Ralph Nader Speaks …

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney, noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes.  I hadn’t heard anything from Nader for years, but he has a blog titled In the Public Interest where he writes once a week or so.

Nader has a long history of activism, which has been directly credited with the passage of several landmark pieces of American consumer protection legislation including the Clean Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He has been repeatedly named to lists of the “100 Most Influential Americans”, including those published by Life Magazine, Time Magazine, and The Atlantic, among others.

His latest entry came onto my radar yesterday, and I thought it was worth sharing … it is both a summation of where we are today, and a warning of where we may be heading.


From Trump Tower to Dictatorial Trump Power Over Law

ralph-naderBy Ralph Nader
August 30, 2019

 

Donald Trump is “dumb as a rock” (to use his phrase) when it comes to the programs and the policies of the federal government agencies over which he is allegedly presiding. However, when it comes to defending and expanding his own political power, Trump is shameless and profoundly cunning.

Trump turns accurate appraisals of himself into accusations that he levies at others. Earlier this month, he questioned whether Joe Biden “is mentally fit to be president.” 

But Trump has found way to spread his toxicity beyond his lying tweets. He has carefully developed formidable barricades to shield himself from the gathering storm regarding his countless impeachable offenses and other serious misbehaviors.

Trump’s remarks, decisions, and asides reveal his plans to stay in office. Trump heaps praise and extra funding on the military. In his travels, Trump likewise incessantly praises the police regardless of the local situations.  Trump has openly said these constituencies are the core foundation against his adversaries that will keep him in office. His White House will keep the military and the police very well endowed.

He also makes sure that big business is happy with him. Some of the bosses are getting anxious about the uncertainty associated with Trump’s use of tariffs and his caustic remarks about leaders of the countries where U.S. companies do business. However, Trump knows that as long as he cuts corporate taxes; deregulates health, safety, and economic requirements on Wall Street; and continues the crony capitalism of subsidies, handouts, and bailouts; the corporate bosses will continue to pay obeisance to Trump.

Manipulating the mass media is child’s play for Trump. He taunts them about how they have to give him top billing because of the profitable ratings his performances brings them. Some in the mass media, nonetheless, expose his wrongdoing with thorough features. Trump, though irritated, ignores these exposés and repels them like water off a duck’s back. It’s all “fake news,” he shouts. His approval polls, though lower than previous presidents, stay firm. So far Trump has faced no real consequences from the revelations of his misdeeds.

The courts, meanwhile, are Donald’s Trump card for endless delays. Who has been sued as president more than Trump? Over two and a half years into his term, litigation against Trump grinds on. Nobody knows how long these court actions will take, what with Trump’s delay tactics and appeals. The top appeal is to the Supreme Court which he believes is 5 to 4 for him on just about everything relating to runaway presidential power and immunities. Trump has appointed 146 judges while in office, including two Supreme Court justices. Trump’s chosen Supreme Court justices are partisan actors who will suit his purposes nicely—it is as if they came from “central casting” for him. Trump has declared unlimited presidential pardon powers, musing that he could even pardon himself.

Labor unions are another big joke to Trump. As they decline, Trump reminds the pro-Democratic Party union leaders that many of their rank and file members voted for him. A troublingly large minority of union workers—over a third— defected to Trump’s camp in 2016, enough to make the union leaders skittish about seriously confronting him.

That leaves the Congress with which he toys. The Republicans are frightened chickens in a coop, peering out at the insatiable Fox. When they look back at their place in history, they’ll have to squint. Sycophants all, except for the late Rep. Walter Jones and Rep. Justin Amash.

As for the Democrats, Trump is blocking subpoenas and orders for witnesses to testify. Trump is also turning down major demands for documents from several House Congressional Committees. Exercising their constitutional authority to oversee the executive branch, the Committee Chairs are filing one law suit after another. Trump laughs and tells his attorneys to keep stonewalling and appealing—which can mean years. That’s how he operated during his sordid failed business career.

Donald Trump, selected by the Electoral College, is daring the Democrats to impeach him. He knows Democrats are divided and can use the Republican dominated Senate as an excuse for inaction. Of course impeachment is a constitutional duty for the House, not a simple political calculation. It is certainly warranted for the most impeachable president in American history.

