Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogI have been writing Citizenship Politics since September 1996, although it was published as Urban Politics up to September 2020. Initially, my focus was on Seattle and regional politics. Since leaving the Seattle Council, I’ve focused on national political and social trends. The Citizenship Politics newsletter is emailed out up to three times a month. As of April 2021, there are 10,000 subscribers; 70 percent are university faculty at over 250 universities and colleges throughout all fifty states. Subscribers can cancel at any time by replying “Unsubscribe Citizenship Politics” in the Subject Line. If you or a friend do not currently receive it, you can subscribe by scrolling down to the bottom of my home page http://www.becomingacitizenactivist.org and submitting your email address.

Democrats have been a minority on the Supreme Court since 1970

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 10/11/20


 

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings Monday, Oct. 12, on the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Her seat on the court will solidify its already very conservative majority.

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Photo by Rachel Cooper, “The “Authority of Law” marble statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser on the steps of the Supreme Court Building.

National polls have shown that most citizens do not wish her, or anyone, to be appointed until after the presidential election. A few Democrats have argued that if Barrett is appointed, seats should be added to the Supreme Court to balance its philosophical views.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both asked their Democratic opponents in the recent debates whether they would pack the court, presumably with liberals. Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris danced around the issue, never answering the question. They should have told the truth: The court is already packed — with conservatives.

In fact, in every year since 1970, the majority of Supreme Court justices have been Republican appointees. Since the beginning of Chief Justice Warren Burger’s court until the death of Justice Ruth B. Ginsberg, there have been 17 Republican appointed-justices and 8 Democratic appointed-justices sitting on the Supreme Court.

 At no time was there a majority of Democratic justices on the court to write its majority decision. By going to the web link for each of the last three Chief Justices, you can see those numbers.

In addition, the last four Supreme Court chief justices have been politically active Republicans appointed by Republican presidents:

• Chief Justice Earl Warren (1953 to 1969), was the Republican governor of California and Thomas Dewey’s vice-presidential running mate.
• Chief Justice Warren Burger (1969 to 1986), played a crucial role at the 1952 Republican National Convention to get Dwight D. Eisenhower the presidential nomination.
• Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1986 to 2005), was a legal advisor to Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.
• Chief Justice John Roberts (2005 to current) served in Ronald Reagan’s and George H. W. Bush’s administrations in the Office of the White House Counsel.

You couldn’t select more-partisan chief justices.

When Trump warns the voters that Democrats would “pack” the court with liberal judges, he is basically saying he’s against the court sustaining liberal laws. But which ones? The three Republican-controlled Supreme Courts under Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts have decided in favor of some major liberal issues.

Burger’s court with its Roe v. Wade decision recognized a broad right to privacy that prohibited states from banning abortions. They also unanimously rejected Nixon’s invocation of executive privilege in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Trump and some of the current Supreme Court justices have indicated they would not have supported those decisions.

President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice was approved with divided Democratic support in the Senate, despite his role as the most conservative member of the Burger Court. Times were different then. Qualifications played a greater role than ideology. The Rehnquist Court was more conservative than Burger’s, as evidenced by its decisions limiting access to abortion (while still allowing it). On the liberal side, they overturned a prior court decision by ruling that intimate consensual sexual conduct was protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.

John Roberts’ nomination as Chief Justice was approved by the full Senate, 78-22, with half of the Democrats voting in favor. It was considered a narrow vote at the time, but subsequent confirmation votes make it look like a landslide. The New York Times describes the Roberts Court as the most conservative since the 1940s. Nevertheless, a few liberal bills have received majority decisions.

The most controversial ruling upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Engendering more heat, the court also proclaimed that same-sex couples had a right to marry and that businesses cannot discriminate against LGBT people in matters of employment.

However, conservative decisions made thus far by the Roberts Court—and by prior courts under the two former chief justices—far outweigh the liberal ones. Often the more-liberal decisions were reached on a 5-to-4 vote. The addition of judge Barrett would make the Roberts Court even more rigid than it has been to date. So, it is inevitable that the court will interpret laws from the most conservative point of view possible. Even the few liberal remnants from prior conservative court decisions will be subject to further truncating.

How did this situation arise? There are a number of theories. One of the more meticulous explanations is provided by Prof. Nancy MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains. It details the influence of billionaires, like the Koch brothers, who have shaped our judicial system to their liking. They fund networks of organizations to oppose federal interventions that would place commonwealth concerns above individual liberties. Hence, they support states’ rights and legal philosophies that do not interpret laws in the context of modern social and economic problems. Justices that treat the constitution as a tool to navigate our current conditions are labeled as “activist judges.”

Quinta Jurecic and Susan Hennessey of The Lawfare Institute make an additional point. Writing in The Atlantic, they accuse Republicans of timing voluntary retirements of Republican-appointed justices “to effectively bequeath seats to their political party.” Sounds like a cool gimmick, but the pattern is not readily apparent. Two of the last three Republican-appointed justices that retired voluntarily were replaced by liberal Democrats. The exception was Samuel Alioto replacing Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006.

The current composition of the Supreme Court derives from how the Republican Party has slowly adopted an ideological litmus test to appointing and confirming justices. This did not occur overnight. Nominees from both parties had generally reflected a liberal or conservative approach. But within that approach, there was much variation. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a variety of justices. Hugo Black advocated a textualist reading of the United States Constitution, while Felix Frankfurter advocated judicial restraint in the judgments of the court. Both approaches are widely supported by Republicans.

Republican presidents, likewise, used to appoint people who were within the Republican fold but were broad-minded justices first. As a result, Chief Justice Earl Warren arranged a unanimous vote for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Right-wing reactionaries began an “Impeach Earl Warren” campaign over his refusal to support segregation.

Accusing some Democrats of wanting to enlarge the court with liberals is true. Yes, they would like to follow in the footsteps of the conservatives in shaping the courts more to their liking. But at this moment in history, if Democrats did expand the court, the result is most likely going to be similar to what FDR experienced. Even with the Democrats controlling both Congressional houses by huge majorities, and FDR being a popular president, the public frowned on making such a jolting structural change.

Republicans have been able to reshape the philosophical orientation of our federal courts because the organizing effort has been underway for decades.
That doesn’t mean Democrats cannot still make changes. They should recognize that they need to learn from the Republicans, who provide an intellectual rationale for conservative justices. Liberal justices need one as well. A rationale that is open, not closed — one that can provide guidance, without requiring loyalty to any one creed.

Democrats believe their philosophy will help Americans across the political, economic, and racial spectrums. They must not apologize for embracing this.

The Republicans embrace conservatism. But Democrats fear embracing liberalism because the very word has been so consistently attacked by the Republicans. Democrats seem to be searching for another label, such as progressive, social democrat, populist, or whatever. The label doesn’t matter so much as the ability to explain it in simple terms. Democrats must believe in it and have the courage to openly present and defend it.

 

Could the Covid-19 virus Delay Barrett’s Confirmation?

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 10/4/20


 

The push for the Senate’s confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett may be impacted by the pandemic.

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Virus-infected Sen. Tillis meeting with Judge Barrett

Sen. Mitch McConnell has delayed the convening of the full Senate until Oct. 19 because three Republican Senators have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. But he is pushing ahead with Barrett’s confirmation hearing scheduled for Oct. 12.
Is it now possible that the Covid-19 virus could do what the Democrats can’t do—fatally delay the nomination of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett?

It depends. Let’s see what it would take.

SCENARIO ONE

For the Republicans to confirm Barrett as scheduled, she would have to test negative on the Covid-19 virus up to and during Senate Judicial Committee hearings. If she tested positive, she could still be interviewed remotely. However, the optics of her not being present in the Senate committee room and just appearing on a screen is not good for the Republicans. It would provide ammunition to the Democrats’ charge that this is an unnecessarily rushed endeavor to bypass public input. Already, over 60% of those polled agree with this charge.

