Let’s regain the world’s trust by dumping Trump

Donald Trump is increasingly isolated on the world stage, as he was at the G20 summit in 2017.

What can Americans do to help the United States improve its standing around the world? Defeat Donald Trump on Nov. 3.

New data from the Pew Research Center show that 64% of people from 32 countries do not trust Trump to do the right thing in world affairs. In fact, Trump received the highest negative rating of any world leader in the survey. Russian President Vladimir Putin received a negative rating of 57%, slightly lower than Trump, and Chinese President Xi Jinping got a 43% negative rating. Trump received a positive rating of only 29%. Way to alienate the rest of the world, Donnie.

That 64% negative rating is roughly 10 points higher than the percentage of Americans who view Trump unfavorably. Trump’s U.S. disapproval numbers have hovered around 53% or 54%, give or take a few points, over the course of his presidency, according to aggregate polling from FiveThirtyEight. People around the world see a clearer picture of Trump than Trumpanistas looking through orange-colored glasses.

When it comes to these global numbers, you can’t blame the international survey respondents. Trump has cozied up to dictators, blustered his way through meetings with international leaders with little or no preparation, and isolated himself on the international stage …  and those are just a few examples of the havoc he has wrought.

His worst actions by far relate to multiple international agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump claims he wants to “renegotiate” the deal and make it better, but the broad terms he describes sound much like the pact negotiated by the Obama administration and five other European allies.

The 2015 deal was the first agreement Iran had made to limit its nuclear program. The deal froze Iran’s nuclear program for a decade in exchange for gradual sanctions relief and included new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites. Iran passed every inspection, completely meeting the terms of the nuclear deal, for years.

Once Trump pulled out of the pact in May 2018, constantly repeating too many lies about it to count, Iran resumed ramping up its nuclear program. Just look how safe Trump has made everything: In recent weeks alone, we’ve seen the escalation of the attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad, which housed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq; the U.S. assassination of Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani; retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops; and Iran “accidental” shooting down a Ukrainian commercial flight, killing all 176 people on board. Further, the death of Soleimani increases the likelihood that ISIS will regroup. After Iran announced on Jan. 5 that it would no longer be bound by the deal, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism on Jan. 14, which could mean the return of United Nations sanctions against Iran. The whole world is justifiably fearful of what’s coming next.

CNN compiled a list of all of the agreements Trump has broken, threatened to leave, or made noises about renegotiating during his time in office. The decision to pull out of some of these pacts was made solely because they had been negotiated by the Obama administration, and Trump remains determined to undo the successes of his predecessor.

  • Pulled out. In August 2019, the U.S. officially withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which forced the U.S. and Russia (then the Soviet Union) to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 to 3,400 miles. Trump claimed that the treaty puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage with China (as if he’d know the difference).
  • Pulled out. Trump kept a campaign promise to leave the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which included nearly every country in the world and aims to curb the use of fossil fuels and to help mute the effects of climate change. Trump claimed that the treaty was “poorly negotiated” and officially announced the decision to pull out in November 2019. Although the Paris Climate Agreement is way too limited to have much of an effect on climate change, the good news is that the U.S. exit doesn’t become official until the day after the November election, and a new Democratic president can immediately jump back in the climate pact on his or her first day in office.
  • Pulled out. The 2016 Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the massive trade deal was never approved by Congress, its purpose was to counteract China’s economic power. Even without the U.S., the other 11 countries that are a part of the agreement have carried on. Trump pulled out by executive order in January 2017.
  • Pulled out. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed that the 1946 United Nations Human Rights Council “wasn’t fair to Israel.” The real reason the U.S. left the 47-member body? In June 2018, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as “unconscionable.” The U.S. announced it was leaving the council a day later.
  • Pulled out. In another fit of pique about “anti-Israel bias,” the U.S. pulled out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in 2017. (The U.S. had done the same from 1984 through 2002.)
  • Threatened to pull out. Periodically, Trump threatens to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the World Trade Organization, although that’s often more bluster and talking off the top of his head. Still, vowing to leave a defense group like NATO — one of the most important alliances the U.S. is a part of — is not exactly the way to reassure allies around the world.
  • Pouted. Trump wants the Group of Seven, the association of industrialized countries, to readmit Russia, which was expelled after it forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014. Putin was ecstatic at the idea, but so far, there’s no interest in Russian readmission by the other nation-members.
  • Failed miserably. Trump launched his trade war with China with 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. China’s retaliatory tariffs have crippled U.S. farmers, caused a downturn in U.S. manufacturing, and raised prices for U.S. consumers. Periodically, Trump announces with much fanfare that there has been “progress” in the U.S-China trade talks, yet few of the details of that progress are made public. Trump and Chinese President Xi are set to sign “phase one” of a new agreement, but neither side has spelled out what’s in that agreement.
  • Renegotiated. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement has now been replaced by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. And no matter what Trump claims, it will always be known as NAFTA 2.0.

The Pew data show that exiting these various deals has hurt Trump’s standing in the world, but another equally negative factor is the unpopularity of his policies. Those policies include raising tariffs (68% negative), building a border wall with Mexico (60% negative), and allowing fewer immigrants into the U.S. (55% negative).

Why would officials in Iran — or any country, for that matter — want to sit down with Trump and think they would get a fair shake? Why should anyone trust him at all?

How is it possible that in some countries, Trump’s support has actually increased? Those countries reporting increased support are those with their own versions of Trump. Nations that skew toward favorable views of Trump feature more right-leaning, autocratic leaders and governments, such as Israel, the Philippines, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, and Poland.

The good news? Pew’s data show that 54% of those surveyed still have a favorable view of the U.S., despite the damage Trump has caused to America’s reputation worldwide. It’s on all of us to ensure that a new president is inaugurated a year from now — one who will re-establish the ties that Trump’s predecessors worked so hard to form around the world.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 16, 2020.

Inequality in the Trump economy keeps getting worse

When most of the loaf goes to the top, only crumbs are left for the rest.

Every month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly jobs report, Donald Trump and Republicans crow about the economy and the low unemployment rate. And every month, too many Americans wonder when they’re going to start feeling the effects of that “great economy.”

A recent study on poverty and a new way of measuring the quality of jobs show the shallowness of GOP claims about the U.S. economy. Poverty went up in at least one county in every state, concentrated in rural areas and the South. And a new system of measurement called the Job Quality Index shows that, although there are jobs available, for the most part, they aren’t jobs that pay well and aren’t career jobs for the long term. Often, they don’t even employ workers for a full 40 hours a week.

Combine that with the disastrous effects of the Trump tariffs and the trade war with China, especially how that trade war hurt U.S. manufacturing; the surge in bankruptcies of small farmers; the fact that American consumers now have a record $14 trillion in debts; and the 2017 GOP tax reform scam that turned into a windfall for big companies instead of helping everyday Americans, and most of us don’t feel that we’re better off than before Trump became president—a benchmark used by challengers in nearly every election.

Don’t forget that, after the GOP House and Senate passed and Trump signed the tax overhaul in late 2017, Trump’s message to his rich cronies at Mar-a-Lago gathered for the Christmas holidays was, “You all just got a lot richer.”

That was not a message that trickled down to average Americans. The supposed tax savings didn’t do much trickling down for them, either.

Since the country started coming out of the Great Recession in 2009, the overall U.S. poverty rate has decreased. But between 2016 and 2018, the poverty rate grew in 30 percent of counties across America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. As a story from Huffington Post put it:

The counties with the biggest jumps in poverty ranged across the political and demographic spectrum: from 97% white and solidly Republican-voting Carter County in Kentucky to black-majority, Democratic Bullock County in Alabama.

