Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thank the Pilgrims who began America’s quest for religious freedom

The Pilgrims got the ball rolling but it was only the beginning. They saw freedom of religion freedom from a government run religion that persecuted them. It was not freedom for others...but after the colonies provided a rocky start of hanging heretics and hunting witches, the Constitution gave all of us freedom of religion. Application of that First Amendment is still a work in progress.
This Thanksgiving we should give our thanks to the Pilgrims who have become an icon of what made the New World so unique in the civilizations that preceded them.. They left England and the old world to seek freedom to practice their own religion, free from a government backed state religion that oppressed them.  It was a beginning.  There was a rocky road ahead to laws guaranteeing religious freedom for everyone, not just one group.
 Some colonies adopted laws with limited forms of freedom of religion while others established state sponsored religions, hung heretics, and launched witch hunts.  Pennsylvania and Virginia   had enacted their own laws effectively protecting freedom of religion. The Constitution authors adopted those concepts in the First Amendment, ““Congress shalll make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Congress  later passed  civil rights and hate crimes legislation that protected religious practitioners and punished those who interfered with their practice.

So, disconcerting in 2018 is that many seem to have forgotten the lessons leaned from experience, traditions, and history. So heartening in the 2018 midterms is that many more Americans rejected an Oval Office leadership condoning and even promoting hate and fear of “others”, including Donald Trump's attempted immigration ban of anyone who was a Muslim, .
In 2016 this country had given the reins of power to Donald Trump whose soaring oratory appealed to the worst of human nature. He set the example. It was alright to be uncivil, no longer to be politically correct, to denigrate and disrespect’ others”, especially people of color and women, and to express such feelings publicly. His inflammatory words have continued in rallies and tweets to this day.
 While protected by the Constitution, words of hate have deadly consequences. That was brought home shortly before the 2018 midterms by the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre. While Donald Trump did not target his hateful words toward the Jewish community, he tolerated and promoted intolerance. Our President opined about the neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017 that there some were “fine people” among them. The tiki torch bearing marchers shouted anti-Semitic slogans in German while raising arms in the Nazi salute.  
 An atmosphere of permissive hatred does not confine itself to specific targets.  It is infectious and even if originally unintended, it can spread to harm other targets, including religious ones. In 2017, the year after the election of Trump, the FBI reported a 37% spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes over 2016, and the Anti-Defamation League found the number of anti-Semitic incidents, mostly vandalism, was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record.
 Alt- right conspiracy theorists and Trump friendly media inspired the Pittsburgh synagogue killer. The shooter posted on his social media that a Jewish immigration group was bringing in immigrants to kill “his people”. Reviving references to the international Jewish conspiracy theories, other alt right proponents claimed a wealthy liberal Jewish-American-immigrant philanthropist, George Soros, was funding the “caravans” of central Americans storming our southern border. Numerous fact checkers found that false. Others before had claimed Soros paid “mobs” of women protesting the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Fact checkers: Soros paid none of the demonstrators. Last week In Baltimore, attendees of the performance of Fiddler on the Roof, the musical about Russian persecution of Jews, were still on edge from the mass killing in Pittsburgh. They panicked when a man in the audience shouted, “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump”, fearing it signaled another anti-Semitic mass murder attack. Fortunately, no one was hurt running to the exits. The man apologized later, said he was trying to compare Trump to Hitler but said it the wrong way, and he had been drinking before the performance and claimed protection of free speech. Note: The Supreme Court ruled many years ago shouting fire in a crowded theater is not protected speech. (Schenck v United States: Oliver Wendell Holmes crowded theater reference)
Recent rulings by the Supreme Court  concerning  freedom or religion set no precedents that altered the underlining intent of the First Amendment or related laws.
The “muslim ban”, halting practitioners of one of the world’s greatest religions from entering the US simply because of their religious affiliation, was rejected by the courts, requiring a total rewrite of rules to comply by those facing extreme vetting to enter the US, now based on selected countries that harbor terrorists and not all had a Muslim majority . It was even retitled as a "travel ban"

The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a cakemaker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because it violated his religious beliefs...however, the ruling set no precedent because it based it on the specific  hostility of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Kim Clark, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to a gay couple because of her religious beliefs, spent jail time over it in 2015 and was defeated in her attempt to be re-elected in 2018.

A number of Evangelical Christian ministers have recently proclaimed that the US is a "Christian nation".  It is not a state one per the Constitution, nor is the Evangelical brand of Christianity (full disclosure..I am a Mainstream  Protestant Christian) even the majority of the population.  Per a recent Pew Research study, Evangelicals are 25% of the population.