It’s unlikely that Barrett will test positive. According to Washington Post sources, she had already tested positive last summer. Neither she nor the White House, however, have released a statement confirming that.

Since the time she recovered from her infection—if, in fact, she had one—she’s regularly tested as negative. For her to test positive again would mean she’s either been reinfected or the first test was a false positive. Both conditions are statistically unlikely. Still, Barrett has been on the Hill at least three times during October’s first week, meeting with roughly 30 senators in one-on-one meetings to discuss her nomination. If she wasn’t wearing a mask for those closed room meetings, she could have been infected.

Also, at the Rose Garden reception for her nomination on Sat., Sept. 26, Barrett (along with the majority of attendees) was not masked most of the time nor practicing social distancing. She greeted many attendees in a reception line. At least six of the participants have since tested positive, including Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

SCENARIO TWO

Both senators sit on the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to begin hearings on the Barrett nomination on Oct. 12. Republican staff has said they expect the committee’s opening statements, questions, and testimony from outside witnesses to last three or four days.

The public health agency CDC recommends that someone who has tested positive and is asymptomatic should isolate for 10 days after their symptoms began. The agency recommends a more stringent 14-day quarantine period for those who have been in contact with an infected person but do not have confirmed infections.

If those guidelines are applied, Lee and Tillis would isolate for 10 days from Oct. 2. That was the date they announced they were infected. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that they would be able to attend the committee hearing on Barrett’s confirmation because it starts ten days later on the 12th.

It’s lucky for them they’re not professional baseball players. The baseball leagues require players to receive two tests showing they’re negative after their 10-day period of isolation. There is apparently no such concern for infecting fellow elected officials.

Senators who’ve been in contact with the infected Lee and Tillis may choose to adhere to the 14-day quarantine period. If they are on the Judiciary Committee, they would be limited to participating virtually.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, have asked to delay Barrett’s hearing. They believe a virtual committee meeting will set a dangerous precedent for the Senate. As expected, the Republicans have rebuffed their request.

But here’s the unknown factor: The actual committee vote is scheduled for the Judiciary Committee on the 22nd. By that date, if two more Republicans on the committee are infected and quarantined, the committee could not vote out a majority recommendation to confirm, assuming that all the Democrats on the committee vote against it.

That might not stop a full Senate vote, but it could delay such a vote past Election Day. Should Joe Biden be confirmed as the winner of the election before the final vote is taken on Barrett’s confirmation, increased public pressure not to confirm she might persuade some Republicans to change their minds.

Since Trump intends to challenge Biden’s election all the way up to the Supreme Court, a delayed SCOTUS decision might push a confirmation vote into the next Congressional session.

SCENARIO THREE

There’s one other Covid-19 scenario:  If both parties are hit with Covid-19 absences, the Republicans could be denied a full Senate quorum to confirm Barrett. Senate rules currently do not allow for remote voting.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service explains how quorum works in the Senate. The Constitution states that “a Majority of each [House] shall constitute a quorum to do business….” The Senate presumes that it is complying with this requirement until a Senator “suggests the absence of a quorum.” The Senate cannot resume its business until a majority of senators respond to a quorum call by the Senate Clerk. If a quorum fails to be reached, the Senate adjourns or sends out the sergeant of arms to secure the attendance of enough senators to constitute a quorum.

Now here’s a scenario that could work for the Democrats stopping Barrett’s confirmation. It would require that at least three Republican senators are absent. That would reduce their number to 50 from 53 Republicans being present. That may not be too much of a stretch. Forty-eight senators are over the age of 65, which puts them into the high-risk category of becoming ill or succumbing to the Covid-19 virus.

If the Republicans have only 50 members present, and all but one Democrat is absent, the quorum rule could come into play. The one Democrat on the Senate floor would ask for a roll call to determine if there are 51 senators present. The reason for the need of that one Democrat is that if there were none present, then it is not expected that any Republican would ask for a quorum. And without the ask, the Senate could proceed to conduct its business. Once the request is made, the Democrat could leave, not answering the call. Do the math and see if they then have a quorum. The vice president only votes to break a tie, not to create a quorum.

All of the above conditions are dependent on at least one “if.” But “ifs” do happen. Who would have expected that President Trump would have contracted the virus so close to the election? So, preparing for “if” situations, may not be a fantasy but preparation for a possible opportunity.

RBG’s replacement will cut Civil Rights for Women

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 9/27/20


 

Senate Republicans discard their principles and rally religious anti-abortion voters to re-elect them.

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In Republicans’ rush to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court, the first casualty was their prior commitment to honor the will of the people.

Both Senator Mitch McConnell (KY), who is the majority leader in charge of the Senate calendar, and Lindsey Graham (SC), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which handles Supreme Court nominees, embraced hypocrisy. The two old pros stopped the Senate from even holding a hearing on President Obama’s court appointee, Garland Merrick, when the nomination was eight months before a presidential election.

In effect, McConnell and Graham undermined the trust that citizens should have that Congress will govern fairly and honorably. That was their first blow to a stable, democratic republic. The second blow will be landed if the Trump nominee sits on the Supreme Court. Why? Because our nation will move one more step away from being a nation of rational, secular laws, toward a regime ruled by the constraints of religious beliefs.

The Republicans’ motivation may not be so much adherence to a moral doctrine as a personal interest in maintaining political power. They’ve watched how Donald Trump has obtained and used power. Now, to be sure, Trump isn’t a religious person. Then again, neither was Elmer Gantry. But they both used the force of organized religion to get what they wanted. In Trump’s case, it is winning votes and elections. Particularly as he is promising to end abortions.

A core of religious voters, consolidated within the evangelical movement and the Catholic Church, believes that women are sinners if they have an abortion. God will punish them. But the persuasive force of religion is not enough to actually stop women from controlling their own bodies. These churchgoers need the power of government to stop doctors from safely conducting abortions.

If the religious right can impose laws that stop or constrain that activity, many women will go to non-professional abortionists, who operate in garages or basements. As was often the case in the 1950s, many will also wind up in an emergency room for botched abortions. Some politicians champion that era as the best time for all Americans. That is a reactionary belief. It turns the clock way back, unlike conservatives who just don’t want it to go forward.

Republicans lead the push to place an anti-abortionist on the Supreme Court

Let’s examine Graham and McConnell’s re-election races.

Graham easily won his last three Senate races by double-digit margins. He had originally been considered a moderate conservative by both Democrats and Republicans. Initially, he called Donald Trump a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot,” but now refers him to as “my new best friend.” That may because Trump won South Carolina by 14% over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Currently, Trump leads Joe Biden by 6% among likely voters in the state. Meanwhile, Graham is statistically tied with his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison in the latest polls. Just 3% of voters say they are unsure who they’re going to vote for on Nov. 3. Graham is borrowing scare tactics from Trump to either pull out more of his base or pull that thin slice of undecideds over to him.

Using Trumpian hyperbole, Graham calls Harrison a radical, when the Democrat is in fact a moderate. Fanning the flames of fear, Graham said that if the Democratic Party controls Congress and the Presidency, “They’ll pack the Supreme Court.” However, with 15 of the last 19 justices having been appointed by Republicans, we actually have a court that’s been packed with Republican appointees.

Both Graham and Trump need to pull out their strongest base of supporters: the white evangelicals. Trump received 82% of this group’s vote in 2016, and that same percentage still support him today. Evangelicals make up 35% of South Carolina’s population. They are the most anti-abortion of all major religious faiths. Sixty-three percent believe that abortion should be illegal. Getting a committed jurist on the Supreme Court who holds that belief could only help Graham with those voters.

McConnell is not in as tight a race as Graham. A poll in the summer showed him ahead of his Democratic opponent, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, by only a couple of percentage points. But the most recent poll this month shows him leading by 15 points. McConnell has hit McGrath with TV ads claiming that she supports abortion in the ninth month of pregnancy. This twists something McGrath did say: “I don’t think the government should be involved in deciding on a woman’s body.”

