Friday, December 28, 2018

Trump's real suckers and the sucker punched

Donald Trump visiting the  troops over Christmas proclaimed a memorable line which will haunt him for years.   " We are no longer  the suckers of  the world." he declared to justify an order to  withdraw US troops from Syria. The real suckers  are those who believe that Trump's foreign policy is putting America First, when in reality it is making our adversaries stronger.  In tweeting the orders, he  blind sided and  sucker punched his own advisers who had tried to refrain  him from taking such a move..

The tweet was an abrupt  reversal of a prior policy and a slap in the face to his own national security advisers . In  their eyes withdrawal hurt  American national security interests and it gave a boost to the power of US adversaries, Russia and Iran, allowing them to increase their influence in the region at USA's  expense. The US national security advisers believed our effective allies, the Kurds, could not carry on  the fight without US air and US special forces' support. ISIS  may have lost the bulk of the territory they once controlled, but they were not defeated. They still had the knowhow and an appealing  ideology waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge.

 Trump's tweeted orders resulted in the exit from his administration of those who were considered the adults in the room and  who were keeping America safe from some of his worst impulses. Trump made the spur of the moment decision to withdraw from Syira in the middle of a telephone conversation with the President of Turkey,  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a dictator Trump  admires. Turkey views the US allies, the Kurds, as anti-Turk terrorists and a threat to their national security. Trump never bothered to give a heads up to the Secretary of Defense General James Mattis or the diplomat coordinating our allies' participation. Both Mattis and the diplomat quit.  Their advice was ignored and they could not in good conscience follow those orders.

Trump's timing and method of reversing policy may have been impulsive, but it should not have been a surprise. It was consistent with his  long held views. Trump's  policy wishes dated to his  campaign days. He often stated  foreign policy preferences were  to let Russia and Syria's President Assad take over the conflict.  Trump has  frequently indicated he was willing to lift sanctions and overlook Russia’s take over the Crimea. Weakening  NATO, a thorn in Russia's side, has also been Trump's goal. We do not know if Trump himself conspired with the Russians  to help him win in 2016.  That awaits Mueller's Special Counsel report. However, Mueller's  court filings reveal a Russia who took us for  suckers  by infiltrating , using and manipulating our media to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential campaign in order to elect a Russia friendly Trump.

Trump had always insisted  throughout the campaign and his presidency that the US has been taken for suckers for fighting for our allies who were unwilling to pay US for its assistance. He called that campaign plank “America First”. That helping allies  was in US national security interests was never a concept he understood or bought into. That it was better to fight our adversaries abroad instead of in the homeland did not concern him.  This isolationist viewpoint has surfaced before in our history. How did that work out?, These latter day American Firsters  believe isolationism will keep the US free of foreign control over our country. The lessons of post World War I exposed  the failure of isolationism, an American First movement that refused to provide the will or power to stop Hitler's rise.  Intentionally ignoring the threat of Japan contributed to the  Pearl Harbor surprise. would vote for Hillary Clinton.


Monday, December 24, 2018

One sided media and a deeply divided nation

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News  December 26-27, 2018

Both media and American politics are divided as never before. I am forever amazed with how those who do not have the same reactions to politics as I do receive a whole different take on news, or do not hear the same stories reported.  No wonder we are so dug in with our political divisions when we find ourselves asking “where in the world did that dumb idea come from; I never heard that story. “There is a good reason. What stories each news outlet chooses to report or how talking heads back up the opinion of the star of the talk show can be quite different depending on which news channels we view.  With the advent of cable and internet, we have become one sided because of the ease of a click to seek out our media that is in our comfort zone, undisturbed by facts or arguments to the contrary.

  There is a relationship between the nature of a nation that is increasingly sharply divided politically and a blurring of the lines between opinion and hard news. Newspapers have a tradition of keeping the two separated and opinion labeled as such. Particularly guilty of confusing the two are TV cable news channels that mix hard and breaking news with commentary based upon editorial political biases, increasing the political sharp divide as each side makes interpretations and reporting news and issue priorities that cater to their audience’s comfort zones.  It takes effort to check out various viewpoints since rarely do both sides appear simultaneously on the same page in the same publication or on the same TV screen. 
Who can we blame for this? To quote my favorite philosopher, Pogo, “we have met the enemy and it is us” and now we have a variety of media that has provided the method to take advantage of us by putting in our hands a click and a remote.  It is only human to want to get news in forms that are easy, fast, and comfortable to digest.
 We like to think we are objective and open minded, but a recent survey found that the reality is most of us are not per a recent poll.
“Most Americans claim to rely on a mix of liberal and conservative news sources, but one in four admit to getting news from only one perspective. .Forty-six percent of U.S. adults claim to have firm views that rarely change. Americans commonly share news stories with others — primarily with like-minded people.”
The antidote?  Make the effort to hear and read more than one medium outlet even if it raises your blood pressure. Thanks to freedom of the press there is a large marketplace of media for you to tap. Use your click and remote if you no longer hold a newspaper or a magazine in your hands.

