Category Archives: National

False equivalence in a post-justice America

False equivalence is once again rearing its ugly head, as pundits attempt to balance their outrage at the fact-free excesses of the right by calling out the left for being intolerant of opposing views.

Just this morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria, whom I generally respect, indulged in a little handwringing about students protesting against speakers engaged by their schools who represent an “unpopular” view. Apparently a group of kids walked out on VP Mike Pence during a commencement address. How rude!

This is somehow supposed to be a sign that the left is as bad as the right is about violating civil liberties.

I’m sorry, but that is just not so.

Non-violent demonstrations are central to our civil liberties. They may not be “polite;” they may not conform to an abstract metric of tolerance; but sometimes they are the only means within the grasp of an underclass (no pun intended) to express their strong disagreement, even outrage, at views or behaviors with which, not only do they disagree, but which they find downright abhorrent.

Of course the Ann Coulters of this world should not be barred from speaking; and, of course, colleges should be free to host public speakers who represent extreme views.

However, everyone knows there are reasons why prohibitions exist against yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  Commonsense should predict that provocateurs will provoke dissent.

It appears that, for the most part the demonstrations that fuel rightwing outrage over their civil rights, are noisy but peaceful, except when “unidentified outside agitators” deliberately invade the protests to initiate violence.

Those “outside agitators” cannot simply be assumed to be sympathetic to the left. It is far more likely that they are either anarchists whose, sole objective is to raise havoc and undermine all authority; or that they are individuals who wish to disrupt the disruption and shed an unflattering light on the left.

They are in any case, an exception to the rule that protests against right-wing speakers are generally peaceful despite the noise.

Should demonstrators be scolded for “intolerance?” I don’t think so.

The fact is that some rightwing viewpoints on social justice issues which have traditionally been considered far outside acceptable boundaries have recently been elevated to a public platform that they have not enjoyed in recent memory. Inevitably the response is visceral.

This is a values judgment. There simply is no other option.

We have already undergone an election in which all the remaining norms of political etiquette and even truthfulness have been forcefully jettisoned by the man who actual succeeded in claiming the White House. Brutality and intimidation were celebrated by the winning candidate. We are learning that it was much less of a level playing field than we even imagined!

How are people on the unjustly marginalized perimeters of power…the actual majority…supposed to react?

The argument that we are somehow guilty of intolerance because we cry out against advocates of social injustice and bigotry is unworthy of our constitutional heritage.

Please, media voices: stop trying so hard to appear “fair” to the extreme right. Fairness has never been something they respect.

Son of Citizens United?

Weary as we all are of the daily news about the Trump administration, it occasionally foreshadows general issues that could achieve much greater importance in the future.

This past week, as Donald Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “lawyered up,” and Mike Flynn’s prospects looked increasingly bleak, there was speculation that everyone’s business records would soon be the subject of subpoenas.

Not so fast, came the counter-argument from Flynn’s attorneys; the Citizens United decision might extend to protection of corporate records. If an individual has the right to refuse to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination, so might the corporation refuse to share it’s “testimony” (corporate records) on the same grounds.

A desperate claim, for sure, but the idea of civil rights for corporations, once elevated to that of the individual, was certain to raise bigger issues down the line. If money is the corporation’s constitutionally protected “voice,” why wouldn’t all the protections for the individual against self-incrimination be equally valid for corporations?

The favorite fantasy scenario has always been around attempting to convict a corporation for first degree murder. Who would potentially serve the sentence? You can’t execute a corporation or lock it up for life.

Now we are seeing the real nub of the question. If a corporation succeeds in arguing its fifth amendment right to remain silent; and sharing its records is deemed to be a violation of that right; we might as well wave goodbye to legal resolution of disputes, entirely.

It’s unlikely that such an argument would succeed in the normal course of court proceedings; but given the unprecedented nature of the circumstances and recent partisan incursions on the justice department, it’s worth considering.

