Saturday, December 17, 2016

Defeated North Carolina governor stages "coup" in surprise, lame-duck legislative session.

North Carolina's notorious "bathroom" law, requiring trans kids to use school restrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificate, is the gift that keeps on giving.   On November 8th, it gave incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, who had signed the bill, his walking papers.

Last week, the San Francisco Symphony cancelled a scheduled concert in Charlotte, the latest in a string of cancellations including rock concerts, NCAA finals games, conventions, tour groups, and major business relocations and investments.   A film company pulled it's filming location from the state.   They all said their decision is the result of the hostile atmosphere toward diversity.

Despite fierce partisan battles that were damaging the state, Gov. McCrory has remained defiant.   Expanding from the right-wing position on sex, the Republican-dominated legislature backed the governor in passing the most restrictive limitations on voting rights, most of which were struck down by SCOTUS.

When the election vote count showed McCrory losing his re-election bid by some 4,300 votes to Attorney General Roy Cooper, he refused to accept the results.   He insisted that all 60,000 provisional ballots be counted;   then he filed election protests in 52 counties and demanded a statewide recount, claiming widespread voter fraud.    He kept up this resistance for four weeks, until it became obvious that his margin of loss was increasing, not getting smaller.    When his loss exceeded 10,000, thus precluding a recount, he conceded.

But he was not yet done.  With both legislative houses remaining in Republican control and him still governor until January 1, the Republicans hastily wrote two bills that would gut much of the power of the incoming governor, especially over elections and appointments.    All this was done in secret until Wednesday of this week.   Then a surprise special session was called for the next day, and House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 were introduced.   Each house passed its bill by large margins and sent it on to the other house.

As of Friday evening and of this writing, SB 4 has made it through both houses and has been signed into law by McCrory.   A vote on the other bill is pending at this moment.

Here are some of the effects that will ensue:

1.  SB 4 greatly reduces the power the governor has in appointing members of both the state and country Board of Elections.   This will take away the power the incoming Democratic Governor Cooper would have to restore more generous early voting hours, the number of polling places, etc. that make it easier to vote.   These boards also deal with any questions that arise concerning the integrity of elections, which is important since many of the restrictions were attempts to circumvent the federal court decision that struck down North Carolina's voting law as unconstitutionally discriminating against African-Americans.

2.  HB 17, which is also expected to pass and be signed by McCrory, would require that all of the governor's cabinet appointments get the approval of the Republican-dominated state Senate.  It also greatly reduces the number of state employees who serve at the governor's pleasure, thus making them civil service employees rather than part of the governor's policy-making team.  It also bars him from making any appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees or to the State Board of Education.

SB 4 sounds like politics.   HB 17 sounds more like raw retribution from an angry loser who cannot accept his defeat.   Governor-elect Cooper has vowed to fight this in the courts as an unconstitutional power grab by a defeated incumbent.

North Carolina's experience is what we're facing as a nation, I'm afraid.


PS:  Later Friday night, HB 17 did pass, and McCrory signed it. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Trump's cabinet to be "pale male" after all

A few days ago, I suggested that Trump's choices for his cabinet and other high positions showed a degree of diversity that was better than I had expected.  Since then he has named a couple more white men.   And it turns out that, when you look just at the cabinet itself, much of the diversity goes away.   They're in non-cabinet positions.

There are 15 cabinet positions.   Two have not yet been filled (Agriculture and Veterans Affairs).   Of the 13 cabinet nominees thus far, 10 are white men.   In addition there is one African-American man (Ben Carson at HUD) and two are women, one white (Betsy DeVos at Education) and one Asian-American (Elaine Chao at Transportation).

In my previous diversity count, I had included the non-cabinet positions of three other women:   Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Association, who is white;  plus Nikki Haley as U.N. Ambassador and Seema Verma to head Medicare and Medicaid Services (both Indian-American women).  It's notable that none of his appointments in either sphere so far are Hispanic.


Study shows abortions have little after-effect on women's emotional health

A scientifically rigorous study has finally been done to answer the question of whether having an abortion is likely to constitute a psychological trauma for the woman.   The answer, published in the latest issue of the American Psychiatric Association's Psychiatry, is an unequivocal "no."

This has political and policy significance.  The assertion, from anti-abortion groups that it does, has influenced state laws, some of which require that women have pre-abortion counseling that states that terminating a pregnancy may cause women to experience emotional and psychological trauma.

Nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions in a nationwide sample were followed for five years through interviews every six months.   Those who had the procedure did not have any more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or dissatisfaction with life than those who were denied the procedure because their pregnancies were past the cutoff time at the clinic they applied to.

In fact, the only group that did have an increase in symptoms, was those who were not allowed to have the procedure.    Some of those who were denied went elsewhere and subsequently had an abortion;  others carried the pregnancy to term and delivered the baby.  In about six months, both of those subgroups had an emotional adjustment similar to the women who had gotten an abortion at the original clinic.

The study was done by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.   Their methodology differed from prior studies in that it studied only women who sought an abortion and compared the emotional outcome of those who did, with those who did not, have an abortion.

Prior studies had often compared emotional outcomes of women who had abortions with women who chose to give birth -- according to the report -- "two groups considered so different that many experts said little could be learned from comparing them."   Another difference was that other studies failed to account for whether women had previous emotional difficulties.    The UCSF study did factor this in, using it as one criterion in choosing matching groups to compare.

There is something for both sides to like in this study.   Pro-life groups can point to the fact that those women who initially sought an abortion, but were unable to have one, were not, as a group, significantly more emotionally disturbed by the experience.   As Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University said:  "What this study tells us about is resilience and people making the best of their circumstances and moving on."

On the other hand, pro-choice groups now have some valid data to use in opposing state laws and in fighting court challenges that try to make abortion illegal or to impose strict limits, using the "emotional trauma" argument.

What the study does not do, of course, is settle any moral questions about abortion or even tell us anything about when "life begins."   Those are philosophical, ethical, and religious questions.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Energy

Rick Perry on "Dancing with the Stars"Screenshot, "Dancing With the Stars," featuring contestant Rick Perry

Yesterday, I was reaching to try to show a little optimism, here and there, on Trump's choices for his cabinet and other high level appointed jobs.   But let's be honest.  There's much more to suggest that Trump is actually just trolling the American people . . . just because he can.    This is the juvenile mentality that refused to invite the head of Twitter to his Tuesday meeting with leaders of the tech industry, because he had overruled Trump's request that Twitter create a "Crooked Hillary" emoji for people to use with the hashtag of that same name.

The latest is the outrageous choice of Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, a job that includes steering energy policy -- not just coal and oil but nuclear energy, as well as the new field of renewable energy.   This cabinet officer also oversees the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the integrity and safety of our nuclear arsenal and for dealing with other nations on nuclear nonproliferation.   It commands 60% of our energy budget.  Is Rick Perry up to that job?    His last gig was as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" (photo above);   he was eliminated in an early round.

The current Energy Secretary is a Nobel Prize winning physicist;   three of the last four secretaries have been physicists, which seems pretty logical.   Perry has a bachelor's degree in animal science from Texas A and M.   Richard Eskow, a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, suggests that with his appointments Trump is not just making bad choices, he is actually showing "deliberate mockery of their departments, and of government itself."

Is Trump wanting to take us back to our pre-nuclear days of reliance on fossil fuels?   He's chosen a Secretary of State who is CEO of Exxon-Mobile, but at least no one has called Tillerson dumb.   If the Energy Department dealt only with fossil fuel energy, there might be a case to be made for Perry -- in a Trump cabinet, that is, where his climate-change denial fits right in.   And Perry, as Texas governor, did promote extraction of oil and gas;  he did promote wind energy and upgraded power lines to bring electricity generated from wind farms to the urban areas.   But does Perry know anything about nuclear energy?   Anything about negotiating nuclear non-proliferation treaties?  Does Trump regard this as a serious appointment?   

The Energy department now has more to do with nuclear treaties and national security than it does drilling for oil.   More to do with carbon emissions policy than with coal mining.   Does Trump know this?   Does Perry?   Does the transition team?   Written questions from the transition team to the department indicate that they don't understand the department's scope.

Rick Perry has two claims to fame:    he has good hair;  and he famously bombed on the presidential debate stage when he was asked to name the three government departments he said he would eliminate as president -- and could only remember two of them.   That's when he had his "Oops" moment.   It was the Energy Department he couldn't remember.   Now Trump wants to put him in charge of it???

Surely, he's kidding.   Gov. Oops in charge of our nuclear safety?   Do you know what that job calls for, Mr. Trump?   Do you even care that Perry is a terrible choice?


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Is there a concept behind Trump's cabinet choices?

