate people’s “right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.”

3) Some states in the dry West have actually decreed that rain water belongs to the state. Thus, surprising as it seems, residents can be fined for setting up barrels to catch rain falling on their own roofs or creating ponds on their own property (even where no water ever flowed away in a stream).

The Community Bill of Rights would go against such state dispossession of individuals.

I think our country could use some more direct democracy. Suppose citizens had been able to say whether or not the US should invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq: whatever the result, at least we would have had some meaningful discussion and more chance to seek out accurate information.

Suppose the politicians today posturing to instigate military action against Iran knew that their statements would be scrutinized in a national referendum and that ultimately the people would decide? It sounds like a very good idea to me.

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