Trump is thumbing his nose at Democrats daily, blocking oversight, allocating appropriated funds by executive dictate, brazenly freezing enforcement the laws or revoking regulations that protect the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of the American people, enriching himself through emoluments, and also casting aside the Constitution and the rule of law regarding his military and foreign policy aggressions.

Trump has neutralized our country’s checks and balances and separation of powers, including judicial accountability. He adds to his monarchal presidency by unleashing the Republican Party’s suppression of the vote and other electoral shenanigans.

If the law ever catches up to Trump, he has many toadies who are willing to engage in “wag the dog” distractions. They are his war-hawk on steroids, national security advisor lawless John Bolton and the militaristic Secretary of State Michael Pompeo who travels the world threatening half of it. The new Secretary of Defense, from the Raytheon Corporation, presents no restraint in contrast to his predecessor Jim Mattis, cashiered by Trump.

If Trump wins, America loses. The outcome is up to you in November 2020. Be alert and prepared for tumultuous upheavals should Trump lose by a narrow margin.

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21st Century … or Dark Ages???

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

— Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

There has been considerable debate about whether Title VII extends protections against discrimination to the LGBT community, and at present, it varies by state and locality, despite the fact that the entire Civil Rights Act is a federal law.  At this time, only 21 states have outlawed discrimination against members of the LGBT community.  A bill, the Equality Act,  was introduced into the House of Representatives in March of this year by Representative David Cicilline. The bill has passed in the House and is now languishing in the Senate committee, but the odds of it becoming the law of the land seem slim at the moment, given the makeup of the current Senate, and the fact that Donald Trump spoke against it after right-wing religious organizations urged the White House to issue an opposition statement to the bill.

There are currently three cases on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court that will be heard on October 8th.  Briefly …

Zarda v Altitude Express:  Donald Zarda was fired from Altitude Express, where he worked as a skydiver. He informed a woman he was gay while they were strapped to each other because he thought it would make her feel more comfortable. She later informed his employer that she wasn’t happy with his sharing his being gay and he was subsequently fired. Zarda died in 2014 but his estate pursued the case.

Bostock v Clayton County:  Gerald Bostock, a child welfare services coordinator, was in a gay recreational softball league. He said his participation in the league and his sexual orientation became a problem with someone at work. Then he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of a county employee,” which he said was tied to his sexuality.

Harris Funeral Homes v EEOC:  Aimee Stephens, a trans woman, was fired from her job at a funeral parlor after she informed the funeral director she worked for that she was transgender. She had worked in funeral services for nearly 20 years and received positive feedback from her employer.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in all three cases on the same day, and according to Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization focused on LGBTQ people …

“This is a momentous occasion. It is a pivotal moment and the public should be paying attention.  These cases will affect the ability of LGBTQ people to be full members of society and to contribute to society by entering the workplace and be free of discrimination.”

Meanwhile, the United States Justice Department under Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr sent a brief to the Supreme Court two days ago stating that they should find in favour of the employer in the Harris Funeral Homes case, arguing that …

“In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status. In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace.”

Since when is it right and proper for the Department of Justice to tell the Supreme Court how to rule???  The Judiciary is an independent branch that is intended to be apolitical, not influenced by partisan politics.  However, the reality does not always match the intent.  Today, there are 5 justices who lean toward conservative opinions, 4 who are more liberal.  Chief Justice John Roberts is typically the more moderate of the conservative-leaning justices, often casting the deciding vote.  It is likely to come down to his single vote, and there are serious concerns, for he wrote a dissenting opinion in the 2014 case of Obergefell v Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level.  And lately he has disappointed us a few times, such as his vote to give state lawmakers virtually unlimited authority to draw district lines (gerrymandering) once every 10 years, pick their voters and entrench their political power.

This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.  It is time we learn to accept people … ALL people … for who they are.  If the employers in these three cases are allowed to prevail, it will indeed be a dark day in the United States, and no doubt it will then be only a matter of time until we see cases coming before the court dealing with discrimination in housing, in education, in every aspect of life.  I’m convinced that it is only a matter of time until a case comes before the Supreme Court that challenges Obergefell v Hodges.  And then what?  If we strip the LGBT community of their rights, will we soon see cases attempting to strip African-Americans of their rights by challenging other aspects of the Civil Rights Act, or of the Voting Rights Act?