One would naturally think that the corporation, like any citizen, could still be compelled to share its records, but the flawed Supreme Court logic that awarded civil rights to corporations might just as easily favor the argument that documents, like money, are a form constitutionally protected “voice” for the corporation. It would then be a fairly simple matter to extrapolate from that narrow protection to a broader protection against self-incrimination through documents for all citizens.

Poof! There go the underpinnings of our justice system.

GOP governors fit that image

As you can see from the actual Google news screen shot (not photo-shopped) it’s  easy to confuse one Republican governor’s image and policy for another.

phildouglas

Now, former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas never had to decide whether to sign marijuana legislation. But he did wield threats of a budget veto similar to what Governor Phil Scott is now doing attempting to bend the Democratic majority legislature to his agenda. Some key people now members of Scott’s staff were part of Douglas’ administration eight years ago

In June 2009, Republican Governor Jim Douglas carried out his threat and issued an historic  2,000-word veto message, becoming the first Vermont governor to veto the state budget. He had hoped to draw a line in the sand, but although the move made history it was quickly blown away when the solid Democratic House and Senate majorities overrode his veto.

Fast forward to now. Like Douglas, Governor Scott has threatened a budget veto. He has targeted any budget the legislature sends him not including a requirement for teachers to pay 20% of their health care premiums. Since the Democratic majorities are not as large as in 2009, an override is not guaranteeddriving them into negotiations on Scott’s key demand. Where Douglas’ veto leverage failed, Scott may succeed getting part of his agenda implemented.

As talks on a negotiated deal began and details took form, the teachers’ union begged to differ: Martha Allen, the Vermont NEA president and a librarian at a school in Canaan, said the Scott administration’s “assault on collective bargaining is straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook.”

Over-stated? Well, the threats are real. It is worth recalling the $3 million in campaign support Phil Scott enjoyed getting from the Republican Governors Association. The union-busting Koch Brothers were the largest contributors to the RGA in 2016. according to opensecrets.org. And in the last election cycle as in the one beforethe Republican State Leadership Council (another Koch Brother project) helped the Vermont GOP by targeting a half-dozen Democratic legislators for defeat.

Sure Google algorithims mix up their images one GOP governor is pretty much just like another, eh? and with great gobs of funds from Koch Brothers organizations behind them all, is it any wonder the playbook and goals are similar? After all, Wisconsinonce progressive, “blue” and heavily unionized and the birthplace of public sector unionsis now in the bottom third of states for unionized workforce.

Given time and small steps and removing teachers’ health care from the collective bargaining process is exactly one of those “small” steps I am not so sure that Trump/Walker anti-worker laws could never happen here in blue Vermont.

GOP wrecking crews are still hard at work

Priority efforts to gut or eliminate Obama era rules that Republicans claim unfairly restrict their industry and business buddies are continuing. Over a dozen Obama rules protecting waterways near coal mines, disclosure requirements of labor law violations (wages and workers rights) for businesses bidding on federal contracts and restrictions on broadband companies (such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) selling personal data have already been individually overturned this year under the Congressional Rules Act. Currently under the CRA Congress can overturn one executive rule at a time – but that may soon be turbo-charged by the GOP. demolish

To speed their frenzy  to demolish, the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, now in the Senate, would amend the CRA to enable legislative disapproval of multiple (executive) rules at once. Midnight Rules was passed in the House and is now sponsored in the Senate by chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson (R-WI) , and a Senate panel is considering the legislation. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would save Congress time, by allowing lawmakers to strike down multiple regulations in one vote, Johnson explained.

While Republicans have seen the Congressional Review Act as a valuable tool to strike regulations, Democrats are hoping to abolish the CRA, fearing it is being used to eliminate environmental, health, and safety protections.

So while Trump noisily babbles and blunders his way to whatever fate awaits him keep an eye on Republicans in Congress while they take care of business — scurrying around demolishing rules intended to protect individuals and the environment.

We have to wonder if the title of the bill the Midnight Rules Relief Act is another bit of inadvertent truth-telling by the GOP. It’s the thieves’ hour when a lot of questionable legislation gets shoved through an inattentive body.

