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Thursday
Aug162018

Newspapers Hold Up a Mirror to Make Our Country Great

Note: Today, the Anderson Observer joins newspapers across the country in repsonse to the president's continued attacks on the press.

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer 

According to the president of the United States, I am both an “enemy to the people” of the United States and on the list of the nation’s “horrible, horrendous people.”

Having spent most of the last four decades as a journalist, it was a bit unexpected to be added to the enemy’s list of the nation’s top elected official. Then I realized I am in very good company on this list.

I have always approached my job with three goals: report the truth wherever it may be found, holding up a mirror to advocate for what is good in or for the community (state and nation) and hold up the same mirror to those who seek to do harm to others as part of their own actions or agendas. 

It is a simple path, though one which takes effort. To report the truth means carefully vetting sources and information, and holding a story until either or both of those can be properly verified. It also can be gratifying to see stories, editorials and even conversations with decision makers change because of my efforts. It can also be uncomfortable to challenge or confront, especially in my own community, when they are intentionally or unwittlingy involved in something which falls short of their position. 

It is gratifying to be a part of this process. I grew up in a family that subscribed to both a morning and evening newspaper. We were readers, and our expectation was that those local newspapers both kept us informed and those in power in check. They were our friends and neighbors. We trusted them.

The role is crucial for a free society, a fact recognized by every despot on the planet who makes a free press one of the first targets of wrath. 

Our current president, while not using the army to shut down the media, has rallied his own army of supporters to create an atmosphere of distrust and downright hostility towards those who are charged with reporting the news. 

His strategy seeks to delegitimize all media to create a climate in which nothing he says (or tweets) can be challenged and to gain sympathy from others who think the media goes overboard in holding him accountable. 

“Fake news” has become his rallying cry, and it has emboldened his core supporters and the far right to adopt his mantra in town halls across America. Any uncomfortable reporting, even if a direct quote on tape, becomes “fake news.” 

Coupled with this cry, the president has used deflection and trolling to advance his agenda. Disagreeing with, or pointing out a discrepancy in a statement or policy is met with “what about ….(Obama, Hillary, the Democrats, etc.). He also trolls the media on twitter and in public by being willfully provocative with no goal other than to stir up anger and unrest.

His approach is all the more dangerous since it has become a template for many other Republican politicians. 

Why does this matter? It’s because it’s dangerous to the core principles of our nation and dangerous to many reporters in the field. Some have been physically attacked, others received death threats, all because the president continues to fan the flames of hostility toward a group of men and women who are committed to seek truth where they can find it.  

It’s also dangerous because it’s working. I cannot count how many times at local meetings I have heard the “fake news” mantra tossed regarding stories clearly documented as true.

And so today more than 200 newspapers across the country stand together to remind Americans that we believe truth is still important. All of us will weather the onslaught of this president if we stay the course. 

Readers won't always like what they see in the mirror, but we are to hold it steady so at least the can wee what is there.

I hold out hope. Recently a local elected official pulled me aside at a meeting to discuss an editorial in the Anderson Observer critical of the political group on which he serves. 

“I don’t always agree with you, but I appreciate you do your homework and get the facts out there,” he said. 

Today I wish all my colleagues find such encouragement as we continue to get out there and “do our homework.”

Monday
Jul302018

Why 80% of Americans Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Robert Reich, for The Guardian

The official rate of unemployment in America has plunged to a remarkably low 3.8%. The Federal Reserve forecasts that the unemployment rate will reach 3.5% by the end of the year.

But the official rate hides more troubling realities: legions of college grads overqualified for their jobs, a growing number of contract workers with no job security, and an army of part-time workers desperate for full-time jobs. Almost 80% of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next one will be.

Blanketing all of this are stagnant wages and vanishing job benefits. The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis.

When Republicans delivered their $1.5tn tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.

Not even the current low rate of unemployment is forcing employers to raise wages. Contrast this with the late 1990s, the last time unemployment dipped close to where it is today, when the portion of national income going into wages was 3% points higher than it is today.

What’s going on? Simply put, the vast majority of American workers have lost just about all their bargaining power. The erosion of that bargaining power is one of the biggest economic stories of the past four decades, yet it’s less about supply and demand than about institutions and politics.

 

Starting in the 1980s and with increasing ferocity since then, private-sector employers have fought against unions

Two fundamental forces have changed the structure of the US economy, directly altering the balance of power between business and labor. The first is the increasing difficulty for workers of joining together in trade unions. The second is the growing ease by which corporations can join together in oligopolies or to form monopolies.

By the mid-1950s more than a third of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. In subsequent decades public employees became organized, too. Employers were required by law not just to permit unions but to negotiate in good faith with them. This gave workers significant power to demand better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. (Agreements in unionized industries set the benchmarks for the non-unionized).

Yet starting in the 1980s and with increasing ferocity since then, private-sector employers have fought against unions. Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire the nation’s air-traffic controllers, who went on an illegal strike, signaled to private-sector employers that fighting unions was legitimate. A wave of hostile takeovers pushed employers to do whatever was necessary to maximize shareholder returns. Together, they ushered in an era of union-busting. 

Employers have been firing workers who attempt to organize, threatening to relocate to more “business friendly” states if companies unionize, mounting campaigns against union votes, and summoning replacement workers when unionized workers strike. Employer groups have lobbied states to enact more so-called “right-to-work” laws that bar unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. A recent supreme court opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees has extended the principle of “right-to-work” to public employees.