Most of the biggest increases were in areas both rural and Southern. Those areas generally had residents who lacked job training and skills and industries that suffered downturns.

Those industries included the coal industry in many of those poverty-stricken areas. Coal output has decreased by 27 percent in the last five years, and 50 coal power plants have closed across the country since Trump became president. That’s good news for the environment, but bad news for those counting on coal mining for a paycheck. It’s also a betrayal of one of Trump’s main promises in coal country.

But the unemployment rate is only 3.5 percent. That’s got to be great, right? Actually, considering the kinds of jobs available — and the fact that wage growth is fairly stagnant — not so much. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon.

The U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index, or JQI, is a new economic indicator developed by academic economists that measures desirable higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs. Job quality is defined as the weekly dollar-income a job generates for an employee. A paper defining the system and explaining why the detailed indicator is a more accurate reading of the economy is available at this link.

The paper’s conclusion reiterates the fact that U.S. manufacturing jobs have “declined dramatically in the last three decades,” and replacement jobs are poorer-paying, service-sector jobs with no guarantee of job stability or even a full work week. There also has been a “massive loss of market share, revenue, and jobs to foreign manufacturers.”

An important question surrounding the decline of manufacturing is whether those leaving manufacturing are transitioning into better or worse jobs. …

With other countries targeting what they see as high-value industries, the US is not just in danger of, but actually has been, forced into greater reliance on low-value, low-growth industries, offering lower-wage, lower-hours jobs. The success of superstar companies like Google or Apple or Pfizer should not blind us to the fact that today Leisure & Hospitality is our largest sector with 14.7 million non-management employees. It’s a sector that pays  such workers $16.58 an hour and the average worker works just  25.8 hours a week — resulting in average weekly income of $428. …

When all that a country has left is the domestic manufacture of processed foodstuffs, you end up with a lot of unhealthy and unwealthy workers who are in dire shortage of security, much less dignity. A republic that offers no better than this cannot long endure.

“When U.S. unemployment is at a 50-year low, why do so many people have trouble finding work with decent pay and adequate predictable hours?” asks a story from Forbes on the JQI. Answer: Few non-specialized good jobs are available.

Tens of millions of working-aged Americans are still not formally employed and have no apparent interest in sending out a resume. If the job market is so hot, why are so many people sitting on the sidelines? One frequently cited explanation is the growing proportion of older generation workers. Now we have another more important element. Workers don’t re-enter the workforce because many of the jobs themselves are rotten. …

Many looked to the category of jobs known as Professional and Technical Services as a path for the economy to “move to higher ground.” Professional and Technical Services were supposed to offer high pay, growth in employee numbers, and an opportunity to increase productivity. In fact, the JQI does report that employment is up 41% in this sector and the average weekly pay for non-managerial workers of $1,575 exceeds the pay of many other industries. But that’s not enough to rescue what the economy lost in manufacturing.

To recap:

  • Many of the jobs available are poorer, with stagnant wages and little job stability or full employment guarantees.
  • The tax bills of many big companies ended up being even smaller than what was anticipated in the GOP tax scam law. This has caused a ballooning federal deficit that could reach $1 trillion in 2020.
  • Trump’s trade war with China led to a loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and higher prices. No matter what he claims about a new agreement, it’s not a done deal, and it’s only “Phase One” of a partial deal with few specifics released.
  • After Trump’s tariffs against China, China retaliated with tariffs that were devastating to U.S. farmers. Despite $28 billion in farm subsidies in the last two years (many of which went to large agriculture suppliers, some foreign-owned), farm bankruptcies surged, especially in the Midwest.
  • The record $14 trillion in debt that Americans owe is spread across mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, student loans, and other forms of debt. By themselves, student loans make up $1.5 trillion of the debt total. And medical costs are still growing faster than income — medical costs have gone up 33 percent since 2009.

It doesn’t matter if the stock market had its best annual gain in six years. When only those at the top are benefiting from those stock market gains—not every worker has a 401(k) or fat IRA account — then there’s no trickle down from a bloated stock market. Although 20 states and 26 cities and counties are raising the minimum wage in 2020, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t gone up since 2009.

This is a message that all Democratic candidates should be repeating over and over, whether they’re running for president, the House, the Senate, or a state office: The Trump economy isn’t helping most Americans.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 5, 2020.

Republican losers we won’t miss in 2020

Two GOP congressmen, two guilty pleas. California’s Duncan Hunter (left) says he’ll leave Congress “after the holidays” after pleading guilty to misusing campaign donations, while New York’s Chris Collins resigned after pleading guilty to insider trading charges.

Over the last year, we’ve said goodbye to many Republicans who are no longer in office or on their way out. There are way too many Republican losers to mention. So let’s take a look at just a handful of those in the 2019 edition of the GOP Hall of Shame.

This list won’t even include all of the 34 people indicted in the investigation into Russian election interference by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, some of whom are Russians who will never face justice.

More than two dozen House Republicans are opting to retire rather than face voters next fall (a few are running for another office). Only nine Democrats fall in that same category.

Some members of the GOP leaving the House likely decided that life in the minority just wasn’t any fun anymore. Some may fear tougher reelection fights, although some of those leaving are in fairly red districts.

For starters, let’s look at the two miscreants who pleaded guilty to crimes and were forced to leave office early. Amazingly, both were re-elected in 2018 despite the fact that both were under indictment.

Chris Collins. Collins was the first House member to support Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election and became an unofficial spokesman for Trump in the House. In September 2019, the upstate New York congressman, along with his son and the father of the son’s then-fiancée, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges that were related to Collins’ investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm. Collins pleaded guilty to two of eight charges against him — conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI. He faces a sentencing hearing in January 2020.

Collins was charged in August 2018 with securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to FBI agents. He was the largest investor and a member of the board of the Australian firm, and he touted the company’s stock to many in Congress, regularly bragging how many millionaires he had made. When a drug trial failed, he warned his son, Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the prospective father-in-law, and they dumped their stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics. They avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.

In 2018, Collins won his race by one percentage point. Even though the 27th Congressional District is traditionally Republican, the taint may carry over to the next election.

Duncan Hunter. What is there to say about Duncan Hunter, the congressman who used campaign funds to pay for family vacations, trysts with mistresses, and flight expenses for a pet rabbit named EggBurt? In December, Hunter pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges of misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds.

The San Diego-area congressman and his wife, Margaret, originally were indicted in August 2018, and both pleaded not guilty. But Hunter originally tried to blame all of the campaign snafus on his wife, who at one point was his campaign manager. No doubt angered at the reports by prosecutors of campaign funds used on Hunter’s affairs with lobbyists and campaign staffers, Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring with her husband to “knowingly and willingly” convert campaign funds for personal use. She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Hunter.

You’ve got to enjoy the detail in Margaret Hunter’s 22-page plea agreement from this CNN story:

In the document, Margaret Hunter admits that she repeatedly conspired with her husband between 2009 and 2016 to use campaign funds to cover routine expenses like groceries, as well as couples outings with their friends to the track at Del Mar and other restaurants, lavish family gatherings at the Hotel Del Coronado, a $14,263 Italian vacation that the family could not have otherwise paid for, and a family trip to Minnesota in which they spent $250 in campaign funds on air transport for the family bunny, EggBurt. (Much of that spending was repaid to the campaign account by Duncan Hunter after the charges were revealed in the press).

Both Hunters await sentencing.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. If ever a lawmaker deserved to be thrown out on his sorry behind, it’s Bevin. He narrowly lost reelection in November to Democrat Andy Beshear. And there was much rejoicing.