 

What next, Democrats?

A respected Special Prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, has been appointed to investigate the Trump campaign/Russia question; and though still early days, the process is in motion to neutralize Donald Trump’s current threat to the Republic.

He is, it would seem, the lamest of ducks.

It’s time for Democrats to turn the lion’s share of their attention to the needs of the people, as urgently expressed since well-before the last election cycle.

Meet or even precede every Republican policy pitch with a well-developed counter-pitch. They are in complete disorder, with a mortally wounded leader who, at the best of times, can’t think in a straight line.

This is Democrats’ chance to show what they can offer in the way of measured, human-friendly policy around job creation, improvements to Obamacare, infrastructure priorities, social justice, education and national security.

If Democrats waste this opportunity by focussing only on the Trump melt-down, they will have squandered the advantage they should have in 2018.

Job 2 is to begin a serious look at reforming the presidency. In the words of the president, “who knew” that so many ethical issues were not codified, but simply left to the discretion of the president?

Nothing speaks so clearly to the eighteenth century sensibilities of the “Founding Fathers” as their apparent confidence that gentlemen will behave as gentlemen should when elected to the single highest office in the land. Those esteemed founders did not trust unbridled democracy. They imposed restrictions on the roll of the individual electorate, but not, curiously enough, on the power of the head of state. The United States was, after all, the immediate if rebellious offspring of monarchy, retaining a fundamental affinity for the institutions of its royalist parent.

What was once little more than a quaint convention of the past, has, under Trump’s administration, erupted into a full-on constitutional crisis.

I don’t expect the Republican-held Congress to lift a finger while they are in power to repair the mighty gaps in the powers of the presidency through which an autocrat (or a selfish child), carried into office on a whim of the electorate, might throw centuries of ethical convention to the four winds and behave like an absolute monarch.

If Democrats are wise and see to the urgent business of their constituents, they can seize the House in 2018. It then behooves them to set about codifying some limits on the presidency; like, for instance, he/she must share his taxes both as a candidate and throughout his/her administration. In order to qualify to appear on the ballot in the first place, every candidate’s tax returns for at least three years should be publicly available.

Divestiture of financial interests by the president must also be codified under the law; and conflict of interest must be more clearly defined, including specific rules governing the president’s family members, former business partners etc. Remedies for violation of these rules must be clearly laid out and include stiff penalties.

While they are at it, a scrub of gerrymandering is very much in order, too! Partisan divisions are too great to allow one “side” or the other full discretion to control districting.

Until some of the vulnerabilities in presidential privilege and voter suppression are effectively addressed, we are in no position to pontificate to younger nations on the lessons of democracy.

We have the high-ground here; and the vast majority of Americans disapprove both of this president and of the Republican controlled Congress. It’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to win over hearts and minds. Let’s not squander it by focussing entirely on the toddler in the room.

H.R. McMaster shreds the Honor Code

You are undoubtedly familiar with the Honor Code H.R. McMaster was required to adhere to when he was a cadet at West Point. Everyone knows “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” A seemingly simple rule that anyone can comprehend and follow, but you may not know the rest of it. In this case it is clear beyond clear that McMaster violated the Code by quibbling.

LYING: Cadets violate the Honor Code by lying if they deliberately deceive another by stating an untruth or by any direct form of communication to include the telling of a partial truth and the vague or ambiguous use of information or language with the intent to deceive or mislead. The term for this kind of evasive, misleading statement is “quibbling”, and it is considered a violation of the Code.

In the administration’s effort to discredit the report of the president revealing sensitive classified intelligence to Russian officials in the White House, they had McMaster make this statement:

The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. … At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. … I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

This was a clear attempt to lead the listener to conclude that the press story was false, but it did so in what has been termed a classic non-denial denial. He categorically denied certain actions, discussing intelligence sources or methods and disclosing military operations that were not already publicly known. By listening to his statement we are expected to conclude that the story reported by the Post and others was false and shouldn’t be relied upon. If you look more closely, though, you see that the stories in question never claimed that he discussed sources and methods or military operations.