Keep your eyes on this one, folks, for how these three cases are decided will be the best indicator yet whether or not there is still “liberty and justice for all” in this nation.

Might vs Right???

Yesterday, I received an email from our friend Scott (sklawlor), asking if I would use my voice, small though it is, to bring something to the attention of the public, or at least those who read my blog.  After researching the issue, I agreed.

At issue is whether online retailers have an obligation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities, such as blindness.  From an article in The Verge:

Domino’s, the leading US pizza chain that pinned its remarkable turnaround nearly a decade ago on an investment in technology, is currently waging a legal battle so that it does not have to make its website accessible to the blind. The case, which began three years ago as a lawsuit by blind US resident Guillermo Robles, may go all the way to the US Supreme Court, CNBC reports. The eventual result could become a landmark decision over the rights of people with disabilities and the responsibility of companies to retrofit mobile apps and websites for accessibility.

At the core of case is Domino’s insistence that it should not have to make its website, the predominant platform for ordering pizza from its physical stores, accessible to people with visual impairments. Specifically, Domino’s is contesting Robles’ claim that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mobile apps or websites, which effectively did not exist in modern form when the ADA was passed in 1990. Robles alleged the ADA does cover the web and software, so long as the business contains physical locations in the US and is soliciting customers over the internet. A federal court agreed.

Domino’s is now arguing against the judgement, and the company petitioned the Supreme Court to weigh in with a 35-page document designed to get the court to accept the case.

The importance of this issue is in the precedent it will set.  If Dominos wins their case, will more companies feel free to limit accessibility to the blind or the deaf on their websites?  Almost certainly so.  Dominos is a multi-million dollar company whose net income has steadily increased over the past several years.Dominos net income

Although there is a Dominos just down the street from us, we don’t care for their pizza, but rather we typically order from a local pizzeria whose website is designed to be accessible to those with both visual and auditory impairments.  If a small company can do it … ???

Per Scott …

“I would encourage you all to write to this company and voice your disdain for their willful practice of blatantly ignoring accessibility options which clearly exclude a large segment of the population from partaking in their services. Sure, you can always call them to place an order, which I have done, but will no longer do just on principle, but that’s not the point of this in the first place.  If they lose enough customers, maybe they’ll reconsider so I would appreciate it if you would share this, and maybe between all of us, or those of us who see the post, we can make it go viral.”

These days we seem to live in an era of nearly unregulated, unfettered capitalism, an era when what matters most seems to be profit, profit, profit, without regard for the environment or people.  The only way, it would seem, to make our voices heard is through our wallets.  If a company cannot spend a small amount to accommodate those of us who have special needs, then why should we give them our hard-earned money?  I hope that if this case is heard by the Supreme Court, they will see it in the same light.

Thanks to Scott Lawlor for bringing this to our attention!

A Scrapbook Of Life In America: Excerpts From The Pro-Gun Forums

Just over a week ago, I re-blogged a post by Greg, aka Ohio Realist, over at On the Fence Voters. It was the initial post of their new project on the issue of guns and the tragic gun culture in the U.S. Today, I share with you the second post in the project, a plethora of excuses for the fact that there is almost zero regulation on guns in this country. We have a problem … a huge problem … and the key to solving that problem is awareness. Please take a look at these pictures and read the words. The U.S. doesn’t lead the world in much these days, but we certainly do lead in gun fatalities, and once you see this post, you’ll understand why. Thank you, Greg and Jeff, for keeping this issue in the limelight … great work!

On The Fence Voters

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Just Don’t Answer …

Last week, the Supreme Court did its job.  It told the Trump administration that it would not approve of Trump’s ignominious citizenship question on the 2020 census form, for it is basically a poorly-disguised attempt to discriminate against Hispanics for political gain.  I agreed with that assessment and the Court’s decision, though I did not agree with Chief Justice John Roberts giving Trump lawyers an opportunity to come up with a better ‘rationale’.  In other words, “go think up a more credible lie”.citizenship questionThe Justice Department appeared ready to give up the ghost and sent word that they were conceding and would abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.  But then, apparently Trump threw a royal tantrum, and within hours, the Justice Department was back in the news saying that no, they decided to pursue the matter, and that all lawyers would be required to cancel their Fourth of July plans to spend the day ‘brainstorming’ to come up with that ‘better rationale’.