Monday, December 17, 2018

GOP's lump of coal in Christmas stockings: a law suit to end Obamacare

GOP’s lump of coal in Christmas stockings: a lawsuit to end Obamacare
A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News 12 18-19 2018
Last week a Texas federal judge ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional.  67,000 in Colorado are now  able to afford quality health insurance and get their coverage through the state exchange including  Medicaid expansion.   About a third of Americans have pre-existing conditions that  must be covered by their insurance thanks to Obamacare. What now?  It will take months if not years for this suit to be appealed and to make it to the Supreme Court. Given the GOP attempt to stack the lower federal courts and  the Supreme Court with their loyalists, who knows what the ultimate outcome will be, but in the short term, Obamacare ( the Affordable Care Act,  ACA) will be the operative  health care plan. The forty seats gained by the Democrats in the US House of Representatives in the midterms  will  give them a strong majority in the next two years to come up with a  plan, either a version of Medicare for All or a repair and revision of the ACA,  and immediate protection of the ACA from the GOP suit. Whatever the House Democrats pass will likely be rejected by the GOP Senate which increased their majority by a couple of seats in the November  midterms.
This suit  has been in the works for some time before the midterms. It was a scheme hatched by the GOP that had failed to get Congress to do their dirty work,  thanks to Sen. John McCain’s thumbs down vote on repealing the ACA, and to get it done through the courts instead. Filing the suit were twenty  GOP state attorneys general, some who later lost their party’s seats over the ACA suit support in November.
The political fallout in 2020 will put the GOP on the defensive no matter who their candidate may be. The GOP will be far more at risk of controlling both houses of Congress in 2020  than they did in November. They  will have many more Senate seats in purple and blue states up for election than they did in 2018. The GOP seems not to have learned a lesson in 2018 midterms when the issue of their hostility to  coverage of pre-existing conditions and continuation of Obamacare and their failure to   provide a replacement were a major issues in flipping many of the state and House races blue. It was the top public policy issue on voters’ minds by all polls.
 If the GOP suit makes it through appeals and the Supreme Court, coverage of pre-existing conditions, affordable insurance premiums for 20 million people, removing caps on coverage, requiring young adults to be covered, Medicaid expansion to the near poor, coverage of mental health and substance abuse, and more, would be dead. In pre-Obama care insurance coverage, pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition and insurance often charged more for women’s health insurance. The GOP began gathering support for the suit when Obamacare was younger and public opinion swallowed their fear tactics that there would be death panels and that they could not choose their doctors or keep them.  With personal experience  they appreciated the benefits, affordability and did have more  choice of doctors than they thought they would have so public  opinion shifted to majority approval of Obamacare and over 60% approval of  each if the major  separate protections the ACA provided. They saw repeal of Obamacare was worse for their pocket books than having Obamacare warts and all.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Impeachment? Not so fast

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Dec. 11-12, 2018

Immediately last Friday after Michael Cohen’s sentencing memo was filed, President Trump crowed he was cleared and the opposition media claimed there were grounds for impeachment because the President was in effect an unindicted co-conspirator of a crime, which was closer to reality. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s court filings regarding Paul Manafort were either redacted or sealed, revealing little.

Often cited are precedents set by both the impeachment of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.   Neither Nixon nor Clinton was found guilty or was removed from office by Congressional votes. A simple majority in the House can vote to impeach,  but  two-thirds of the Senate must  agree to find him guilty and remove him from office.

 Impeachment is not so much a matter of law  as it is a political action. Voters’ opinions can  give members of Congress political backbones: Clinton’s public  job approval ratings polled  during the impeachment/trial remained over 70% and 66% were against removing him from office over the issue of lying and coverup of sexual misconduct.   Nixon, after release of the tapes, dropped from winning the prior election to  a 31%  job approval with 43% opposing removal from office.  During Nixon’s threatened impeachment, Democrats , the opposition party, controlled both House and Senate with significant majorities. Republican Nixon  resigned before the House could vote  to impeach because tapes were made public that confirmed his guilt. Like Nixon, Clinton's  opposition party, Republicans,  controlled both the Senate and the House though the vote even in the GOP controlled Senate fell short of the two thirds needed and he was acquitted. In Donald Trump's case, the House will be in the hands of Democrats ; the Senate's majority party is Trump's.