Today, fewer than 7% of private-sector workers are unionized, and public-employee unions are in grave jeopardy, not least because of the supreme court ruling. The declining share of total US income going to the middle since the late 1960s – defined as 50% above and 50% below the median – correlates directly with that decline in unionization. (See chart below).

 

 

 Pinterest

Perhaps even more significantly, the share of total income going to the richest 10 percent of Americans over the last century is almost exactly inversely related to the share of the nation’s workers who are unionized. (See chart below). When it comes to dividing up the pie, most American workers today have little or no say. The pie is growing but they’re getting only the crumbs. 

Robert Reich graph

Over the same period time, antitrust enforcement has gone into remission. The US government has essentially given a green light to companies seeking to gain monopoly power over digital platforms and networks (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook); wanting to merge into giant oligopolies (pharmaceuticals, health insurers, airlines, seed producers, food processors, military contractors, Wall Street banks, internet service providers); or intent on creating local monopolies (food distributors, waste disposal companies, hospitals). 

This means workers are spending more on such goods and services than they would were these markets more competitive. It’s exactly as if their paychecks were cut. Concentrated economic power has also given corporations more ability to hold down wages, because workers have less choice of whom to work for. And it has let companies impose on workers provisions that further weaken their bargaining power, such as anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration agreements. 

This great shift in bargaining power, from workers to corporations, has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since the second world war. In recent years, most of those profits have gone into higher executive pay and higher share prices rather than into new investment or worker pay. Add to this the fact that the richest 10% of Americans own about 80% of all shares of stock (the top 1% owns about 40%), and you get a broader picture of how and why inequality has widened so dramatically.

Another consequence: corporations and wealthy individuals have had more money to pour into political campaigns and lobbying, while labor unions have had far less. In 1978, for example, congressional campaign contributions by labor Political Action Committees were on par with corporate PAC contributions. But since 1980, corporate PAC giving has grown at a much faster clip, and today the gulf is huge.

It is no coincidence that all three branches of the federal government, as well as most state governments, have become more “business-friendly” and less “worker-friendly” than at any time since the 1920s. As I’ve noted, Congress recently slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Meanwhile, John Roberts’ supreme court has more often sided with business interests in cases involving labor, the environment, or consumers than has any supreme court since the mid-1930s. Over the past year it not only ruled against public employee unions but also decided that workers cannot join together in class action suits when their employment contract calls for mandatory arbitration. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009, and is now about where it was in 1950 when adjusted for inflation. Trump’s labor department is busily repealing many rules and regulations designed to protect workers.

The combination of high corporate profits and growing corporate political power has created a vicious cycle: higher profits have generated more political influence, which has altered the rules of the game through legislative, congressional, and judicial action – enabling corporations to extract even more profit. The biggest losers, from whom most profits have been extracted, have been average workers. 

America’s shift from farm to factory was accompanied by decades of bloody labor conflict.

The shift from factory to office and other sedentary jobs created other social upheaval. The more recent shift in bargaining power from workers to large corporations – and consequentially, the dramatic widening of inequalities of income, wealth, and political power – has had a more unfortunate and, I fear, more lasting consequence: an angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia.

Robert Reich is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and was secretary of labour in the Clinton administration. His latest book, The Common Good, was published earlier this year

Wednesday
Jul252018

Hospitality Tax Deserves Better than November Referendum

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

For more than two years, the Anderson Observer has been an advocate for a two percent hospitality tax in the unincorporated areas of Anderson County. The idea has been kicked down the road by county council and squashed iby "town hall" meetings on the subjet, meetings which traditionally only attract the opposition to any topic. We all deserve better.

County Council has shown remakable leadership over the past decade. Their cooperative efforts have helped navigate the county into the enviable position of being among the nation's leaders in recovering from the Great Recession of 2008. Working with the Anderson County Economic Develoment team led by Burris Nelson and his staff, and Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns, the county has thrived. Unemployment is so low there are more good job openings than applicants available. The county has reduced debt, begun improving roads and set out a strategy for a airport terminal, better roads and sewers and instituted cooperative efforts with the schools to provide targeted job training to meet the needs of the county's growing high-tech industries. 

But last week, Anderson County Council announced it will ask voter to consider an two-percent hospitaiity tax in a non-binding referendum this November. Sadly, this is rare misfire by council, one which only serves to delay what council should have already put in place at least two years ago. It is a continuation of an unusaly blind spot, one fed by concerns generated by the small minority of loud "anti-any-tax" voices at the expense of Anderson County.

For some reason, council is frozen on this move which would clearly benefit all citizens without any real financial burden.

A two-percent hospitality tax on prepared foods sold in unincorporated areas of Anderson County would generate more than $3 million each year for county parks and recreation programs.

The county’s municipalities and townships already have this tax in place and are reaping substantial benefits. The tax generated more than $2.5 million last year for the City of Anderson alone. 

Opposition to this tax has been largely marked by misunderstanding and misinformation, largely driven by the hyperbolic voices of those who ignore the facts to fit their uniformed fear-based propaganda. Here is a sampling of the erroneous propaganda being circulated about the hospitality tax, along with corrections: 

1. The new tax would raise rates to four percent in some areas.

False.  It will not be added to the two percent already being charged, but will percent will only be in effect in places not already covered by the tax. So it is not four percent anywhere, it would just put the unincorporated areas of the county in line with all other restaurants. 