In other words, in order to give the false impression that the Post story was wrong McMaster denied facts that were never alleged. That is, he told a partial truth and used vague or ambiguous language with the intent to mislead.

I don’t know if a military officer remains bound to the Honor Code when he is no longer a cadet, but at a minimum he violated the most basic principles that those seeking a commission in the armed forces are expected to follow.

Can you possibly argue that this can be tolerated?

The Allium Cepa: “Trump ‘I am a big idiot’ “

I know in a way this simply is a distraction from all serious damage the Trump administration is doing (see this : All the Terrifying Things That Donald Trump Did Lately as of April 28th).  And it deflects attention away from all harm the Congressional Republicans are doing to the country (health care, tax reform, and gutting Dodd-Frank Legislation). But sometimes you just got to go with The Onion view. It does have a certain appeal.

Trump imstupidWASHINGTON—Responding to a damning Washington Post report alleging he had shared highly classified information with Russian officials, President Donald Trump addressed the concerns of the press, his fellow government officials, and the public at large Tuesday by announcing that he was an incredibly stupid human being. “I am a big idiot,” said the president, adding that the reason he always messes everything up is that he is a dumb moron who doesn’t know better.

“I do a lot of things that don’t make sense and are bad, and that’s because I don’t understand much. If I was smart, I would do stuff better, but I’m not. I’m really, really stupid.” The commander in chief added that it was probably best if somebody stopped him from doing dumb things all the time because he was too stupid to know how.

Real Voter Fraud: Suppression, Intimidation and Denying the Right to Vote

By Jim Condos, Vermont’s Secretary of State

I’ve never been known to sugarcoat things, so I’m going to be frank. Recent events are causing increasing concerns that our democracy is in peril. Let me explain.

Voting is the foundation of our democracy. Since my first day as Secretary of State, and before that as a State Senator, I’ve worked to encourage voter participation by breaking down barriers to ensure eligible Vermont citizens are able to vote.

First, let me say I am proud to live in a state where our focus is on increasing access to the ballot box. To this end, we’ve made great progress in Vermont.

In January, we implemented same-day voter registration, making it easier for Vermonters to register and vote on Election Day.

Also in January, with the Department of Motor Vehicles, we implemented automatic voter registration – when an eligible voter receives/renews their license at the DMV they are either registered to vote, or their registration updates their current address, providing for more accurate voter lists and even greater election integrity.

Both same-day and automatic voter registration passed Vermont’s legislature with strong tri-partisan support, and I was proud to initiate and support these important objectives.

Here’s the point: because voting is the foundation of our democracy, government has a responsibility to make voting easy and accessible for every eligible voter. Unfortunately, across this country, we are seeing an increased erosion of voting rights in many states.

I am deeply troubled by the announcement that the President signed an executive order establishing a commission to review alleged voter fraud in our elections. Since the 2016 election, President Trump has made repeated unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. Credible studies have shown over and over again that widespread voter fraud simply does not exist, and election officials from across the country, Democrat and Republican, agree.

So why the brazen claims of widespread voter fraud?

I believe these unproven claims are an effort to set the stage to weaken and skew our democratic process through a systematic national effort of voter suppression and intimidation.

Let’s be honest: the real voter fraud that is occurring is the active campaign to roll back voting rights. The President’s unsubstantiated claims have emboldened these efforts. Photo ID laws, like those in Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Alabama, force citizens to travel over 100 miles to their closest DMV, even though they might be poor, disabled, or unable to drive. Other states have also pursued enactment of some form of voter ID law, many of which have been found by the courts to be outright unconstitutional.

Restrictions on early voting periods, limiting access, due to distance or time, to registration and voting locations, and overly aggressive purging of eligible voters from voter rolls are all examples of ways in which some states are suppressing voter participation and discouraging certain eligible voters from having a voice in elections.

These attacks on voting rights have a sole aim: to disenfranchise lower-income, student, senior and minority voters. It’s that simple, and the courts have started to recognize this.

