Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

From Watergate To Tonight’s Public Hearing: A Stark Contrast

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

On 17 June 1972, in what White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler would later call, “a third-rate burglary,” five men, all former CIA operatives, broke into the Watergate Hotel headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to steal information relating to the upcoming presidential election.

Four months later, in a blockbuster story for the Washington Post on 10 October, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported,

“The Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House, as a basic strategy of the Nixon re-election effort.”

Five months after that, in early March, 1973, the US Senate, by a vote of 77 – 0, voted to convene the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Four Democrats and three Republicans comprised the Committee, which was chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) with Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) as his Vice Chair. The Committee began its public hearings on 17 May, 13 months after the break-in. They would go on every day for two weeks, and were carried live on all television networks. During his opening statement, Howard Baker said the job of the Committee was to answer the question, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

Watergate would prove the undoing of President Richard Nixon, who just one year earlier had won re-election in a massive landslide. Forty people would be indicted. Seven individuals associated with carrying out the actual burglary and five presidential advisors were convicted of various crimes, although the conviction of one of the advisors, Robert Mardian, was overturned on appeal.

Watergate produced heroes.

  1. First, there were the 77 patriotic senators who voted unanimously to form the Select Committee, many knowing their votes would come back to hurt them in future elections.
  2. Then there were Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus who, in what later came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre, resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s venal order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Solicitor General Robert Bork, subsequently nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, did agree to carry out the order to get rid of Cox and wanted to resign immediately after, but was persuaded by Richardson and Ruckelshaus to stay for the good of the Justice Department.
  3. Senators Ervin and Baker and the other members of the Select Committee did their duty, all the while aware of the risks to their careers and the personal safety of themselves and their families.
  4. Following Watergate, investigators and journalists, layer by layer, unveiled the enormous corruption that was the Nixon presidency. Congress did what Congress should. The American people had an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of how the Senate, the House of Representatives, federal investigators and journalists did their jobs.

So, which was worse? The corruption riddled Nixon presidency with its utter disregard for the truth, the law, and basic morality, or the Trump presidency, with:

  1. Its four-year litany of lies;
  2. Its parade of misinformation about the Covid pandemic;
  3. Its asking  a state election official to “find” nearly 80,000 votes in order to “win” the state of Georgia;
  4. Its withholding of congressionally approved funding for Ukraine in an attempt to extort cooperation from its President as it sought to undermine the campaign of Joe Biden by targeting his son;
  5. Its presidential genuflection to Vladimir Putin;
  6. Its throwing log after log on the inferno that is white nationalism;
  7. And, biggest of all, its January 6th attack on the United States, which Donald Trump and his minions organized and directed and during which he stood idly by, smiling, as he watched it unfold on television while his troops tried to find Vice President Pence, screaming, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Following the Insurrection, we discovered there are some heroes, but very few, on the Republican side of the aisle.

First, the ten Representatives who voted in favor of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, most of whom have announced they will not run for re-election; they’ve been driven from office by the Cult of Trump.

Second, Representatives Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, and Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, the only two Republicans who defied party leadership to serve on the Select Committee. Kinzinger will not run for re-election, and Cheney has been stripped of her leadership role in the Party.

That’s it, folks. There aren’t any others. No Elliot Richardsons here

Tonight, eight days away from the third-rate burglary’s 50th anniversary, public hearings conducted by the Select Committee will begin. They bear about as much similarity to the Watergate Hearings as my tennis game does to that of Raphael Nadal’s. But they will be tremendously important. Those Americans who care to watch will witness the evil Genie emerge from his bottle. Even though, unlike the Watergate investigation, many officials have refused Committee subpoenas to testify, much will be revealed. What will happen afterwards is anybody’s guess. The Republicans seem to be playing a waiting game until after the midterm elections. If, as expected, they take control of the House, they will then be able to disband the Select Committee and act like the Insurrection never happened.

But who will tune in tonight? All the major networks, cable and otherwise, will broadcast the Hearing live, as they happen. All except one. That would be Fox, which will have its usual “all star lineup” of Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham commenting contemporaneously as tonight’s Hearing progresses. Wonderful.