2. The hospitality tax will negatively impact business in local restaurants. 

False. None of the restaurants which I talked to, three dozen at last count, which already have the hospitality tax can tell any difference on business.  Hamid Mohsseni, who owns both Carson’s Steakhouse and Tucker’s - one of which is in the city and one in the county’s unincorporated areas even though their parking lots are adjacent - said he hasn’t seen any difference in business between the two, even though one currently has the tax and the other does not.

3. The hospitality tax would be a burden on those with fixed incomes.

False. Any argument saying the tax would be a burden on underprivileged residents is a little silly. It is hard to imagine anyone who can afford to dine out being unable to pay an extra two cents on every dollar spent on food. A $50 dining bill would bring an extra charge of only $1. In addition, more than half of the areas impacted by the new tax are places frequented largely by those who don’t live in the county. This allows the county to fund programs from funds paid largely by visitors.

5. Recreation in the county is best left to the private sector.

False, at least in the opinion of other counties. None of our neighboring counties see it that way, and neither do the companies from around the world looking for a place to locate or relocate - something essential to Anderson County since we have more international business than any other county in the state, 51 firms from 23 countries have brought good, high-paying jobs, helping us survive and pull out of the Depression of 2008. 

Even domestic companies rate recreation activities as very high on their punch list when choosing a location.

Here are some facts worth noting: 

 

  1. Anderson is already behind our neighboring counties in our approach to recreation, and it is time to catch up. The county’s recreation is currently largely the efforts of 18 non-profit groups in Anderson. The county does has facilities, the civic center, for example. But it is the YMCA, City Recreation Program and other local groups which fill the fields with sporting events and tournaments, putting us well behind Greenville and Spartanburg which fund recreation through a combination of general revenue from property taxes and hospitality taxes. We should be leaders, no lagging behind our neighbors.
  2. It is also important to note, not only would the civic center would be one of the biggest winners of the hospitality tax (along with the counties other parks), but the funds generated will save property owners money long-term. Why? Because as the civic center ages and the population grows, the facilities there are going to require funding, and that money will have to come from either raising taxes on property owners or the proposed hospitality tax. 
  3. It cannot be denied that both Greenville and Spartanburg counties are aggressively marketing their recreation opportunities in economic development. 

 

First and Foremost, the Hospitality Tax is About Economic Development

 The bottom line is, the hospitality tax is really about economic development. Without a vision for the future of recreation in the county, and a way to fund it without raising taxes on property owners, there could be trouble ahead attracting new investment of top firms. Hartwell Lake is an amazing resource, but one the county has only managed to take advantage in any meaningful way through federal settlement money, not taxes. Green Pond’s Phase One has been a good start, but there is more to be done, and not enough money to do it.

Then there are the local recreation needs. The Powdersville area has grown exponentially, too rapidly to keep up with the needs of the population in many areas. Being unincorporated, they have no other way to generate revenue. These residents deserve better, as do all the residents of Anderson County when it comes to improving and continuing to improve the quality of life here.

There are no legitimate downsides to a hospitality tax for Anderson County’s unincorporated areas. It is a crucial move for the future of economic development and for the quality of life of our citizens.

Many of the same opponents to this tax opposed the East-West Parkway, something most of them probably use every day. Anderson has a long history of missing or delaying progress. We let the railroad hub go to Greenville, for example, because in the past lack of visionary leadership could not look beyond the current fiscal quarter and seek a path providing for the long-term benefits for all of our citizens.

The current council has broken that streak, and for the last decade helped set the county on a solid course for the future, with a glaring exception - the refusal to approve a hospitality tax.

Funding the future without adding to the tax burden of property owners is a no-brainer. 

Giving more ammunition to Economic development and improving the quality of life for all citizens while keeping property taxes in check are two clear reasons for jettisoning the idea of a referendum and moving forward to fulfill the role of elected official and putting the hospitality tax in place now.

Unless those who oppose this tax can put forth a specific plan to accomplish the same goals, and so far no one has, all the town hall meetings and opinions in the county expressing opposition are worth little.

I encourage those who love Anderson and are invested in a great future will contact their council representative to express their concern that emotions and misinformation may mean the hospitality tax could be in jeopardy if put to a citizen vote. Council needs to hear from the overwhelming majority of reasoned citizens who support the hospitality tax, and now is the time for such contact.

Contact your council member here. 

Wednesday
Jul252018

Florida "Stand Your Ground Law" License to Murder

By Edward L. Queen/Emory University

Another killing. Another tragedy. And once again Florida’s “stand your ground” law is in the news after an unarmed man named Markeis McGlockton was shot to death on July 19 in front of his family during a dispute over a convenience store parking place. So far, the man who killed McGlockton has not been charged with any crime. Take a moment and think about that — a parking spot argument leads to a murder and no one is prosecuted. Is this where we wish to be as a country?

This question is asked, not rhetorically, but seriously. And it’s one that gets at the very basis of these laws, and of public policy generally. Why do we adopt the laws that we do? At best, Florida’s “stand your ground” law is a solution to a non-existent problem. At worst, it seems to have exacerbated the problem it ostensibly was designed to correct. Rather than improving the security of its citizens, it has actively lessened it. It has sown confusion among law-enforcement, prosecutors and the courts and its reach has extended to levels beyond the intent of at least one of the law’s primary sponsors, Dennis K. Baxley. 

This law has made Floridians less safe, and in fact encourages violence in a way that threatens everyone’s goal of a well-ordered and secure society.

