Won’t Get Fooled Again

Won’t Get Fooled Again   (Thanks Pete Townsend) 

The Congress is dead set on passing a tax cut. As it’s a Republican tax cut, there should be no surprise that the bulk of the “cut” will be for corporations (especially big ones) and the very wealthy. This falls right in line with the core Republican belief that: “if those that have money have more money, they will spend it and the economy will ‘do better.’”

There is a great deal of argument about whether that belief is valid. Whether corporations will pass on the money saved by the tax cut to employees or consumers, or whether it will be absorbed by shareholders and top executives, is certainly open to question. The efficacy of “trickle down” economics is questionable; after the last “tax reform” passed by Reagan Republicans in 1986, the GDP growth rate fell for years.[1]

What we know for sure is that this is NOT a tax cut for everyone else. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the lowest income levels will see dramatic tax increases in the next few years. This does not include the “sunset” provisions of the current tax proposals. The corporate tax cuts proposed are permanent, the individual cuts will expire by 2027, raising taxes even more. [2]

In fairness, Republicans believe that the corporate tax cuts will increase economic growth to such an extent that it will overcome the tax increases that lower incomes will suffer. The concept: “a rising economy lifts all incomes.” They also believe that growth will increase the government revenue to overcome the $1.4 trillion their plan currently adds to the US debt. And for Republicans, there is a “win-win” proposition to these changes. If the economy does respond and grow, fine. But if it doesn’t, the increased US debt will hamstring any future Congress from spending on programs beyond current entitlements. If Democrats regain control, they still won’t be able to legislate outside of the constraints of the debt.

The current particulars of the legislation are even more egregious. The Senate version will end the individual mandate to buy health insurance with an estimated 13 million people losing their coverage. It will impact “blue” state citizens more than “red,” by taking away much of the state and local tax deductions. And it will cripple graduate students, requiring them to take as income their stipends for school.

So let us be very clear. When the President claims that this is a “major-major tax cut” he isn’t talking to those who most need it.[3] This is NOT a tax cut to folks who earn less than $40000, and it won’t be a tax cut for those who earn less than $75000 after a few years. Don’t be fooled by the title: this is a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, and it is clear that that this “cut” will bleed those who can least afford it.

[1] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=US

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/26/senate-gop-tax-bill-hurts-the-poor-more-than-originally-thought-cbo-finds/?utm_term=.d709068823f4

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/us/politics/middle-class-tax-cut-republican-bill.html

Bête Noire and Other Things

Bête Noire and Other Things

In every political movement there is a need to have a focal point, a single term that draws all of the goals of the movement together. In the Donald Trump campaign it was the old Reagan slogan of “Make America Great Again,” with all of its implications of how America under prior Presidents had somehow lost its greatness, a greatness vaguely remembered back “in the good old days.” I wrote about that trend in one of my first essays, “Trump World and the Beaver.”

But aspirational goals need to have a counter-point, a “bête noire” (black beast) of evil that is the ultimate result of failure. The Trump campaign chose carefully: while it could have been President Obama, those racial overtones might have been too much even for Trump’s organization. Instead, it was “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her Up” that became the battle cry of Trump rallies and advertisements.

Like it or not, attacking Hillary resonated with a lot of Americans. Add that to the amplification provided by the Russians, and the inherent misogyny against a woman candidate, and it worked.  But campaigning is different than governing, or at least, it used to be. So why does the Trump machine continue its attack on Clinton, constantly referencing her in the same bitter terms they used during the campaign?

The Trump Presidency is a personal one: it’s all about what the President does. This week’s example, the tweet storm over LeVar Ball’s comments (basketball player father, not LeVar Burton of Roots, Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fame.)  Trump demanded fealty for his personal intervention to free the UCLA basketball team shoplifters, when father Ball refused, Trump attacked.

This personal, quasi-authoritarian Presidency means that all of the success, and more notably, all of the failures are Trump’s alone. In order to distract and excuse from these failures, Trump requires a “bête noire.” Hillary continues to fit the bill, and is rising to take the bait, as her visibility increases with her current book tour. It’s not that she’s wrong to tour, or that she shouldn’t be saying what she sees as the truth; it’s that it does play into Trump’s need for someone to attack.

This is similar to Turkish President Recip Erdogan’s use of Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan is in the process of ending democracy in Turkey, he needs an outside attacker to make his “emergency procedures” seem necessary. Gulen, safely ensconced in rural Pennsylvania, is perfect. Erdogan blames every attempt to maintain democracy in Turkey as subversion by “Gulenists,” and has even gone so far as to try to subvert the US government to get Gulen out. In reality, Gulen in the US is probably better for Erdogan than getting to actually put him on trial in Turkey. He can blame him from the outside, instead of actually having control.