Bevin’s election in 2015 was really due to his strong opposition to marriage equality, specifically his support for Kim Davis, the infamous homophobic county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Davis, you might recall, become a conservative folk hero for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Back when she was in the spotlight, Davis had been married four times to three different men. Her personal life might be her own, but it’s pretty hypocritical to claim moral superiority over marriage equality when you’re discarding husbands left and right and the father of your twins is your third husband, the twins were conceived while you were still married to your first husband, and the twins are claimed by your second one (got all that?). Luckily, Davis was voted out of office in 2018, so we’re a year late in wishing her a not-so-fond farewell. But the state of Kentucky is left with $224,000 in legal fees over lawsuits filed by couples hurt by her refusal to grant them marriage licenses.

But back to Bevin. In April 2018, Bevin vetoed the entire state budget and tax overhaul plan with complaints about increases in education funding, increases passed by Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Legislature overrode his veto to make sure those increases, which were won with massive efforts and backing from Kentucky teachers, stayed in place. With that veto, Bevin won the instant enmity of the state’s teachers, and their support for Beshear was one of the big reasons for the Democrat’s victory.

Bevin’s worst move, however, was issuing a slew of pardons right before he left office. Those pardoned included convicted rapists, murderers, and drug offenders. There were 428 pardons and commutations in all. The Louisville Courier-Journal has a complete list (available to subscribers) of all the miscreants to whom Bevin gave his get-out-of-jail-free cards, including one whose family raised more than $20,000 for Bevin to retire a 2015 campaign debt. “The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner, and a third who killed his parents,” according to a story at NPR. Now the FBI is investigating those pardons.

The GOP majority in the Virginia Legislature. How sweet was it on election night 2019 when we all realized that the great Commonwealth of Virginia would now be in Democratic hands? Virginia Republicans quickly realized that their old approaches to campaigning — calling their opponents “socialists” and worse — weren’t working anymore, with the state’s suburbs turning reliably blue. No Republican has won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

Besides Democratic strength in the suburbs, hard work by volunteers for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America turned gun violence into a top issue in the election. I’ll let Virginia residents weigh in on which Republicans they most enjoyed being kicked out of office.

Members of the Trump gang in prison. How many Trumpsters are currently behind bars, have served a sentence, or are heading to the slammer sometime soon? It’s hard to keep track. There are currently six people affiliated with either the 2016 Trump campaign, the Trump businesses, or the Trump administration who have been convicted of or have pleaded guilty to crimes as a result of the Mueller investigation. A story from Forbes had the rundown:

  • Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison for lying to Congress, campaign finance violations, and tax evasion. He received an additional two months of prison time for lying to Congress about a Moscow Trump Tower deal.
  • Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering in relation to his work on President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He will be sentenced in February 2020.
  • George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy advisor, was sentenced in September 2018 to 14 days in prison (with a year of supervised release) after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. The sleazebag filed in October to run for Democrat Katie Hill’s vacant California Congressional seat.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty by a Virginia court of tax and bank fraud in August 2018, and in November 2018 voided his plea deal (by lying to investigators) in separate federal charges brought by Mueller. He’s currently serving a combined seven and a half years in prison from both cases.
  • Rick Gates, a former deputy to Manafort during the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in February 2018 to charges of conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. He was sentenced in December to 45 days in prison (which he can serve on weekends) and three years’ probation.
  • Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI. His long-delayed sentencing has been yet again postponed until Jan. 28, 2020, after a federal judge rejected his claims of innocence and attacks on the FBI.

Members of the Trump gang who aren’t in prison — yet. So many to indict, so little time, and so much GOP resistance.

Trump’s good buddy and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani faces possible prosecution for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, but that’s just the beginning. He’s also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York (which he once headed) for possible campaign finance violations as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings. From a Fortune story:

“I would not be surprised if he gets indicted,” said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. “It’s clear Giuliani is up to his ears in shady stuff and there’s tons of smoke.”

Two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are already charged with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump.

Will former Energy Secretary Rick Perry face any legal problems after two of his political supporters secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal? Or just general derision from thinking people everywhere?

And what about possible legal jeopardy for Donald Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, all of whom face ethical charges of their own over the millions they’ve made since their father has been in office?

By this time next year, we hope to be saying good-bye to many other Republicans. In the Senate, there’s a good chance we might see the end of the political careers of Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and (fingers crossed) Susan Collins of Maine. With any luck, we might see exits from Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Especially sweet, even if less likely, would be losses by head Trump butt-kisser Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the turtle-weasel Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But the sweetest loss of all a year from now? One Donald J. Trump.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 29, 2019.

Just in time for holiday gifts: Trump impeachment merch

You might be too late for Christmas, but how about sparkly “Impeach Trump 2020” headbands for a New Year’s party?

Donald Trump has finally been impeached, and it’s not a moment too soon for artists, crafters, and companies trying to male a quick buck over the impeachment, if not the ultimate removal, of the 45th president.

True, it’s a little late for Christmas delivery. But it’s the thought that counts. That, and the belief in the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.

There are T-shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers, signs, pins, buttons, socks, and flip-flops. The simple message of “86 45” is popular on many items. Also popular are shirts and buttons that simply read “44 > 45.”

A personal favorite is a mug with photos of Trump and Richard Nixon with the words, “Orange is the new Dick.” Nothing subtle here, obviously.

No doubt there are as many anti-impeachment items as there are pieces calling for Trump to be removed from office. Some of the anti-impeachment merchandise is being sold on Trump’s reelection campaign website (to which I am NOT providing the link). What’s the fun in giving that side any free publicity? Let them do their own advertising.

For now, we can appreciate the enormity of the vote that took place in the House of Representatives and the bravery of the men and women, especially first-term Democrats representing swing districts, who lined up to cast a vote on the side of justice. What better way to tell them that we appreciate their efforts than to wear the message proudly on a T-shirt?

Actually, the best way will be to organize, donate, volunteer, campaign, register new voters, and vote for Democratic candidates next fall. But until then, we can enjoy the moment — and the merchandise.

Several T-shirt companies offer a variety of pro- and anti-impeachment merchandise. Some of the more imaginative items come from the e-commerce craft website Etsy, which has lots of gifts to choose from for those on your list who would relish in the thought of removing Trump from office.

There are a variety of Christmas ornaments that wish you “Merry Impeachmas,” even arriving in a free gift box. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can purchase an ornament that reads, “I just want to sit under my tree and pretend that Obama is still president.”

There are T-shirts with a variety of anti-Trump messages, some using the quote from Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib with the words “Impeach the motherf*cker.” To make such T-shirt sentiments more safe in mixed company, you can get the message “F*ck Trump” spelled out in Morse code.

Some items emphasize Trump’s constant lying, calling him the Lyin’ King, complete with a photo of a maned Trump in the pose from the iconic poster of the Broadway musical. Or perhaps you’d like a sticker that says, “Orange Lies Matter.

If you’re the kind who wears his or her thoughts on your car, you might want to pick up a decal or bumper sticker that says, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Hillary.” And you can buy stickers that say, “Impeach Pence. Just Planning Ahead…

You can go beyond the impeachment message with a T-shirt that reads, “My president started a TRADE WAR & all I got was this $80 T-shirt.

There are some more uplifting items offered. There is merchandise featuring some of the heroes of the hearings, such as the Fiona Hill Fan Club button or magnet.

Actually, there are several items that honor those who have been so effective in the impeachment fight. How about a mug with a stern-looking Maxine Waters with the simple words “Impeach 45”? You don’t mess with Auntie Maxine when she’s reclaiming her time.

You can get several items featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, like a pin with a photo of her famous clap during the State of the Union address and the words, “Merry Impeachmas.”

How about a T-shirt with a photo of Adam Schiff and the simple word “Truth”? Or better yet, you can buy a T-shirt with the words from his epic smack down of House Republicans in March 2019. They called for him to step down as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that the Mueller report exonerated Trump. Schiff delivered a scathing five-minute answer listing Trump’s actions in colluding with Russia, point by point, always ending with “You might think it’s OK. I don’t.”