This law has made Floridians less safe, and in fact encourages violence in a way that threatens everyone’s goal of a well-ordered and secure society.

First passed in 2005, Florida’s “stand your ground” law grants an individual the right to use deadly force if the individual “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” In exercising this right, the individual has no “duty to retreat.” Additionally, as amended in 2017, Florida's version of the law requires the state to provide “clear and convincing evidence” proving the killer deserves to be prosecuted.

A couple of things must be stated. First, prior to the adoption of the law, Florida residents already had the right to defend themselves against attack. The new law did something unusual in that it removed the long-standing obligation to retreat. In other words, prior to 2005, Floridians had the right to defend themselves but also had an obligation to try and remove themselves from the threat if reasonably possible.

Additionally, the 2017 version of the law eliminated the centuries-old, common law position that the use of deadly force against another requires some semblance of proof. (English common law is the basis for the overwhelming majority of U.S. state laws on self-defense). Instead, the Florida statute now operates using the premise that an individual need only feel threatened to exercise deadly force. The bar for this claim remains low, requiring little adjudication or investigation.

This is be an alarming development for anyone, but it should especially worry conservatives. The revised Florida statute is a disturbing and distressing example of radical and extremist legislation that violates all the norms of conservative thought and policy.

A political conservative traditionally gives great weight to the wisdom of tradition and history as a guide to making decisions in formulating policy and establishing law. Preeminent among the conservative’s concerns is a structured and orderly society, one in which security in one’s person is privileged. A primary goal of public policy is to envision how society should be. Among those visions is a society that minimizes and discourages violence, particularly killings.

Unfortunately, as the evidence shows, "stand your ground" laws have had the opposite effect. Since the Florida law's adoption, for example, not only have “lawful” homicides increased by 75 percent, but overall homicides in Florida increased by 22 percent, according to a 2017 report. This, at a time when the overall murder rate in the United States has decreased to its lowest level in 40 years. If the goal is to make Floridians safer and more secure, this law clearly has failed to do so.

One should not be surprised by this fact. The law itself creates, in warped and perverse ways, numerous incentives for people in Florida to act, not only violently but lethally.

Preeminent among those reasons is that, in many instances, law enforcement and prosecutors are limited by the version of events alleged by the person who survives. Dead men tell no tales. The dead individual cannot provide a second version of what happened or contextualize it.

Then there's the issue of appropriate actions and reactions. Legally, Florida law allows someone to respond to a shove with a bullet to the chest. One need only examine the most recent case to see how this policy easily results in a cruel and unjust outcome.

In this incident, according to the publicly available facts as well as video footage from the scene, Michael Drejka approached a car in which Brittany Jacobs was a passenger and began berating her for parking in a handicapped space. As Drejka argued with her, the owner of the car, Jacobs' boyfriend Markeis McGlockton, exited the store and, seeing Drejka confronting his girlfriend, shoved Drejka to the ground. Although McGlockton does not appear to further escalate the situation, Drejka does, pulling out his gun and firing a single, fatal shot.

But what if McGlockton, instead of shoving Drejka, had instead pulled out a gun of his own and shot and killed him? Given the facts as reported, McGlockton could have claimed that he was the one acting reasonably by protecting not only himself, but also his girlfriend and young children. Drejka had approached the car unbidden, had acted aggressively and was armed. Under the principles of “stand your ground," it seems possible that McGlockton could have killed Drejka and successfully argued self-defense.

But is this what we desire — a society that encourages killing instead of simply pushing away an aggressive individual? Even more perversely, the law seems to reward individuals who do the provoking while placing almost no constraints on the aggressor. Instead, it protects the individual who initiates the conflict, as it seems to have done in this instance. Drejka was shoved to the ground because of his aggressive behavior and yet, even though he created the hostile situation, he walked away unharmed and McGlockton is dead.

There's one big caveat here. While the law may by blind, the people who implement and execute it are not. If McGlockton had responded to Drejka’s aggression by killing him, evidence suggests strongly that McGlockton would have been treated differently. Why? Because McGlockton is black and Drejka is white.

All of which is to say that “stand your ground laws” do not accomplish the purposes for which they were designed. This makes them bad laws, plain and simple. In light of this most recent shooting — the latest in a pattern of questionable situations and tragedies — one would hope that the Florida legislature would have the courage to scrap or amend the statute and return instead to the time-honored understanding of true self-defense. In doing so, Florida politicians would demonstrate that they actually do care about the wellbeing of their citizens, and are not simply acting as corrupt proxies for the gun lobby.

Edward L. Queen, Ph.D, J.D. is Director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at the Emory University Center for Ethics. He also serves as Director of Pedagogy for the Emory Integrity Project. Queen's work focuses on applied and professional ethics and the development and implementation of ethics programs in businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies. 

Monday
Jul092018

Trump Montana Rally Gasp-Worthy Disaster

By Jonathan Capehart. Washington Post

Without question, President Trump’s Catskills roast of a Montana rally on July 5 was a gasp-worthy disaster. Still, it was, as we used to say as kids, just more of the “same old, same old.” An hour-long rant that mixed the greatest hits from his racist and xenophobic campaign for the White House with some flecks of new material. What has changed is the heightened atmosphere of danger in which he delivered them 18 months into his presidency.

Monday night, before a national audience, the president is expected to hand a rose to his second nominee to the Supreme Court. The retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s swing vote, gives Trump the chance to give conservatives the majority they worked decades to achieve. And that will give them a chance to take a sledgehammer to rights they abhor, from abortion to same-sex marriage.