Evangelicals have had an impact, though, in exemptions of  employers providing ACA coverage of reproductive rights based on religious beliefs, first in the Obama administration and more so   under the Trump administration. The battle yet to be fought is over further proposed  restrictions on  birth control  insurance accessibility coverage.
Roe v Wade will also face challenges in the very conservative tilt in the Supreme Court    As a public policy regardless of religious affiliation, 71% of Americans polled oppose overturning Roe v Wade,
and 72% support birth control as basic health issue
The backlash to religious restrictions on reproductive rights was palapable in 2018. The womens' marches and demonstrations against  confirmation of pro life anti birth control Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the doubling of the women gender gap to 19% of the voters were certainly contributors to the Democrats turning the House blue.

 Following US right wing efforts to alter the protection of freedom of religion,   in Europe and South America forces desiring to persecute and discriminate against  religious  minorities are raising their ugly heads. In Brazil, a fascist government was just elected, vowing to turn that country comprised of centuries of immigrants and native population, into a Christian nation.  In Europe a long list of countries electing very right wing, anti- Muslim immigrant governments are being elected to political leadership.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Democrats, don't blow it.

A version of this was published in Sky Hi News print and e-edition November 14, 2018 and on line
Democrats scored heavily on November 6 in the midterms.  There were significant gains in the suburbs and in bringing new voters to the polls .  The result was a large shift to blue in many state legislatures, seven governors, and in the  U.S. House of Representatives. The structural foundation  has been laid for Democrats in the 2020 presidential year, especially in the Senate and in states where redistricting and gerrymandering activities would be in control of more Democrats than in 2016.  The GOP remained in control in the Senate and  gained some seats  in the Senate though some races are still facing recounts. In 2020  many more sitting Republican Senate seats will be contested in blue states. Democrats can build on this if they do not blow it .

Colorado went deep blue.  GOP Congressman Mike Coffman lost his suburban seat to Democrat Jason Crow, and the state Senate flipped from red to blue, as did every single state office currently held by Republicans. The governor’s seat and state House legislature  remained in Democratic hands.  Joe  Neguse , a Democrat ,  won Jerad  Polis’ vacated seat as Polis won his race for governor. Neguse will be Grand County's representative to Congress.  Colorado Politics, a publication limited to subscribers, reports a poll showed that much of the Democratic wins were due to unaffiliated shifting to them because they loathed Donald Trump himself.

Grand County  has always been very red, but it went pink this year.  Grand County’s registration’s most recent  party affiliation  (Feb. 2018) numbers were   21.6%  Democrats,   38.3% Republican,  and  40.1  independents/Libertarians/Green.  However, in the midterms  Democrats impressively  outperformed their registration share  especially when  compared to 2016 results of Trump(52%)-Clinton (38%), a 14% difference.   In the 2018 midterms, Grand County GOP voters trumped Democrats by only  a 5% margin of total votes  in the Governor and Congressional race and 8% in the other state wide positions. Grand County, part of a state House district with  the county's  majority voting for the GOP candidate,  found its Democrat state representative, KC Becker, re-elected and named Speaker of the House for the next two years.
Democrats can take a lesson from their  national midterm success. The winners and the near winner gainers emphasized solving local problems, red tide, water quality, roads and bridges,   and focusing on access to health care. Protecting the pocket books and health of middle income Americans was a winner.
However, fundamentally contributing to  Democrat’s wins was Donald Trump.  He made the midterms an election about himself and voters took him up on that.  The Democrat’s pitch, check him by turning the House blue, appeared to have resonated.  Per  PBS exit polls. race, gender, age,  and education levels were  also determining factors per Pew Research. Per Politico, race and age were not factors in Colorado, but the richer, more educated counties tilted to Democrats.   Trump’s  constant belittling and  insulting  women, especially women of color  (horse face, pig, empty barrel, a graduate of Yale law school, state legislature minority leader was unqualified) who challenge him resulted in a 19 point  gender gap for women, doubling the 2016 gap per pollster Fivethirtyeight.
Here is how the Democrats can blow their growing advantage for 2020.   Democrat’s control of the House and a slightly increased GOP control of the Senate  makes impeachment unlikely, but it also saves Obamacare and meaningful coverage of pre-existing conditions from GOP Senate efforts to repeal, and not replace.  The  Democratic House turns any   GOP Senate  initiative to sabotage and repeal Obamacare a futile exercise.  A Senate still in GOP hands makes impeachment unlikely. If Democrats had a weakness at the beginning of 2018, it was viewed as just “anti-Trump” and no one knew what it stood for. Saving Obamacare (ACA) Medicare and Social Security, emerged as their plank .Not only must  Democrats make an effort to   deliver, they also must be perceived by the middle class voters as looking after their family budget concerns.  Having every news cycle dominated by sensational House investigations into Trump administration misdeeds could drown out efforts to develop Democrats’ credibility as advocates for middle class pocket book issues. In 2020,  Donald Trump may not be the GOP candidate.

