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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.

Sunday
Jun102018

Mr. Rogers Documentary Shows Real Kindness

By Maura Judkis/Washington Post

Whenever I tell people that my dad worked for Fred Rogers and that I met the children's TV star when I was young, they always ask the same question: "Was he really like that in person?" By "like that," they mean the qualities that we associate with Mister Rogers: gentleness, patience, wisdom and empathy. The insinuation is that it must have been an act -- that no person could be so nice, so unflappably compassionate all the time.

A new documentary posits the same question. "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" directed by Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar for "20 Feet From Stardom," delves into the PBS star's upbringing and his advocacy for children's television, including times when he used the medium to teach kids about political assassinations, racism and terrorism.

"He's just an incomparable figure. And when somebody is incomparable," Neville said, "it really makes you ask questions."

But the answer is yes: He was like that. Even if it's hard for people to believe. But ask anyone who knew him, and you'll hear stories.

"There was an adult Fred and there was Mister Rogers, but there wasn't a whole lot of difference," said Margy Whitmer, the former producer of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"He's even a better version of who he seems, in real life," Neville said. "The entire process of making this film was one of discovering more and more dimensions of the man. And the thing is, I never discovered anything that was truly dissonant with what I thought he was."

People certainly worried that he would. Neville said that when he was starting the documentary, people begged him not to spoil their image of one of their childhood heroes. And there are rumors -- long ago debunked, but they persist -- that Rogers was a sniper in Vietnam or that he wore sweaters because he was covered in tattoos. In reality, he was a mild-mannered ordained minister who saw television as a medium that could help children understand how to process complicated emotions, and learn to relate and empathize with each other.

"I think it says far more about us than it does about him" that people would invent such explanations, Neville said. "I think it's because we live in a time where we tend to view such grace with suspicion." Grace "was the idea Fred talked about all the time. You know, grace is defined in the Bible as doing good to others, whether or not they deserve it."

My dad, Jim Judkis, is a photographer, and Mister Rogers and his company were among his clients for more than 20 years. He took the photographs for many of Mister Rogers' children's books, including "Going to the Dentist" and "When a Pet Dies." He also took the iconic 1978 photograph of Mister Rogers with a disabled child, at what was then called the Memorial Home for Crippled Children in Pittsburgh -- a photo that went viral after the Newtown school shooting in 2012 and now appears in the documentary.

He recalls Mister Rogers' kindness, but also his precision: No detail was too small to be a teachable moment. One day, when my dad was on the set, Mister Rogers did a flawless reading of some dialogue for the show. But someone accidentally ran the trolley from right to left, instead of left to right, and Mister Rogers insisted that they redo the whole thing. My dad asked the show's staff why.

"They said, he's very particular about consistency for a child," my dad recalled. "When you read, your eye tracks from left to right. He was trying to reinforce that."

That kind of subtlety was typical, Whitmer said. She recalled a time when Rogers flubbed the lyrics to the children's song "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" but insisted on using the bad take, "because kids need to know that adults make mistakes," she said.

Over the years of my father working with him, Mister Rogers met my family. When my brother was sick with brain cancer, we learned that Mister Rogers prayed for him. And when I was a 1-year-old -- too young to remember it -- I appeared on the show. A cameraperson followed me as I played in a park, later using the footage with an iteration of Mister Rogers' song about body positivity, "Everybody's Fancy." But meeting him later, I remember that he would ask me questions about myself, and would crouch down to my level, and look me in the eye.

It's something that Nicholas Ma, one of the film's producers, remembers, too. He appeared on the show twice, when he was 6 and again when he was 16, to play music with his father, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was a friend of Rogers' and appears in the documentary.

Rogers "was very, very gentle and sort of letting me take my time to come to him," said Ma, who added that both appearances were initially frightening for him, because he disliked comparisons of his musical talent with his father's. Because Rogers set him at ease, Ma "knew this was the right thing to do if he knew it was the right thing for me to do."

But the documentary doesn't deify Rogers. It shows him as someone who struggled at times -- with his lonely upbringing, and with the enormity of the problems that he hoped to explain to kids, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"He wasn't ... this being of pure goodness who sort of existed on some other plane," Ma said. "He was someone who said, OK, well, what's the best version of me that I can bring to the world, and how do I really make sure that I create that?"

Some people may interpret the film as a response to the incivility in our world today -- particularly in regard to politics. "(President Donald) Trump's triumph over the medium that Rogers hoped to turn into a force for good is a blow to Rogers' life's work," Alyssa Rosenberg wrote for The Washington Post.

But the film's production team wants to emphasize that its appeal will cross party lines.