One cannot help wondering if tonight’s Hearing will be a mostly preaching-to-the-choir exercise. If it’s true that nearly 70% of Republicans continue to believe the Biden presidency illegitimate and the 2020 election “stolen” from Donald Trump (apparently, some people really will believe anything), tonight’s event might well be nothing more than a lonely voice crying out in an empty desert.

There is one other thing that separates Watergate from the present Committee’s work. No one refused to testify, defying a subpoena, in the Watergate investigation. Chairman Ervin said loud and clear if anyone did that he would have them arrested. They all came to the Committee like lambs to the slaughter. In the present investigation, people, important witnesses, have blithely considered their subpoenas mere recommendations they can justifiably ignore.

What I have been forced to conclude is that January 6th, and what has happened since, are not the main event. They are symptoms of a disease that is cracking our democracy at its core. Unless the present Committee examines the disease, as well as its symptoms, they’ll miss their one chance to show America the deepening fissure.

Looking back, it almost seems as if Watergate happened on a different planet. How far we have fallen.

 

Mississippi: America’s Third World Country

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Although I have been there only once, I can’t help thinking about Mississippi.

Mississippi has recently been in the news, of course, because its 2018 Gestational Age Act will be upheld in the same Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade, which we discovered from Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked first draft opinion for the majority.

This is not Mississippi’s first foray into restricting abortion. In 2007, the state passed its version of an abortion Trigger Law, which “bans all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy was caused by rape and charges have been filed with law enforcement,” and which takes effect immediately following the state attorney general certifying the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Trigger law had 19 male legislative sponsors and zero female sponsors. Regardless, Mississippi has been ready for this for 15 years.

But has it been ready for what comes next?

Matthew Walther, editor of The Lamp, a Roman Catholic literary journal, and a person who will never be accused of favoring abortion, sees predictable and unpleasant consequences after Roe is no longer the law of the land. In his 10 May 2022 guest essay for the New York Times, “Overturning Roe will disrupt a lot more than abortion. I can live with that,” Mr. Walthern acknowledges what very few anti-abortionists want to admit.

Research over the years has suggested that an America without abortion would mean more single mothers and more births to teenage mothers, increased strain on Medicaid and other welfare programs, higher crime rates, a less dynamic and flexible work force, an uptick in carbon emissions, lower student test scores and goodness knows what else.

But Mr. Walther, despite envisioning a gloomy horizon, “can live with that.” I cannot restrain myself from pointing out that Mr. Walther is of the male persuasion and, consequently, faces little likelihood of ever having to “live with” personal pregnancy.

Nonetheless, he makes a good argument, which brings us back to Mississippi.

A few points worth considering:

  • Poverty: According to the Department of Agriculture, 20.29% of Mississippi’s adults and 27.6% of its children live below the poverty line. This is the highest poverty rate in America where the national average is 11.4%.
  • Income: The median family income in Mississippi is $45,081. This is the lowest in the nation. According to the National Census Bureau, the national average in 2019 was $65,712.
  • Education: Only Texas, at 84%, ranks lower than Mississippi, at 85%, for the percentage of high school graduates. The national average is 89.6%. Only West Virginia, at 21%, ranks lower than Mississippi’s 22% for the percentage of college graduates. The national average is 31.28%.
  • Life Expectancy: At 74.4 years, Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation. Of note, the life expectancy rate for Mississippi’s men is 71.2 years.
  • Fetal Mortality: Mississippi’s fetal mortality rate, the number of deaths at 24 or more weeks of gestation per 1,000 live births, is 6.6. This is the highest in the nation. The national average is 3.68. If that isn’t enough, fetal deaths have lately doubled among unvaccinated pregnant women who suffer COVID-19 infections, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Mississippi State Department of Health press conference in September, 2021.
  • Infant Mortality: The Infant Mortality Rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. At 8.27, Mississippi’s is the highest in the nation, far exceeding Louisiana’s rate of 7.53, which is the second highest.
  • Maternal Mortality: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is 20.8, again, the highest in the country, where the national average is 17.4, which is the highest among all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A maternal death is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
  • Maternity Leave: Mississippi has no guaranteed Maternity or Sick Leave in its state laws.
  • Smoking: According to the CDC, 20.4% of Mississippians smoke. This is the fourth highest in the nation.
  • Autopsies: Something you probably have never have considered until now: Autopsy backlogs. According to the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), 90% of all autopsies should be completed within 60 days of death. The NAME has never accredited Mississippi, which has the highest backlog in the nation. The Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office was waiting for about 1,300 reports from as far back as 2011, records sent to the Associated Press in early April show. Around 800 of those involve homicides – meaning criminal cases are incomplete.
  • Abortion: According to the Mississippi Department of Public Health, the state has about 3,500 abortions annually. This represents 4.3 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
  • Finally: Mississippi ranks highest in the nation for Percent of Births to Unmarried Mothers, Cesarean Delivery Rate, Preterm Birth Rate, and Low Birthweight Rate.