The fact that Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have been announced as Chair and Vice Chair of this commission confirms my worst fears. Both are unabashed supporters of restrictive voter ID laws, as they exaggerate claims of voter fraud.

Secretary Kobach has championed some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. The leadership of this commission is a clear prelude to what I expect to be a reinvigorated nationwide campaign promoting strict voter suppression laws and voter intimidation.

How do we fight back? We start at home and lead by example. Automatic voter registration is a system every state, regardless of the party in power, can and should support. Everyone should stand behind generous early voting periods and ample registration opportunities right up to, and even on the same day as an election.

Our Vermont elections will continue to put voters first.

In the coming months and years ahead, we need leaders to stand up and denounce these attacks on our democratic ideals. We must make decisions about how we conduct our elections based on facts, not fear. We cannot allow the President’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud scare us into unravelling the threads of our democratic process.

We must continue to move forward, not backwards – our democracy is at stake.

The GOP brought the Trump circus to town

About a month ago some online betting sites were offering even odds that Trump would resign or be impeached before his first term was over. trumpcir1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder what the odds are now, after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. And doing so under the flimsy pretense that Director Comey mismanaged the FBI’s investigation into…Hillary Clinton’s emails!?!

I know I have heard enough about her damn emails too but nowhere near enough about Trump’s troubling connections to Russia. (A day ago CNN published an impressive graph mapping in detail the tangled Trump/Russia web.) There are two investigations currently underway in the Congress regarding the Russian involvement with Trump. Democrats are calling for the formation of a special prosecutor’s office to investigate. It is time for an independent and thorough investigation into the Trump campaign and his administration’s involvement with Russia.

But Republicans have a solid majority in the U.S. House, a slim one in the Senate. Thus our country remains largely at the mercy of the GOP the party we can thank for inviting Trump’s circus to town in the first place.

And we know that neither the current president, nor the House Speaker, nor the Senate Majority Leader have any sense of shame over lies told and maneuvers done to preserve power despite lives harmed or lost.

From history, and the righteous take-down of the last power-hungry demagogue out to destroy lives:  You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? 

Why does WCAX’s Celebrating Cinco de Mayo video start with U.S. Border Patrol?

I don’t have cable and rarely look at WCAX online. But I did check out Vermont’s news station after hearing that the Martin family, owners of WCAX TV, had agreed to be sold to Gray Television, a media conglomerate from Georgia, for $29 million. WCAXmayo2

For no special reason I clicked on a days-old video story Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Vermont. It was a bit of a shock that a still shot showing what seems to be a U.S. Border Patrol immigration traffic stop of some kind precedes the actual story about a May 5th party in Essex Junction .

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle between the Mexican army and French forces in 1862. The May 5th date is significant in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican-American culture. I guess since the recent waves of immigrant arrests an algorithmic profile (or some staffer?) at WCAX NEWS thought, ‘Nothing says Cinco de Mayo 2017 in Vermont more than a Border Patrol immigration stop.’

Well for better or worse WCAX will likely be in for changes and adjustment soon under the new ownership. And it’s clear the lucrative New England political media market is what Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., CEO and vice chairman of Gray Television, is after.

And make no mistake Hilton Hatchet Howell is in it for the political ad money. He commented on Gray Television’s recent purchases of WCAX, a Maine station and one in Florida: “Of particular note to me. This acquisition leads Gray to, for the first time in its corporate history, have three New England stations and all three of those New England stations have some of the highest political revenue in their markets and we are quite excited about that. It moves us into New Hampshire for the very first time in the Northern part of that state, and we add to our operations in Maine, which is a politically-sensitive state during the presidential election year.”

Upwards of $100 million was spent on political ads in broadcast and cable television in New England markets. It looks like Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., went shopping for and bought himself a cash cowaccess to the New Hampshire presidential primary ad revenue.

And speaking of politically sensitive, 3-H better adjust WCAX’s algorithmic profiling and/or staff cultural awareness training before Cinco de Mayo rolls around again.