You might be a little late for Christmas, but not for New Year’s Eve. How about a sparkly crown headband, available in both gold and silver, with the words “Impeach Trump 2020”? You can get a discount by ordering in quantity to let everyone at your New Year’s gathering in on the fun of fantasizing that we could live in a Trump-free world. Other New Year’s party hats, available in packs of 10, simply say “Good riddance.

Perhaps most important are items like the buttons and stickers that parody the logo of Tide laundry detergent with the message to “VOTE. Removes stubborn orange stains.”

Trump is definitely a stain that needs to be removed. If not by the Senate, then by America’s voters next fall.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 22, 2019.

Simplistic Trump voter impeachment interviews won’t tell us anything new, so please spare us

Of course this woman still supports Donald Trump. SHE’S AT A TRUMP RALLY.

We could all save ourselves a lot of time watching or reading news if political reporters cut down on what are likely to be endless visits to diners, VFW halls, and Farm & Fleet stores, all asking Trump voters, “Are you still with Donald Trump?”

Because we already know the response: From most of them, it’s likely to be yes. And even if a reporter gets a “no” now and then, which they will from some, that’s not exactly a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalistic coup.

Will Trump voters support impeachment of the guy they voted for three years ago when they’re fed a steady diet from Fox News, Republicans, and Trump himself about claims of “hoaxes,” “witch hunts,” “sham investigations,” and conspiracies about the “deep state”? Highly unlikely.

FiveThirtyEight.com’s ongoing aggregate polling of Trump’s approval rating shows numbers basically unchanged in the low 40s, give or take a few percentage points, during his entire presidency. Since news about the Ukraine phone call scandal exploded in September, similar aggregate polling shows that the number of people supporting the impeachment process started to outnumber those against it, although only a plurality, not a majority, now say Trump should be impeached and removed. Except for that reversal in September, the numbers tighten or grow further apart by only a few percentage points.

Attitudes toward Trump remain largely unchanged. Those who are true Trumpanistas remain so. Those who would rather swallow glass than ever vote for Trump have pledged to vote blue no matter who. So why do political reporters waste our time and attention asking simple questions to which everyone already knows the answers?

Interviewing voters is important throughout any political contest, especially when numbers and support are still fluid. An ongoing look at the still-volatile Democratic presidential primary contest is a perfect example — many voters in several early states and elsewhere admit that they are still making up their minds, even as horse race polling numbers rise and fall.

To be useful, though, voter interviews have to have more depth than just asking questions about which candidate a voter supports. For Trump backers, questions such as “Do you still support Trump?” or “What do you think of Trump’s impeachment?” are pretty useless.

Of course people at a Trump rally are still going to support Trump. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be waiting for several hours to see him in the first place. Getting a Trump backer to nearly break down in tears might seem like great television, but viewers don’t gain much insight.

Independent journalist Dan Froomkin of Press Watch recently delivered some advice on how to ask voters better questions with a piece headlined Political journalists are doing voter interviews all wrong.

But how reporters go about it, where they go, who they talk to, what they presuppose, and most importantly what questions they ask can make the difference between the stuff of parody and the best kind of political journalism.

The key is for reporters to explore not just voters’ political opinions, but their formative moments and their value systems. That’s particularly essential now because the prevalence and significance of intolerance — racism in particular — as a driving force in politics has not been sufficiently explored and discussed.

Voter interviews, at their best, can give voice to the voiceless, propound common sense, and tease out nuances missed by the polls, and even establish common ground.

At their worst, they can impose false balance, reflect preconceived notions, promote knee-jerk reactions, and stoke conflict.

Throughout the Trump presidency, political reporters (especially those inside the Beltway) and their editors have given us a steady stream of stories and interviews with Trump supporters. This was partly based on the surprise over Trump’s win and partly based on the belief that they had been ignoring too many voters.

But they overdid it. The Associated Press had an ongoing feature called Trump Country. CNN regularly features focus groups with panels of Trump voters—Googling those terms delivers story after story of such interviews. The New York Times seems to have set up permanent residence in red-state rural diners. USA Today interviewed Trump voters in all 50 states to learn about Trump Nation. Photos of those voters were nearly all white and male, with a few women thrown in.

Funny — these same media outlets never did a never-ending series on those who were still supporting President Obama months and years after his election or on those who voted for Hillary Clinton, even though she received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.

Now the media have new questions to ask about impeachment, and the topic presents a learning opportunity for reporters and voters alike. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans are paying attention to impeachment news, with about 20 percent paying close attention. One-fifth of Americans say they still might change their minds about whether it’s worth it.

Of course, Americans have differing opinions on the various aspects of impeachment, and there’s lots of leeway between “impeach and remove” or “keep Trump in office no matter what.” There are still partisan divisions among poll respondents.

This roundup of polling with detailed explanations from FiveThirtyEight.com shows that a majority of Americans believe that Trump abused his power and acted in his own personal interest (YA THINK?). An even larger majority say Trump should cooperate with the impeachment investigation (not much chance there). Such reports explain more thoroughly why Democrats chose to narrow their impeachment focus to two articles, leaving out bribery and an obstruction of justice charge from the Mueller report and instead emphasizing obstruction of Congress.

That’s not so hard, is it media? Even polls that go just a little deeper by asking specific questions give us more insight than asking a Trump supporter at a rally what she thinks of impeachment and waiting for the tear ducts to overflow.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 15, 2019.

Devin Nunes may regret SLAPPing his critics

“Why are so many people making fun of me?”

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Laughing Stock) has filed yet another frivolous lawsuit in his series of ridiculous lawsuits.

The latest is a $435 million defamation suit against CNN, something he had been threatening ever since the cable network published information that Nunes had met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor on a trip to Vienna in 2018 to seek dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.

The California GOP lawmaker already infamous for suing a fictitious cow called the CNN story, which was first published Nov. 22, a “demonstrably false hit piece.” According to a Washington Post story on the suit:

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleged violations of Virginia’s law against insults and said CNN reporter Vicky Ward, who wrote the article, and anchor Chris Cuomo, who discussed its details on air, conspired with the network “to boost CNN’s ratings and further the House Democrats’ impeachment ‘inquiry.’”

“In promoting fake news about secret meetings in Vienna with a corrupt former Ukraine prosecutor, CNN pandered to lurid curiosity,” the complaint said. “CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.”

Nunes says he was in Libya, not Vienna, on an overseas trip at the time. Yet Nunes claimed expenses of nearly $57,000 for a four-day trip to Europe for him and his staff, not Africa, a claim that shows up on a House expenditure report for foreign travel.

The Post story points out that CNN repeatedly asked Nunes for comment on its story, but he refused all requests. Nunes told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “he does not respond to any questions from CNN in protest of other ‘fake news’ stories on him.”

It’s always hard to take Nunes’ protestations seriously, but it’s especially hard after Nunes’ name appeared on telephone logs in the House Intelligence Committee impeachment report. Those phone records link Nunes to several players involved in the false narrative about Ukraine being peddled by Republicans. As a CNN story spelled it out:

The phone records, which are labeled in the report’s endnotes as coming from AT&T, show a web of communications between [The Hill’s John] Solomon, Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian American businessman Lev Parnas, Nunes and the White House’s budget office.

Devin Nunes is a public figure and obviously knows better than to file such nonsense. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of parody in 1988, and the bar is set extremely high for public figures to win defamation suits. But the CNN lawsuit is just the latest in a series of Devin Nunes SLAPP suits.

Nunes filed his lawsuit against CNN in Virginia, not California, the state in which he has represented the people in two different congressional districts in California’s Central Valley since 2003. That’s because California has a law against SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. While Virginia has an anti-SLAPP law, it is generally regarded as ineffective.