The nation remains appalled by Trump’s morally bankrupt “zero-tolerance” policy, which separated migrant children from their parents at the border and set up jails for babies. Now that his feckless administration is under court order to reunite the children with their parents, its sheer incompetence is plain for all to see. Just when you thought the callous disregard for these children couldn’t get any worse, the New York Times reportedlast week that “records linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed.” And don’t forget that the Trump administration is going after naturalized U.S. citizens now, too.

The continual race-tinged language on the stump and from the Oval Office, from a president of the United States who tends his base like a helicopter parent, is seemingly emboldening certain folks to act out. Thanks to social media, we know about “BBQ Becky” and “Permit Patty.” Last week, “ID Adam” joined their ranks when he called the cops on a fellow resident in Winston-Salem, N.C., after asking her to show identification to use their neighborhood pool.

These incidents have shown how mundane acts of life take on a new complexion when done “while black.” The Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr., reporting on the incident at Yale University where a white student called campus cops on an African American student napping while studying, provided a handy list back in May.

Other entrants include: couponing while blackgraduating too boisterously while blackwaiting for a school bus while blackthrowing a kindergarten temper tantrum while blackdrinking iced tea while blackwaiting at Starbucks while blackAirBnB’ing while blackshopping for underwear while blackhaving a loud conversation while blackgolfing too slowly while blackbuying clothes at Barney’s while blackor Macy’sor Nordstrom Rackgetting locked out of your own home while blackgoing to the gym while blackasking for the Waffle House corporate number while black and reading C.S. Lewis while black, among others.

On the global stage, Trump continues to diminish America’s standing around the world by berating our allies and thinking Russian President Vladimir Putin is his friend. Remember the contentious Group of Seven meeting in Canada last month? The one that produced the iconic photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Trump staring each other down over his balking at signing the summit communique as other leaders watched? Well, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer told “CBS This Morning” that after Trump agreed to sign, “He stood up, he put his hand in his suit jacket pocket and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table, and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela, don’t say I never give you anything.’ ” And that was before Trump he got into a spat with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over trade and withdrew the United States from the G-7 joint statement.

Meanwhile, “troubling” doesn’t even begin to describe the Post story over the weekend about how Trump views Putin. According to U.S. officials, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster complained, “The president thinks he can be friends with Putin.” The report goes on to note this:

Some White House officials worry that Putin, who has held several calls with Trump, plays on the president’s inexperience and lack of detailed knowledge about issues while stoking Trump’s grievances.

The Russian president complains to Trump about “fake news” and laments that the U.S. foreign policy establishment — the “deep state,” in Putin’s words — is conspiring against them, the first senior U.S. official said. …

With Putin, Trump takes a more conciliatory approach, often treating the Russian leader as a confidant.

“So what do you think I should do about North Korea?” he asked Putin in their November 2017 telephone call, according to U.S. officials. Some of those officials saw the request for advice as naive — a sign that Trump believes the two countries are partners in the effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got the rude awakening the rest of us saw coming a mile away. At the June 12 summit in Singapore, Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement in which Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” After talks in Tokyo on July 6, the North Korean foreign ministry blasted the United States. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the statement read.

Surely I’m not the only one who knew that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” meant North and South Korea to Kim.

All of this chaos swirling at home and abroad was the backdrop for the president’s Montana rally last week. That’s why Trump’s run-of-the-mill rhetorical dumpster fire is rightly viewed as an out-of-control inferno by everyone except those braying in the crowd in Great Falls or those averting their complicit eyes on Capitol Hill.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast

Wednesday
Jul042018

July 2 is the Real Historical Independence Day

By David Cutler/PBS News Hour

I love celebrating America’s birthday, but as a history teacher I’m also committed to illuminating the holiday for those who might want to think about it in a different but equally celebratory light. 

So why do we skip two days?

I celebrate Independence Day not on July 4, as most Americans do, but two days earlier, commemorating when the Second Continental Congress approved a formal resolution declaring separation from England on July 2, 1776.

The resolution, now all but absent in popular public consciousness, was originally introduced by Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate:

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Lee first introduced the resolution June 7, 1776, prompting Congress, four days later, to establish the Committee of Five — composed of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston — to draft what would turn into the Declaration of Independence, should the Virginian’s efforts prevail.

On July 2, 1776, Lee’s resolution was approved by 12 of the 13 colonies, with New York delegates abstaining over lack of formal instruction on how to vote. One week later, however, the New York Provincial Congress offered its support for independence.

My high school students wonder why they had been taught that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4.

Significantly, July 3, Adams mailed a letter home to his wife, Abigail, overjoyed with the development:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Most of my high school students are stunned after reading this letter, with many wondering why they had been taught that the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 4.

Moreover, as Congress busied itself with reviewing a draft of the Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvania newspapers had “declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”

The late Pauline Maier, among our nation’s most respected scholars of the early republic and its founding documents, captures my sentiments in her 1997 article for American Heritage, “Making Sense of the Fourth of July“:

“In fact, holding our great national festival on the Fourth makes no sense at all — unless we are actually celebrating not just independence but the Declaration of Independence,” she wrote.

I wish to make plain how much I revere the Declaration of Independence, the most elegant and profound document of our early republic — save, perhaps, for the United States Constitution, a legal document with its own special significance.

But what about that painting?