"I don't think that his message is partisan," Ma said. "He's saying ... we all have the capacity to change for the better."

Neville wanted adults to engage with Rogers' ideas. "We look at that kind of positivity as naive," he said. "That was a big reason I wanted to make the film: that kindness is not naive, it's urgently necessary to keeping a healthy culture."

And for Whitmer, who worked with Rogers for 23 years, the documentary is about ensuring that one of Rogers' central tenets lives on: "That whoever you are, you are likable and lovable," Whitmer said. And, even though it's hard to find it sometimes, "that there's innate good in all of us."

Saturday
Jun092018

Trump Needs to Answer for Deaths in Puerto Rico

Richard Wolffe/The Guardian

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. At the start of this year’s hurricane season, it’s already clear that the Trump administration has gone mad.

This is a collective sickness that extends far beyond the very stable genius at the top of the executive branch. And it matters far more than whether Trump himself cares about the lives of American citizens, or can be bothered to tweet about them.

For this is a group of so-called leaders who ran the most powerful government in the world while at least 1,400 – and more likely as many as 5,000 – of their own citizens died on their watch.

You wouldn’t know it by listening to them talk at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) headquarters this week. Donald Trump told Brock Long, Fema’s administrator, that he had done an awesome job presiding over a post-hurricane recovery that was so incompetent that several thousand Americans died from a lack of medicine, food, water and power.

“We really appreciate the job you’ve done,” Trump said in front of the TV cameras. “It’s been amazing, and you really have kept quite busy, I would say, unfortunately. We had no choice. We were hit hard. But you’ve done a fantastic job.”

fantastic job of watching thousands of Americans die. Not in the high winds and floods, but in the disastrous aftermath, when Fema and the federal government were the most powerful people in Puerto Rico. A heckuva job, as George W Bush would say.

This isn’t just Trump ignoring reality. It’s his whole administration, refusing to look at their catastrophic failures and refusing to learn from them.

“We are marshaling every available resource to ensure maximum preparation for rapid response. That’s what we had last year,” Trump claimed.

Seriously? There’s nobody in the disaster response business, and nobody in Puerto Rico, who thinks there was maximum preparation for, or rapid response after, Hurricane Maria.

“Disaster response and recovery is best achieved when it’s federally supported, state-managed and locally executed,” Trump said, reading someone else’s words. “You agree with that, I think, Brock, right? This is really the great model that we’ve built, and there’s no better model anywhere in the world.”

Trump and his Fema leadership are deluding themselves if they really believe a great model is one that leaves thousands of Americans dead.

They are also engaged in an epic case of passing the buck by claiming that it’s really up to the state and local leaders to get stuff done when an economy is wiped out by a Category Four hurricane that destroys the entire power grid and communications network.

This is Fema’s official position about Puerto Rico: they are just playing a supporting role. But what if there’s nobody effective to support, which was also true in New Orleans? What if Americans are dying and the only people who can step in are the feds?

If only water bottles were really a joke in Puerto Rico, where Americans were drinking rainwater after the hurricane.

Don’t expect any insight from Mike Pence, who was himself a governor until 18 months ago. The vice-president is now a mini-me who bizarrely thinks he needs to copy the weird tics of his boss, like abruptly making a water bottle disappear from view in the Fema meeting. For this alone he has become the butt of a nation’s jokes, including on the normally respectful sets of local TV news in the heartland.

If only water bottles were really a joke in Puerto Rico, where Americans were drinking rainwater after the hurricane.

“Karen and I saw firsthand the extraordinary, at times sacrificial, efforts made by public servants here at Fema and all of the broad range of agencies that addressed those 4.7 million Americans that ended up requesting assistance,” Pence said.

You know what’s really sacrificial? The suffering of the Americans in Puerto Rico.

Of course, even all this empty talk of sacrifice was abruptly set aside when the cameras left the room. According to a leaked audio recording, Trump couldn’t keep his attention on hurricane season, preferring to brag about his own negotiating skills and the election results in California.

Heckuva job, Trumpie.

None of this federal insanity absolves the island’s government, or its mayors, from their responsibility for the preventable deaths after Maria. There’s been no accounting for what happened inside the island’s government. Instead, until last week, the administration of Governor Ricky Rosselló clung on to the ludicrous notion that the death toll was just 64.

Presumably anything higher would have prompted some awkward questions, like: how the hell did that happen and what did you do to save lives?