A Wikipedia definition of a SLAPP suit is “a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.” Thirty-one states have anti-SLAPP laws on the books.

Since Democrats now hold majorities in both houses of the Virginia Legislature, there has been talk of Virginia passing a stronger anti-SLAPP law. But for now, Nunes has filed six lawsuits against journalists, media companies, Twitter, the afore-mentioned fictitious cow, and even against some of his own constituents. Swell representative, isn’t he?

Roll Call has a rundown on all six of Nunes’ suits, with the headline, It’s Devin Nunes v. World when it comes to lawsuits. He finally had to drop one while others are progressing. But Nunes is being mocked severely for looking like such a tool.

Besides the CNN suit, here’s where the rest of the lawsuits stand:

The fictitious cow. You’d think a lawmaker with any self-respect would fear being laughed out of the House chambers for suing a Twitter parody account of a cow, but this is Devin Nunes we’re talking about. In March, Nunes filed a $250 million defamation suit against Twitter, an account claiming to be Devin Nunes’ cow, an account claiming to be Devin Nunes’ mom, and Republican consultant Liz Mair. A judge is allowing the suit to move forward, but not before a legal brief in the suit highlighted cows’ lack of opposable digits, thus questioning the ability to tweet.

Cocaine and prostitutes and a winery. In April, Nunes sued the Fresno Bee and its parent company, McClatchy, for $150 million over a 2018 story about a winery Nunes has invested in. The winery is being sued for civil rights violations. “A winery employee alleged that a charity auction held aboard a winery-owned yacht featured cocaine and prostitutes, some possibly underage,” according to the Roll Call account. Nunes’ suit claims that the story falsely implied “that he was involved with cocaine and underage prostitutes.” (The story didn’t.) That suit is still moving forward.

Moving the farm. In a 2018 story in Esquire, journalist Ryan Lizza reported that Nunes’ parents had moved their dairy farm from California to Iowa (a fact Nunes has not disputed but apparently never bothered to tell constituents) and that they were employing undocumented immigrants. In September 2019, Nunes sued Lizza and Hearst Magazines for $77.5 million, claiming that Lizza and Esquire had “an axe to grind” against him and had engaged in a conspiracy to damage his reputation by sharing the story on the air and through social media (gasp!). That suit was filed in Iowa, which has no anti-SLAPP law.

Suing his own constituents. How bad can a representative be? Besides the fact that he hasn’t held a town hall meeting with constituents for nearly 10 years, Nunes sued four of his own constituents, “claiming they were part of a coordinated campaign with ‘dark money’ groups that accused him of falsely implying he was a farmer” in the 2018 election. He dropped the suit, filed in California’s Tulare County, in early September.

Interference with the Trump-Russia investigation. September must have been a slow month for Nunes, because he also filed a $9.9 million lawsuit against Fusion GPS and a watchdog group, the Campaign for Accountability, for “attempting to interfere with the Trump-Russia investigation” and racketeering. It’s a little rich for a Republican to accuse anyone else of interfering with that investigation, don’t you think? The watchdog group has filed to dismiss the suit.

Nunes didn’t always feel so righteous about the right to sue. In early 2017, Nunes co-sponsored the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act. The bill died in the last Congress, but its purpose was to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to discourage people from suing and remove the veto power of the Environmental Protection Agency over projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Tom Rice of South Carolina, issued a press release in February 2017 on his bill’s purpose: “to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects and hold special interest groups accountable for filing frivolous lawsuits. Under current law, it is too easy for special interest groups and the EPA to unnecessarily stall infrastructure projects, resulting in years-long delays and increased costs at taxpayer’s expense.”

So the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act was a great bill for Republicans to use against consumer groups and the EPA, but heaven forbid that any law would stop a publicity hound like Nunes from suing for hundreds of millions of dollars.

If you want a little bedtime reading to take your mind off Republican hypocrisy, consider this take on Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s classic:

“Good night @DevinNunes career.” If only …

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 8, 2019.

Who’s helping women run for office? These groups

The number of Democratic women in the U.S. House has grown from 16 in 1989 to 88 in 2019.

If you’re a progressive woman aiming to make a difference in public service, there are a lot of other women willing to help you out.

The 2018 midterm election saw a record number of women run for office. There were 235 women candidates for the House and 22 for the Senate. The winners were lopsided by party: Of the 127 women on Capitol Hill, only 21 are Republicans, and only 13 of those are in the House, down from 22 Republican women in the previous Congress.

Obviously, Democratic women don’t march in lockstep with every aspect of their political views. But they do support policies that help women and American families. In broad terms, they support reining in health care costs, passing common-sense gun laws, and strengthening environmental protections to fight the climate change crisis. They represent a range of women who look more like all of America than ever before. And as research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation showed, women are as electable as men.

And let’s face it: Compared with their Republican counterparts, they’re way better than the alternative.

Besides the Democratic Party-affiliated groups helping women candidates, there are a growing number of separate groups that help women run for office. Some are old hands that have been around for a few decades, such as EMILY’s List. A few are brand new, such as Matriarch. Some aim to help women of color, such as She the People. and Higher Heights. Some want to help young progressives, both men and women, such as Run For Something. Some are nonpartisan nonprofits that accept tax-deductible donations, and some are strictly political organizations. Many of these groups also work together and support each other.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s aimed at showing the variety of candidate support out there. There are other political action committees and state-level groups. If you’re a woman considering running for anything, from a local school board to a national office, contacting one of these groups can point you in the right direction. They raise money, they train candidates, they offer expertise, and they can provide needed mentoring.

Of course, all of them welcome financial donations, the pitches for which figure prominently on all of their websites. But how else will they get the job done?

The nonpartisan Center for Women and American Politics, established in 1971, is a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. It is considered the source of research and data about the participation of U.S. women in politics. The center regularly updates a list of potential women candidates, either those who have filed or who have indicated an interest in running, for U.S. Congress or statewide elective office. It also has a current Election Watch list of electoral results for women candidates in state contests, all broken down and searchable by state.

There are a lot more of those candidates these days, thanks in part to organizations promoting women candidates. So what are some of these groups, and what exactly do they do?

EMILY’s List. EMILY’s List was founded in 1985 specifically to fund campaigns for pro-choice Democratic women. The “Emily” name is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” and thus “makes the dough rise,” according to the group’s website. Its first winning candidate was Barbara Mikulski, who became the first woman to win a seat in the U.S. Senate in her own right. She served as a Maryland senator from 1987 through her retirement in 2017.

Although EMILY’s List started primarily as a fundraising tool, its mission has grown to focus on recruiting candidates, winning elections, and mobilizing voters. It now boasts 5 million people among its members and supporters. EMILY’s List famously had only 920 women contacts for the 2016 election. It has now been contacted by more than 50,000 women interested in running for office as part of its Run to Win program since then.

She Should Run. She Should Run got started in 2011 but really made a name for itself after the 2016 election, when its fundraising totals went up, finally reaching over $1 million in 2018. It’s a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages women to run for office. Its website gives its vision and aim: 250,000 women candidates running by 2030. It offers a She Should Run Incubator that offers online courses for potential candidates. The incubator serves as a networking tool and gives directions and resources on how to develop leadership skills.

She the People. She the People points out the obvious: Women of color, specifically black women, are the most dependable Democratic voters, and they want women of color to start using that political muscle. Rather than just promoting candidates, the group aims to have women of color have a bigger part in the conversation and wants Democrats to stop taking their votes for granted. The group, which formed after Donald Trump’s election, wants to enlarge the voting pool of women of color to contain more Asian-American women, Latina women, Muslim women, and indigenous women. Instead of endorsing a candidate in the presidential primaries, She the People held a candidate forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls.