John Trumbull’s most famous painting, “Declaration of Independence,” only further confuses history. Placed in the Capitol rotunda in 1826, the iconic painting has come to represent the actual signing of the nation’s most precious founding document.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough explained in a 2003 address, “Trumbull said [the painting] was meant to represent July 4, 1776, and that’s the popular understanding. But the Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4. The signing began on August 2, and continued through the year as absent delegates returned to Philadelphia. No formal signing ceremony ever took place.”

John Trumbull’s most famous painting, “Declaration of Independence,” only further confuses history.

McCullough goes on to discuss other inaccuracies about the furniture and decor, before stating that “none of this really matters,” since the scene…

“proclaims that in Philadelphia in the year 1776 a momentous, high-minded statement of far-reaching consequence was committed to paper. It was not the decree of a king or a sultan or emperor or czar, or something enacted by a far-distant parliament. It was a declaration of political faith and brave intent freely arrived at by an American congress. And that was something entirely new under the sun.”

Our nation’s founding is spectacular enough without gilding.

I understand McCullough’s ease in forgiving Trumbull’s mischaracterizations, which he has no trouble noting, and his appreciation of the painting’s larger message of the United States as being “something entirely new under the sun.”

Still, my students, as well as much of America, lack McCullough’s sophisticated pedigree. In 10 years of teaching, I’m astonished at how many people, students and adults alike, feel lied to or misled by Trumbull’s painting. This fall, one student even cried out, “Fake news!”

Trumbull was an artist, and I can’t fault him for taking poetic license, however liberally. I do take issue with Americans who regard Trumbull’s painting as literal truth. Our nation’s founding is spectacular enough without gilding.

What do you think? How do you celebrate Independence Day?

The PBS NewsHour’s Teachers’ Lounge blog, written by teachers or school-related staff, gives the public a glimpse into how current events affect life inside schools. Sign up for the PBS NewsHour Education mailer here.

David Cutler teaches American history, government and journalism at Brimmer and May, an independent school in Chestnut Hill, Mass. His writing has appeared in the National Association of Independent Schools, Edutopia, The Atlantic and Independent School Magazine.

Friday
Jun292018

Nancy Pelosi No Longer Fit to Lead Democrats

By Kurt Bardella/NBC News

Just a few months ago, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, was positioning himself to one day succeed House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Turns out he won’t even be in Congress next year after a stunning loss to a 28-year-old Latina Democratic socialist named Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez.

When will Democrats understand that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 had more to do with the American people’s complete and utter disgust with the Washington, D.C., political establishment than anything else?

Congressional Democrats would be wise to accept the reality that Nancy Pelosi just isn’t the right person to lead the Democratic Party anymore.

Democrats must ask themselves if, in this anti-establishment environment, a 78-year old multi-millionaire is really the person in the best position to lead.

These next few months will be among the most consequential in recent memory, with both the mid-term elections and a Supreme Court nominee fight unfolding simultaneously. Democrats must ask themselves if, in this anti-establishment environment, a 78-year-old multimillionaire who has been the leader of House Democrats since 2002 is really the person in the best position to lead.

Have they learned nothing from the 2016 presidential election?

To find success in the November midterms and beyond, Democrats need to recognize that there is a severe generational gap between the entire House Democratic leadership in Congress and the rest of the American public.

To be clear, I do not seek to diminish Pelosi’s historic political accomplishments and awe-inspiring record of public service. She may very well be the most consequential female to serve in the United States Congress. But like all great athletes, sometimes you have the self-awareness to know when it’s time to walk away.

For years, I watched the Republican establishment in Washington try and resist calls for change from their base. I saw how, with each passing year, the voters grew more and more frustrated and Republican leadership grew more and more tone-deaf. An increasingly insular and out-of-touch GOP leadership ultimately allowed bottom-dwellers like Steve Bannon to step and fill the void, paving the way for someone like Donald Trump to come in and completely hijack the Republican Party.

Democrats need to take note: The longer you ignore the will of the people, the more likely you run the risk of driving them further and further to the fringes.

Clearly, the Democratic base wants change. The likelihood that meaningful change can originate from the fossils that comprise the current Democratic Leadership of Nancy Pelosi (78 years old), Steny Hoyer (79 years old) and Jim Clyburn (77 years old) is utter folly.

Instead, Democrats should be looking to elevate a new generation of leaders like Eric Swalwell (37 years old), Tulsi Gabbard (37 years old) Joaquin Castro (43 years old), Cedric Richmond (44 years old) and Adam Schiff (58 years old). And they need to encourage the newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary win sent a jolt of much-needed progressive energy through the Democratic electorate.

Democrats do not have the luxury of sidelining its “new blood” as they pay their dues and wait their turn as traditional congressional leadership orthodoxy demands. From forced family separations at the border that have resulted in the incarceration of thousands of children to systemic attacks against the Constitution, the cult of Trump is completely sabotaging the United States of America. With every passing day and every passing tweet, the American people are becoming more and more agitated and volatile. They aren’t looking for business as usual, they are looking for rapid change.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy's resignation only makes the fight more urgent for anyone who cares about reproductive rights, LGBT rights and a whole host of other issues that primarily affect marginalized communities.

The choice for Democrats in Congress is very clear: embrace the season of change that the people are calling for or follow the John Boehner and Eric Cantor model.

The choice for Democrats in Congress is very clear: Embrace the season of change that the people are calling for or follow the John Boehner and Eric Cantor model of resisting change at all costs. One path allows Democrats to create order, stability and focus within their ranks. The other risks a backlash that could wipe them all out.