Those who demand anti-abortion laws often interpret a response like McGrath’s as supporting late-term abortions. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that only 1.2% of abortions in the U.S. were performed at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy. To counter McConnell’s accusation, McGrath made clear that she is “opposed to late-term abortions (except when it comes to issues of the life of the mother).”

Ardent anti-abortion evangelicals make up 49% of Kentucky’s population. So McConnell’s ads may soon be presenting him as the person who confirmed enough reactionary justices to the Supreme Court to finally revoke if not practically stop access to abortions.

Mitt Romney (R-UT), who is at times a Trump critic and was called a moderate conservative, showed that he too wants to get back to the abortion prohibitions of the ’50s. Although he supported Roe v. Wade in 1994, he’s moved since his first presidential bid in 2007 to believing “we should overturn Roe v. Wade.” He once said he would be “delighted” to sign a bill as president that would outlaw abortion. Although Utah has relatively few evangelicals, 62% of Utah’sresidents are Mormons. They are even more anti-abortion than evangelicals, with 70% of Mormons opposed to abortion. Romeny’s term is not up this November, but supporting Trump’s nominee will certainly help him win re-election.

Many Republican Senators are from states with enough evangelicals to swing almost any statewide election — if they come out to vote. According to the Cook Political Report, two Senate Republicans are in toss-up elections in states with high percentages of evangelicals: Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa (28%) and Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina (35%). Both of them joined Mitchell and Graham in chucking their previous statements to oppose appointing a new justice in a presidential election year. Now they want the new Supreme Court vacancy filled before the Nov. 3 election. They are counting votes and they know whose votes to get out in their state.

Two senators in particular, whom The Hill describes as “two rising GOP stars with White House aspirations” are competing to be the leading executioner of the Roe v. Wade decision. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants explicit evidence from a nominee that Roe v. Wade was just plain wrong. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) just wants to get rid of the decision. Both come from states with a significant evangelical voter base. Thirty-six percent of Missouri residents are evangelicals. In Arkansas, the percentage is 46%. Cotton is seen as a solid winner for his re-election, and Hawley is not up this fall. But if they do aspire to the White House, Trump showed them the power the white evangelicals have to help them capture the Republican Party’s nomination.

An unintended consequence may unfold for the Republican Senate

As the Republicans rush to take the politically correct religious position on abortion, they might just lose control of the Senate. It’s not a stretch to see how likely that is when you look at how the numbers add up.

First, Trump, may not be much help to Senators in retaining their seats. Although he’s repeatedly accused the media and the Democrats of being the enemy of America, many voters may consider him to be. His job approval rating at this point in his presidency is lower than that of all of his recent predecessors except George H.W. Bush. And his disapproval rating is not statistically different from Bush’s, being about 59%. Bush lost his re-election by a margin of 5.6 points to Bill Clinton. Joe Biden has held a steady 6-point lead over Trump in polling of likely voters since February.

A major hurdle that the Republicans face is that not a heck of a lot of folks is undecided on who to vote for. At this point in the election cycle, usually, around 15% of the population still has not decided how to vote. This year, it’s less than half that: about 6%.

The push by Republican Senators to seat an anti-abortion judge could swing the sliver of still-undecided women and men over to Biden’s camp. Protecting the right to have an abortion has been supported by the majority of Americans for over two decades.

Reviewing its polling data, the Gallup Organization found that at no time since 1993 has less than 50% of the populace supported abortion as “legal with some restrictions.” Currently, the figure stands at 50%. Over that same time period, support for abortion as “legal in all circumstances” has ranged between 21% and 33%. Today, the number is 29%. Meanwhile, those who support making abortion “illegal in any circumstance” has floated between 12% and 22%. It currently stands at only 20%.

Senate Republicans are demanding that the next Supreme Court justice side with the smallest slice of the populace on the abortion issue. Will the freedoms of all Americans be defined by a religious minority?

Under our democracy, every religion is protected to practice freely. But that does not give churches the right to define how others must behave. Despite this, Republican Senators making a play for evangelical, Mormon, and conservative Catholic votes cannot afford to upset those faithful few. If Republican Senators wish to keep their jobs, they need Fox News watchers to see them trying to get Trump’s nominee, federal judge Amy Coney Barrett, to commit to overturning Roe v. Wade.

However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has stated that any justice who says “I believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” should be disqualified. She argues that “It’s not just on abortion. It’s on anything that could be pending before the court like that.” Could that simple civics argument sway a couple of Republicans that government and religion should not be commingled on the Supreme Court?

There is some irony that the Democratic Party—the Party of Hope, the party of easy-going liberals—may have nothing to play but the “fear” card. You know, the one that Trump slams on the podium in every speech he gives.

But the fear is real this time if the Republican Party succeeds in establishing the most reactionary Supreme Court since the Dred Scott decision of 1857. That cruel ruling basically said to a freed slave in the North, you are still someone’s property and you are still a slave if you go back to the South. It precipitated the conditions that led to Abraham Lincoln winning the Presidency. Those 19th-century Supreme Court judges could be considered “constitutionalist,” because the Constitution did not recognize slaves as citizens with rights. Just as it does not explicitly recognize women having the right to access abortion. Barrett is already being hailed as a “constitutionalist” jurist.

This time, it will be a Supreme Court telling all women that they have to conform to the morals of a religion they may not belong to. The state will now enforce those religious views on everyone.

It will also be a Supreme Court that makes working families lose their newly acquired health coverage. Trump’s new appointee will likely vote to pull the plug on the coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act. Now, millions could once again face financial ruin paying medical bills. Even though Trump promised more than three years ago to provide a new health plan that would be much better, he has provided nothing.

These are fearful living conditions to return to. The Democrats will certainly highlight them to the voters.

There are still many moving parts as Election Day approaches. No one really knows what will determine the outcome. What is certain is that the Republican Party, with its Freedom Caucus in the lead, has declared that our highest court in the land must not allow women the freedom to decide how they can live.

And, that’s how you Make America Great Again?

Citizenship – Bridging Individualism & Community to Sustain our Democracy

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 9/17/20


Citizenship should support a democratic republic that protects individuals’ freedoms and the community’s welfare. We need it to avoid another civil war.

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The U.S. stands out since its creation as championing the rights of all individuals, as proclaimed in the Declaration that Jefferson wrote for the new nation. Always clever, Jefferson substituted “pursuit of happiness” for “possessing property” to cast a wider net.

Although initially those who did not own enough property, or were women or Jews, were deprived of the vote by state governments. Enslaved blacks, of course, were not even considered citizens — they were someone else’s property.

Still, America’s revolution, which championed individual freedoms, can be seen as the spark in the U.S. for abolishing slavery and guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Today, defending individual freedom has been used to defend the “right not to wear a mask,” ignoring the fact that its absence may result in your fellow citizens being infected with the coronavirus. Others claim the right to possess an assault rifle, which is solely designed to kill people.

For some citizens, concern for the welfare of the larger community is too abstract a notion to compensate for losing such personal freedoms. That is the tension between an individual’s freedom and the community’s welfare.

Progressive-Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, in her book, Use the Power You Have coined the derisive term “individual supremacy.” It describes an attitude that “rejects compassion in favor of fear of others,” and pits “individual needs versus what is best for the whole communities”. She believes such a perspective “stops us from thinking about how we are linked” and the responsibility we have to each other to tackle big issues such as climate change.

Trump-Conservative Sean Hannity, Fox News’ lead political commentator, attacks leftists in his book Live Free or Die, for “decreeing what kind of straws you can drink from, what kind of lightbulbs you can use, and what kind of power your home can use.” He does not see these individual acts contributing to climate change and causing any harm to the larger community. Such regulations that limit our behavior are unacceptable to him and others.