Apparently, all the king’s lawyers and all the king’s men couldn’t put together a plausible excuse as to why they want to add the loaded citizenship question to the census.  Now here comes the part that should sent chills down your spine.  Trump announced that he is considering an executive order to circumvent the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, the final authority on all legal questions and disputes.  He is considering an executive order to add the citizenship question.  He is considering an executive order, in essence, to say that he, Donald J. Trump, is the only and final law, and that no other laws apply to him.

Think about that one for a minute.

I said long ago that his use of executive orders was not only excessive, but bordered on being illegal.  But, if he chooses to go this route, there is one last option:  Congress can overturn an executive order by passing legislation that invalidates it.  But, of course, there’s the rub.  The Senate is having a “let’s sit on our asses and not pass a damn thing” session, and even in the House, it is doubtful that any such legislation could attain a veto-proof (2/3) majority because the House Freedom Caucus would no doubt vote against any such legislation.

And so, I say to you, my friends … if Trump signs an executive order demanding that a citizenship question be included in next year’s census, then there is no law that applies to Donald Trump.

Think about that one for another minute.

What do you have when a person at the head of government is not constrained one bit by anything … not the legislature, not the highest court in the land?  What you have is not a president, nor a prime minister, what you have is a dictator or a king.  Since Trump has no royal blood, he cannot be a king, and so … Heil Herr Trump.

I urge you, if the question is on the census form next year, to skip over it … DO NOT ANSWER IT!  Most people in the U.S. who are reading this blog are citizens, most born in the U.S., but it doesn’t matter … DO NOT ANSWER THAT QUESTION!  I definitely will not answer it.  I have skipped questions in prior year’s census that I felt were invasive or just flat out none of their damn business, and I absolutely will not answer this one!

The Court Has Spoken

The United States Supreme Court handed down two decisions today that will impact whether next year’s election is a fair and honest election or not.  While one of those decisions was a proper decision, it is only a temporary one.  The other decision basically handed next year’s election to the Republican Party.

First the (sort of) good …

The Court put on hold Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce) and Donald Trump’s attempt to intimidate voters by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census form that every household is required to complete.  The Court said that the administration had presented a ‘contrived’ reason for adding the question, but rather than strike down the measure, they merely put the ball back in the administration’s court and told them to come up with a better reason, a more defensible justification.

What happens next with this is anybody’s guess, but the Department of Commerce will begin printing the census forms this summer, so there is not much time to make a final decision.  No doubt the government, such as it is, will find a way around it and make up some seemingly legitimate reason for adding the question.  Stay tuned …

The second decision handed down by the Court was a travesty of justice.  The issue was gerrymandering and whether the courts have the authority to order states to re-draw district maps that are currently drawn in such a way as to diminish the votes of the poor and minorities.  For a simple explanation of how gerrymandering works, see my post from February 2018.  Gerrymandering is a large part of how Donald Trump came to sit in the Oval Office, for in many states he lost the popular vote, but because of the way votes were apportioned, he won enough districts to nullify the votes of many.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, concluding …

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion …

“For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”

The Court understandably walks a fine line here, for it is intended to be non-partisan, and this is a highly partisan issue.  But, there is no fine line when it comes to fairness!  There is no grey area here!  States whose citizenry is majority republican have drawn their district maps to ensure that republicans will receive the largest number of electoral votes.  It isn’t debatable, it is simply WRONG!

The ramifications of this decision go beyond the obvious.  Think about this.  If you are a democrat in a predominantly republican state, and your state’s districts are heavily gerrymandered, skewed to ensure that minority votes are diluted, doesn’t that dim some of your enthusiasm for even voting?  One of the biggest problems we have on election day is getting people out to vote.  This is especially true of the poor and the minorities, for whom voting has been intentionally made more difficult than it needs to be by unfair voter I.D. laws, closing or reduction of polling places in lower-income neighborhoods, and other cheap tricks.  I can easily picture the single mom who has to take an hour-long bus ride after work to reach her polling place on the other side of town just throwing her hands up and saying, “Forget it!  I don’t have time for this when my vote isn’t going to count fairly anyway!”

