Saturday, June 25, 2016

Be careful what you wish for . . . what you vote for

By a vote of 52% to 48%, British voters expressed their wish for the U.K. to leave the European Union (EU).    There is much to suggest that this was a protest vote against the policies of the conservative government of the U.K., which adopted austerity measures in recent years -- and which have increased income inequality and reduced social services.

Along with that is a fear and reaction against immigrants from within the EU coming in a taking their jobs.   In Britain, it's not so much those from the Middle East but from other European countries who, because of the open EU borders, can freely come into Britain.  Rather than oust their own government, which exacerbated the economic situation by its austerity measures, the Leave voters blamed the European Union and voted to get out.

MSNBC is showing anecdotal interviews of some people who are having "buyer's remorse" the day after, saying they voted Leave as a protest, not expecting that position would actually win.   We don't know the extent of that false belief -- that it was safe to cast a protest vote because they wouldn't win -- but the truth is that the consequences are really historic and globally devastating.    In one day, the global wealth lost $2 Trillion dollars, and the U.K. fell from the 5th largest economy to 6th place.

Today of course was just trying to absorb the shock -- and the long range economic fallout will likely not continue such a drastic slide.   But the point is:    Be careful what you vote for.

I hope U.S. voters will take this as a cautionary lesson, rather than encouragement.   It's all very well to be mad as hell at government and want to "throw the bums out" in protest.    But be careful who you put in the bums' place.   Pick someone with some experience and a plan for getting us out of such a similar position of economic inequality, not someone who spouts off slogans and promises that will only makes things worse.


UK's vote to quit EU does not bode for a Trump win

Here is one reassuring opinion about the effect of the Brexit (Britain exit) vote, by Laurence Lewis, blogger on Daily Kos:
 *   *   *
"You’re going to be reading a lot of stories about the Brexit vote being a warning that Donald Trump can win. Those stories will be wrong.

"Brexit has won, and the primary reason is the economic turmoil wrought by the greed and at times open cruelty of British austerity, as imposed by David Cameron and George Osborne.   [The Labor Party] didn’t run against austerity in the last British election, and was punished for it.  The British people were punished with more austerity.  A brutal economy always feeds extremism, and that is how Britain got Brexit. . . .  Britain has austerity and no credible national [opposition] leaders.  Hence Brexit.

"While much of Europe was electing right wing governments that imposed austerity, the United States was electing Barack Obama. The Obama stimulus was a starkly different approach from European austerity. A larger stimulus would have done more to fuel a robust recovery, but the stimulus that was enacted stopped the economic free fall, and got the United States back on the right track. More needs to be done, and will be done, but the difference with Europe and particularly Britain is obvious. The extremism fueling the Trump campaign is neither as broad or deep as the extremism fueling Brexit. Because President Obama and Congressional Democrats ensured that the United States did not end up with the sort of brutal economic program the Republicans would have imposed, and that Cameron and Osborne in Britain did impose.

"Simply put, the extremism fueling Brexit does not have the same resonance in the United States. Because our economy is not suffering the way Britain’s economy is suffering. And the economic agenda of Hillary Clinton is very deliberately designed to build on the success of the Obama economic agenda. The United States has alternatives that Britain did not have. And the United States will not follow Britain’s path into extremism because it hasn’t been on a parallel economic path."
*   *   *
Let's hope this analysis is correct.   I am still worried.   We should not underestimate the political furor that can be fanned into flames of extremism in the U.S. electorate by a very talented con man.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Clinton's economic message stays progressive

If Hillary Clinton's major speech on economic issues on Wednesday was any indication, she is NOT pivoting back to the center for the general election.   I was listening specifically for whether she continued her more progressive positions from the primary.  I was stuck by how similar, in terms of policy positions, it was to a Sanders speech.  Of course, Clinton being Clinton, it was full of far more wonkish details than Sanders would have given.    Where Sanders focuses on the ultimate goals, she focuses on how to get there.   But the goals aren't that different.

Clinton continued to advocate for paid family leave, equal pay for women, debt-free college education, relief for existing student debt, expanding Dodd-Frank, a minimum wage (though she didn't mention an amount), expanding Social Security.  She railed against Wall Street greed, TPP, and big money in politics and Citizens United;  and she advocated for more taxes on the wealthy and for penalties on corporations that move their headquarters overseas to avoid taxes.  It seemed clear to me that Hillary Clinton is sticking to the progressive, populist stance she adopted in running against Sanders, not going back to the center as some people feared.


Update on the House Democrats' sit-in

House Democrats continued their sit-in throughout the night.   Around 10:00 pm, Paul Ryan brought Republicans back in, reopened the session for about an hour to ram through votes on other bills having nothing to do with gun safety. 