But Hannity does favor promoting our nation being built upon a community of Christians that require individuals to adopt their values. He fondly quotes the book, The Light and the Glory: 1492-1793 (God’s Plan for America) in describing how our nation’s founders were “chosen by God for a specific purpose: … rediscovering God’s plan to join them together by His Spirit in the common cause of advancing His Kingdom,” and to “operate not as lone individualists, but in covenanted groups.”

The difference in how Jayapal and Hannity frame responsible individual rights to a larger community would seem to be unbreachable. Nevertheless, some folks are leading an effort to redefine citizenship as a means to find some common ground between these opposing forces — before they are resolved on a battleground, as happened in 1860.

Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer, in Gardens of Democracy, identify the rise of new citizenship. It builds upon our founders embracing the ideas that emerged from the Enlightenment. They created a democratic republic separate from the confines of a single religion and church. It substituted reason for doctrine, independence for obedience, scientific method for superstition, and human ambition for divine predestination.

Liu went on to give 19 speeches around the country promoting active citizenship, to rehumanize our politics, and rekindle a spirit of love in civic life. His book Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy contains all of his sermons.

Harry Boyte, co-director of the Institute for Public Life and Work at Augsburg University, argues in Awakening Democracy through Public Work that citizens should be seen as producers, not consumers. He sees a need for a stronger, more participatory democratic society, which recalls the citizen-led effort of the Civil Rights Movement.

He goes beyond defining democracy as free elections and largely the activity of government. That approach relies on selecting good political leaders who encourage broad citizen participation. But when the nation’s highest elected leader divides citizens into patriots and terrorists based on their beliefs, there is a need for strong institutions and a culture of acceptance that can push our public officials to unite all citizens to work for the common welfare.

One such organization pursuing that endeavor is Braver Angels, formed primarily by academics and church leaders representing a grassroots movement to depolarize America’s politics. Their board of directors, staff, workshop participants, and funding sources — all are balanced between liberals and conservatives.

They now have more than 11,000 members working in their project, With Malice Toward None, to collect individual pledges not to “hold hate” toward others who vote differently. A signer pledges “to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently,” to listen to the opposition rather than fear the opposition. It’s an exercise in self-control that is particularly relevant to our presidential election since they see evidence “that we are now as polarized as we have been since the Civil War.”

Some of President Trump’s highest appointed public officials would agree. They are preparing for a real war out of fear – of what? Losing the election? That appears to be the case with Michael Caputo, who handles communications for the Cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus.

He charged government scientists on Sun., Sept. 13, of sedition (a felony punishable up to 20 years in prison). He further asserted that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election. He made that charge after officials at the Centers for Disease Control told various media how Caputo demanded the agency revise, delay, and scuttle CDC’s public health updates that could imply that the pandemic is not under control.

Caputo sees a gunfight come January. He posted on Facebook, “when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” and added, “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies, and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.” Caputo vowed that “as God is my witness, I am not stopping” his effort to control the scientists’ work, because President Trump supports him.

It reminds me of Hannity’s certainty in the righteousness of America being tied to “God’s plan to join them [Americans] together by His Spirit” in a common cause. Would that cause me to keep Donald Trump as president on election night if all the votes are not counted?

As this newsletter was about to be released, the Trump Administration decided that leaving Caputo in his very public position was not helping the President win his re-election. Consequently, he was put on a 60-day administrative leave to tend to his mental health. He will be collecting his full pay and benefits and of course, be free to do as he pleases. Perhaps he will campaign for Trump and, as he recommended others to do, go out and buy some ammunition.

A final note on how citizenship can bind us together, and not necessarily through Christianity, or any other religion or ideology like capitalism, socialism, or otherwise.
Citizenship should unite us in a belief that a democratic republic protects individuals’ freedoms as well as the community’s welfare.

David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation, tells of a small but telling, incident.  One that points to how our country became a model for liberating individuals from authoritative powers.

“In a draft of the document [the Declaration of Independence], Thomas Jefferson had written the word subjects. Later, he expunged the word, smearing the ink, and carefully overwriting it with another word — citizens. This finding reveals an important shift in the Founders’ thinking: the people’s allegiance was to each other, not a distant King.”

We should add that our allegiance is to our fellow citizens and not to any individual president’s self-interest.

Three WWII Books Mirror Our Current World Conflicts

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 9/12/20


 

World War II ended 75 years ago, the problems that it left behind, displaced immigrants, lack of international law, and the use of nuclear weapons, are all still with us.

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The 75th Commemoration of the End of World War II is Sept. 2, 2020. This fall, three new books cover foreign-policy issues from the conclusion of that war. Those issues are still with us today: how to care for the plight of millions of displaced and desperate immigrants, how to apply international laws to punish enemies, and how to justify (if we can) the use of nuclear weapons. They’re worth a read this fall.

Michel Paradis’ “Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice” (Simon & Schuster $28), wrestles with this question: How does one determine justice in a war?

The U.S. public supported punishing the Japanese for executing three captured American pilots who bombed Tokyo after the attack at Pearl Harbor. To pursue a legal course our prosecutors had a problem—“there was no clear legal theory for charging anyone higher up the chain of command … beyond low-level grunts and functionaries.” The Japanese legal system that approved the pilot’s execution was also flawed since the pilots “had no lawyers, no witnesses, and no opportunity to defend themselves.”

Paradis also notes that the U.S. condemned Japan torturing our prisoners, despite Japan’s national pride in having abolished it. However, in the course of the trial, a Japanese officer volunteered that “higher-ups” had approved of U.S. prisoners being beaten, strung up, and electrically shocked.

The reality of not having a universally enforceable legal system to punish war crimes then, as now, shows how such a standard is not easy to achieve in the current war against international terrorists.

Lesley M.M. Blume’s “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World” (Simon & Schuster $27) tells how John Hersey, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, noticed that after we dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, very few survivors were interviewed. The articles published afterward were willingly sanitized by reporters after a little nudging from the U.S. military. Hiroshima’s devastation was televised but the U.S. limited access to the city.

Hersey was not deterred in finding out something more. He personally interviewed civilian survivors and wrote about them as ordinary human beings. Blume explains it was “a then-revolutionary approach to the subject of the atomic bombings” given that the Japanese prodded American entry into the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Hersey’s 30,000-word essay “Hiroshima” was printed in The New Yorker, with the editors eliminating all other articles. A year had passed from the bombing and the major media outlets believed that Hiroshima was old news. However, it became an overnight sensation, to the horror of the government, which had tried to cover up the resulting civilian human suffering in Japan by limiting physical access and coaxing the press to present a patriotic message.

Hersey’s piece woke the nation to the peril of entering an era of nuclear warfare—one that could be unleashed on U.S. civilians. “Fallout” is particularly relevant now that the U.S. and Russia are moving away from agreements that restrained them from starting a new nuclear arms race. It is a reminder not to ignore the suffering and total destruction a nuclear war can unleash.

At the end of World War II, Germany hosted up to 4 million refugees. David Nasaw’s “The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War” (Penguin Press, $35) tells of the last million who had been confined to refugee camps for five years. Most of them were Eastern Europeans who feared going back home. Nasaw explains the politics that drove the U.S. to maintain those camps but to eventually push for the refugees to be settled in Europe, or Palestine for the Jewish refugees.

Like today, countries differed as to whether they would accept refugees. Britain saw refugees as cheap labor but limited the number of people they would accept. The Soviet Union demanded that all of the former occupants of Eastern Europe return home. However, many had collaborated with the Nazis on some level and feared being jailed or executed. Worse-off was the Polish Jewish population. Although the Polish government welcomed them back, even including some in governing, Nasaw concludes that “years of Nazi occupation had not lessened Polish anti-Semitism” but had “legitimized, hardened and regularized it.”

