Category Archives: commentary

Winners. Losers. 2020.

We’ve done it. We’ve survived Election 2018. And of course there are winners, losers, and implications for 2020. A few, in no particular order.

We the People. Tough call here. On the one hand, we won. We decided that an unconstrained government is not a good thing and we restored at least the potential for a check and balance for the next two years by putting the House of Representatives in the hands of a different party. We also turned out in record numbers for a midterm. Can we keep it up?

On the other hand, we proved once again that we are a deeply divided nation. Moderates lost to partisans. The future for bipartisanship seems as bleak as before. Race remains the greatest dividing issue. Even a geography based solution involving the dismemberment of the nation doesn’t seem practical as the divide is between urban and rural residents, not between states or regions. The election of 2018 was decided in the suburbs. 2020 may be decided there too.

Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. Winners. Pelosi said Democrats would take back the House and they did. She even said so a full week before the election and caused a lot of panic. Now she must show that House Democrats can pass meaningful, constructive, helpful legislation that fills the people’s needs, even if the bills die in the Senate. And to quell the noise from the younger, lefter, more diverse group of Democrats who will be arriving in Washington come January, Pelosi should announce that she plans to retire at the end of her term. She will be 80 years old in 2020 and her retirement, having won the Speakership twice, will both set the stage for the next generation and deprive Donald Trump of his favorite whipping girl as he fights to win reelection. P.S.,  Chuck Schumer, loser. The odds were against him but he still left the Republicans firmly in control of the Senate.

Mitch McConnell and the Republicans. Winners. Yeah, I know, Republicans lost the House. But they added to their control of the Senate and that means two more years of placing conservative right-wing judges on the federal bench. That McConnell-led most important of all goals for the GOP may begin paying dividends within the next few months as the Mueller investigation winds down and the final indictments are returned. Still the Democrats not only flipped 29 House seats, as of this writing, they also gained 7 governor’s mansions and flipped 6 state legislative chambers. These gains will make McConnell’s job in 2020 harder.

Donald Trump. It’s a mixed bag for the man who never wanted to be president. With the House lost to the Democrats, Trump is going to find the rough waters in which he sails even stormier in the next two years. But the election unquestionably solidified Trump’s hold on the Republican Party as moderate Republicans, who ran away from him and he did not endorse, lost their seats. It is the Trump Party now. And his strategy of divisiveness, demonization, racism, disinformation and news media bashing continued to be successful. It is very clear that a significant number of Americans comprise a solid base of voters he can count on, as long as he keeps feeding them the red meat on which they thrive.

Women. Winners. More than one hundred win House elections and women increase their numbers across the board.

Young people. Ditto. Young voters turned out in record numbers. Question? Was this a one time shot or will we see them again in 2020?

Voter Suppression. Winner. It works. The election for governor of Georgia is case in point. The Republican candidate Brian Kemp is the current secretary of state, which puts him in charge of elections. They are still counting but the number of questionable actions taken to allegedly reduce turnout in areas believed to favor his Democratic opponent, Stacy Abrams, would fill a book, and probably will. Republican Kevin Kramer won a Senate seat from North Dakota after the implementation of voter ID laws that dis-proportionally disenfranchised Democratic leaning Native American voters.

Civility. Give me a break. What do you think? Loser for us, winner for them. Every election seems to be nastier than the one before. Even Fox stopped running one particularly racist and misleading national Republican ad. In my state of New Jersey, Republican challenger Bob Hugin ran a thoroughly disgusting highly misleading TV ad targeting incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez. Hugin lost. But overall the nasty ads work. Florida is the poster child for that argument. And moderate Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri all lost Senate seats to Trump supporters who hammered them in their advertising.

Maxine Waters. Huge, giant winner. Frequent target of Trump (“Low-IQ”) Waters was reelected to the House (CA43). Walter is now in line to chair the House Financial Services Committee, with the power to investigate Trump’s personal bank transactions. Her committee is also empowered to oversee the entire financial sector. And issue subpoenas. Talk about karma.

Dennis Hof. Winner. Sorry. Couldn’t help it. Republican Hof won election in the race for Nevada’s 36th Assembly District with 68 percent of the vote. Hof, a brothel owner, it’s legal in Nevada, died in October.

And so it is on to 2020. We can expect more of the same as long as Donald Trump is a candidate. But there is a chance, if we work really hard to make it so, that 2020 could be an election where events and issues outweigh personality in voters’ decisions. And there will a lot of unpredictable events happening in the next two years.