If the immediate goal is to retake the House majority and create a safeguard against Donald Trump’s destructive presidency, does Pelosi or anyone in her Congressional generation have what it takes to succeed? We’ve had three straight congressional cycles where the Pelosi-led Democrats have failed to regain the majority in the House. We can’t afford a fourth.

Kurt Bardella is an NBC News THINK contributor. He is a former spokesman for the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as well as for former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and former Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella

Thursday
Jun212018

Why Warren is Best Choice for Governor

By Chad Groover, Patrick Haddon, Betty Poe

Former Chairmen of the Greenville County Republican Party

Not long ago, the terms “Republican” and “conservative” were interchangeable in South Carolina. If a candidate ran as a Republican, he or she was expected to uphold the conservative principles of our state’s Republican platform. In fact, the current South Carolina Republican Party platform, adopted in 2012, still upholds the most conservative of values. Yet, our Republican leadership in Columbia has all but abandoned our principles to further their careers, line their pockets and prevent government transparency. 

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. The frustration of conservative Republicans throughout our state has hit a breaking point. We are fed up.  We are ready for true conservative Republican leadership. 

It’s no mistake that, we, three former party chairs of the Greenville County Republican Party have each independently decided to endorse and support John Warren to be our next governor. John Warren is someone we know, and someone who has demonstrated in his campaign that he is a committed conservative. His message has been clear and consistent throughout his campaign. 

Warren is a principled pro-life Christian who is committed to bringing accountability and ethics reform to our state government. His resume shows us he is a conservative, a businessman and a decorated Marine with an impressive track record of success. He’s the political outsider in this race—which gives him an advantage because he is in no way beholden to the corrupt system. A system that has let South Carolina citizens down time and time again.  

John Warren said that he wants to “fight the corrupt insurgency” of our state government, just as he felt called to fight the terrorist insurgency in Iraq after September 11th. 2001. As a Marine who led over 300 combat missions in Ramadi, Iraq, we trust him to keep our state safe and secure and to fearlessly call out the corrupt politicians to hold them accountable.

As a successful businessman, John grew Lima One Capital from the ground up to a billion-dollar industry that has been awarded “Most Ethical Company” in South Carolina, “Best Places to Work” in South Carolina and “Fastest Growing Company” in South Carolina. His competence as a leader is unquestioned and his experience and track record of success more than qualify him to be our next governor. He will bring efficiency to our state government and build our economy proven business principles.

More important than any experience that can be linked to John Warren’s resume and track record is his character and his commitment to conservative values. Warren is unashamedly a Christian—a Christian who is committed to family values and to the future of our children. He’s 100% pro-life because he believes in the inherent and God-given dignity of every person. As governor, he will serve the interest of the people of South Carolina, and he will ensure the legislature, state agencies and the bureaucracy do the same. 

Our current party platform was specifically dedicated to the children of South Carolina “in the hope and sincere belief that the blessings of liberty will be maintained provided the price of eternal vigilance is paid in full.” South Carolina and South Carolina’s future generations need leadership that is principled, conservative, able and courageous. South Carolina needs a strong servant leader. South Carolina needs John Warren.

Tuesday
Jun122018

Trump, Kim Got What They Wanted. The Rest of The World Did Not

By Anne Applebaum/Washington Post

A series of U.S. and North Korean flags, side by side, lined up across a stage. The two men approach the stage from opposite sides, and then shake hands. They pose for photographs. They walk off again. This is the image, the picture, that both men wanted to project around the world. But why?

For Kim Jong Un, this moment is vindication. The wisdom of his nuclear policy has been confirmed: His tiny, poor, often hungry country, where hundreds of thousands have perished in concentration camps that differ little from those built by Stalin, has been treated as the equal of the United States of America. If Kim hadn’t continued the missile program, if he hadn’t enhanced his missile delivery capability, President Trump would not be there.

The photographs will also help Kim solve an important problem. All dictators are insecure, and absolute dictators are absolutely more insecure than the rest. Several years ago, Kim staged the elaborate murder of his uncle, forcing the rest of the elite to watch as his rival was ripped apart by antiaircraft machine guns. Fear and terror are one way to transmit messages of power; the inspiration of admiration and awe are another. The flags and the handshake will reinforce Kim’s legitimacy and make him harder to depose.

For Trump, this image addresses the somewhat different problem of his personal feelings of insecurity. Legally, his legitimacy is not in doubt. Yet Trump often seems to worry that it is. Elected without a majority, Trump repeatedly claims he has one. With no political, educational or any other qualifications, Trump ascribes to himself almost mystical, intuitive qualities instead. So far, these have failed him. In the complicated, nuanced worlds of economics and security, he has achieved nothing except destruction: of previous agreements, of institutions, even of an anodyne G-7 statement just days ago. But in Singapore, he could achieve something without discussion of complex issues, without any intellectual effort at all: a photograph, a “breakthrough,” the image of the intuitive dealmaker who wants “peace.”

   0:33
Trump: ‘Getting a good picture, everybody, so we look nice and handsome and thin?’

President Trump and Kim Jong Un held a working lunch as part of their meeting in Singapore June 12. 