Reading the above, one might be forgiven for thinking  there is a significant population in Mississippi who are actual victims of the state’s inability, or outright refusal, to carry out its first responsibility: to provide for the security and safety of its citizens.

Thinking about this, I have to ask: Given how well it’s doing now, how in the world is Mississippi going to cope with 3,500 new births per year? On CNN this past Sunday, Jake Tapper interviewed the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. That interview offered a glimpse of what is likely coming, a catastrophe becoming worse than it already is, which is considerable.

Tapper: Mississippi, as you know, has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. You have the highest rate of child poverty in the United States. Your state has no guaranteed maternity leave that’s paid. The legislature in Mississippi just rejected extending post-partum Medicaid coverage. Your foster care system is also the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit over its failure to protect children from abuse. You say you want to do more to support mothers and children, but you’ve been in state government since 2004. Based on the track record of the state of Mississippi, why should anyone believe you?

Reeves: I believe in my heart that I was elected, not to try to hide our problems, but to try to fix our problems. We are focusing every day on fixing the challenges that are before us.

Good luck, Governor. You and all those “unborn” children who are about to be “saved” are going to need a lot of it. And so are the Mississippi women who are about to become the state’s newest victims.

 

 

 

 

The Leak

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022

At 8:30pm Monday night, Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward dropped the biggest journalistic bombshell of a year filled with journalistic bombshells when they published a leaked first draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule and strike down the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion constitutional, and therefore legal, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. This ruling, which, according to experts, should be made official in a month or two, also affirms Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week. Today, the Supreme Court said the leaked draft is authentic, and Chief Justice John Roberts, calling it an egregious breach of trust and confidentiality, said an investigation would begin immediately to discover how it happened and who is responsible.

It is important to note this is a “First Draft.” There may be more. However, a vote has been taken, and we know the results. Between now and the official ruling, votes can change, but probably won’t.

Supreme Court leaks have happened before. In an ironic twist, the night before Roe v. Wade was announced in January of 1973, a Supreme Court clerk leaked the decision to the Washington Post.

Thinking about the decision and the leak, I would like to offer a few points for your consideration.

First, I can see no sense to this leak, which I think disgraceful and a betrayal of trust. The reason I see no sense to it is because it achieves nothing that would not have been achieved when the ruling is made public in its final form in a month or two. At that time there would still be ample opportunity for it to play out vis-à-vis mid-term politics. So, why now? Who gains what?

Second, right now we have no idea if this was politically motivated. If it was politically motivated, we do not know the motivation behind the person who leaked it. It could have been anyone with access to Court documents. Imagine a clerk leaves the decision lying around, or forgets to turn off a computer, whereupon somebody else decides to cause a little mayhem. The point is anything is possible in our current vacuum of ignorance.

Third, Justice Samuel Alito wrote this first draft of the decision. In Alito’s confirmation hearings he was asked about his previous writings regarding Roe, writings in which he wrote Roe was unconstitutional. He wrote that the Constitution says nothing about abortion and that abortion decisions should be left to the various states. He responded to those confirmation questions by saying he would “put aside” the things he argued when a mere lawyer and “think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.” The interesting thing here is the decision he has now authored is a mirror reflection of what he wrote when a “mere lawyer.” He writes now that Roe was “egregiously wrong” from the beginning; that the Constitution says nothing about abortion; and that the matter should be left to the “elected representatives” in the various states. Makes one wonder.

I would note that the Constitution also says nothing about baseball, but on November 9, 1953, the Supreme Court upheld a prior, controversial decision that allowed major league baseball to operate outside of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Maybe Justice Alito would like to overturn that decision, too?