 

 

Don’t be suppressed

Someone rings the doorbell right around Jeopardy time, not the best moment to interrupt, and I go downstairs to answer. There are two young men at the door. One carries a clipboard. The other a stack of papers. It is election season and I expect to get a pitch or two but instead am simply asked if I intend to vote. “Yes” I reply and the questioner proceeds to ask if I want to vote by mail. “No” is my answer and he launches into a fervent speech about how much easier it is and how they can help not only by supplying me with a “Vote by Mail” form but also with a ballot I can fill out to cast my vote right then and there. At that all my alarm bells go off and I ask them who they are and who they represent. They quickly cover by saying, “Well, if you’re not interested…” and heading off down the block.

I go back upstairs and rejoin Amy, knowing not to interrupt the sacrosanct Jeopardy-Wheel of Fortune hour until a commercial break, when I give my report. She agrees the encounter was strange but says it was not a big deal. The more I think about it, the more I think it is and hop in the car to see if I can find the young men.

vectorstock_331471They are just a few block down, and I watch them return to a parked car. In the backseat  I notice lawn posters promoting the candidacy of one Jay Webber. A light bulb appears over my head. Jay Webber, a state representative, is the Republican running for election in my congressional district, New Jersey’s 11th. Retiring Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen has represented the district since 1995.

Webber is being challenged by Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a Naval Academy graduate, Navy helicopter pilot, and an assistant US attorney. The race is close and this is clearly a “flippable” seat as the Democrats try to win control of the House of Representatives.

Most of the 11th district is Morris County, with a rather solid Republican voting history. But I live in Upper Montclair, a part of Essex County’s Montclair Township broken off and attached to the 11th in the 2010 dedistricting. Montclair is reliably Democratic. So what were Webber’s people up to? Well, if they could convince me that I had voted by handing a ballot to them, which they tossed, and I stayed home, my presumably Democratic vote for Sherrill would be suppressed.

Fat chance.

Voter suppression appears to be a major part of the playbook this year. At least, based on my observation, the playbook the Republicans are using.

In Georgia, at least 53,000 registrations were delayed due to the state’s unique “exact-match” law, requiring personal information on voter applications match what is on state databases, right down to the hyphens and middle names. Federal Courts blocked election officials from implementing that law.

The top election official in Georgia is, as it is in most states, the Georgia Secretary of State. For this election that is Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp also happens to be running for governor. The conflict of interest is undeniable. And just to drive home the point, Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, recently alerted experts to vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voting database.  Kemp immediately announced an investigation. Of Abrams and the Democrats! How do you spell conflict of interest again?

Up in North Dakota, first term Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp faces a tough reelection challenge from Republican congressman Kevin Cramer. Heitkamp won six years ago by fewer than 3,000 votes. She won handily in areas with large Native American populations. N.D.’s Republican controlled legislature passed a law requiring voters to have actual street addresses on their identification. Many Native Americans do not have U.S. mail service and use post office box numbers on their I.D.s. This voter suppression gambit could keep 70,000 Native Americans away from the polls. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved.

In South Carolina, strict voter ID laws requiring department of motor vehicle (DMV) photo IDs will make it harder for people who don’t live near a DMV to get the document they need to vote.   And, one thinks not so coincidentally, S.D. cut the number of DMV offices, and polling places, by 20 percent. The cuts are mostly in minority neighborhoods where people tend to vote for Democrats.

In Dodge City, Kansas, a single polling location serves the city’s 27,000 (mostly Hispanic) residents, and a local official moved that location out of the center of town to a remote location a mile away from the nearest bus stop. Figures.

Thousands of online registrations have been rejected in Texas, which some people see as the leader in voter suppression nationwide. In Texas the trick has been to exploit the solid control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion to effect one of the most contorted gerrymanders I have ever seen.

Texas 35CD

This baby is my favorite. Texas’ 35th Congressional District. This is a gerrymander that actually looks like the salamander on which the pun is based. The Supreme Court, in one of its memorable 5-4 decisions, Abbott v. Perez, right along party lines, thinks this slithering little thing is just fine.

And last on my list, which was in no particular order, Nevada. In Nevada, 90,000 voters were “purged“, placed into “inactive status”, by Republicans following the Supreme Court decision Husted v. Randolph. Also 5-4. The same 5-4.