Look for Trump to go even farther in attacking Clinton in the next several weeks, as the walls continue to crack in the Russiagate investigations. Last night it was announced that General Flynn’s lawyers will no longer cooperate with Trump’s attorneys. This can only mean that they are seeking to cooperate with the Mueller team, in order to gain some leniency for Flynn or his son. Flynn is the most likely candidate to deliver information on the family circle of the Trump campaign, Jared, Don Jr, or the Donald himself. There will be more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legitimacy

Legitimacy

In a series of interviews selling her new book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton has questioned the “legitimacy” of the Presidential election of 2016.[1]

In an interview of former DNC Chair Donna Brazile on his show “Hardball,” Chris Matthews hammered Brazile on the issue of the “legitimacy” of the 2016 election. Brazile didn’t back down, arguing that the events that occurred during the campaign raised enough questions to doubt whether the outcome was “legitimate.”[2]

The US Constitution sets up the fundamental means of electing the President through the 2nd Article and 12th Amendments. Ultimately the outcome is based on the winning candidate getting a majority of the electors.   And, while the rules governing the selection of electors vary somewhat by state, ultimately the electors are chosen as a result of the popular vote outcome.

There is no question that the “electoral process” as set forth in the Constitution was followed, and therefore there is no legal issue regarding the selection of Donald Trump as President of the United States. From that standpoint, there is no question of his legitimacy.

The questions about the integrity of our electoral process are a step back from that. Fundamentally there are three factors that need to be examined to determine whether the election of 2016 was in fact  legitimate.

  1. Was the technical voting process infiltrated by Russian intelligence in order to change the vote count by either altering actual votes or vote counts, or by altering registration data so that properly registered voters were unable to cast votes.
  2. Was the Russian infiltration of internet media such that it caused the voting to reflect a “Russian” reality which did not reflect the real will of the United States. As part of this, was the a conspiracy between the Trump campaign (or parts of the campaign) with Russian intelligence to target specific areas and voting groups.
  3. Was there a conspiracy among the Russians, representatives of the Trump campaign, and parts of US law enforcement (particularly the New York office of the FBI) to manipulate the Clinton email scandal in order to alter the results of the election.

None of these questions are “decided,” even though a fundamental talking point of Republicans is that “…the Russian meddling that took place did not effect the outcome of the election.”[3]

There is growing evidence that the actual voting process may have been compromised. Mike Farb at “unhackthevote.com” has gathered mountains of statistical evidence which gives credence to claims that Russian Intelligence may well been able to penetrate key state and county voting systems. [4]

There is also been a “legal” process used by the Republican party to suppress voter participation. The Republicans, through voter identification programs, legal and illegal voting roll purges, and even voter intimidation at the polls; has worked to keep minority and lower income voters from participating in the process. [5]

There is already a great deal of evidence of Russian involvement in internet media. Facebook, Twitter, Google and other internet media sources were literally swamped with Russian advertising, trolling, and bots. These attacks were carefully directed towards critical voting groups and geographical areas to maximize their impact on the electorate. This highly sophisticated targeting required an advanced understanding of American political behavior: an understanding that might have come from the Trump campaign itself, particularly through their linkage with Cambridge Analytica.[6]

And finally there is the possibility of a US conspiracy to manipulate the Clinton emails, involving parts of the FBI, to serve as a distraction to the Trump campaign flaws. This was obvious with Wikileaks “dropping” the stolen Podesta emails within hours of the release of the Access Hollywood, or when FBI Director Comey seemed to be compelled by his own agents, to reveal the possibility of new Clinton emails on the Anthony Weiner laptop.[7]

What is a “legitimate election?” The United States has had questionable elections for many years. In the  Presidential election of 2000 for example,   the final count, done after the election result was already legally determined, did not necessarily support the legally determined winner. The legitimacy of the Bush Presidency was determined by the US Supreme Court, rather than the voting results of Florida.

If it is determined that through some combination of actions, Russian Intelligence determined the winner of the 2016 election, must we consider Trump to be a “legitimately” elected President? And IF we reach the conclusion that the Trump Presidency is, in fact, illegitimate, what then? In other areas of our society, from sports (think of the NCAA taking away national championships) to contract law, if we determine that the game or negotiation was tainted, we nullify the results. Presidential elections aren’t quite so easy.

There is no provision in the United States Constitution for a “do-over.” There is a way to remove the President. Certainly if we find that the Trump Campaign did conspire (collude isn’t a legal term) with a foreign power to win the election, if will fit the “…treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The key element will be Trump’s individual responsibility. Any impeachment would have to implicate him as individually responsible rather than as an unwitting recipient of the benefit of others illegal acts.