The current  public mood  should give the GOP shudders. It is similar to Nixon’s. The key public voter question is whether the actions of the President as charged by Congress  justifies his removal from office , which is the end result of a Senate conviction.  Trump’s  current job approval is around 40% with 42% opposed to his removal from office per a June 2018 poll.  This is  before we know much of what  Special Counsel Robert Mueller has found.

 That Democrats gained a decisive majority in the House of Representatives in  November means they have the simple majority  of votes  needed to impeach Trump  without any GOP help  At this moment it is a debatable intra party question of whether impeachment is an effective political strategy, distracting from promoting their public policy  agenda.  GOP control of the Senate would block removal of the president  at this time in any case. 

So far, public knowledge of facts implicating Trump is thin. Recently filed  court documents do indicate  business financial gain could have been his motivation to commit crimes of conspiracy/collusion and obstruction of justice.  The closest to fingering Donald Trump himself came  last week in the Michael Cohen case filings in which Cohen claimed he was instructed by the President  to break campaign finance  laws.  That  the President intended  to pay for silence of women with whom he had affairs was to protect family peace, not campaign purposes as Cohen claims, could be a reasonable  defense.   Whether the public would think lying and coverup of sexual misdeeds  alone justifies  removing  him from office is  very questionable.    It makes sense to wait for Mueller’s report and findings of Democratic dominated House  committees.
Footnotes: On Friday, December 7, 2018  the Southern District of New York's sentencing memo regarding Michael Cohen repeated the charge that Cohen committed a crime by arranging a method to pay off two women who knew of Trump's immoral and unfaithful conduct  for the principal purpose  that they would remain silent during the campaign. Significantly, the SDNY filing said that Cohen committed the crime under the direction of the president.  This could be very damning for the president, though he cannot be indicted for doing it. Any punishment would have to be through the impeachment process. Trump claimed immediately he was "totally cleared". .  The SDNY filings regarding Cohen said that he had been helpful, but not fully. The Mueller fillings said Coehn had been helpful on  the Russian conncection and that Cohen's jail term could be served at the same time as the judge ruled in the SDNY case.
Both the Clinton impeachment case and the Michael Cohen/Trump charges involved lying and covering up sexual misconduct.  Some Republicans voted not to convict Clinton, and all Democrats stood by their man.  Later public opinion polls showed 57% the public did not want Clinton to lose his job over the issue and they considered the impeachment harmful to the country (Gallup via Wikipedia summary)
The Mueller filings regarding Manafort pointed to lies  to the Special Counsel about his coordination with the White  House in 2018 and lies about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, his associate, who had ties with Russian military intelligence, the DNC hackers.

Also see the prior blog posting 12/3/2018. The tangled web of Trump-Russian deceit.

If sexual misconduct, lying and coverup did not reach the "time does not fit the crime" in the Cllinton case , i.e. the offense was not the reason for the Senate to convict because it was not serious enough and the administration's ability to conduct business (high job approval rating), then the "high crimes" needed to be something worse.  Worse could be  treason, bribery and a serious high crime...definition is up to the House to say what it is. What would be "high" enough to warrant a Senate conviction?  Look for  proof beyond reasonable doubt of treason  (collusion, conspire) to work against US, bribery..a tit for tat like: Russia will help Trump win if he gets sanctions against Russians lifted; money lauundering, emoluments clause violations, tax evasion, and whatever else the House defines.   Another nagging problem is can a President be impeached for what he did before he took office?  The other problem: the DOJ has its own rules that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime, but nothing in the Constitution forbids this. If the offenses took place before the President was sworn in, he could be indicted after he left office and prosecuted, though. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

The tangled web of Russian-Trump deceit

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, December 5, 2018

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive.” per Walter Scott

So what if Donald Trump lied about his Trump Tower Moscow  negotiations while he was running for the presidency. He had claimed many times  that he had “nothing to do with Russia. I never did”.  Last week after his personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty  to lying to Congress about Trump's financial interests in Russia,  Trump changed his tune to” it was no crime and there was no deal. “ There will be many who take Trump  at his word  and leave it at that.  So long as he was not lying under oath to law enforcement , he has a point. However, he has lied to voters during and after the 2016 campaign, and American foreign policy was shaped to be in sync with Russia in ways that would be harmful the US allies and the Atlantic alliance. He created a web of wilful liars under oath and in public  to support  the myth of his lack of conflict of  financial interests in Russia since Trump’s puzzling  “bromance”  with Russia and Putin  had raised many eye brows.