The images coming out of Singapore are also important to Trump because he has created them. When meeting with allies, Trump does not control the narrative, nor does he decide what people will see. Indeed, the image that came to symbolize that disastrous, angry G-7 meeting was not his own creation: It was taken by a German photographer, and it showed Chancellor Angela Merkel leaning over a table and talking down to the American president, like a parent to a child. In Singapore, by contrast, Trump controlled the optics, even deliberately giving priority to a Singaporean television station rather than the White House pool. He reveled in that ability.  “Are you getting a nice photo,” he actually asked the camera operator, “So we look nice and handsome and beautiful and perfect?” As for the substance of the meeting, there wasn’t any. The paper signed reiterates previous vague agreements. It promises “denuclearization,” just as in the past, but without any substance, as in the past. It implies that there will now be further talks about talks, but there have been U.S.-North Korean talks before. Had any previous American president, Republican or Democrat, emerged from an event like this, in which so much was given away with so little to show for it, he would have been embarrassed and probably vilified.

But Trump and Kim are two men who survive, in politics, by insisting on their own versions of reality. Both have propaganda machines which will trumpet a great success. Both will be loudly applauded by their respective supporters. Both will gain personally, even if their countries don’t. In that sense, this was indeed, as Trump said, “a really fantastic meeting.”

Monday
Jun112018

Legal Experts Wrong; Court Case a Threat to ACA

By Noah Feldman

 

Could key portions of the Affordable Care Act be declared unconstitutional – years after the Supreme Court upheld them? The Trump administration’s Department of Justice has just filed a brief saying so in a suit by several states that aims to take down the whole program.

Most mainstream legal commentators think the government’s arguments are unconvincing. But it’s crucial to remember that this was exactly the reaction of the same set of people in 2010, when the original argument was made against the individual mandate by libertarian law professor Randy Burnett. Just two years later, five justices of the Supreme Court embraced Barnett’s argument.

Given the excitement for judicial activism building among conservatives, the Trump administration may have more than a 50 percent chance of success.

Just in case you haven’t thought much about the individual mandate and the Constitution in the last six years, let me provide an update and a brief refresher. The update is that, in 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In the law, Congress repealed the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate that everyone have health insurance.

In other words, the ACA still says you have to have insurance. But if you don’t, nothing happens to you.  1

You may remember that the Obama team was worried about the interaction between the individual mandate and the popular ACA provisions that say insurance companies can’t refuse to cover anybody because of pre-existing conditions and can’t charge you more if you are already sick.

The theory went something like this: If you aren’t compelled to buy insurance when you’re healthy, but you’re allowed to buy it when you find out you are sick, then only sick people would buy health insurance. That in turn would create a “death spiral” for insurance under the ACA, as insurance costs went up.

Crucially, President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice relied on this argument in trying to convince the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate. This death spiral doesn’t seem to have happened yet, however.

Now comes the new constitutional challenge to the ACA, filed by a group of states led by Texas. Their argument begins with the fact that, when the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, it did so in a very strange way. The five conservative justices all agreed that, under the commerce clause of the Constitution, Congress did not have the authority to make people buy insurance.

Their reasoning was borrowed from Prof. Barnett, who had proposed in his article that while the Congress has the power to regulate existing commercial activities, it can’t force people to undertake a commercial activity they are not already engaged in. This was the famous broccoli hypothetical: the conservatives argued that the commerce clause wouldn’t allow Congress to pass a law requiring everyone to buy and eat broccoli, even though Congress could lawfully regulate broccoli prices.

Despite this conclusion about the commerce clause, however, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberals to uphold the individual mandate on the ground that it was a tax, and therefore fell within Congress’s separate taxing power. The other four conservatives were clearly frustrated with Roberts, but his vote carried the day.

The states are now arguing that once Congress repealed the tax penalty for the individual mandate in the 2017 law, no more constitutional authority exists for Congress to keep the individual mandate in place. The commerce clause is already excluded by the Supreme Court, and now the tax rationale is gone. Trump’s Department of Justice has agreed with this claim.

The states say that without the individual mandate, the whole ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional. Trump’s Justice Department didn’t go quite that far. But it did say that the ACA provisions on pre-existing conditions are so linked to the individual mandate that it should now be struck down.

Legal observers are pretty upset about this -- but not all for the reason you’d think. Some are focused on the strange circumstance that Justice is arguing that the law is unconstitutional. It’s not supposed to work that way. The executive branch is supposed to argue in favor of the constitutionality of laws currently on the books.

That’s bad, without a doubt. But it seems less worrisome than the possibility that courts, including the Supreme Court, might actually adopt the Trump administration’s view and strike down the ACA provisions on pre-existing conditions.

Legally, I don’t think that would be the right decision. I don’t think that the repeal of the penalty means that the no-penalty individual mandate is necessarily unconstitutional, since there is no sanction for violating it, so it isn’t really much of a law at all.

And even if the no-penalty mandate were unconstitutional, it doesn’t follow that the mandatory coverage provisions need to go. They are logically separate from the individual mandate. The mandate may have been thought been necessary to make those provisions work in practice, but it turns out that, so far at least, they are operating without it, and the death spiral hasn’t happened.

But it is entirely possible that five justices would follow the chain of formal logic laid out by the states and adopted by the Justice Department. The best argument in favor of that position is that the Obama Department of Justice told the Supreme Court years back that these provisions were interlinked – “inseverable” in legal jargon.

There is therefore a real and indeed significant chance that the most popular part of the ACA could be struck down. You may have thought that the whole ACA-and the-courts topic was over. But as it turns out, it keeps coming back, like a figure from a horror movie. Don’t turn your back.