Unless the concept of nonfeasance is applied. Nonfeasance is the failure to act when action is required. Even if Trump himself is not implicated, if he allowed his campaign to be run in such a manner, he allowed for the illegal acts by NOT taking charge and so still is responsible.

And if Trump is guilty of nonfeasance, then Vice President Pence would be as well (he  supervised the transition which put Michael Flynn in as National Security Advisor.) Would this require the impeachment and removal of both, leaving the Speaker of the House as President?

Or do we elect a Democratic majority to the House and Senate, and depend on “grid-lock” to keep our nation together through a one term Trumpacy. If so, there will be a tremendous amount of damage to undo, legitimately.

 

[1] https://www.npr.org/2017/09/18/551217204/hillary-clinton-says-shes-optimistic-about-our-country-but-i-am-not-naive

[2] http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/donna-brazile-2016-was-not-a-legitimate-election-1101291587735

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/cia-director-wrongly-says-u-s-found-russia-didn-t-n812411

[4] https://www.unhackthevote.com/our-research/

[5] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/10/voter-suppression-may-have-won-wisconsin-for-trump.html

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/27/politics/trump-campaign-wikileaks-cambridge-analytica/index.html

[7] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-domestic-conspiracy-that-gave-trump-the-election_us_587ed24fe4b0b110fe11dbf9

It’s Not for Me to Say

It’s Not for Me to Say

It’s not for me to say. It’s not for men to decide what consequences are justified in responding to sexually inappropriate behavior of the powerful towards the powerless. Men should not co-opt the response from women (or from other men); that’s just another way of making the victim even less powerful: the whole problem in the first place.

It’s not for me to say. And it isn’t necessarily for Democrats to say either. Many are compromised already. Anyone who found a way to support Bill Clinton after Monica Lewinsky was revealed has “sold their own soul.” Senator Kristin Gillibrand of New York is right: Clinton should have resigned. That’s called taking personal responsibility for his actions – as opposed to: “…it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…”

The Clinton impeachment: impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice, NOT for his actions with Monica Lewinsky. The House leadership was itself compromised: Republican Newt Gingrich, just removed as Speaker of the House while having an affair with a staffer, and Bob Livingston, his replacement, resigning from the Speakership and Congress after revealing he too was having an affair. They couldn’t charge Clinton with the “sex” part of his actions, they would have had to take too much responsibility themselves.

But it shouldn’t have been Hillary paying the price. Her decision to “stand by” her husband was hers alone – none of us have the right to tell her what she should have done. Bill Clinton’s actions and his failure to ever take responsibility for them, have altered our political history. Reasonably its impact cost Al Gore the Presidency, and probably Hillary as well. They are two of only five Presidential candidates that won the popular vote but lost the election.

Think of the changes a Gore Presidency might have made: no Iraq war, more climate agreements, perhaps no economic collapse of 2008 – the world would definitely be a different place. And a Clinton win last year – well – we can see what differences that would have made.

It’s not for me to parse the differences between Al Franken imposing a kiss, Larry Craig reaching under a bathroom stall in Minneapolis, or Clinton’s actions in the hallway with Lewinsky. But here’s what I can say: the victims should not pay the consequences. Monica Lewinsky was unwillingly dragged into the Clinton mess, her “friend” Linda Tripp revealing her to the Starr investigators. Her life, twenty years later, is still controlled by those moments. And how many other victims were further victimized by being willing to tell their story – from Anita Hill (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) to the sixteen women who spoke out about President Trump’s actions.

In the same way the Congress should not be able to “pay off” women (and presumably men) who have been harassed by Members. $15 million has been paid out in the past ten years in sexual harassment settlements, with non-disclosure agreements guaranteeing the silence of the victims and the anonymity of the perpetrators. That’s our money, protecting Congressional misbehavior. We all should have a say about that.

Last year we entered an era that said: no matter what transgressions “our” candidate may have committed, as long was we agree with them politically, it doesn’t matter. While Donald Trump was obviously a beneficiary of that view, many from the other side would say that WE accepted Hillary Clinton’s “corruptions” in this devil’s bargain (I obviously don’t agree with that.)  Let’s hope that our nation can step back from that view.

And then there is clearly criminal behavior. Judge Roy Moore, currently playing the victim of the “Bezos-Amazon-Washington-Post,” is accused of committing sex crimes with minors. The statute of limitations has run out on these actions: it will be the voters of Alabama who will act as the jury. It IS for them to say, and I expect they will do what’s right, deny the devil’s bargain, and make sure Moore’s political career ends now.