Bottom line, the Republicans are doing everything they can to stop people from voting. The more people vote, the more Republicans lose.

 

 

The Preachers of Hate

PittsburgMemorialThe last of eleven funerals was held today. Eleven people, shot dead in simply because they were Jewish.

A federal grand jury has charged 46 year-old Robert Bowers with 44 crimes including hate crimes resulting in death. Bowers has pleaded not guilty. So we’ll do the journalism thing and note that he is the “alleged” assailant and that he is considered innocent until proven guilty. We will also note that the indictment alleges that on the morning of the Sabbath, October 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, entered the building with multiple firearms, and opened fire. He also engaged public safety officers, wounding several before he was wounded and captured. While inside the Synagogue, Bowers made several statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.”

It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. But of course Jews have faced many millennia of persecution and oppression and even in America Jews are no strangers to anti-Semitic incidents, which an Anti-Defamation League audit found rose 57% in 2017.

Yes, Bowers is deranged and yes, most responsible Americans don’t really mean to advocate religious murder when they rant and rave about threatening “outside” forces “invading” and “replacing us.” But it is more than about time they accept responsibility for the climate their irresponsible actions create. A climate in which dastardly deeds are not only acceptable, but a logical solution to the perceived problem presented by anyone who is not like themselves.

Even without his statements at the Synagogue, Bowers’ social media footprint makes his motive clear:

Bowers

HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, declares its purpose is to, “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.” It is not surprising. This has been a core value for Jews for some time. See Genesis 18:1-22:24.

But what has clearly caught Bowers’ attention here is the concept of “invaders”. And we all know where that comes from:

TrumpInvaders

HIAS does help people seeking refuge in the United States. And just in case you missed that dog whistle, consider, President Trump Trump also says he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if an unfounded conspiracy theory about George Soros funding the caravan is true. There is no surprise in that comment either. Trump rather famously refused to condemn white supremacists when they marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, wielding flaming torches and shouting, “Jews will not replace us” ahead of deadly violence, Trump said there were some “very fine people on both sides”.

George Soros has become the whipping man and proxy for all the anti-Semitic claims of the right. Soros is not only Jewish, unlike Trump he is also really a self-made billionaire and has taken the giving pledge, promising to donate most of his wealth to worthy causes. There is no evidence that Soros is helping to fund the so-called “caravan”. But that hasn’t stopped mainstream Republicans, from Trump on down, from repeating the rumor.

Fox talking heads Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiroma and Lou Dobbs have suggested that the migrants are getting outside funding. And Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man authorities have accused of mailing more than a dozen bombs to people who have criticized Trump, appeared to be obsessed with Soros, mentioning him dozens of times on one of his Twitter accounts.

A whole catalog of Republican elected officials have joined the anti-Semitic chorus:

McCarthyTweet

That Tweet, adding Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, two other Jewish billionaire philanthropists who support progressive causes, came from Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. If the GOP retains control of the House this man could be the next Speaker of the House.

And then there is the case of Radio Marti’, part of the Trump administration that broadcasts to Cuba, which reportedly aired a Spanish language program earlier this year describing Soros as a “multimillionaire Jew” and repeating some of the right wing conspiracy theories about him.

This is the climate in which demons like Bowers and Sayoc flourish. These are weak men, spurred to action by the words and examples of far stronger men dedicated to the cause of retaining power through any means necessary and exploiting the fears of others. They want us to be afraid. They need us to be afraid. So they whip up controversy over a few thousand mothers and children heading our way. They tell us that we are unable to sort out the real asylum candidates, which we are required to accept by our own law, from the handful of those who will seek to take advantage of the situation to sneak into our country. To meet a few thousand mothers and children, Trump talks about sending 15,000 regular soldiers of the United States Army, to stand in addition to the Border Patrol, National Guard and local police authorities already at the border.

CaravanNYDailyNews

Are you afraid? Don’t be. And don’t let the preachers of hate get to you. Remember the principles on which this great country was founded. Never again.

No. Just No.

I’ve had it. I’ve had it with whataboutism. I’m done with false equivalency. No more political correctness. You can take your gaslighting someplace else. I’m tired of demonizing, of disinformation, of scapegoating, of rationalization and of lying and deception of all kinds.