Wars spin-off refugees as collateral damage. Currently, about 1 million Syrians are stuck in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Through great research, Nasaw helps the reader understand the complexity of permanently relocating refugees to a new country. The U.S. led that effort at the end of World War II—could it do it again?

Two Conventions – In One Nation Divided between Liberalism and Populism

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Written by Nick Licata on 9/2/20 for Medium


 

 

Defanging Repressive Immigration Legislation City by City

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The party conventions televised a growing chasm in our nation.

Under Biden, the Democratic Party will pursue its tradition of being the liberal party: steadily moving policies forward to expand social services and individual legal rights. The Republican Party, under Trump, is now not so much a conservative force to maintain the status quo as it is a populist party seeking to break the status quo in reaction to the threat of liberalism.

Liberalism in America reflects the core philosophy of the establishment left. But liberalism is not socialism, as Donald Trump and Republican National Convention speakers would like the public to believe. Historically, liberalism is a rather steadying force. It is often seen as accommodating change, but not pushing radical change. In many other developed countries, the liberal parties are the most conservative party. In Japan, for example, the conservative party is called the Liberal Democrat Party, while the left party is the Constitutional Democratic Party.

Populism can swing either to the right or the left. As author John Judis notes in The Populist Explosion, “There is no set of features that exclusively defines … populist.” He believes that it cannot be defined in terms of left, right, or center. He believes populist movements arise when people see the prevailing political norms – those put forward by the leading segments of society – as being at odds with their concerns.

However, a populist movement can usher in either right- or left-wing governments. These movements may promote nationalism through emphasizing territory or abroad, diverse community. The Republican convention’s theme each of the four days was based on “Land of…”. Insert here: Heroes, Promise, Opportunity, and Greatness. By contrast, the Democratic Convention’s daily theme was based on “We the People…” Insert here: Demanding Racial Justice, Helping Each Other Through Covid-19, Putting Country Over Party, Recovering.”

The difference between liberalism and populism also affected each of the two conventions’ operations. Both parties were forced to make dramatic convention changes due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they responded differently.

The Democrats tried to adhere to CDC guidelines, while still attempting to elect their presidential nominee with traditional procedures. They nominated their presidential candidate through a televised roll-call vote by state. Video clips of Democratic delegates from each state gave their pitch for supporting Biden.

On the other hand, Trump’s Republican convention broke with the status quo in a number of ways. It began with a perfunctory vote to select Donald Trump as the presidential nominee. His nomination, the seconding speeches, and the roll call all remained in the original convention site, namely, Charlotte, North Carolina. The audience was limited, and no nationally televised coverage was solicited for the gathering.

In a similar vein, the Democrats kept to the tradition of releasing reports from the Rules, Platform, and Credentials Committees, even though the reports had been negotiated and voted on remotely before the convention. . Their reports were then presented with short speeches by the co-chairs of each committee on the convention’s first day.

At the Republican Convention, by contrast, there were no speeches regarding any of their committee reports. Their relevant committees did not meet, except for the credentials panels. Since the Republican platform committee never met, they simply adopted the 2016 platform again, which was largely shaped by Trump supporters.

The Democrats’ 2020 platform, to their credit, was a new one. In their case, it was a result of negotiations between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden delegates to maximize their voter turnout.

There was no need for negotiations within the Republican Party on the platform. Those who opposed Trump’s populist approach had already chosen to keep a low profile or leave the party. The number of Republican defections to the Democratic ticket is a very noticeable sign of this political migration.

Over 300 former staffers who worked for President George W. Bush, the late Senator John McCain, or Presidential candidate Mitt Romney have publicly come out against Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020. Most of them signed a letter saying, “We believe that decency in government must not be allowed to die on the vine and insist that it returns to the Office of the President.” They joined former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former US Rep. (R-NY) Susan Molinari, and Trump’s former homeland security chief Miles Taylor in supporting Biden for president.

Populism at its core is about disrupting the status quo and even removing institutions that are upheld by the current political and societal norms. It takes a different path than liberalism, which believes that the procedures and norms that keep the current institutions functioning are important to reform but not abolish.

At the Republican convention, this was manifested in the absence of delegate caucuses and council meetings; there was no mention of them. By comparison, the Democrats listed 17 caucuses and council meetings held throughout their four-day convention.

Trump gave the stage over to seven citizens to give personal testimonials claiming they suffered and were victimized by Democratic policies. Four different individuals testified about members of their family killed by gun violence. The repeated message was that Democrats do not believe in law and order and — as a direct result — a family member died.

One couple that claimed victim status was featured for their toughness in standing up to the chaos around them “created by Democrats.” Mark and Patricia McCloskey pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past the St. Louis couple’s 52-room mansion. The pair didn’t accuse anyone of stepping on their mansion’s yard. But the protestors’ chanting drove Mr. McClosky to say, “I thought we were going to die.” National network and cable news channels showed Mrs. McClosky waving a pistol and Mr. McClosky brandishing his semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. They have since been charged with one felony count each of unlawful use of a weapon.

The Republican convention also spotlighted eight citizen activists. There was as an anti-abortion activist who used to work at Planned Parenthood, two health professionals (a doctor and a nurse) who thanked the president for leading the fight against Covid-19, a small manufacturer who thanked Trump for his economic policies, and a dairy farmer applauded him for his trade policies. Even one of Trump’s White House assistants, who had been a socialist and voted for Bernie Sanders, testified to Trump’s greatness as a president for all.

The Democrats featured a few more citizen activist speakers. They spoke to issues that the Republicans did not.  Such as young activists talking about climate change, a Hispanic family talking about emigration hurdles, members of the George Floyd family talking about the need for love to overcome injustices, and survivors of domestic violence talking about protecting the safety of women.  The tone of their messages was not with anger but with hope for a greater understanding between people.

The Republican Convention did reach out to Black voters, despite Trump receiving only 8% of the Black vote in 2016. Two Black civil-rights activists were featured, speakers. Out of a total of 90 speakers at the convention, 13 were Black speakers, three of whom were women.

There was, of course, a higher percentage of Black speakers at the Democratic convention, with two of their four emcees, who rotated through the four days, being Black women. As for the percentage of women speakers at each convention, the Republicans ensured that 41% were female, not far behind the Democrats’ 46%.

Even both conventions showcasing citizen activists and providing entertainment, the Neilson viewer ratings were not impressive for either convention. A nightly average of live TV viewers was 21.6 million for the Democratic convention and slightly less at 19.4 million viewers for the Republicans. Both figures were roughly 25 percent below the 2016 conventions’ viewing rates.

The drop-off might be attributable to more viewers using online outlets and streaming services to follow live events. A poll from this past May showed that 70% of those aged from 18 to 34 years old currently subscribe to a streaming service, compared to just 49% of those aged 65 or above. If true, each party must adjust its outreach to better attract those younger viewers.
Since the GOP’s voter base is older and less likely to use streaming technology, Democrats could reach out to their potential younger voters who use that digital medium. They should harness their convention caucuses and councils to produce and distribute short personal testimonials through the internet.

National political conventions rarely determine who wins the presidency. But they do show how they go about choosing their leader. It was clear that each conventions’ political philosophy will guide Biden and Trump in leading our nation.

The Democratic party today, as in the past 80 years, embraces “liberal empathy,” while Trump’s Republican party resurrects the kind of “populist anger” as propagated by former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. One convention asked Americans to be responsible for a broader community for our common good. The other warned Americans that they must defend their personal safety and freedom from the broader community.

Love is not a word that is used often in politics, but both presidential candidates spoke of love in their acceptance speech. Biden proclaimed that we need “love for one another”. Trump said, “A new spirit of unity that can ONLY be realized through love for our country.” Which approach would lead to a stronger democracy? Biden said that a “great purpose as a nation… [is] to save our democracy.” Trump, in a speech that was almost twice as long as Biden’s, never used the word democracy.