Fourth, this is NOT akin to the Pentagon Papers, as some are arguing. The only thing this has in common with the Pentagon Papers, which documented governmental lying about the Vietnam War, is the method by which we learned of it: a leak. We would never have learned of the Pentagon Papers but for the leak. Without the present leak, we would have learned of this decision in the near term – which we still will. This decision, regardless of whatever you think of it, and I condemn it in the highest possible terms, has nothing to do with governmental lying with respect to national security.

Fifth, At least one Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, lied during his confirmation hearing. When asked about Roe, he responded it was “settled as a precedent,” because “it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.” Apparently, he did not believe that, or he would not have voted to overturn Roe now. He certainly could have voted to allow Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15-weeks to stand without overturning “settled law.” We may be forgiven for wondering if Justice Kavanaugh lied about a few other things during his confirmation hearing.

A note about “settled law.” Settled law is settled until it isn’t, as in this case. I point out that the Dred Scott decision was once “settled law.”

Sixth, in a tangential development, reporters asked Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine), her reaction to the leaked decision. You may recall, just prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing she emerged from a meeting with him and said he’d assured her that Roe is “settled law.” She gave him her vote. Today she was asked about that and said:

“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”

Seventh, Chief Justice Roberts also responded to questions about Roe during his confirmation hearing. When asked if Roe was settled law, he replied, “It is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes.” Roberts did not vote to overturn Roe in this draft decision.

Eighth, this seems one more reason to think we are now living in two countries, one Red, one Blue. Eventually, if we’re lucky, very lucky, we will find common ground when we once again begin electing leaders who aspire to embrace the values, the good ones, upon which America came to be. I don’t know about you, but that time cannot come soon enough for me, if it ever does.

My question is: What happens to this country if it doesn’t?

As Thin As The Skin On A Grape – End Of Week Thoughts On The Teaching Of Slavery In America

Friday, April 29th, 2022

A few years ago, before the horror of the pandemic sent us all scurrying to our respective bolt holes, I toured Boston’s historic Trinity Church that sits smack in the middle of high-brow Copley Square. Massachusetts born and bred, and I’d never visited this historic church that in 1885 the American Architectural Association judged the most important building in America. It still ranks among the AIA’s current top ten list.

In late 18th and 19th century Boston, Trinity was the church of the Brahmin elite. Its pews are all labeled with the names and descriptions of the historic families who occupied them. Some very famous names.

About halfway down the center aisle is the pew that once belonged to the family of Isaac Royall, Jr. (1719–1781). Royall was one of the founders of Harvard Law School, and Harvard adopted his family’s a slave owner and slave trader, and in 2016, 200 years after the founding of the law school, Harvard disassociated the crest from the school, because of the family’s business in the slave trade. Better late than never.


The Isaac Royall House and slave quarters in Medford, Massachusetts.

In 2014, Trinity’s History Committee (Yes, there is one) published the remarkable Trinity Church Boston: Facing the Reality of our Past, which lays out in excruciating detail the sordid history of its membership’s past connection with slavery.

Most of the wealthy people who built Boston owned slaves. Slavery entered the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1638 when a ship the Puritan Governor John Winthrop had sent to the West Indies with Indian captives returned with Africans. In 1645, Winthrop’s brother-in-law, Emanuel Downing, told him “I don’t see how we can thrive until we get a stock of slaves sufficient to do all our business.” Thinking about that, Winthrop realized an opportunity—in Barbados, which had become so focused on producing sugar that it needed to import all other products. At the same time, New England farms were producing a surplus of food. Winthrop saw a fortuitous “fit” for his colony. Massachusetts trade with the British West Indies grew quickly.

Massachusetts got into the slave business in two ways: First, as Winthrop continued to do, by trading captured Native Americans for kidnapped Africans who were considered more desirable; and, second, by participating in the broader Atlantic slave trade.

And thus it began. Molasses to rum to slaves. Boston in the Triangle Trade.

On Tuesday, Harvard University announced it would commit $100 million to study and redress its ties to slavery, which, in addition to Isaac Royall, Jr., are considerable. The money will create an endowed “Legacy of Slavery Fund,” which will continue researching and memorializing its slavery history, working with descendants of Black and Native American people enslaved at Harvard, as well as their broader communities.