The death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is now at least as great as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, according to the island’s health department. But researchers from Harvard estimate the number is more than three times that disaster, making it a greater loss of life than the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

After both events, the total amount of investigation, oversight, academic study, journalistic output and political debate was overwhelming. The 2001 terrorist attacks changed our worldview forever and transformed George W Bush’s reputation. Of course, that reputation changed once again after Katrina, when his presidency was all but finished: if he couldn’t save an American city after a hurricane, how could he hope to deal with the rest of the world?

But after Hurricane Maria, there’s been nothing remotely comparable. The news media abandoned the island after a few days, when the Las Vegas massacre took place, and barely returned. Even though the real disaster in Puerto Rico took place over the many weeks that followed the hurricane.

When the Harvard study emerged last week, it was quickly buried under the mountain of coverage about Roseanne’s tweets. Because what could be more important than a prime-time sitcom?

This distraction lets those responsible off the hook. Without media scrutiny, there is nobody to ask the questions that remain unanswered: why did so many people die unnecessarily in Puerto Rico, and what has changed to prevent more deaths next time?

Congress certainly isn’t asking those questions. Republicans on the House oversight committee refuse to subpoena Fema to understand how so many huge contracts failed. Long has only testified once before Congress about the response to Maria. It’s hard to fathom how Republicans who were so fascinated by Benghazi can barely muster any interest about Puerto Rico.

Of all the scandals that threaten the future of the Trump administration, if not the freedom of some of its officials, there is none greater than the loss of thousands of American lives in Puerto Rico. Not Russia, and not corruption.

Even more important than the election of 2016 is the government of 2017. It’s time we reclaimed our sanity. It’s time we focused on saving American lives, and honoring those who died so needlessly just six months ago.

Friday
Jun082018

Plastic Problem Too Big for a Recycling Fix

By Annie Leonard/Greenpeace USA

Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. In the name of profit and convenience, corporations are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just “go away” when we toss it into a bin. Since the 1950s, some 8.3bn tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled. Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic – up to 12.7m tons of plastic end up in them every year.

Just over a decade ago, I launched the Story of Stuff to help shine a light on the ways we produce, use and dispose of the stuff in our lives. The Story of Stuff is inextricably linked to the story of plastics – the packaging that goes along with those endless purchases. We buy a soda, sip it for a few minutes, and toss its permanent packaging “away”. We eat potato chips, finish them, then throw their permanent packaging “away”. We buy produce, take it out of the unnecessary plastic wrap, then throw its permanent packaging “away”.

The cycle is endless, and it happens countless times every single day. But here’s the catch – there is no “away”. As far as we try to toss a piece of plastic – whether it’s into a recycling bin or not – it does not disappear. Chances are, it ends up polluting our communities, oceans or waterways in some form. 

For years, we’ve been conned into thinking the problem of plastic packaging can be solved through better individual action. We’re told that if we simply recycle we’re doing our part. We’re told that if we bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we’re saving the world. We think that if we drink from a reusable bottle, we’re making enough of a difference. But the truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess.

Recycling alone will never stem the flow of plastics into our oceans; we have to get to the source of the problem and slow down the production of all this plastic waste. Think about it: if your home was flooding because you had left the faucet on, your first step wouldn’t be to start mopping. You’d first cut the flooding off at its source – the faucet. In many ways, our plastics problem is no different. 

 ‘We need corporations to step up and show real accountability.’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We need corporations – those like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Nestlé that continue to churn out throwaway plastic bottles, cups, and straws – to step up and show real accountability for the mess they’ve created. Drink companies produce over 500bn single-use plastic bottles annually; there is no way that we can recycle our way out of a problem of that scale.

Municipal bag, cup and straw bans like those in Morocco, Iceland, Vancouver and some US cities are a great start, but also not enough. And while clean-up efforts are helpful in addressing litter problems, they can’t begin to touch the problems created by microplastics – the tiny participles of plastic that now permeate our waterways and broader environment.

Not long ago, we existed in a world without throwaway plastic, and we can thrive that way again. The world’s largest corporations – with all their profits and innovation labs – are well positioned to help move us beyond single-use plastics. All over the world people are already innovating toward solutions that focus on reusing and reducing plastics. It’s time to accelerate this process and move beyond half measures and baby steps. Corporations are safe when they can tell us to simply recycle away their pollution.

But we aren’t buying that any more. This is their crisis to tackle. We will continue to do our part, but it’s time for the world’s largest corporations to do theirs. Some 322m tons of plastic were produced in 2015, and that number is expected to double by 2025. The good news is that we are at a turning point. All over the world, people and businesses are waking up to the dangers created by single-use plastic. Now, we must demand a new era that prioritizes people and planet over profit and convenience.

Annie Leonard is the executive director of Greenpeace USA