A John Lennon quote captures the difference between the parties shaping our political life in a future America. “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. Evolution and all hope for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

How Slowing Mail Delivery Affects the Vote Count 

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Written by Nick Licata


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In five swing states, local officials must have mail-in ballots in hand
 by Election Day, or they will not be counted.

Thirty-four states and DC currently allow mail-in and/or absentee voting, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. However, in five key swing states (listed below in a table) mail-in ballots must be in the hands of local officials by Election Day. Any ballots that were postmarked by then but were not delivered to the county clerk by Election Day cannot by law be counted.

Leading Democrats have argued that a misfunctioning US Postal Service (USPS) could result in many properly completed ballots being thrown out. Any delay in delivering mail will likely impact a higher number of voters in urban areas than in lower turnout rural areas because their post offices’ workload will be heavier. Urban voters usually veer toward Democrats and not Republicans, discarding ballots from those areas would favor Trump winning a state’s electoral votes in the election.

Democrats’ concerns were raised when Trump-appointed Louis DeJoy, one of his mega-donors, as the Postmaster General in May. Trump has repeatedly said that USPS is poorly administered and running over budget, calling USPS “one of the disasters of the world”, in an interview with “Fox and Friends.”

It has been losing nearly $9 billion annually before the pandemic, which has increased by about 50%. Consequently, Democrats are pushing hard to allocate $25 billion from the negotiated stimulus package to fund a mail service that can deliver on time. That amount of support was recommended unanimously by the Board of Governors of the US postal service, with a majority of Republicans on it and all appointed by President Donald Trump. In addition, a recent poll found that 92% of American voters said they supported direct financial aid for USPS as part of the next coronavirus relief bill.

CNN reported how Trump, in a Fox News interview, said if those funds were not provided to the USPS, he believes “you can’t have universal mail-in voting because you’re not equipped to have it,” That does not bother Trump, publicly saying that if you have a mail-in election, “you’ll never elect another Republican.” He may have seen the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which found that Biden supporters are more likely than Trump supporters to say they will vote by mail.

While Trump has denied asking for the mail to be delayed, he also tweeted in May, using all caps: MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE.”  The Trump administration has provided no evidence that is a true statement. Those who he has appointed to run the Post Office can read his attacks on mail-in voting. As a result, Trump’s message is bifurcated, to the public he says, “Speed up the mail, not slow the mail,” but to his subordinates he says, don’t worry about not enabling mail-in voting because it will lead to massive fraud and endanger Republicans from winning elections.

DeJoy apparently understood Trump’s tweets. He immediately reduced USPS costs he deemed to be critical to make before the November elections. One of his first acts was to eliminate overtime for mail carriers. In response, the American Postal Workers Union president, Mark Dimondstein, released data showing that nearly 20% of all work by mail handlers, city carriers, and postal drivers is done in overtime.  The Trump administration has not challenged their findings.

A significant portion of USPS’s labor budget is devoted to pre-fund 75 years of retiree health benefits, a period of time almost never seen in other agencies or private companies. The law was passed with the support of the George W. Bush administration. Consequently, it is more cost-efficient to pay for overtime than hire new employees.

DeJoy has no plans to hire more employees to make up for the cut in hours. He has recently acknowledged that he may extend hours as needed. Given his cost-cutting orientation, the definition of what is needed will probably be very narrow.

The second major cost-cutting change Dejoy made was to remove high-speed sorting machines from a number of cities. A list of those cities was not released to the public by DeJoy, although CNN obtained documents showing that 671 such machines are slated for “reduction” in dozens of cities this year.

The agency did start removing machines in June, according to postal workers. USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer told the media outlet Motherboard, “The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes.” He did not say where they were being reassigned, or even if they were to be.

DeJoy has begun other cost-saving changes such as leaving mail undelivered at the end of a shift, taking of mailboxes off the streets, and reducing post office operating hours. The accumulation of so many changes over a short period of time had been initiated without input from line workers as to what would be most effective, and apparently without concern as to the impact on citizens being able to vote.

Looking at the Numbers

To help understand the potential impact of slowing mail delivery, I have compiled the table below from various sources. It shows how just a one-day delay of just 5% of the mail-in ballots in a county could result in ballots not being counted if they were received after Election Day.

To be clear, if voters mailed their ballots a week before Election Day, there is a high probability that they would arrive in time to be counted. Understandably citizens do have some responsibility to mail early. Nevertheless, a study by Tulane professors using National Election Studies data found that in the past 2 decades, between 15% and 24% of voters in Presidential elections do not decide who to vote for until 2 weeks before and up to Election Day. Human nature as it is, this pattern will likely be unchanged in November.

The increase in projected mail-in ballots from the mid-term 2018 elections to this November’s 2020 election is shown in column (4). This figure should not include in-person absentee voting, which allows voters (excused or no-excuse) to fill out and drop off their absentee ballots in person, rather than through the mail.

Column (5) shows how each state’s 7 most populous counties voted in 2016. Normally these would be leaning to vote for Democrats since they contain the largest cities. But in 2016 the majority of the most populated counties in Arizona and Wisconsin voted for Donald Trump.

Column (6) shows what the total vote for Hillary Clinton from the 7 counties from each state was in 2016. It then shows what a 5% drop-off from that total Clinton vote would be. There is no way at this point in time determining what the voter turnout will be for either former Vice President Joe Biden or current President Donald Trump.

However, it is evident from these numbers that if the USPS slows or hinders the collection or delivery of ballots from these particular counties in these states, it will widen the gap for Biden to overcome Trump’s vote from 2016. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, the impact would more than double the gap.

Going Forward

In response to bipartisan concerns, the Postmaster agreed to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in a virtual hearing on Friday at 9 a.m. and before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday, Aug. 24, at 10 a.m.

Shortly after announcing that he would appear before Congress, Dejoy announced that he is suspending any further changes until after the election is concluded. Hence, no further mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will be removed from the streets.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said DeJoy’s commitment to hold back on operational changes is insufficient and not specific enough. If USPS does not return sorting machines and override earlier instructions about leaving mail undelivered at the end of a shift, he will pursue filing a lawsuit with over a dozen other states AG’s demanding such actions be taken. No Republican AG’s as of this posting have signed onto this effort.

At the core of Democrats’ concerns, is whether the USPS will be prepared to efficiently handle a projected significant increase in mail-in ballots so that all citizens have an opportunity to have their mail-in ballots counted.

The majority of mail is handled by Sectional Center Facilities that sort, compile and then truck mailed-in ballots to the county clerk. Because of the volume around Election Day, delaying a single truck for a single day could be enough to reverse that state’s electoral vote.

The vast majority of Americans, as a recent Pew Research Center poll found, more than 70% think any voter who wants to vote by mail should be able to do so. It is not just Democrats who want that right guaranteed since 49% of Republicans were in that majority. Republican support for mail-in balloting even jumps to almost 70% in states where a sizable amount of the population already votes by mail.

If DeJoy does decide to have USPS properly prepare to meet its obligation to deliver mail-in ballots on time, having a fair presidential election will move forward. Nevertheless, it is still not immune to various types of interventions that are underway to tilt the election results.

All concerned citizens need to be aware of those practices and who is promoting them. An educated and informed electorate is our ultimate guarantee of maintaining a functional and responsive democracy.

Three Books on the 2020 Presidential Election and their relevance to the Black Live Matter Protests

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Written by Nick Licata – 07/03/2020


Each discusses strategies on how the election could address minority and racial injustices that have long been ignored.

The recent killings of unarmed Black citizens by police or white vigilantes have initiated the largest national outpouring of angry protests since Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. With less than five months until the 2020 presidential election, three books help contextualize the election. To varying degrees, each discusses strategies on how the election could address minority and racial injustices that have long been ignored.

Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized” may be the most relevant book in understanding how our nation’s politics have emphasized divisions, not unity, among citizens. Klein astutely sees that culture shapes political strategies. He recognizes that since the civil rights era, the Democratic Party has embraced racial equality while “the Republican Party has provided a home for white backlash.”