Donald Trump had often advocated weakening NATO throughout 2015-2016 and even in his presidency.  NATO expansion to former Soviet satellites was  a thorn in the side of Russian national interests.  Trump’s fuming about NATO members not contributing enough was his public rationale but the weakening of NATO served both Putin’s national security designs and Trump’s continuing strategy to butter up Putin. Trump also advocated a softer policy toward Russia's grab of the Crimea and loosening sanctions imposed to punish Russia as far back as 2015. Why such a departure from traditional US foreign policy? Did Trump have undisclosed financial ties with Russia? Trump had vigorously denied that.   Did the Russians have something more  on him than just an alleged  carnal Moscow night ? Did the Russians see a Trump’s presidency as an unwitting asset to their national interests, motivating their interference in the 2016 campaign?

We do not have to wait for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to present his final report to learn about the web of  deceit or to get an understanding of what could have motivated Trump's Russia romance. Mueller's court filing documents regarding  Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Mike Flynn, and others contain much information. Mueller's indictments documents  also exposed in detail  methods Russia used in their attempt to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

The timing of the negotiations to build and finance the Moscow Trump Tower, as disclosed in the Cohen related court documents, coincided with Donald Trump’s  pronouncements as he was campaigning for president with  words and policies that favored Russia. Trump did have business interests in Russia  well into his status as presumptive GOP nominee.  and the Cohen guilty plea court filings  exposed Trump  as lying  to the American people about it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller signed off on the documents charging Cohen  with  lying to Congress for falsely claiming the Trump Tower deal was dead in January 2016 when  emails showed Cohen and Trump were actually  in communication with one another and  Cohen was still pursuing the deal  with Kremlin official Dmitri Peskov until  June 14, 2016 when Trump was already his party's presumed nominee.

  Key to the Moscow tower deal was getting financing from a certain Russian bank. The bank , other banks, and oligarchs were sanctioned by the U.S Congress to punish Russia for grabbing  Crimea  and  the sanctions needed to be lifted if the project was to be funded.  The deal was called off on June 14,  2016.  In the transition period Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn was in secret communication with Russian ambassador  about the sanctions.  Flynn pleaded guilty to charges he lied to the FBI about it  and he  flipped to become  a witness for Mueller's probe. Sentencing is this month .

 In March 2016, Paul Manafort joined the campaign as a “volunteer” and in June rose to campaign chair. Manafort’s prior gig as  political consultant was the former pro Russian leader of Ukraine who opposed closer ties to the West.  During Manfort's campaign activities, Trump's polcies favoring Russia became more focused and specific. Manafort was charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller .faced trial in August 2018, and was found guilty of  bank and tax fraud . In September  he  pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US and attempts to tamper with witnesses.  He violated his plea deal to be Mueller's  witness  in the Russian investigation and is now facing sentencing. He already sits in the blog posted dated July 31, 2018: Did Manafort's participation in the Trump campaign shape Donald Trump's views on foreign policy?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The president who would be king