  That is going to be a challenge. Donald Trump has already thrown down his gauntlet with a move the day after the elections, in an overt maneuver to cut the Mueller investigation off at the knees. He fired Attorney General Sessions and replaced him with a loyalist,  anti-Mueller probe, who had never been confirmed by the Senate, setting off  charges that this appointment was illegal. A media firestorm erupted.

House Democrats are aware of the balancing act of checking Trump v positioning themselves on winning public policy issues before 2020.  I heard one Congressperson comment that "don't worry; we can walk and chew gum at the same time".  The problem is that media gets fixated on the the more sensational, headline grabbing, breaking news stories and the grind of the legislative process is a slow burn and, as often noted: "like sausage being made", some times ugly and taking many steps. The hot topic on health care will be the media fixation on what faction of the Democratic party wins: the Bernie Sanders Medicare for All or the more moderate: repair Obamacare.  In the next two years, given the GOP control of the Senate, legislation will likely become deadlocked and Democrats will be lucky just to see preservation of Obamacare  as it is now. Should the Supreme Court, now firmly ideologically to the right, rule Obamacare is unconstitutional or that the coverage of pre-existing conditions is the part of Obamacare that is unconstituional, then the job of the House is to make sure any replacement legislation is not just a bill title, but truly is an equivalent and comparable replacement.  The worst screw-up  the Democrats could do would be to break up into two factions over which form of health insurance they want. Medicare for All is a moot issue until 2020 when the Democrats have a chance to flip the Senate blue, keep the House, and have someone in the White House who will not use the veto pen.

One possible strategy for the next two years would be for the House to originate two health care insurance bills: one woud be for Medicare for All , to pass tha,t and ship it to the Senate for them to be on the record of killing it and then, after it is killed,  send through an Obamacare repair bill.  That would permit the CBO to score it so we really know what the comparative  costs would be on the   official record. Otherwise there will be wild claims made to scare people away from either partisan side.  It would also put on record where every member of Congress stood on the issues for the purposes of the 2020 election cycle.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The rule of law trumps the rule of a ruler: USA 101

A version of this appeared in the e and print editions of the Sky Hi News November 7, 2018 and on line November 8.

The morning after November 6:  Still sitting in the Oval Office is a president who views laws as a barrier to his power, a challenge  to get around them or  claim he can bend the rule of law to his benefit. He brought with him to the White House this scofflaw attitude,  rooted  in his business experience. His midterm election promise to reverse the 14th Amendment is only one case in point. (added later November 7 A crisis is being engineered by Donald Trump to impede the Mueller investigation by appointing a yes man flunky on record to criticizing Mueller acting in place  of fired Jeff Sessions This is a direct result of Trump holding onto the Senate...By doing so, Trump has insulated himself against impeachment and can operate with all of the arrogance, retribution, and abuse of power he thinks he has...rule of law be damned. This is a third finger raised against Mueller and democracy. It is also one more element in building an obstruction of justice case  against Trump Mueller could use if Trump's appointee takes action to rein in Mueller.  A constitutional crisis is just beginning.  Expect Trump to take advantage of the lame duck session to get away with whatever he can before the newly blue majority  House is sworn in.  )