In the final analysis, in this moment when our society is recognizing our responsibility to the victims, it should not be up to the “old white men” of the government to determine what size changes should be made. Sexual harassment is all about the powerful and the powerless: it should be the powerless who get to exercise the determination of what should happen next. IT IS FOR THEM TO SAY.

 

 

The Tax Plan

The Tax Plan

President Trump and the Republican leadership are taking a big swing at trying to accomplish some legislation in 2017. Having failed on health care (at least for the moment) and without taking up promised infrastructure improvement or immigration law reform; they have moved onto the Republican “holy of holies,” tax reform.

It has been Republican theology that reducing taxes on the wealthy and businesses will improve the American economy. While this has been their belief for the past century, it came to fruition in the Reagan Administration when they actually made the last major modification in tax law. And even though this “trickle down economics” did not deliver the benefits for the middle and lower class incomes that were promised, we are back to it again here in 2017.

Republicans state that the United States has the highest statutory corporate tax rate in the industrialized world at 39% (35% Federal, 4% State.) While that statistic is true, the effective (real) tax rate paid by most major American corporations is 12.6%.[1]  The Republican theory is that if the corporate tax rate is cut (from a Federal rate of 35% to 20%) corporations will be incentivized to stay in the United States, and also to increase wages for their employees, and US economic growth will accelerate.

These “givens” are not necessarily valid, as corporations will not necessarily behave in the manner expected by the Republican legislators. The reason for corporations leaving the United States is only marginally tied to taxes, and has more to do with the cost of labor and materials. If corporations are leaving the US for labor costs, even if they stay it is unlikely they will increase wages without a commensurate shortage in labor supply.

It is true that many large US corporations have money “parked” in lower tax nations: for example, Apple Corporation has $111 Billion parked on the island of Jersey (off the coast of the United Kingdom) to avoid US taxes[2]. A lower corporate tax rate might encourage them to return that cash to US soil (and pay taxes, though since they have paid little tax there, it’s unlikely that they’ll “pay this piper.”)

However, given that Republicans are going to pursue this action, it drives the entire rest of the tax plan.

Corporate tax cuts will reduce the amount that the United States Treasury takes in revenue. Another part of Republican theology is that the US Government should strive to not create a deficit (spending more than it receives) or increase the US Debt (the entire amount the US Government owes (approximately $20.5 trillion.) By cutting the corporate tax rates, the pressure is on to find off-setting tax revenues to make up for the planned reductions.

Part of this balancing act is based on the Republican theory that the corporate tax cut will jump-start the economy, increasing growth. In 2016 the economy grew 1.6% (Gross Domestic Product – GDP.) Projections for 2017 are for a 2.2% growth. Gary Cohn, the White House chief economic advisor, believes that the Republican corporate tax cut will drive the GDP over 3%, thus creating more taxable revenue and balancing the costs of the tax cuts[3].

So what about the rest of us? It is also a given that any across the board cut in personal taxes will generate a much greater savings for the wealthy than the poor (in terms of dollars.) That is a common sense statement, as the wealthy generally pay more in taxes (in dollars, not percentage of income.)

The first part is to reduce the number of tax brackets (in the House plan) from seven to four. This would put a lot of the lower and middle class incomes into different tax brackets, with many paying less.

The standard deduction, taken by individuals who don’t itemize their deductions, will increase from $6000 to $12000 per person ($12000 to $24000 for a married couple filing jointly.) This would mean that many who now itemize may just use the standard deduction and get significant tax savings. However, for those whose itemized deductions are greater that the new standard deduction, there will be some complications.

The tax plan will remove several deductions. State income taxes will no longer be deductible though property taxes up to $10000 will still be deductible. Mortgage loan interest is still deductible, but caps out at $500,000 loans. Student loan interest will not be deductible. Medical costs will not be deductible (the deduction for costs greater than 2 ½ percent of gross income – which meant that if you used it, you had some serious medical costs.) And, while charitable deductions remain, the raising of the standard deduction will reduce the tax incentive for many people to give to charity.[4] In addition, the personal deduction (2016 – $4050) for individuals and their dependents is gone though the child tax credit will increase from $1000 to $1600.

For the wealthy, a lot of the same business and financial deductions that helped them to pay less taxes will continue. For example: Warren Buffet paid at a 17.6% tax rate, while the highest rate is 35% (Buffet states that he pays a lower rate than his secretary.[5]) And the estate tax (“death tax”) that taxed estates over $11 million will be faded out by 2024.