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News  November 27-28,2018

If there was one reason  the Mayflower was the first of many similar  boatloads full of settlers who sailed across the Atlantic, it  was to escape the tyranny of a government and especially the English King. President Trump has never understood why he cannot rule by decree and executive orders like the  kings and dictators he so admires  and why the judiciary, Congress and law enforcement cannot be put to use  to advance and protect his power and agenda. He tweeted and verbalized an assertion last week that “the judiciary is the greatest threat to our country”, insinuating his edicts were necessary to protect the US from threats to national security.
 He has attacked one  of the key foundations of  American democracy, an independent judiciary.  After a record attempt by the Republican controlled Senate to fast track,  to change the rules so fewer votes were needed to confirm  judges’ appointments,  and to pack the courts with conservative think tank recommended nominees,  including two vacancies on the Supreme Court, it was just not enough for him.  His view of the courts appears to be  all judges should be loyal to him and his  particular  view of executive authority.  That  is the ultimate expression of his desire to make this country ruled by him, not by the rule of law. The threat of an independent judiciary is  not a threat to the country. It is a threat to the power of the wannabe king himself.
Trump has seen some of his executive orders struck down by a judiciary that is sworn  to protect the Constitution. Particularly obnoxious to him is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The infamous Muslim ban was rejected by that court on the basis that it was discriminatory against practitioners of a religion.  After some revisions, it was retitled and changed to ban and permit enhanced extreme vetting of   those who came from specific countries that  may harbor terrorists.  Thrown into the list were a few non Muslim countries. It was a sleight of hand that finally enabled the executive order  to be approved by the Supreme Court on a 5 to 4 decision in June, 2018.
  Trump’s campaign  in the 2018 midterms centered around  hyping  fear and loathing of immigrants of color. To cater to  his nationalist  core followers, he devised a  strategy to  stop“caravans” of migrants seeking asylum in the US . The caravan travellers, equal to  the same number of students of two large high schools , were  comprised of mostly women  and children migrants he called “thugs” and disease ridden. The fear of these migrants was raised to near hysteria by his favored media outlets just before the midterm elections.  US military intelligence had reported the caravans did not  threaten national security, but nonetheless Trump  rushed more US troops to the border than we have in Afghanistan. A week before the midterms he announced a plan for an executive order that would rewrite the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship. That has not yet been  court tested.  He followed that strategy  up with an  executive order forbidding those who reached US soil illegally  to qualify for asylum only if they got in line and went through a legal checkpoint. The U.S. Judge  in the Ninth  Circuit ruled November 19 that federal law clearly states that migrants can seek asylum anywhere on U.S. soil  and … “he  (Trump) may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden” . Trump called foul and said  that Judge was an Obama appointee. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts responded in defense of an independent judiciary: "What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

An independent judiciary is fundamental to a democracy and to the Constitution's ability to keep abuse of power to protect us from a one person rule..This posting is a focus on one issue, but the issue is one of the three checks and balances pillars written into the Constitution to restrict the power of the federal government...and especially the executive branch and the legislative branch from abusing their powers. . Therefore it is fundamental to democracy. When wannabe tyrants want to grab total control of the reins of government, they wreck an independent judiciary. The most recent example of that is in Turkey where voters approved his consolidation of three branches of government into one and permitted him to appoint all judges without any constraints. What is disturbing is that it was done with their people's permission, which shows how fragile democracy is. It is an idea but is only as good as the people who support it. From Hitler to Putin to Erdogan, all used fear and hatred of ethnic groups (Jews) (terrorists) , or a government and economy in chaos (Putin) . With control of all the levers of government in one hand, any opposition cannot gather enough strength to cause a reversion to democracy peacefully without violence, putsch, war, or revolution.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thank the Pilgrims who began America’s quest for religious freedom updated November 27, 2020

A version of this was publlished in the Sky Hi News, 11/20-21/2018
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)
________________________________________________________________________________2018 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"

If the tilting of the Supreme Court to the far right indicates that henceforth "religious freedom" means those who open the doors to the public can now discriminate against doing business with those of whom their religion disapproves, the answer should be nationwide and local boycotts of merchants who "exercise their religious freedom" to violate the rights of others. Nothing like causing them to lose the almighty buck to make a point. For those who oppose discrimination against any group, and especially the LGBTQ community and their supporters, it is in their right to use their freedoms to inform the community and to support those who are friendly to all and welcome their business. There are many more who do not discriminate than the narrow-minded holier than thou intolerant who do.

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.

Right wing attempts to get around the separation of church and state issue in the funding of education have not gotten far. Once again Colorado was the focus when the Douglas County School Board thought issuing vouchers to students to attend any school of their choice, including a faith based school, was rebuffed by the Colorado Supreme Court.   Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's secretary of education has long been a supporter of tax payer money funding faith based schools through vouchers , and has set about issuing executive orders to chip away at the regulations forbidding public funds for religious schools.

 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.
If the tilting of the Supreme Court to the far right indicates that henceforth "religious freedom" means those who open the doors to the public can now discriminate against doing business with those of whom their religion disapproves, the answer should be nationwide and local boycotts of merchants who "exercise their religious freedom" to violate the rights of others. Nothing like causing them to lose the almighty buck to make a point. For those who oppose discrimination against any group, and especially the LGBTQ community and their supporters, it is in their right to use their freedoms to inform the community and to support those who are friendly to all and welcome their business. There are many more who do not discriminate than the narrow-minded holier than thou intolerant who do. .

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.