According to the group’s website, women of color are one in four voters in key swing states, and “Over the last decade, when turnout among women of color has been above the national average, Democrats have won. When their turnout is below, Democrats have lost.” In other words, candidates who don’t take their issues seriously do so at their peril.

Higher Heights for America. Higher Heights is another group aimed at capturing and elevating the power of black women and black women voters. Its website describes its purpose: to strengthen black women’s civic participation in grassroots advocacy and the electoral process. Higher Heights was founded in 2011 and will support not only black women candidates but also candidates who are “committed to advance policies that affect black women.” Higher Heights has a related political action committee, Higher Heights PAC, dedicated to electing progressive black women to national and statewide office and as mayors (there are already a record number of black women serving as mayors of major cities in the U.S.).

Emerge America. Since 2002, Emerge America has concentrated on helping to elect women, state by state. Its mission, according to its website, is “to increase the number of Democratic women in public office through recruitment, training, and providing a powerful network.” It has helped to create Democratic legislative majorities in three states, established Democratic supermajorities in three others, and has helped break Republican supermajorities in two battleground states. Emerge offers training in public speaking, media, fundraising, and more. It currently has networks in 29 states.

Run for Something. Run for Something was started on the day of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 for the specific purpose of recruiting young progressives, both men and women, to run for office. Its aim, according to the group’s website, is to “help recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future.” So far, so good: In 2017 and 2018, Run for Something helped elect more than 200 candidates in 40 states, from state senators to country sheriffs. Fifty-five percent of those winners are women, and half of them are people of color. Besides election support, it offers mentoring and candidate training. Run for Something has been contacted by more than 30,000 people interested in running overall.

“Our candidates come from all walks of life — teachers, doctors, activists, artists, parents, refugees — and they represent communities that have been historically excluded and discouraged from running for political office,” the website says. “Our candidates won because they ran grassroots-powered campaigns focusing on local issues — and we were there to help every step of the way.”

IGNITE. IGNITE is a nonpartisan group aimed at giving political power to young women. It started in 2010 and has local chapters, many on college campuses, registering people to vote and encouraging women to get involved politically. It offers an online guide to running for office in five steps, starting with “Get involved in your community.” It’s website reports that 37 percent of women involved in the group ran for office on their college campuses, and 79 percent of them won.

Matriarch. Matriarch is a new organization and political action committee founded by some three dozen current and former progressive women officeholders and is focused specifically on progressive working women. Its website describes the characteristics of candidates who will receive its backing:

  • Little/no personal wealth or access to wealth.
  • Platform focused on income inequality, economic, racial, labor, social and environmental justice.
  • Working background, which we believe offers a more diverse field of candidates.
  • Community support; experience; connection to issues; motivation for running.

A story in The Intercept described Matriarch as “a working-class version of EMILY’s List.” Matriarch vows to back women who focus on economic justice. It only launched in November, and it already has received 1,500 nominations for candidates to back in the 2020 congressional elections. It plans on making its first endorsements in January.

Get Her Elected. Get Her Elected is a group that aims to do just that—get more progressive women elected to office. Its website describes it as a group of volunteers working pro bono to help candidates. Founded in January 2017, it now boasts 3,400 volunteers worldwide. and currently works with over 260 women running for office all over the country. Volunteers come from all 50 states and from outside the U.S., too. Get Her Elected offers professional help that candidates normally would pay for, such as marketing and campaign strategies, graphic design, public speaking coaching, data analysis, and website and social media development.

VoteRunLead. VoteRunLead delivers a simple message on its website: “VoteRunLead trains women to run for office. And win.” The nonprofit group was founded in 2014 and boasts a successful track record for its diverse group of candidates: 70 percent of its first-time candidates won, and 60 percent of its candidates were women of color trained to run for office. It aims for 30,000 candidates in 2020. VoteRunLead offers both in-person and online training, and the website offers digital tools, fundraising tips, and advice on choosing which office to run for. The group has 60 training resources available on its website.

Victory Institute. The Victory Institute concentrates on helping LGBTQ candidates, offering campaign training and holding leadership summits for both men and women. Its website lists a total of 768 LGBTQ elected officials nationwide. Its International Census section is working to locate LGBTQ elected officials around the world. The group first started having LGBTQ Leaders Conferences in 1984 with a handful of attendees. The 2018 conference after the 2018 midterms had more than 500 people attending, with 60 elected officials. The group refers to 2018 as a “rainbow wave,” with 700 LGBTQ people running for office and more than 300 winning.

To learn more about any of these organizations, visit any of these groups’ websites. A 2018 story in Marie Claire magazine described several of these groups in more detail. But any budding woman politico is bound to find that help is available — all she needs to do is start reaching out.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 1, 2019.

Impeachment hearings offer a civics lesson for students

Perhaps Donald Trump should try reading this document, so he’ll know as much as a seventh grader.

“How come the president is doing stuff he’s not supposed to do?”

That was the question posed to me by my seventh-grade tutoring student. She’s studying for an upcoming test on the U.S. Constitution, and in 2019, you can’t teach the Constitution without having the biggest lesson on U.S. government staring you in the face.

In Illinois, all students must pass a test on the Illinois Constitution and U.S. Constitution before graduating from eighth grade. Many schools teach this in seventh grade. (I remember taking it as a junior high student.) The requirement causes anxiety, but the tests end up being pretty easy, as long as students do the reading. There’s no standardized test; students study the subject for several weeks and just have to show understanding of what the Constitution is about.

I’ve been a volunteer tutor since 1981, taking several years off when my own kids were growing up. I enjoy tutoring students who are middle school age, because they’re beyond the stage of learning to read but they’re young enough not to have too much of a teenage attitude.

By far, my favorite part of tutoring kids this age is when students are getting ready to take the Constitution test. Besides being a political junkie, I’m also something of a Constitution dweeb. I carry a pocket-size Constitution in my purse. Every year on Constitution Day, I look forward to the Constitution quizzes offered online (and yes, I almost always get 100 percent right). The U.S. observes Constitution Day on Sept. 17 as the anniversary of the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia. The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is one of my favorite places to visit.

This year, besides teaching about the three branches of government and the Bill of Rights, there’s an extra constitutional lesson to pass on — what happens when a president gets impeached?

I started tutoring Akeelah this fall in a nonprofit volunteer tutoring program that serves students mostly from Chicago’s West Side. She’s a bright seventh grader and a conscientious student who gets excellent grades but needs to improve in writing and vocabulary skills. She’s working hard, hoping to be accepted into one of the Chicago Public Schools’ selective enrollment high schools, such as Michelle Obama’s alma mater, Whitney Young. Akeelah is a sweet kid who shares interests with many 13-year-old girls: music, hairstyles, reading, spending time with friends. She looks forward to seeing Frozen II.

Last week, after finishing with her homework (first rule of tutoring: Even if you have the world’s best lesson plan prepared, set it aside when they have homework, because it’s due tomorrow), we settled in to start with the basics of the U.S. Constitution: How the need for a stronger constitution grew from the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. The duties of the three branches of government. The differences between the two houses of Congress, and the special responsibilities assigned to each body. The requirements for being elected as a representative, senator, and president, and how long terms for each office last.

She still has a few weeks before the test, and there’s still a lot more material to get through. I always make sure my students know more than the basics: They need to know the names of their two senators, their representative, the Illinois governor, the Chicago mayor, etc. She knew some but not all of these—she took notes and added them to her study pile.

But then she started asking me questions about impeachment, since that’s all over the news.

I pointed to the description of the reasons for impeachment in Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

That description, of course, required more explanations and more questions, especially the part about “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“What did President Trump do wrong to get impeached?” Akeelah asked me. “And what’s a high crime?” (I think she figured out that committing treason is pretty bad.)