Depending on the numbers, personally this may be a tax cut, or a tax increase. However, the Senate Republicans, in order to fund their version, have decided to try to drop the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (to stop supplementing health insurance) saving $338 billion over ten years. It is also projected to leave 13 million people without insurance.

This may take the vaunted tax overhaul back to the drawing board of Trump-Care/Obamacare once again. It’s hard to imagine why they want to mix those fights.

Good Bedtime Reading: Committee for A Responsible Federal Budget (a bipartisan plan)

http://www.crfb.org/sites/default/files/tax_cuts_dont_pay_for_themselves_final.pdf

 

 

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2013/07/01/news/economy/corporate-tax-rate/index.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/world/apple-taxes-jersey.html

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/28/trump-advisor-gary-cohn-says-we-can-pay-for-the-entire-tax-cut-through-economic-growth.html

[4] http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-trump-tax-plan-standard-deduction-charities-20171109-story.html

[5] http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/04/news/economy/buffett-secretary-taxes/index.html

Rules of the Game – Alabama Senate Election

Rules of the Game – Alabama Senate Election

Judge Roy Moore is running for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama. This whole process has been tainted from the beginning, as the state fills the seat that was originally held by Jeff Sessions.

When Sessions was appointed attorney general, Luther Strange, Attorney General of Alabama, was appointed to the seat by then Governor Robert Bentley. This was step one in an ugly sequence, as Bentley was caught having a torrid affair in-office with a staffer, who seemed to be paid for her personal rather than professional abilities. The Alabama legislature moved towards impeachment, but Strange headed them off by promising prosecution from his office. Instead of prosecution, he accepted the Senate appointment from Bentley, and Bentley ultimately plead guilty to campaign law violations and resigned from office.

Luther Strange was a “tainted” candidate from the beginning of his term. In the Republican runoff for the Senate seat, he faced Judge Roy Moore. Moore, twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, was also removed from that Court twice. The first time was when he placed a monument to the Ten Commandments in the Court Building and refusing to remove it, the second time was when he ordered Alabama judges to refuse to marry gay couples despite the US Supreme Court ruling.

Strange received the endorsement of President Trump in the Republican primary race, but in spite of that support, Judge Moore defeated him. Now Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones, a former US Attorney for Northern Alabama. Moore also faces accusations from five women, who claim he sexually molested them when they were teenagers. One of the accusers was fourteen at the time of the attack.

Moore is trying to survive this scandal, and responsed by threatening the accusers with lawsuit, and inviting Breibart News to send investigators to challenge their claims. Meanwhile, Republican leaders are working to distance themselves.

The problem for them is that the Republican/Democrat margin in the Senate is 52-48. Even with the Vice President as the tiebreaking vote, it only takes three Republicans to defect and any legislation is blocked. The example: the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, where a critical procedural vote was blocked by John McCain’s downturned thumb (along with Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.)

So what are the options for the Republicans?  The Alabama state party could withdraw Moore as candidate. His name would be on the ballot (the deadline for replacement was October 11th) but if he won, his election would be null and void. If Democrat Jones won, then he would be the Senator.

Moore, of course, could withdraw his candidacy. That would have the same effect as the party withdrawing him, as his name would still remain on the ballot. What his withdrawal would allow is an attempt at a successful write-in campaign, perhaps by Luther Strange,  that might have the possibility of defeating Jones. Senator Lisa Murkowski did this in her win of the Alaskan Senate seat. However, if the party withdrew Moore, but he refused to “quit,” then a Strange write-in campaign would split the Republican vote and guarantee Jones’s election.

If Moore “won” an election after either he or the party withdrew him name, then the Governor would set a new date for a special election.

The right thing to do?   Moore should withdraw. If he doesn’t, the Alabama Republican party should withdraw Moore. If this doesn’t happen, then let’s hope the people of Alabama choose Doug Jones as their Senator.

But what if the Alabama party lets Moore stay on the ballot, and he wins. Would the Republican leadership in the Senate, already on the record as saying that Moore should withdraw, allow him to serve?

In 1969 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Congress could not prevent newly elected members from taking their seats (Powell v. McCormack,) unless those members failed to meet the Constitutional qualifications (age, citizenship, residency) for membership. The Court did not rule on the ability of the Congress to remove members who were already serving, and the Constitution states they can be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the body.

Senators cannot be excluded in cases such as Judge Moore, but they can be expelled.

The last Senator actually expelled was in 1862, when Kentucky’s Lazarus W. Powell was removed for supporting the Confederacy. The last time it was attempted was 2011, when John Ensign was accused of financial improprieties while covering up an affair. Ensign resigned prior to an expulsion vote.