What’s next?  Will the Court find a way to rule that voter harassment is not unconstitutional, so men in white robes and hoods can stand in front of polling venues?  Might just as damn well!

So much rides on next year’s election, folks.  On November 3rd next year, We the People are supposed to make a choice between turning this nation over to a madman who represents only a minority of the people for the foreseeable future, or a person who will safeguard our Constitution, who will represent ALL the people who reside in this nation, not just the chosen few.  Due to outside influences in our election process, and due to lack of voter education, the odds are already stacked against sanity reigning.  This is just one more blow to the possibility of having a fair and honest election … possibly a death blow.

Many times, I have said that we must hope the one completely independent branch of our government, the courts, would stop Trump from completely destroying this nation.  The Court has spoken.supreme court justices

An Anniversary To Remember …

Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark decision that established that racial discrimination in schools is unconstitutional.  To honour this anniversary, I would like to share with you a post by the Jon S. Randal Peace Page that tells the story better than I could.

She just wanted to go to a good school, to be with her friends.

She lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, growing up playing with children of all races.

The school she wanted to attend, where her friends were, was only four blocks away.

Her father would take her to that school, the Sumner School. Being a part of the neighborhood, the family received a registration form for the school in 1952. She was so excited, to be able to attend a school nearby with her friends from the neighborhood.

But, when they arrived there, the principal would take her father to the office and close the door. She didn’t know what was happening, why the principal had to speak to her father alone. She heard her father’s voice begin to rise. After a few minutes, her father opened the door, he was upset, and he just took her hand and walked back out of the school.

The school had apparently sent the registration form to her family by mistake. They thought the family was white, Linda Brown and her parents were black and Sumner was a whites-only school.

“I just couldn’t understand what was happening,” she would say, “I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

Linda-Brown.jpgLinda Brown did not realize that she was unable to attend the school because of the color of her skin. This was because the elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas, were racially segregated, with separate facilities for black and white children.

“I didn’t comprehend color of skin,” she said later. “I only knew that I wanted to go to Sumner.”

She and other black children were barred from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites because of the “Jim Crow” laws.

Brown would be forced to walk 6 blocks through the dangerous Rock Island Switchyard in order to catch a bus to the segregated all-black school.

According to the Washington Post, Linda’s father, the Rev. Oliver L. Brown, an assistant minister at St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, “felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance to receive a quality education.”

Linda’s father would join several other parents, and, together, led by a young, NAACP attorney named Thurgood Marshall, would take the case, Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, would rule in their favor, saying that school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The unanimous ruling declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education would be the basis for many other rulings that led to desegregation, motivating the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

But, not only did black students benefit from the ruling, Native American children were also affected. Native American communities had to deal with segregation laws as well, with native children being prohibited from attending white institutions. After tribal leaders learned about Dr. King’s desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, they would contact him for assistance, resolving the problem.

Although Brown’s family was just one of 13 plaintiffs who sought to ensure the city fully integrated the rest of its schools, Brown would be burdened with the publicity because her family’s name was part of the case name. Her family would briefly leave their home in Topeka, Kansas, when she was a teenager, but she would return to Topeka after her father died in 1961.

She would also take on the civil rights mantle of her father, becoming an educator and civil rights advocate.

Brown was part of a group of Topeka parents who, in 1979, joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to successfully argue for the reopening of the Brown case. The parents argued that because of housing patterns in Topeka, racially segregated schools remained in the city, in violation of the 1954 ruling.

In a 1985 interview for “Eyes on the Prize,” a PBS documentary series on the civil rights movement, Linda Brown said, “I feel that after 30 years, looking back on Brown v. the Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second-class citizenship.”

When Brown died on March 25, 2018, at the age 76, the Kansas governor paid tribute to Brown, saying:

“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

In an interview with the Washington Post in 1994, Brown had said, “We feel disheartened that 40 years later we’re still talking about desegregation. But the struggle has to continue.”