Where to start? “He hasn’t been impeached yet,” I said. “The House of Representatives is hearing from people in the government about what he might have done wrong.”

My job is to inform, not to indoctrinate. I didn’t want to come out and say, “He’s been breaking the law since his first day in office,” although that’s true. I could give her a laundry list about how he’s making a profit from foreign governments who stay at his hotel in Washington; how he broke election law in the 2016 election with help from Russia; how he obstructed justice into the investigation of how and why he fired James Comey as head of the FBI. But just like the House Intelligence Committee, I decided to keep it simple and stick to Ukraine, the facts of which get worse for Trump every day.

“So he was supposed to give this money to Ukraine and he didn’t?” (Another quick teaching opportunity: Look up Ukraine on a map to show her where it is.)

“Well, he did eventually, but only after it came out publicly that he didn’t.”

Akeelah looked at me skeptically. “So Congress told him to do that, and he didn’t? Why not?”

This gave me a chance to talk about the 2020 election, and how he wanted Ukraine to investigate his possible opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, even though there’s no evidence that Biden did anything wrong.

“So why is that illegal?”

With that, we launched into a discussion about emoluments, which sent us to the dictionary (more vocabulary words!) and how presidents aren’t supposed to accept anything of value from a foreign government, such as help in an election. All of which brought us back to the original question: “How come the president is doing stuff he’s not supposed to do?”

We discussed whether Trump eventually will get impeached and what will happen after that. She thought it was interesting that all three branches of government got involved in the process. “So do you think they’ll vote to kick him out?”

Probably not, I said, but it’s important for the House to stand up for the Constitution. She agreed.

This is why I love being a tutor and why I find it so rewarding when you see a light bulb go off, signaling a student’s new level of understanding.

You know who else is a volunteer tutor? Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. When President Obama nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, among Garland’s evidence of public service was his many years as a tutor at the J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Northeast Washington, D.C. He goes to the school every other Monday afternoon to tutor students there. A quick call to his office confirmed that yes, judge Garland is still tutoring. Garland also requires the lawyers who clerk for him to become tutors.

This Washington Post story, published at the time of his nomination in 2016, described his tutoring service, which has now lasted longer than 20 years.

“For me, this is about so much more than tutoring,” Charlene Wilburn, a teacher at J.O. Wilson, said in a statement the White House released to The Washington Post on Saturday afternoon. “It’s about our children having another adult in their lives who encourages them when they need it, supports them when they falter, and tells them to never give up on their dreams.

“I’ll tell you what I appreciate most about this man: He never asks for recognition, or fanfare. He just does what he committed to do,” Wilburn said in the statement. “He even convinced some of his staff to volunteer too, so now we have a whole group of volunteers that come down from his office to help.”

At the time, the White House released a video of Garland’s service as a tutor.

I imagine Merrick Garland tutoring his student right now, talking about the Constitution as well as offering tips on reading, writing, and math. I bet he could provide some special insight.

Damn you, Mitch McConnell. Damn you to hell.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 24, 2019.

Trump trade war claims more victims: GOP candidates

Voters casting ballots in November 2018 in Carmel, Indiana. While the GOP incumbent, Rep. Susan Brooks, won reelection that day, she is choosing to retire rather than face voters again next year.

Donald Trump’s trade war with China is piling up a quite a list of people who have lost jobs, livelihoods, and sometimes their homes: farmers, autoworkers, and factory employees. Now you can add Republican politicians to the list.

An academic paper from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business aims to answer the question, Did Trump’s Trade War Impact the 2018 Election? The authors of the paper, all economists and two of whom are Dartmouth faculty, conclude: No fewer than five Republican House candidates in competitive districts lost races in 2018 specifically because of Trump’s imposition of tariffs and how those tariffs affected the voters in those districts. Even worse for Republicans, concern over health care may have cost the GOP eight House seats. As one of study’s authors told NPR:

“It was all pain and no gain,” said Emily Blanchard, an economist at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “And we were sort of surprised by this.”

Blanchard and her fellow researchers found that the hit to Republicans was strongest in the most competitive districts, where opposition to the trade war rivaled health care as a politically powerful issue.

“If you’re in a close district, this is a little note to wake up and smell the coffee and maybe be worried about some of these pocketbook issues,” Blanchard said.

The study’s authors spell out their ideas in the paper’s abstract:

We find that Republican candidates lost support in the 2018 congressional election in counties more exposed to trade retaliation, but saw no commensurate electoral gains from US tariff protection. The electoral losses were driven by retaliatory tariffs on agricultural products, and were only partially mitigated by the US agricultural subsidies announced in summer 2018. Republicans also fared worse in counties that had seen recent gains in health insurance coverage, affirming the importance of health care as an election issue.

Imagine that. Trump screws over some of his base voters by starting a trade war with China. He imposes tariffs on $50 billion in imports from China. China retaliates by imposing their own tariffs of $50 billion on U.S. imports, agricultural products such as soybeans, and those farmers lose — likely permanently — nearly all of their biggest market. The retaliatory tariffs on both sides have only gone up from there. Meanwhile, farm bankruptcies are up 24 percent this year over 2018, and the total farm debt for 2019 is expected to hit a record high of $416 billion, with net farm income projected to be down 29 percent.

Trump still has much support in farm country. Before the midterm elections, an October 2018 poll showed that he was still supported by 62 percent of farmers. Yet by August 2019, Trump’s approval rating was nine points underwater in Iowa.

Farmers tend to vote Republican, and most still will. But for some, it could be the case that personal economics trumps party loyalty.

Even though farmers received $28 billion in agricultural subsidies over the last two years (more than twice the amount of the 2009 auto bailout of Detroit’s Big 3 automakers), the subsidy payments (SOCIALISM!) didn’t match the amount of income lost. Agriculture Dept. officials now say that a third round of agriculture subsidies is inevitable, no doubt to keep courting the farm vote.

As an Illinois farmer told Bloomberg Businessweek in September at a farm show attended by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue:

“The aid package that has come in is a relief, and it softens the landing, but it’s not a solution, it’s a Band-Aid,” says Stan Born, a farmer who attended the event. When asked if the payments make him whole, Born, who grows 500 acres of soybeans near Decatur, responds, “Of course not.” He’d rather have free trade, he says.

They’d rather sell their crops. At least some of those voters decided in 2018 that they didn’t want to vote for Republicans because of Trump’s trade war, and it was enough to tip those races to Democrats.

The swing districts in the Dartmouth study were identified as congressional districts where Trump won between 40 and 60 percent of the vote in 2016. The researchers used two constructs: the “tariff shock,” defined as a county’s average per-worker exposure to the increase in U.S. tariffs on imports, and the “retaliatory tariff shock,” defined as the corresponding per-worker exposure to the retaliatory tariffs against U.S. exports.

Quantitatively, our regression estimates suggest that the trade war can account for roughly one-tenth of the observed nation-wide decline in Republican House candidates’ vote share between 2016 and 2018. In comparison, the role of health care policy accounts for about one-fifth of the decline in Republican support at the national level. Focusing on politically competitive counties, the estimated effect of retaliatory tariffs is substantially stronger and quantitatively commensurate to that of health care, with each force large enough to account for one-quarter of the decline in Republican support in these counties. The trade war and health care thus appear to have hurt Republican candidates where swing voters matter most.

Every time Trump faces a bad news cycle (lately, that’s most days), he tries to change the subject by promising that his team “almost” has a new trade deal with China. The trouble is, he’s been making these claims ever since he started the trade war, and that trade deal is no closer than it was when he and Chinese President Xi Jinping shared their beautiful chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017, or when the first tariffs were announced in January 2018.