Using scientific studies, he concludes that we are no longer a nation of citizens who hold overlapping loyalties. The intolerance of another political party leaves little room for cooperation. As a result, the political middle has shrunk, with independents more partisan than ever before. These are nonpartisans who probably sympathized with protesting as a democratic exercise. Now they may be split between tolerating protester violence as a justified reaction to racist police actions, or perhaps they condemn it as an immoral act of destructive chaos.

Klein’s analysis would have candidates this November work to remove the injustices that have grabbed our country’s attention by emphasizing our shared values, and not by labeling opponents as enemies.

David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, has written “A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump,” in which he eschews insider party politics for the need for a candidate’s volunteers to pursue pragmatic actions that can influence key voters. Although he managed the campaign to elect America’s first Black president, he arguably fails to recognize the importance of Black voters. He mentions the NAACP only once and admits that Hillary Clinton could have increased contact with African American voters, but limits that attention to focus on the upper Midwest.

Black voters did not turn out for Hillary Clinton as they did for Obama, and yet 96% of them voted for her. That means many Black voters could help Joe Biden—or Donald Trump. Plouffe provides solid advice on how to mobilize supporters to get the vote out, but his book is weak in providing motivation for Black citizens to come out and vote for a Democrat. To reach out to Black voters, campaigns should consider Plouffe’s “Citizen’s Guide” while also addressing what the protests have been demanding: respect for Black and minority citizens by our local and federal governments.

Richard L. Hasen says in “Election Meltdown: Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy” that voter suppression is one of the major dirty tricks that both Democrat and Republican parties use to influence voters. But Hasen demonstrates that the Republican Party and President Donald Trump have supported tactics that make it specifically more difficult for African Americans to vote, blunting efforts to be represented by those challenging the racial inequalities in our laws.

Hasen illustrates how that occurs in large Democratic-leaning cities with sizable Black and other minority populations. The Republican-dominated state legislatures often do not provide those cities adequate election resources. The result is Black voters waiting in long lines in those cities to vote, and a delay in the final vote count. That delay has been characterized by Trump and Republicans as evidence of “rigging” the election against Republicans.

Hasen also cites an Oxford University report revealing that Russia’s Internet Research Agency has used social media to encourage Blacks to boycott electoral politics by preying on anger with racist and economic inequalities. Those seeking to deflate the Black vote this November may again use bogus organizations to post inflammatory statements to encourage protesters to boycott voting in the “irrelevant” presidential elections, in the hope of securing a Trump victory.

The Supreme Court DACA Decision—It was about politics—of providing a “reasonable” executive order

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Urban Politics – USA  6/25/20
Written by Nick Licata


 

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Photo by Rachel Cooper, “The “Authority of Law” marble statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser on the steps of the Supreme Court Building.

On June 17, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the 700,000 immigrants, who were minors when they were brought into the US without immigration papers, would continue to be protected from being deported. The media largely focused on the humane impact the decision would have on the many lives whose future depended on it. 

But the decision seemed to rely more on a nuanced legal interpretation of the Trump Administration’s failure to follow the proper procedures to invalidate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). A reading of the decision reflects both were considered. And, as President Trump tweeted that it was about politics – it did come into play.
 
Since President Obama established DACA in 2012 by Executive Order, these immigrants have had a temporary legal status if they graduated from high school or were honorably discharged from the military, and if they passed a background check. Thereby they have been allowed to work and attend school legally in the U.S. 

One government study found that more than 90 percent of DACA recipients are employed and 45 percent were in school. Meanwhile many have started families, having 200,000 children of their own who are U.S. citizens, and they collectively pay $60 billion in taxes each year. 
 
Donald Trump campaigned for president on eliminating the DACA program. After he was elected, Trump issued his own Executive Order doing so. While the court’s decision maintains DACA, the ruling by the majority of five justices, which consisted of the four liberals and the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, made it very clear that this was not an endorsement of DACA. 

Their majority ruling states: “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. “The wisdom” of those decisions “is none of our concern.” We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” 
 
The ruling found that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in rescinding DACA by failing to meet its arbitrary-and-capricious standard requiring that agency action be reasonable and be reasonably explained. Importantly this approach did address a humane element, when Roberts wrote that the Trump administration failed to show what, if anything, would be done to address the hardship to the DACA recipients if the program were eliminated. 

From a more strictly procedural approach, he cites that a memo from Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen justifying the recension of DACA, which was released nine months after the decision to rescind DACA was made, consisted “primarily of impermissible “post hoc rationalization.” 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in his concurring minority judgment, expects that the Court’s decision will allow the Homeland Security Department to remand to relabel and reiterate the same substance that was presented in Nielsen’s memo. However, that memo failed to address Robert’s concern about providing a reasoned plan “to address the hardship to the DACA recipients” when that program is eliminated. Kavanaugh does not address that need in his opinion. 

It would seem that another attempt to rescind DACA would have to provide a reasonable one. Otherwise, that necessary condition would not have been met, despite as Kavanaugh bluntly stated that “all nine Members of the Court accept, as do the DACA plaintiffs themselves, that the Executive Branch possesses the legal authority to rescind DACA and to resume pre-DACA enforcement of the immigration laws enacted by Congress.”

Trump said that the Supreme Court’s decision was about politics. Perhaps in a way it was, just as his executive orders are about politics, as all past president’s executive orders have been. Trump appears to be the more engaged in politics than previous presidents, given that he has been the most prolific in issuing executive orders. He has averaged more of them, on a per-year basis, than Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama, whom he has surpassed by over 30 percent. 

In the instance of the DACA decision, it may come down to the politics of not reasonably taking care for the welfare of people living in the U.S. who are contributing through work, community activities and paying taxes, but who lacked the proper paperwork when they were brought into the country as children. A Pew Research Center survey conducted June 4-10, 2020 found that “about three-quarters of U.S. adults say they favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came illegally to the United States when they were children”

It might not be the wisest political strategy for Trump to continue pushing to rescind DACA so near the November elections. For one thing, the past lower court decisions have gone against Trump’s efforts to dissolve DACA, which could easily push court appeals into the midst of the final month of the presidential campaign.  This strategy would hinder Trump winning the following critical states that have considerable electoral college votes and a high percentage of eligible Latino voters: Texas 30%, Arizona 24%, and Florida 20%.

Justice Clarence Thomas begins the lead minority opinion saying that “Between 2001 and 2011, Congress considered over two dozen bills that would have granted lawful status to millions of aliens who were illegally brought to this country as children. Each of those legislative efforts failed.” 

The politics of his decision can be seen in how he lays out his arguments. He references “millions of aliens” being included under DACA. The largest number estimated has come from the Migration Policy Institute, and that was 1.3 million. However, those actually included in DACA topped out at just under 800,000 and has leveled off to around 700,000, which is the amount that Chief Justice John Roberts used in his majority opinion. 

Thomas also bases his argument on a 2017 opinion written by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who concluded that DACA was illegal and be rescinded. It is interesting to note that as a Senator, Sessions strongly opposed Democratic efforts to establish a path to citizenship for any applicant who was in the United States illegally. Roberts found that the application of Sessions’s decision to eliminate DACA fell apart because of faulty logic. Thomas does not substantially respond to Roberts’ critique.

Thomas was right in pointing out that Congress has to provide a workable immigration plan. As Congress is currently configured, it is unlikely to reach one with Republicans in charge of the Senate opposing legislation allowing for a path forward for DACA recipients to become citizens.

If Trump is re-elected, then he will certainly appoint a new Supreme Court justice who would be confirmed by a Republican Senate. That newly appointed justice would most likely eliminate the legal requirement that the federal government must come up with a plan to address any hardship resulting from the demise of DACA. 

Their decision was about politics, whether executive orders have to be reasonable or not.