Sixty-five years later.  Everybody accepts that racial intolerance has no place in our schools, in our society, right?  Wrong.  A number of Trump’s recent judicial nominees have flat-out refused to affirm the Brown decision.  One even went so far as to say she did not agree with the decision in 1954. Why???  Are we, in fact, headed on a backward slope in terms of racial discrimination just as we are in terms of women’s and LGBT rights?  Suffice it to say that with the recent rise in white supremacy and Trump’s pandering to the right-wing hate groups, it is something we cannot afford to ignore.

On Stripping The Rights Of Women …

Today I’m going to touch on a subject that is controversial, to say the least:  abortion.

A number of states, the most recent being Alabama, have recently passed highly restrictive and misogynistic abortion laws.  Anti-abortion evangelicals are patting themselves on the backs thinking, no doubt, that they have once again proven themselves the rulers over women’s bodies.  But make no mistake … these laws are only a tool.  The legislators and governors who have passed these laws are well aware that they don’t hold water, for when there is a conflict between federal and state law, federal law trumps state laws, no pun intended.

The federal law on abortion was established in 1973 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v Wade in which the Court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.  It is not within the rights of the State of Alabama or the State of Georgia to change, ignore, or override that ruling.  Period.

So … why are they passing these ‘illegal laws’, you might ask.  Because … long story short, they are hoping for a lawsuit against them that will reach the Supreme Court.  And when it does, they are hoping, believing, that the Supreme Court will then use that lawsuit as a basis to overturn Roe v Wade.

One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises that gained him a large number of followers was that he would put justices on the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade.  It is an emotional issue that gained him the support of the evangelicals.  However, the Supreme Court cannot simply say, “Let’s overturn a decades-old decision because the president would like us to.”  A case must come before them that challenges that decision before they can take it under advisement.

You might notice that the states did not pass these dranconian abortion laws when President Barack Obama was in office and the Supreme Court was still largely apolitical.  You’ll also notice that Trump was in such a hurry to appoint a second justice to the Court that he had a quiet little talk with Justice Kennedy, and shortly thereafter Justice Kennedy announced his imminent retirement.  And you’ll further notice that there was a mad dash by Trump and his boot-licking Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, thereby giving the court a 5-4 right-wing, conservative majority, despite the fact that the Court is intended to be apolitical.

The stage is set … now the states who have passed these anti-abortion laws that rob women of their rights to have control over their own bodies will sit back and wait for the inevitable lawsuits claiming, rightly, that the states have no right to restrict a woman’s right of choice.  Then will begin the inevitable back and forth through the courts until sometime next year, perhaps even sooner, the cases will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump is relying on the five conservative justices to vote in favour of overturning Roe v Wade.  Those justices are:

  • Clarence Thomas
  • Samuel Alito
  • John Roberts (Chief Justice)
  • Neil Gorsuch
  • Brett Kavanuagh

Justice Steven Breyer warned in a dissent to another decision earlier this week …

“Overruling a case always requires special justification. I understand that, because opportunities to correct old errors are rare, judges may be tempted to seize every opportunity to overrule cases they believe to have been wrongly decided. But the law can retain the necessary stability only if this court resists that temptation, overruling prior precedent only when the circumstances demand it.”

The Alabama bill, which has been passed by the state legislature and is expected to be signed into ‘law’ by Governor Kay Ivey, bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison.  The Georgia bill, recently passed and signed by Governor Brian Kemp (remember him … the guy with the gun pointed at his daughter’s boyfriend?), is only slightly less restrictive, banning abortion after about 6 weeks, often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Those who are so dead-set against a woman’s right of choice, call themselves “pro-life”, but this is a misnomer, as I have noted before.  They are often the same people who support the death penalty.  They are often the people who protest their tax dollars going to help feed and clothe the poor.  Many are the same ones who fought so hard against ACA, which provided affordable healthcare to those who would not otherwise have any.  Pro-life?  No, only anti-women’s rights.

If people are so against abortion, doesn’t it make sense to support such things as birth control, family planning and counseling, and other measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies?  But no, the evangelicals are against all of those, too.  They support de-funding such organizations as Planned Parenthood who help with all women’s health issues, and they argue against company-sponsored health insurance plans covering birth control.  Sorry, folks, you cannot have it both ways!

