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.