There was a lot of shouting, chanting -- with Republicans ignoring and talking through it all, introducing bills and holding votes on issues having nothing to do with gun safety.  Democrats did vote -- otherwise they would have had no voice in these bills' outcome -- but they kept up their protest.   Then Republicans left, only to come back into session at 1:00 am and then again at 2:30 am just long enough to announce a recess until July 5th -- meaning they were leaving town two days early for the holiday rather than do anything about gun safety.

By mid-morning, protestors decided they had made their point, had gotten great media coverage and public support (175,000 people, just from one gun control group, called Republican leaders demanding action)With nothing further to gain at this time, they ended the sit-in around mid-day, after about 25 hours.   But they made clear that this is not over, and they will resume the demands for a vote when the House meets in two weeks.

Paul Ryan called it a "publicity stunt" and was determined not to let it set a precedent.    Critics countered that Democrats have to resort to stunts to expose the absolute obstructionist power wielded by the Republicans, including:  not allowing Democrats to speak in debate, not allowing them to introduce any legislation, or even hold any hearings.  Unlike the Senate, with its filibuster, the House rules give the minority party no power at all.    It's a lousy system, made worse by gerrymandering that practically guarantees incumbents get re-elected -- and this leads to extreme polarization, gridlock, and uncivility.

With this bold and unprecedented sit-in, following the 15 hour filibuster in the Senate, Democrats have made Republican intransigence even more a central issue for those in close election races.   Some of the discourse from the Democrats was personal and chilling:   one representative told about her brother being killed by gun violence;  Rep. Debbi Dingle very emotionally shared having grown up in a home with an abusive father who sometimes threatened her and her mother with a gun, and she hid in the closet praying that he would not hurt her.   It was riveting.

Rachel Maddow called it "an outbreak of spine" in the Democrats.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bipartisan gun bill could "break the NRA's back"

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who led the 15 hour talking filibuster for gun control last week, thinks the bipartisan -- though far weaker -- gun control bill being authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has a chance of passing.   Although the bill is very small in scope, Murphy is upbeat about the importance of passing it, because it would "break the back" of the NRA.

When the two bills failed to pass on Monday (to expand background checks and to ban gun purchases by those on the no-fly watch lists), Republican Senator Collins began to construct a bill she hoped would get bipartisan support and pass.

Collins' bill would ban firearm sales to the 81,000 people on the TSA's no-fly list, as well as another list of 28,000 "selectees" who are allowed to fly but only after extra screening.   In contrast, the "watch" list, which the prior bill would have restricted, had up to a million names, many of which are on it in error.   Remember when Sen. Edward Kennedy somehow wound up on that list and temporarily was unable to fly?  The overall watch list is like an "in basket," where names are put from a variety of sources and for various reasons -- and some are inappropriate.   The sheer size means that investigating them all is a huge never-ending task.

So the criticism of that bill was that it had too many innocent people on it, and it is sometimes difficult to get your name off.   The problem with the Collins bill is that it covers just 109,000 people most of whom are foreign nationals.   Many people on the larger list shouldn't be theremany people who shouldn't have guns are not on the smaller lists.
Still, Sen. Chris Murphy is enthusiastic about the prospect of the senate actually passing a gun control measure because, as he explains, it would be the first defeat for the NRA and its powerful lobbying machine.  In effect, it would "break the back" and prove to senators that they can survive without the NRA's support.

Sen. Murphy was interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC Tuesday night.   These two very smart men agreed that the problem with the NRA's influence is not just that it spreads around so much money to support some candidates and bash others, but that it has become a sort of identity to prove politician's conservative credentials.    They didn't use the word, which is somewhat tainted by all the attention to the Trump "brand;"  but it's a good way to describe this effect:   being for "the NRA" is identifying yourself with a brand that is vital to have in conservative circles.

Sen. Collins says that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told her that he will schedule a vote within the next two weeks.   In addition to Collins, the bill is co-sponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H), Jeff Flake, (R-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats.

Even if it gets the 60 votes to pass cloture in the Senate, getting it passed in the House may be a bigger problem.   But then the Sit In For a Vote, sparked by John Lewis, began on the House floor:   dozens of House Democrats sitting on the floor in the well of the House, chanting "No Vote, No Break," while Paul Ryan conducts a vote on a completely unrelated bill, trying to pretend that nothing is happening.   It is a scene like nothing that has ever happened in the House before.  So -- stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Justice Sotomayor writes blistering dissent on police misconduct case

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling, by a 5-3 vote, that is an expansive interpretation of the limits the Constitution places on police searches.   Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, which was opposed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and in an especially powerfully written dissent, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The case involved a white man from Utah, Edward Strieff, who was stopped by police officers because they had "a hunch" that he could be engaged in drug activity, but they had no evidence or indeed any real "reasonable suspicion."   When the officer ran Strieff's driver's license through the computer system, it turned out that he had a minor traffic ticket that was unpaid.   This infraction was then their justification for searching the man for contraband -- and they found methamphetamines in his pocket, which was then the basis for an arrest and charges of drug possession.