Thus far through the years, state laws attempting to restrict abortion have all been struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional.  Will that precedent hold?  I cannot say for sure, but I’m less confident now than I would have been two years ago.  More than 60% of the people in this nation support a woman’s right of choice, but these days it seems that the minority is the only voice that is heard.  If the Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe v Wade, it will be a slap in the face to every woman in the U.S.  What will be next?  Will they take away our right to own property?  Our right to vote?  Think about it.

Thoughts On ‘Executive Privilege’ …

Donald Trump has invoked ‘executive privilege’ more than any other president, though all have used it to a lesser extent.  Just in the past month, Trump has used it to keep a number of people from answering subpoenas by various congressional committees trying to find answers to some very important questions.  Yesterday, he used it to claim that Congress and the public would not be allowed to see the un-redacted version of the Mueller report.  Most of us are scratching our heads and asking, “Can he do that?” 

Executive privilege is defined as “the right of the president and high-level executive branch officers to withhold information from Congress, the courts, and ultimately the public.”  It is not a right that is spelled out in the Constitution, but rather was defined by the Supreme Court when it ruled that it is “fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution.”

Executive privilege can be asserted for one of two reasons: for national security needs, and for “protecting the privacy of White House deliberations when it is in the public interest to do so.”  Now, at issue here is whether Donald Trump can be said to have known about and welcomed the Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential election, and more likely, did Donald Trump attempt to interfere with the investigation into said Russian interference?  Neither, at this juncture, qualify as ‘national security’ issues, so that leaves the second reason.

“Protecting the privacy of White House deliberations when it is in the public interest to do so” is rather open to interpretation. Is it in the ‘public interest’ to keep us in the dark and allow Trump to get by with having broken the law? My own opinion is that transparency is in the public interest, that the public has both a right and a need to know the truth.  Just as Nixon’s assertion of executive privilege was widely seen as self-serving and against the public interest, most of us believe that Trump’s repeatedly invoking it makes him look guilty of far more than even Nixon.

If I sidle past you with my hands behind my back, you ask what I’m hiding, and I say “nuffin” then run quickly past and into my room, slam the door and lock it, you’re going to be pretty darn suspicious, right?  Trump has been caught with his hands in the cookie jar and he is trying very hard to hide it.  So … back to the question at hand:  Can he do that?

Is it in the public interest?  No.  It is in the interest of Donald Trump as he wishes to remain in office, for he is enjoying the power of the office, the free jet-setting all over the world, and financial benefits for his businesses.

President Nixon’s abuse of the privilege made future presidents leery of it, and even when he was facing the Iran-Contra investigation during his second term, President Ronald Reagan decided against asserting executive privilege, agreeing instead to provide much of the requested information to Congress.  President Bill Clinton attempted to invoke executive privilege during the investigation into his affair with Monica Lewinsky but was ultimately overruled.

Just as Richard Nixon used executive privilege in an attempt to cover his guilt, there can be no doubt that Trump is doing the same … the proof is in what we already know of the Mueller report.  However, as the courts struck down Nixon’s claim, they are not as likely to do so with Trump’s.  Why?  Attorney General William Barr.  The Justice Department under Nixon refused to pander to the president’s whims and instead held him accountable.  Why do you think Jeff Sessions was fired?  Why do you think Rod Rosenstein is resigning?  And why do you think Trump nominated, and the Senate confirmed, William Barr so quickly?  Why do you think Trump encouraged Justice Kennedy to retire and then the Senate was in such an all-fire hurry to put Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, despite credible allegations of sexual abuse?  Trump knew that Mueller’s report would open the doors to congressional investigations and he was pre-covering his bases.

In U.S. v. Nixon in 1974, President Richard Nixon was ordered to deliver tapes and other subpoenaed materials to a federal judge for review. The justices ruled 9-0 that a president’s right to privacy in his communications must be balanced against Congress’ need to investigate and oversee the executive branch.  That was then, and this is now … Nixon thought he would not be caught and didn’t have time to prepare in advance.  Trump knew he was caught and rushed through terminations and nominations to cover his patootie even before the Mueller report saw the light of day. Remember how Trump’s lawyers refused to let him testify before Mueller’s team, for they knew he would lie and incriminate himself even further.