An “Autonomous” Three Block-Long Seattle Street Threatens America – What?

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Written by Nick Licata


 

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President Donald Trump from his New Jersey private golf club tweeted this past Friday morning June 12, that “The terrorists burn and pillage our cities.” He was referring to demonstrators occupying three blocks along a single street, in Seattle’s most culturally active neighborhood. Trump demanded that the mayor and governor, “Must end this Seattle takeover now!” Or else he would call in the army.

What was he talking about?

This national threat began on Sunday, June 7, when a small section of the Capitol Hill’s business district (known as the Pike-Pine Corridor) saw demonstrations outside one of Seattle’s five precinct stations. Like other demonstrations held around the nation for over a week, people of all ages and races were in the streets supporting Black Lives Matter’s demand to erase racist policing, opening up the move to either defund or reduce police departments’ budgets.

That Sunday the police said on Twitter that some people had thrown projectiles and fireworks at officers, although they did not provide any evidence beyond one what appeared to be a single candle. Accordingly, they responded with pepper spray, blast balls, and tear gas, which the mayor had previously promised to not use for the next 30 days. But protecting themselves from thrown projectiles triggered an exclusion to that prohibition.

Councilmembers who had attended as witnesses told me that there did not appear to be any threat to the police officers’ safety and the police over-reacted to the chants from the crowd, who did not wish to be pushed away from the East Precinct police station.

The only terror activity that occurred was when a civilian driver headed his car into the demonstrators. An unarmed twenty-seven-year-old Black man reached into the open window of the car as it was passing, grabbed the steering wheel, and halted it from hitting people. The driver pulled out a gun, shot and wounded the man as the car came to a stop. The driver then left the car with a gun in hand, walked over to a line of police standing nearby, surrendered himself, and was arrested.

The next day, on Monday, June 8, the police emptied the police station of guns, files, and critical equipment as they prepared to no longer defend the building. They apparently thought it would be destroyed by the demonstrators, who were mostly residents of the East Precinct, some of whom live in multi-million-dollar mansions as well as in low-income social housing projects. The precinct also has the highest concentration of apartments and small independent retail businesses in Seattle. Historically it has been the city’s most liberal council district; and since 2013 has repeatedly elected a Socialist Alternative Party member to the City Council, over the opposition of much better-funded business-community candidates.

By Tuesday, June 9, a loose conglomeration of demonstrators came together to use the former police street barricades to close off Pine street for a length of three blocks. Although Trump tweeted: “These people are not going to occupy a major portion of a great city,” it is not even part of downtown. It is a two-lane road lined with small neighborhood businesses and a park. The area came to be called by the occupants as CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and they put up a website.

However, the local conservative radio host Jason Rantz, interviewed by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson on Thursday, June 11, said it was a violent place. And that similar occupations to the one taking place in Seattle could happen in cities across the U.S. if the authorities allow it.

Although Carlson began the interview saying that Rantz was one of the few people he knew who had visited CHAZ, Rantz basically admitted that he had not been inside when he replied to Carlson’s question of what he saw inside CHAZ, he said, “Right now, it’s too violent for us to go in.” He provided no examples of what kind of violence he was referring to.

The next day, Friday, June 12, having been a prior resident for decades in that neighborhood, I went to see what dangers lurked in a community without police patrols.
I casually walked pass by the CHAZ street barrier and the three community sentries, who sat off away behind it, talking to each other. No conversation or ID needed. It was a wide-open passage, where I discovered that CHAZ had become a bit of a tourist destination for curious Seattle residents taking photos of all the posters, graffiti, and the one-block colorful mural painted on Pine Street spelling out BLACK LIVES MATTER.

The businesses on the street were still open as was the park when I visited. There was no sign of smashed windows or burnt buildings. There had been no looting and there was no violence of any sort occurring.

There was a “No Cop Co-Op” covered stand offering free fruit, vegetables, snacks, umbrellas, hand sanitizer, and water set up in the middle of their occupied territory. There was also a covered truck converted into a People’s Community Clinic with its own emergency medical team. There were many memorials to victims of police violence, along with were other little touches of an emerging community; an open-air conversation café with sofas, a small basketball court, an improvised smoking corner, and a private food stall, the Dirty Dog hotdog stand, among other things.

One of the most ambitious undertakings was begun by Marcus Henderson, who helped create the community gardens that occupy part of the adjacent Cal Anderson Park. Henderson is typical of educated citizens who understand that disruptive moments like CHAZ offer a positive opportunity. He had the knowledge for sustainable gardening from obtaining an Energy Resources Engineering degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Sustainability in the Urban Environment.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan visited the gardens and met with Henderson the day after Trump had tweeted “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will.” In response, Durkan accused Trump of purposefully distorting the activities in CHAZ to fit his tough law and order mantra.

Trump may have also been watching Fox News, which was engaged in the same practice. Thanks to an article by Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner, it came to light that Fox ran digitally altered images in coverage of CHAZ. Three separate photos were photo-shopped to create an image of a heavily armed man guarding the entrance to the zone. Another image, with a caption of CRAZY TOWN, blazoned over a portion of it, showed huge flames pouring out of a building with a demonstrator running away. But it was not Seattle, the photo was from a May 30 protest in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fox and other outlets also jumped on a comment by a Seattle police commander suggesting protesters were extorting payments from businesses within CHAZ. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best had to refute that statement, saying that it was based on rumor and social media. “We haven’t had any formal reports of this occurring,” she said.

Best also said that she did not want to abandon the precinct station but had to because of pressure. However, she did not say the order came from Mayor Durkan, who did not say she made the decision. I got the impression that internal pressure came from the police union’s members to leave the precinct. This was particularly true when some councilmembers asked that the hard surface street barriers be removed that the police had set up to separate the demonstrators from standing on the street next to their police station.

The police attitude that their station might be torched and that chaos and disorder would follow in the neighborhood by allowing protestors to peacefully demonstrate so close to them was bolstered not only by the unsubstantiated comment from the police commander but also from comments made by a local police officer and the union’s president.

A resident of one of the nearby apartment buildings, whom I know very well, told me of her interactions with a police officer. She was standing in front of her building on Monday, June 8 at noon asking people what was going on. A police officer came by and announced, “We are all pulling out, and you’re all going to be on your own. We are not coming back in and you are not going to get help and bad elements will come in.” Then he added, “And who would want to work in Seattle [as police]?”

On the same day, June 12, that I visited CHAZ, Michael Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, told Fox News “This is the closest I’ve ever seen our country, let alone the city here, to becoming a lawless state.” It would lead one to believe that the police union had lost faith in receiving political cover for their use of excessive force if the city council and mayor were to allow protestors so close to their precinct station.

Police officers in Seattle are not allowed to strike, but they may have actually adopted an old fashion factory “walk-out” by letting the police chief know that they could no longer execute their usual police practices if they remained there.

The most recent turn of events came in an interview on Saturday, June 13, when a person who represented the Seattle Black Lives Matter group said that the area popularized by the title CHAZ was not what their group was using to describe the street space that has been controlled by demonstrators since the police left their precinct station.

The Seattle BLM did not know who came up with that name and had not met anyone representing them. That unknown group declared the name CHAZ and then spray painted the CHAZ slogans all around the area. Instead, BLM is calling this zone CHOP — Capitol Hill Organizing Project. They posted a tweet: Black Lives Matter @djbsqrd “WE ARE #CHOP, not #CHAZ stop spilling lies and spreading this narrative of being autonomous.”

The future of this urban resistance project, initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement, still has to be played out. Organizers continue to push for their objectives, which are posted on the CHAZ website. Talks and open-mike discussions occur regularly in large outside public forums on the purpose of this unique effort.

Overall, observers and participants will need to continue thinking about how claiming a portion of public space for an underserved and discriminated community can initiate effective social and political change, and not perpetuate the status quo or ignite a right-wing backlash that pursues further repressive policies.