The case went all the way to SCOTUS, because it tests the extent to which police can search someone without "reasonable" suspicion that he is involved in a crime.   Just stopping people randomly on the street, demanding their ID, checking it for outstanding traffic warrants -- and then using that infraction to justify a search has, in the past, been considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The majority ruled that the drugs he possessed could be used against Strieff at the trial, even though the officer had violated Strieff's rights in the first place.    Thus, the Strieff case tests the border between a police officer's "hunch" and a police officer's reasonable suspicion -- or possibly, as Thomas wrote, it was just that the officer was negligent and made a mistake.   Sotomayor was outraged -- and her dissent was blistering.
 "Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong. . . .  In his search for lawbreaking, the officer in this case himself broke the law.”
The report by Christian Farias, political reporter for Huffington Post, described Sotomayor's dissent further: 

" One by one, she ran through instances of a Supreme Court all too willing to grant police more power to detain, arrest and search citizensbased on pretextual reasons, the way they look, or even suspicion that they had broken a law that doesn’t exist.

"She underscored that all bets are off once a person is caught in this system.  'Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the "civil death" of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check,' Sotomayor wrote.

"Strieff may have been white, 'but it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. . . . For generations, black and brown parents have given their children "the talk" —  instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger— all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them,' Sotomayor wrote.

"She concluded with language that is best when quoted in full — in which she comes ever so close to declaring that black and brown lives indeed do matter: 

'By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.  We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but."
 *   *   *
In this time of heightened anxiety and suspicion of those around us, especially of those who look different from us, it is vital that American values of freedom and equal rights not be chipped away in the false service of "keeping us safe."   Today it may be about the very real drug problem hurting our society.  Or the risk of terrorist attacks.   But tomorrow it could be about ethnicity or religion used as the "reasonable suspicion" that allows police to stop and search -- and that is one step away from search out and detain.   And that is a police state.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

SCOTUS lets CT and NY bans on assault rifles stand

Article by Christian Farias on Huffington Post:
*   *   *
"WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a sweeping ban on so-calledassault weapons” enacted in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. . . . 

"Without comment, the Supreme Court noted in an order that it wouldn’t hear the case, known as Shew v. Malloy, which sought to undo an earlier ruling that upheld the bulk of Connecticut’s state ban on assault weapons, as well as a similar one passed in New York.  Among other prohibitions, the bans criminalize possession of a wide range of semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines. An appeals court ruled in October that those provisions do not violate the Second Amendment

"Notably, no justices disagreed publicly with the court’s decision not to get involved in the dispute.

"Last December, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented forcefully when the high court declined to hear a similar case out of Illinois. In that case, Thomas said the court’s inaction meant the right to bear arms was being treated "as a second-class right."

"But given the political climate following Scalia’s death and the larger controversy over the constitutional contours of gun rights, it was highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would decide to step into the fray of this contentious debate."
*   *   *
This was pretty much a win-win situation for gun safety.   If they heard the case and it wound up with a 4 to 4 tie, it would have the same effect as not taking it, because the lower court decision being appealed favored the ban.    Possibly it would be stronger if they heard the case and handed down a majority vote in favor of upholding the bans.   But the decision would likely not be accepted as applying to states other than CT and NY, given that the court does not have a full complement of nine justices.   Better to wait until there is a clear liberal majority of a full nine-justice court, which we will have this time next year if Hillary Clinton is elected.


PS:   Breaking news Monday night:    Sen. Chris Murphy's senate filibuster last week forced Republican leadership to agree to hold votes on expanding background checks and on stopping people on the no-fly, terrorist suspect list from being able to buy guns.    Public polls show over 80% of the people want these sensible controls.  The senate did vote Monday night, and both bills were defeated by the Republican majority.  The NRA still reigns.

Monday, June 20, 2016

How low can Trump support sink in his own party?

[Monday 10 AM:   I wrote these four Trump pieces last night and set them to post after mignight -- with the intent to just get all the Trump news for the week out of the way on Monday.   Then I woke up this morning (Monday) to the news that Trump has fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.   As Trump himself admits, whenever things are not going well for him, he does something outrageous to change the subject.   I regret being part of the framework that gives him the attention, but you can't comment on the political news and ignore him -- though I look forward to the day when he will no longer make the news.   So, herewith, the four items (devastating as they would be to anyone) I had written before this latest bombshell.]
 *   *   *
Has there ever been a time before when leaders of a major political party refused to talk about its party's presumptive nominee?   Take a step back from the noise of the Trump campaign and think about that, as a general situation -- it's preposterous.