Now, that is not to say that Trump will not ultimately have his feet held to the fire, but it is likely to be sometime next year before that happens, as I suspect this will work its way up through the court system along with other issues.  I also suspect it is more of a delaying tactic than anything.  Think about it … right this moment, we are furious, and this is the hot topic.  As other things take over the headlines in the media, as our attention is directed elsewhere, how likely are we to stay focused on Trump’s abuse of ‘executive privilege’?

I keep hoping that somebody … Don McGahn, Robert Mueller … somebody will have the guts to stand against Trump and volunteer to testify and provide whatever documents are in their possession.  Yes, it could result in a jail sentence, but … isn’t someone willing to put this nation and its well-being ahead of their own self-interest?  Trump for damn sure isn’t.

How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

On occasion, I share with you the work of Robert Reich.  Mr. Reich has served under three U.S. presidents of both parties and is a wise man who sees things as they are and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.  In the following essay, he analyzes the ways in which McConnell is changing not only the Senate, but the whole of the U.S. system.  I think his words are worth sharing …

 

Robert Reich-4How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

by Robert Reich

Congress has recessed for two weeks without passing a desperately-needed disaster relief bill. Why not? Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t want to anger Donald Trump by adding money for Puerto Rico that Democrats have sought but Trump doesn’t want.

America used to have a Senate. But under McConnell, what was once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body has become a partisan lap dog.

Recently McConnell used his Republican majority to cut the time for debating Trump’s court appointees from 30 hours to two – thereby enabling Republicans to ram through even more Trump judges.

In truth, McConnell doesn’t give a fig about the Senate, or about democracy. He cares only about partisan wins.

On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections he famously declared that his top priority was for Barack Obama “to be a one-term president.”

Between 2009 and 2013, McConnell’s Senate Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees. In the entire history of the United States until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

This unprecedented use of the filibuster finally led Senate Democrats in 2013 to change the rules on some presidential nominees (but not the Supreme Court) to require simple majorities.

In response, McConnell fumed that “breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American.” If so, McConnell is about as un-American as they come. Once back in control of the Senate he buried Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court by refusing even to hold hearings.

Then, in 2017, McConnell and his Republicans changed the rules again, ending the use of the filibuster even for Supreme Court nominees and clearing the way for Senate confirmation of Trump’s Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Step by step, McConnell has sacrificed the Senate as an institution to partisan political victories.

There is a vast difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms of our democracy, and winning by subverting those norms.

To Abraham Lincoln, democracy was a covenant linking past and future. Political institutions, in his view, were “the legacy bequeathed to us.”

On the eve of the Senate’s final vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in July 2017, the late John McCain returned to Washington from his home in Arizona, where he was being treated for brain cancer, to cast the deciding vote against repeal.

Knowing he would be criticized by other Republicans, McCain noted that over his career he had known senators who seriously disagreed with each other but nonetheless understood “they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

In words that have even greater relevance today, McCain added that “it is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning’.”

In politics, success should never be measured solely by partisan victories. It must also be judged by the institutional legacy passed onward. The purpose of political leadership is not merely to win. It is to serve.

In any social or political system it’s always possible to extract benefits by being among the first to break widely accepted norms. In a small town where people don’t lock their doors or windows, the first thief can effortlessly get into anyone’s house. But once broken, the system is never the same. Everyone has to buy locks. Trust deteriorates.

Those, like Mitch McConnell, who break institutional norms for selfish or partisan gains are bequeathing future generations a weakened democracy.

The difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms and rules of our democracy, and winning by subverting them, could not be greater. Political victories that undermine the integrity of our system are net losses for society.

Great athletes play by the rules because the rules make the game. Unprincipled athletes cheat or change the rules in order to win. Their victories ultimately destroy the game.

In terms of shaping the federal courts, McConnell has played “the long game”, which, incidentally, is the title of his 2016 memoir. Decades from now, McConnell will still be shaping the nation through judges he rammed through the Senate.

But McConnell’s long game is destroying the Senate.

He is longest-serving leader of Senate Republicans in history but Mitch McConnell is no leader. He is the epitome of unprincipled power. History will not treat him kindly.