Throughout his life as an heir to a fortune which he nurtured into a greater fortune with a family run real estate  enterprise, Donald Trump  only needed  his  simple command to rule his business. Any challengers were to be hit back harder than they hurt him. For him, as expressed in interviews , fear is his power.  His reputation was not good  in the real estate field, already filled with con artists and puffing sales people and he shrugged off  a long list of suits and bankruptcies as  just another cost of doing business.  He survived claims of fraud and misdeeds   by  settling  disputes with money, as he did in the Trump University case or his problem with infidelities and abusive  behavior with women.
When he became  president, he tried  to run the White House with the same attitudes and ethics  as he had run his business. His TV reality show and real estate hawker mentality, his frequently uttered lies and exaggerations  continued. He arose to political power by leading causes like birtherism, claiming Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya, contrary to overwhelming evidence.  This  appealed to many  who resented that  their preservation of ethnic and racial power was constrained by the rule of  law, political correctness (AKA civility),  and the Constitution. Later he was claiming he was above the law because of his position as president. He asserted  he could not be subpoenaed to testify  in a criminal case and he could pardon himself.
 He  has made promises that would challenge the very supremacy of the Constitution.  In a last minute midterm election promise, Donald Trump said he would sign an executive order to overturn the 14th Amendment. It guaranteed a  person’s  children born  or naturalized in the US  would be  US citizens.  With a stroke of a pen signing an executive order, he proposed to change the constitution. He would destroy this odious  birthright citizenship. It was obviously a promise made to appeal to his white nationalist base. If he had the power to change the Constitution by executive order,  then he could also  take action against his critics, the enemies of the people, the free press,  and  keep on going, until the rule of law, the Constitution, was not worth the parchment on which it was written. To keep some wannabe despot,   king , or dictator from altering that fundamental  document from which all laws flowed, the Constitution made itself very difficult to be amended, fortunately for democracy.    “Amendments must be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.”
Subject to interpretation, the application of some Constitutional provisions are  altered. However, the 14th is one of the most unambiguous amendments ever written.    “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” He was trying to pull off another  con, counting on  the ignorance of his devout followers.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Why the fuss about midterms? Donald Trump is not on the ballot

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, Oct.30-Oct 31, 2018

Donald Trump is not on the ballot but he  says he wants the November 6 midterms to be a referendum about him.  If so, send him a message with your vote.  That is the American way. What is not the American way are his  words of hate and fear or to deliver the same in return. Words have consequences." Violence begets violence" (MLK.Jr)

Both parties use  heated political oratory, but no one is  equivalent to the bully pulpit of a president  and no one equals Trump’s constant insults of rivals by name, his demeaning racial and religious minorities, and his exhortation of  violence against reporters.  This is still a citizen driven democracy. If that is the president we want to continue to empower, that is the president we get.  My hope is that  most Americans  see an America better than that.  We are becoming two countries: one mired in yearning for a past where racism was not tempered by political correctness  and patriarchy reigned unchallenged.  There is another America driven  by tolerance, fairness,  and idealism of our founders who gave us a form of democracy that, unless abused, would protect us from hate mongers.  In the Novembers of  2018 and 2020, this country has the opportunity to choose which country it will be for years to come.

The horrific massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday reminds us  of what an atmosphere of hate of “others” can foster. The anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant shooter posted his beliefs on social media. Chants of “lock her up”, “Build the wall” rocked and still rocks Trump’s  rallies. Earlier in the week, a  frequent Trump rally attender addressed letter bombs to the who’s who of Trump’s  named enemies and critics  and  had plastered his van with targets drawn over faces of those who were to become  bomb recipients.  The FBI and Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly put to rest Trump media promoted conspiracy theories that this was a hoax, committed by Democrats to make the President look bad. The bombs were real. The accused was a partisan.

Trump cannot control how every unhinged follower will react, but Trump with his powerful position  bears a special responsibility not to be a match that lights the fires.  Trump  does not stop hate filled chants at rallies; he regales in them.  Trump, taking no responsibility in inspiring hateful violence,  blamed the bomber  on the mainstream media he had frequently called  the  enemy of the people. For what? For reporting and preserving Trump’s own words, for providing live coverage of his rallies, and  fact checking?

Not to be lost in breaking news, are issues that impact many,  health care coverage and Roe v Wade’s survival.  We are voting for  state officials who can shape them .Twenty GOP State Attorney Generals have sued  to declare the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)  unconstitutional, ending subsidized health insurance  premiums and  coverage of pre-existing conditions. There is no comparable replacement.  The Democrat  Colorado Attorney General candidate Phil Weiser would  defend  the ACA against the Texas suit destined for the Supreme Court. His GOP opponent  George Brauchler, once had backed repeal.  The conservative Supreme Court  majority is likely either to rule against Roe v Wade or to give more power to states to restrict access. The Governor can veto  what  its legislature passes.  Democrat Jared Polis is pro choice. His opponent Walker Stapleton is pro life and  is mum if he would sign state legislation further restricting abortions. In the Attorney General’s race, Weiser is pro choice.  Anti choice Brauchler has left open  whether he would file  a brief  before the Supreme Court urging  repeal  of Roe v Wade

 Forgot to register?  No problem. In Colorado, you can register up to and  on election day , November 6. Visit for how.  For candidate positions, google.

(This  posting draws on, condenses, joins and updates some recent postings
Footnotes and sources can also be found in prior postings on similar subjects)