So, if Moore is chosen by Alabama to become Senator, and the Senate doesn’t want him, what can they do? They can vote by two-thirds to expel him, and upon his expulsion the Governor of Alabama could appoint a new Senator until such time as another special election is called.

And, for the deepest of Trump World conspirators, here is one possibility already floated by the White House.  Moore stays in and wins the election, and the Senate allows him to take his seat, and then expels him. The President then fires (asks to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, thus freeing Sessions to be re-appointed to the Alabama Senate seat by the Governor.   This opens the Attorney General position for a candidate who is not recused from involvement in the Russia investigation.  This puts the Mueller probe, and ultimately Mueller’s job, under his control.

It’s up to Alabama.

 

A Binary Choice

A Binary Choice

America has entered a period of “truth and reconciliation.” While many felt that the election of Donald Trump marked the “backsliding” of America to a time when bias, prejudice and discrimination were accepted: we now see the airing of American sins to the public. From actors speaking out against Harvey Weinstein to Diana Nyad speaking out against her former high school and Olympic coach; we are hearing about the powerful taking unacceptable sexual advantage of the powerless.

This should not be a political issue. Weinstein was a high-powered Democratic donor, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, Bill Cosby made moral proclamations to the black community. This is an issue of the powerful and the powerless. Americans are taking a stand.

This process is also one that could be dangerously unfair. Once the “bell is rung” with the charge of harassment, it cannot be called back. And while there is a presumption of truth to the harassed, accusations can clearly be “weaponized” into a social/political attack tool.

So there is a choice to be made in each of these cases: do we believe the accused harasser, or do we believe the accuser. This is the decision to be made.

In the case of Judge Roy Moore, Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, there are some factors that work in his favor. His accusers waited almost forty years to bring these charges, and it was the “Liberal-Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post” that brought the story to public view.

This, as opposed to the highly detailed and truthful sounding story of the then fourteen year-old girl, who, with all of the detail of a violent car wreck, told the story of her molestation. And the fact that Moore, while denying her claims, did not deny that he dated teenage girls  as the other accusers stated, while an Assistant District Attorney in his thirties. These are the factors that the voters of Alabama should weigh.

It is a binary choice. Either you believe the women, or you believe Moore. What it should not be is to accept excuses and somehow justify Moore’s behavior. Take the completely outrageous statement by Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler:

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Or the “statutes of limitations” excuse, forty years is too long. And Moore’s own excuses, “I never dated a teenager without their mother’s permission.”

Which means – he dated teenagers. It explains why he hung out at the mall and high school events when he was in his thirties. It means that at least some of the charges are true. This, the man who believes homosexuality should be against the law and that Muslims should be denied election to Congress, and who was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for putting a five ton marble Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Court building.  It puts the voters of Alabama into a “binary choice.” Do they vote for a fatally flawed Republican, or do they vote for an even greater anathema – a Democrat.

It puts the Republican leadership in the same position. While most have made the argument that they need to see more facts, they know full well that there are no more facts, and that the decision need be made on the matter as it stands. They too are in a “binary” bind – if a Democrat gets elected from Alabama, they will have only a single vote majority in the Senate. And, if the Virginia elections are any indication, their chances for a majority will be even slimmer after the 2018 elections. They NEED Alabama, but will they swallow a possible child-molester to get it?

It seems like the same choice many Americans made with Donald Trump after the “bus tapes.” The excuse then: Hillary Clinton was just as morally corrupt by supporting her husband. What excuse will they find this time? It’s a binary choice, but I have no confidence that the final choice will be the “moral” one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not About Hunting

It’s Not About Hunting – To My Liberal Friends

Last week it was twenty-six more killed in a gun attack. It was in a church, in a small town in Texas. It wasn’t “terrorism;” it was the terror of a deranged white man with a gun. Actually there were multiple guns, capable of rapid fire, with thirty round magazines, a total of fifteen of them. The magazines were all emptied: the math – four- hundred fifty shots fired.

Last month it was fifty-eight killed, at a concert in Las Vegas. Another deranged white man with guns: hundreds and hundreds of rounds fired.

I don’t own a gun. While I fired some as a kid in Boy Scouts (under the then-benign tutelage of the National Rifle Association), and enjoyed doing so, I have never had an interest in owning one. I know lots of folks who do, for hunting, for pleasure, and for personal protection. Many feel the need to be able to defend themselves against crime; intrusion into their homes, or theft of their property.

The liberal view is that we don’t want to take away all guns. We want to limit the “fire power” of those guns. We don’t see why military style semi-automatic assault rifles with high capacity magazines are needed, much less “bump stocks” to make them respond as full machine guns. We don’t understand why the need for high velocity ammunition. We tritely say – “you don’t need that to hunt deer.”