Is there any uniting concept of government revealed in President-Elect Trump's choices for his cabinet?   Or, as Charles Pierce puts it:   "What is the secret sauce?"   Here are some characteristics that show up frequently:

1.   Retired military generals -- especially those whose hawkish aggression clashed with the Obama administration.   (National Security Adviser, Sec. of Defense, Sec. of Homeland Security).   Many people, me included, think we should put civilians in control of the military.    With these three appointments, Trump is doing the opposite:   putting military hawks in charge of the military.

2.  Huge wealth, so far including three billionaires and six multi-millionaires, some with strong ties to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street.   (Sec. of Treasury, Sec. of Commerce, Sec. of Education).

3.  Loyalty to Trump (Sen. Sessions as Attorney General).   But there are also some notable exceptions that make it seem to be more of a negative factor:   Giuliani, Christie, and Gingrich did not get appointments.

4.  Retribution.   For all the "courting" that Trump seemed to be doing with Mitt Romney to get him to come on board as Sec. of State, despite his denunciation of Trump during the campaign, in the end maybe writer Charles Pierce was right.   Pierce predicted that Trump was just setting Mitt up, by courting him, to make the humiliation of NOT picking him even more cruel.   Roger Stone claims it was deliberate, Trump's way of humiliating Romney as payback.   It also defanged Romney from attacking in the future.   How many times can you reverse yourself?  

5.  Ties to Russia.   During the campaign, Trump let it be known his great admiration for Vladimir Putin.   His second campaign manager had to resign because of his ties to Russian and Ukraine strong men;  and a second campaign adviser also severed ties with the campaign because of his extensive ties to Putin and his extensive business dealings with Russians.    Now Trump has named a Sec. of State who is the CEO of Exxon-Mobile with huge oil contracts in Russia, as well as a personal relationship with Putin.    Russia's official media is extolling the praises of CEO Rex Tillerson.   In addition to his business connections, he has lobbied against the sanctions on Russia;  he has received a Russian Order of Friendship medal.    Although Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio are all "concerned" about this appointment and plan to question him on his Russian positions during his confirmation hearings, Tillerson's appointment was supported by former George Bush administration officials James Baker and Condalessa Rice.    As to his qualifications, not having previously worked in government, Tillerson is said to have a vast understanding of geopolitics.   But from a business, not a diplomatic, standpoint.

6.   Hate the agency they're in charge of.   Beyond the above identified important factors in appointments, many of the others seem to have the common, not-so-secret sauce of wanting to eliminate the thing itself.   I suppose you could translate that to the concept: shrink the size of government, so Trump has nominated:

     a.  Sec. of Education who hates public schools;  wants to convert to vouchers.
     b.  Sec. of Labor who hates labor unions and minimum wage.
     c.  EPA head who is a climate skeptic.
     d.  Sec. of Health and Human Services who wants to eliminate ACA and move toward privatizing and black grants to states.
     e.  Sec. of HUD who once said he would not be qualified for a cabinet position.  Many tend to agree with him (Ben Carson).
     f.   Sec. of Energy who couldn't remember its name in a 2012 debate when he wanted to list it as one of three cabinet departments he would eliminate.   Well, Rick Perry hasn't been officially named yet, but it was leaked yesterday.
     g.  Attorney General Sessions is said to be a tough prosecutor and was a state AG.   But, at a very sensitive time in race relations, the AG has a racist past and will be in charge of enforcing racial justice and criminal justice reform for the nation.
So, is there a unifying concept?     Probably not.  There are some identifiable reasons but they seem fragmented, disparate.    Just like Trump himself.

It's not all bad.   There are some good appointments, in terms of competence, leaving aside political policy differences.  Sec. of Defense Mattis is highly thought of, as is Sec. of Homeland Security Kelly, but they are offset by the very bad choice of  Gen. Michael Flynn as NSA -- as well as the fact that all three nominees are retired generals instead of civilians. 

Nikki Haley at the United Nations is an unknown on the international scene, but she is a rising star in the GOP.   Elaine Chao as Sec. of Transportation at least has experience in George Bush's cabinet as Sec. of Labor.  [However, DailyKos has raised a question as to whether this appointment was a payoff by Trump to Mitch McConnell (Ms. Chao's husband) for McConnell's keeping quiet about the Trump/Russia connections.   I don't have any other source to confirm that -- although I do think there is a lot more to the Russia connection that we know yet.]

And it's a diverse cabinet (except for the exceptional number of very the wealthy).  So far, nearly one-third are women.    So far, Trump's list of appointees to cabinet and other top positions (like head of Medicare/Medicaid) includes one African-American, one Asian-American, and two Indian-Americans.