Thirteen pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats, including former presidents Obama and Clinton, and other Trump critics. That’s a fact. The FBI has arrested Cesar Sayoc, 56, and charged him with a long list of crimes in connection with the bombs. That’s a fact. They also impounded a white van, which they say was Sayoc’s, its windows covered with political images and stickers of President Trump and his critics, including pictures of some of the bomb recipients with gun sights superimposed on their images. That’s another fact.

This is the time when you would expect calming words of reassurance from the White House. The kind you would have heard from Ronald Reagan, from George Bush (both of them), from Bill Clinton and from Barack Obama. What did we get from the current occupant of the Oval Office?

TrumpBombTweet

That’s right. Trump blames “Bomb stuff” for distracting from his political message. Yes of course the alleged bomb sender Sayoc is a nut job. But this is not the same as the case of James Hodgkinson, shot and killed by police after he opened fire on Congressional Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game. Hodgkinson wounded four including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who  nearly died.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders immediately claimed an equivalence. But it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Hodgkinson once volunteered for Independent Senator Bernie Sanders during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. But there is no record of Senator Sanders urging violence on his supporters and the Senator, upon learning of the loose connection, took to the Senate floor saying, “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be, violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

Trump, on the other hand, has a long history of exhorting his supporters to, well, just read the quotes yourself:

TrumpQuotes

Of course Trump didn’t send the clearly deranged Sayoc out to cause mayhem. But he created the climate which can trigger an unstable person to act. In this he is aided by conservative media led as always by Fox. I have never seen anything like the Fox channels which, with apologies to Shepard Smith, spend most their on-air hours serving as Trump mouthpieces. Here’s Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Channel:

DobbsTweet

Also on Fox, Geraldo Rivera said the bombs may have been sent by “someone who wanted to embarrass President Trump, somebody who wanted to affect American political life. It could have been a Russian invention.”

Conservative radio was all over the conspiracy theory. Rush Limbaugh suggested a “Democratic operative” may have sent the bombs. “Republicans,” he said, “just don’t do this kind of thing.” Michael Savage said there was a “high probability that the whole thing had been set up as a false flag to gain sympathy for the Democrats.”  And from conservative commentator Anne Coulter:

CoulterTweet

It’s time to get a grip. Deranged people do deranged things. But if you promote violence through a steady stream of exhortations to commit violent acts, conspiracy theories and lies, you have some responsibility when others put your words into deeds.

The best summation of this entire escapade I’ve heard comes from John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week with John Oliver”, who I find to be one of the most astute political commentators of our age. Oliver said:

“OK, I’ve got it: So Obama flew to Florida, mailed a bomb to himself in Washington, then flew back just in time to avoid it—all to frame this guy,” said Oliver, pointing to a photo of the bombing suspect. “Now, I’m not saying that that man’s theory doesn’t have any holes in it, but at least we can all agree: He really outsmarted Geraldo Rivera.”

I say amen.

Constitution Day

We celebrate September 17 as Constitution Day, marking the day in 1787 when delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia.

I remember when I first studied this great document. You couldn’t graduate from the eighth grade in the Chicago Public Schools without passing an exam on the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois. In class of O’Keeffe Elementary I was fascinated by the text and the little we learned of the history. And I have remained impressed today, after much more detailed study in college and graduate school, and as I teach First Amendment law to young journalists.

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Who is to Blame for Trump?

Why write about Trump, you ask? Everybody is writing about Trump. True. And you will have to be the judge of whether I have anything of value to add to the discussion. But everywhere I go Trump is the main topic of debate. And the debate is about as heated and uncivil as anything I’ve ever seen.

I had a journalism professor, the late John Patterson, who hated clichés. If you were in the mood for a good yelling at all you had to do was begin a stand-up with the phrase, “It remains to be seen”.

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To Blog or Not to Blog?

That has been the question for quite some time. Once, long ago on a planet far away, I was at the bleeding edge of technology. I moved from my hometown, Chicago, to New York in 1989 to begin a new job as New York Bureau Chief and Senior correspondent of the public television program Nightly Business Report. Among the many hats I wore I found myself reporting most of the stories about technology and trying to convince my bosses to employ as many of the new technologies as possible.

We created a “page” on America Online when AOL was the center of the online universe. That was before the Internet was opened up to commercial and general public use. I remember hosting a “live chat”, a novelty at the time, from Microsoft Headquarters  in Redmond, Washington. I had gone there interview Bill Gates and report on the release of Windows 95 with the first appearance of Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer.

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