Of course you don’t.

There is an old video, from 2000, of Charlton Heston of “10 Commandments” fame, talking to the NRA convention. As President of the association, he stood before the assembly with rifle in hand, like the staff he took up the mountain, and said “…from my cold dead hands.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOJQFNOQqCY)

And that’s the rub. For the past two decades the NRA has been about citizens keeping guns from the government. It’s not about hunting, sport, or recreation. It’s a fundamental belief that the government will first try to take guns, then take away the rest of our freedoms.

And it’s not just the “black helicopter” folk. It’s been built into the entire debate about guns and the Second Amendment:

            “A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bare Arms will not be infringed.”

As a liberal I view the two clauses of the Second Amendment as separate, and see the “well regulated militia” as being antiquated and no longer of concern. Our modern society is beyond the need of “armed citizens” protecting the nation. That leaves the second clause, “keep and bare arms,” as the right of the people to have guns, though it may be restricted in some ways.

This is NOT the view of many gun owners. In casual conversation, after discussing other aspects of gun ownership (sport, recreation,) the subject moves to protection, not from criminals, but from “insurrection.” They regard their gun ownership as making them “the militia” of the first clause of the Amendment. To protect against insurrection (and perhaps the government as well) they need the armament of AR 15’s, high capacity magazines, and high velocity ammunition.

As a Liberal I would argue that this is a artificial issue created by the NRA and the gun manufacturers to protect their highly profitable industry. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t change the view of some gun owners who see their advanced arms as not only their Constitutional right, but also their obligation under the Second Amendment.

An ongoing theme of this “Trump World” blog has been the concept of civil discourse, the idea that folks of good faith with differing views can still find a way to discuss and try to resolve the problems of our time. A key part of civil discourse is having a common source of information, and a common understanding of what’s being discussed.

Even the staunchest gun rights supporter must feel the frustration and impotence of the U.S. response to mass killings. Praying, staying “small,” and out-gunning the shooter all seem to be useless responses. There seems to be no way to have the conversation about any form of weapons restrictions.   To get beyond this, we have to recognize and accept differing views. Liberals: while we can discount and deny “well regulated militia” all we want, if we are to begin to find solutions, we need to recognize  views that others regard as just as legitimate as our own.

Back to the Old Days

Back to the Old Days

Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia: the election integrity in each of these states has been questioned. In Wisconsin, two people working in a strip mall in Minnesota control the voting machines for forty counties.

In Georgia, statistical analysis of the Congressional Special Election shows huge discrepancies between the first round and the final runoff. The voting database was left online and unprotected for several months before the election, and that same database was erased soon after the election destroying any evidence of tampering.

In Michigan, there were multiple voting machines failures in Wayne County (Detroit) during the Presidential election, failures that clearly reduced the Democratic vote total in a state where Donald Trump won by only 10,704 votes out of over 5 million.

In Pennsylvania, the Trump vote was exactly the same percentage (to the tenth decimal place) in at least 3 precincts. In North Carolina and Florida thousands of voters were removed from the voting lists illegally prior to the election (see https://www.unhackthevote.com for more information.)

Since the 2000 election, the United States has moved to increasingly automated voting systems. We did this for several reasons:

– the absolute convenience of knowing the vote totals within hours of the votes being cast instead of waiting for hours and sometimes days;

– the cost effectiveness of electronic counting, with a higher original capital cost but low maintenance and functional cost;

– the perception that “computers” are error free, and;

– the belief that the “computers” can’t be influenced, bought, or fixed.

And because we remember the Florida voting for President in 2000, an election outcome so close that the Presidency came down to several hundred votes, within the “margin of error.” Weeks of counters checking ballots, hanging “chads,” lawyers hovering, shouting, and disrupting, and finally court intervention and the Supreme Court, voting along party lines, determining that the counting must stop and Bush was President.

Currently, many states use totally electronic balloting. In these states there is no “paper trail,” no cross check to make sure the “computer” is accurate. These states are COMPLETELY vulnerable to computer hacking since there is no way to go back and discover any discrepancies. And even in states where there is a paper trail, partisan election officials refused to allow them to be recounted (Wisconsin.)

There is a “middle ground.” Optical readers and graphite readers work from an actual ballot (not an electronic ballot). After the physical count, those ballots still exist, giving a fallback position should something go wrong. The margin of error with these ballots is higher, as both of these ballots depend on the voter to mark the voting selections with a pencil. If the voter doesn’t “fill in the circle” correctly, then it is possible the vote won’t be tabulated correctly. It also takes longer to count, as these ballots must be physically delivered to the counting machine and counted, unlike the electronic tallies, where the “tally box” is delivered and plugged into the final counting device.