Here we have the Senate Majority Leader saying he "won't be taking any Trump questions today."   Another of the Senate leadership team, Sen. John Cornyn says he "won't be talking about Trump until after the election."

Top Republican leaders refuse to talk about their presumptive nominee?  Well, a couple of days ago, Trump did -- with some contempt -- tell the party leaders that, if they can't get on board with him, to "just be quiet."


Trump's economic promises -- a disaster

In addition to every other way a President Trump would be a disaster, economists and financial experts are saying that his ideas and promises would be an economic disaster and likely throw us into a very bad recession.

Example #1:  Trade with Mexico amounts to $1 billion dollars A DAY, and it supports 6 million American jobs.   You want to wall all that out?

Example #2:   About 6.8 million of the undocumented immigrants are U.S. workers.   Trump's promise to deport them would cut our private domestic product by some 2.9% to 4.7% and create a $381 to $623 billion dollar hole in the U.S. economy.

Example #3:   Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers wrote in the Financial Times that, if Trump did even half of the things he's promised, it would set off the worst trade war since the Great Depression.


Apple will not contribute to RNC convention because of Trump's bigotry

Apple has announced that it will not be sponsoring or contributing to  the Republican National Convention in July.   It joins a number of other corporations who are former contributors to funding the convention but are opting out this year because of Donald Trump.

In its decision, Apple specifically considered the disturbing comments made by Trump about minority groups, immigrants and women, according to two sources quoated by Amanda Terkel of Huffington Post.

Rashad Robinson, speaking for the PAC ColorofChange, praised the decision, saying:
“Not only has Apple declined to support the Republican National Convention, but they’ve explicitly told Republican leaders that Trump’s bigoted rhetoric is the reason that they’re sitting out.  This is what real corporate responsibility looks like.”
Donald Trump had better to careful not to say anything derogatory about Jews or Israel -- he can't afford to lose Sheldon Adelson's support, since he seems to be losing so many others.


Trump for racial profiling; Christie opposed it six months ago

Donald Trump said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that:
We really have to look at profiling. We have to look at it seriously. And other countries do it, and it’s not the worst thing to do. I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to use common sense. We’re not using common sense.”
Chris Christie, who rushed to endorse him after ending his own campaign, said this as recently as last December in commenting about the San Bernadino shooting:
“Increased surveillance, creating relationships with mosques in the Muslim-American community across the country — we did that after 9/11 and prevented attacks in New Jersey and all across the country.  What you need is a president who’s had the experience and the know how to do this and not someone who’s just going to talk off the top of their head.”
Here's my prediction.   Christie will find some way to distance himself from Trump's position, while not distancing himself from Trump himself.   After all, they have some kind of deal.   Chris Christie didn't give his endorsement for free -- and my guess is his price was to be appointed Attorney General in a Trump administration.


PS:    That's enough about Trump for the week . . . I hope. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The meaning of Ramadan

Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims began this year on June 6th and lasts for 30 days.   In yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution something of the meaning of Ramadan was explained by Soumaya Khalifa, executive director of Atlanta's Islamic Speakers Bureau.
*   *   *
"As Ramadan approaches, many childhood memories come back to me.   They remind me of what a special time Ramadan is.   How the whole family prepares for it in anticipation.   How we condition ourselves to fast from dawn to sunset without food and drink.

"It sounds so hard before one actually gets into it, but once Ramadan starts, I always feel that it ended too soon.   You see, it is a training camp where I always felt I have overcome myself.  I am able not to eat that chocolate or drink my favorite soft drink during fasting hours.

"As my dad always told me growing up, that is a time when one reflects on all the gifts one is given by our Creator.  It is a time to be more compassionate to those who are hungry.   It is a time to feel the pain of others . . . .   It is a time for generosity, as Muslims believe that during this month, God multiplies every good deed. . 

"Ramadan is a time to strengthen the social bond with neighbors as friends, as most days we do not break our fast alone -- we invite others and others invite us.   It is a time for family . . . . [and] a time of high spirituality."
*   *   *
Soumaya Khalifa goes on to explain that there are challenges as well, especially this year, given that in 2016 Ramadan comes at a time when sunrise to sunset lasts 16 hours -- and, here in Atlanta, with temperatures in the upper 90s.

Knowing personally someone who observes the Ramadan fast, I have come to an appreciation of the positive meanings it has for them:   gaining mastery over one's appetites, giving to others, and reflecting on the importance of family and friends and community.

There is much to admire in this religion of peace, and it is distressing to see it distorted into hate and violence by a few extremists -- both those who resort to violence and those who blame and want to banish all Muslims because of the actions of those who distort the faith into extremism.   We need to work together to solve this problem.