Trump recently gave a speech to the Economic Club in New York, and once again he claimed the two sides were “close,” but he had no deal to announce. As the NPR story put it:

“A significant phase-one deal with China could happen — could happen soon,” he said. “But we will only accept a deal if it’s good for the United States and our workers and our great companies.”

Every time Trump offers such a trade tease, the markets react positively. Then, when the bubble bursts when no such deal surfaces, the markets sink again.

The Dartmouth study showed a loss of only five seats because of the trade war and eight over health care, but a loss is a loss, and losses add up to winning or losing control of both Houses of Congress — and the White House. Today’s Democratic candidates, whether running for a House seat, a Senate seat, the presidency, or any state office, would be smart to campaign on Trump’s trade war and health care and not write off voters whom they consider beyond reach. As the Bloomberg Businessweek story points out:

Any waning of rural America’s enthusiasm for Trump could doom the reelection of a president who eked out his 2016 victory with a combined margin of fewer than 80,000 votes in three traditionally Democratic-leaning states.

Because if just enough of those voters change their minds, that could mean a victory for Democrats next November.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 17, 2019.

A new president will rejoin the Paris climate pact, but that’s not nearly enough

Before it was adopted, demonstrators demanded passage of the climate accord.

As promised, climate denier Donald Trump has made it official — on the first day he legally could, his administration declared that it wanted out of the landmark climate agreement adopted nearly four years ago.

After campaigning that climate change was a “hoax,” Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, spewing nonsense about how the pact would hurt U.S. businesses and cost taxpayers too much money, charges that have been widely debunked. Luckily for us and for the rest of the world, the actual withdrawal can’t go into effect until the day after the 2020 election, and every single Democratic presidential hopeful has promised to rejoin the agreement as soon as he or she is inaugurated. Many of those Democratic candidates have climate action plans that would go much further in lowering greenhouse gas emissions than the original U.S. pledge, which was to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent of its 2005 levels by 2025.

At the Paris COP21 meeting in late 2015, 195 countries promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels while trying to further limit that increase to 1.5 degrees. The agreement, which formally went into effect in November 2016, is a roadmap of actions that each country promised to take to fight global warming. A few more countries were late signers—even Syria, meaning that virtually every country in the world signed on. Until now.

Only one — the United States — has now announced its intention to renege on the deal. So in addition to trying to undo all of the Obama-era climate protections, Trump has found another way to isolate the U.S. and damage the environment at the same time.

The Paris Climate Agreement was never going to stop or reverse global warming on its own. As soon as the agreement was announced, environmental leaders complained that it didn’t go nearly far enough. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote in a 2015 opinion piece in The New York Times: “We need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action.” But the fact that all countries signed on for the first time was more than symbolic — it was a new beginning and a point on which countries could build.

So what should be the next step, once the U.S. rejoins the climate agreement? Whatever it is, it won’t be enough without drastic action, and it will take more than one simple step.

A pact that was aspirational and nonbinding was bound to produce disappointments. Progress on climate action has been too slow, and countries aren’t meeting the goals set at the meeting.

A piece in The American Prospect points out that no G7 country is on track to meet its promised actions.

The U.S. will not be the only country letting down the planet. Among the world’s largest and most advanced economies, not a single country will achieve the mission of the Paris Agreement to prevent more than 1.5 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

In other words, if you want to know why young people around the world have taken to the streets by the millions, desperate for a commensurate response to the climate emergency, it’s because only one government in the world (Morocco) has properly stepped up to this point.

So industrialized countries are falling short. Here in the U.S., 24 governors, mostly Democrats, are telling the world that they still want to uphold the pact.

The governors, representing more than half the U.S. population (not hard, when two of the states they govern are California and New York), are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance. The alliance originally had 12 members and is now up to nearly half the states and Puerto Rico, now that there are more Democratic governors. Just one more example of why elections have consequences: With its unified Democratic executive and legislative branches, Virginia is now poised to start passing more aggressive climate legislation, such as boosting renewable energy.

A statement from the Climate Alliance criticizing Trump’s action outlined some of the steps those states already are taking:

Since launching the Climate Alliance, our states have adopted or strengthened 29 greenhouse gas reduction targets and ramped up zero-carbon power generation, with 19 states now enacting or pursuing goals for 100 percent carbon-free or clean power by 2030 or later. We are reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and saving residents money by transitioning to low- and zero-emissions vehicles, transportation systems, buildings, and appliances. We also are growing a clean energy economy and creating high quality jobs, enhancing our natural and working lands, and strengthening community resilience.

All of these actions, on a state and federal level, cost money. When Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the pact, thus not fulfilling the promises made by President Obama to help other countries financially to meet their goals, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg volunteered to foot the bill. He has pledged to cover $15 million of those costs.

Some countries are showing how to achieve measured successes. Their progress isn’t perfect, and many more drastic actions are needed to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate inaction. And for all these advances, these countries still have policies that produce serious environmental problems. Here are a few examples, according to a report from Phys.Org.

India. India, with its population of 1.4 billion people, has been one of the world’s main polluters and is third in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet mainly by embracing solar energy, it is on track to fulfill its pledge to the Paris climate accord.

In 2010, the country established the National Solar Mission, which set out to add 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022. The country surpassed that goal back in 2018 and is now set to exceed its Paris pledge to supply 40% of the nation’s energy needs with non-fossil-fuel power by 2030. …

Plummeting prices for solar panels have greased the wheels, as has the low cost of labor in India. The government also helped by auctioning off contracts, creating competition among developers. These factors have combined to make India’s solar power the cheapest in the world.

India has more work to do, experts say. Most of its electricity still comes from coal-fired plants, and the country continues to commission new ones, albeit fewer than it planned a few years ago, before the solar explosion. But observers say it is a model for incentivizing the rapid spread of renewables.

Norway. Besides its commitment to lowering emissions by 40 percent, Norway has undertaken an aggressive effort to clean up its transportation sector.

As of 2017, electric cars and plug-in hybrids accounted for half of the new cars sold in the country. And in March of this year, electric cars alone made up almost 60% of new car sales. By 2025, the government wants that number to be 100%. …

The government provides generous incentives for electric vehicles, such as waiving some of its famously high taxes and providing owners with plenty of perks, like electric-only parking lots in cities. Norway has also invested in vehicle charging infrastructure and supplies most of its electricity with clean hydropower.

Yet Norway’s biggest export is the oil it produces from its offshore pumps in the North Sea, with an average production of 2 million barrels per day. It’s one reason that environmental groups such as Greenpeace are suing to try to stop the country from drilling for Arctic oil. So far, the environmentalists haven’t gotten too far.

Switzerland. Switzerland is one of the few countries to adopt a carbon tax or levy, as the Swiss call it, first imposed in 2008. As of 2018, it charged $96 per ton of carbon dioxide.

Most of the carbon tax revenue — which totals $300 million — is returned to citizens, including as subsidies to workers in industries that are negatively affected by climate policies. About a third goes to improving the efficiency of buildings and to R&D for clean technologies. …

Switzerland has other tools in its toolbox, including a trading scheme that allows polluters to pay others to cut their greenhouse gas emissions if they can do so less expensively. The country also boasts an enviable public transportation network.

Swiss officials admit that the carbon taxes alone haven’t driven emissions down to where they need to be: The Swiss are not on track to meet their Paris pledge to reduce emissions to achieve a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030.

Other countries have success stories, too. Next year, Italy will become the first country to require children to study climate change and sustainable development. “I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school,” Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti told Reuters.

The Paris Climate Agreement requires countries around the world to keep making future commitments and report on how they are meeting their pledges. Let’s hope pressure from climate activists such as Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg will convince the world’s officials to take their roles a lot more seriously.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 10, 2019.

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