It takes time, but is much less vulnerable to hacking. But this is only the first step.

The next step is to safeguard the voter registration roles from hacking. Anecdotally, in North Carolina voters would show up at the polling location and find they had been removed from the rolls. In that state it was a voter suppression tactic by the state election authority, purging voters in heavily Democratic areas that did not return a postcard. However, this could also be used as an election “disruption” technique: simply changing the address of a registered voter so they do not show up in the correct precinct list, and therefore aren’t allowed to vote.

This can happen accidentally, as occurred in a local school levy election in Licking County a year ago, when addresses were assigned to the wrong school district for voting purposes – but it could also occur through a determined hacking effort to change the vote.

Currently the “safeguarding” of the United States electoral system is by the “diversity” of the voting systems. Each state, and even each county, has different voting systems, making a nationwide “hack” near impossible. But as the Presidential election of 2016 shows, it doesn’t take a nationwide hack. It takes a few targeted precincts, a few thousand votes here and there, and the course of history is completely changed.

Here’s the issue: no one had confidence in the Virginia polling prior to the vote, and it turned out to be pretty accurate. Everyone had confidence in the National polling prior to the 2016 Presidential election, it turned out to be dramatically wrong. Was it the polling, or was it the vote counting process?  We need to know that answer. We need to believe that our systems while not impervious to attack, can identify and prevent changes. We need to have confidence that our votes count. And, if necessary, we need to go back to the “good old days” and wait for the results, so that we can believe in them.

 

 

 

Join the Club

Join the Club – The Democratic National Committee and Bernie Sanders

In a world where it feels like every news item NOT related to Trump and Russia is a distraction, former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile did us no favors this week. Her new book, “Hacks,” goes after the Hillary Clinton campaign for making an “unethical” deal with the Democratic National Committee prior to the 2016 Democratic Convention.

Brazile, the Gore Campaign manager from 2000, was brought in as interim Chairman just prior to the Democratic Convention in 2016. This was after the Russian hack through Wikileaks revealed that former Chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was demonstrably in the Hillary Clinton camp during the primary campaign against Bernie Sanders. Brazile was the Vice Chairman of the DNC prior to her elevation.

She made it clear that there was nothing “illegal” about the deal between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and that in fact, the Sanders campaign had a similar deal. What Brazile felt was “unethical” was that the DNC, at one point almost broke, ceded a great deal of financial control to the Clinton campaign in return for Hillary fundraising for them. Brazile felt this “weighted” the DNC to Clinton over Sanders, who raised much less money for the Committee.

She’s right. The DNC was weighted for Clinton. And while Bernie’s supporters probably won’t like hearing it, they should have been.

Senator Sanders to this day is NOT a member of the Democratic Party. He wears his “Independent” label as a badge of honor, claiming loyalty to his ideals and his supporters, not to a political structure. He entered the Democratic primaries as an insurgent, running against the system.  Why is anybody surprised or angered that the “system” he was running against, the party he still refuses to join, was slanted against him?

And yet the party went through the motions of treating him as an equal, signing the same agreement with him as with Clinton. And while Clinton DID receive a lot more for her agreement, Clinton DID raise an enormous amount of money for the DNC, keeping them from being irrelevant.

Many of today’s “resistors” believe that the Republican party should have rejected Trump as being unfit for office. They blame Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Preibus and the other leaders for allowing the party to fall into Trump’s trap. The DNC also made some judgments about the candidates, and while Sanders showed well in the primaries, he was (and is) clearly unelectable in a general Presidential election. No one, including Clinton, went after Sanders in a major negative way; no one attacked the man who claims to be a Socialist.

Clinton didn’t because she knew that the Sanders supporters would eventually have to come to her aid in the general election. And while many did, others, angered by the perceived unfairness of the DNC, or by the constant irritation of social media trolling (some Russian) stayed home. Hard to say what effect that had on the final outcome.

Senator Elizabeth Warren stated the primaries were “rigged” against Sanders in an interview this week. While the vote totals clearly were not, to say that the Democratic Party was unbiased in the election simply wouldn’t be true. The word “rigged” implies that the outcome was fixed, which is also not true. And while we need to look and see if the voting in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania were in fact “rigged” in the general election, Warren is looking to her own future with the “Bernie” supporters by her comments.

If Sanders expects fairness from the structure he’s campaigning against, then he is truly naïve. If he wants to be a Democrat – then join the club.