In announcing the initiative, Harvard published an unflinching report detailing what Harvard president Lawrence Bacow described as its “profoundly immoral” behavior. In a letter to the university community about the report, Bacow wrote, “I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”

Harvard now joins other universities—notably, Brown, Georgetown* and Princeton Theological Seminary—not only wrestling with their participation in the “peculiar institution” of slavery, but also trying to work out how to commit to making amends, both socially and financially.

Why bring up all this disgusting history?

Two reasons. First, people generally associate slavery in America with the South; many are not aware of the North’s disgraceful history of slave trading and ownership.** Most everyone knows George Washington and other southern Founding Fathers were slave owners. But Boston? That’s been swept under history’s rug. Time for that to stop.

This is not to say there were not Bostonians who were aggressively anti-slavery. There were, John Adams and John Hancock for example, but they were outgunned, and greed won out, as it so often does. Massachusetts did not outlaw slavery until 1781, and at its height, there were nearly 5,000 slaves in the Commonwealth.

Second, studying slavery, even just reading about it, is uncomfortable. It is a repugnant and distressful topic. The question is: Does that mean young people should not study it in school?

As far back as 1998, elementary, high school and college educators were having serious discussions online about how to teach this necessary history with sensitivity. In that year, Professor Patrick Manning of Northeastern University wrote, “I expect everyone to be uncomfortable when we talk about slavery and slave trade, but it is essential to experience the various sorts of discomfort brought by slavery and to learn from them.”

High school teacher Karen Needles wrote, “In my classroom, I actually made students lie on the floor in close proximity to the space allotted slaves on the slave ships.” Many teachers on this 1998 List Serve did that.

Educators from this period worked hard to instill in their students an understanding of and respect for the tragedy of slavery and the Middle Passage. Chris Lowe, a professor at Boston University wrote to his colleagues, “From our outreach director here at the African Studies Center at Boston University, Barbara Brown, who works primarily with K-12 teachers, I know that teaching the slave trade appears as a big problem to the teachers she works with. My strong impression is that the main issue may not be Eurocentrism so much as the emotional minefield involved, as the history in question has the potential to provoke feelings of anxiety and shame for students (and teachers) of all racial backgrounds that are hard to cope with, and consequent defensive reactions.”

These profound conversations happened 24 years ago and are not unique. Educators at all levels cared, and cared deeply. Today’s teachers care just as much.

Yet now, 24 years later, Republican Governors in red states have loudly proclaimed their sanctimonious intentions to protect young minds from being infected by such things as the 1619 Project, or Critical Race Theory. These Governors have been signing laws that make it difficult, even illegal, for teachers to probe deeply into matters of race and sex. Their laws specifically prohibit teachers from introducing any concept by which:

(vii)  an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex;***

Versions of these restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Mississippi.

On page one of South Dakota’s summary of its new law it says the law aims to “protect students and employees at institutions of higher education from divisive concepts.” Keeping in mind that our nation’s history is rife with “divisive concepts,” there might not be much history taught in  South Dakota.

Slavery, the Triangle Trade and the Middle Passage might be the ultimate in “divisive concepts.” Nonetheless, once the kidnapped Africans arrived here, what happened to them? Assuming you agree that how they got here and what happened to them is historically important, how should this uncomfortable, but historically important, history be taught?

Consider Louisiana for a moment.

In 1712, there were only 10 Africans in all of Louisiana (there were a lot more in Boston). In this early period, European indentured servants, submitting to 36-month contracts, did most of the work clearing land and laboring on small-scale plantations. This would change dramatically after the first two ships carrying kidnapped Africans arrived in Louisiana in 1719 and in 1794 with Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin.

By 1795, there were 19,926 enslaved Africans and 16,304 free people of color in Louisiana. The German Coast, where Whitney Plantation is located, was home to 2,797 enslaved workers. The United States outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, but that did not stop the domestic slave trade. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the population of enslaved Africans skyrocketed. Someone had to pick all the cotton, which made the south rich. Just before the Civil War in 1860, there were 331,726 enslaved people and 18,647 free people of color in Louisiana.

Should the children of Louisiana not be taught this? Should they not be taught the political and economic underpinnings by which slavery grew in their state? Should they not discuss and argue it in class, led by teachers, like the ones quoted above, who have the objectivity, training, honesty and dedication to open their minds to what lies beyond?

Studying this stuff is going to make them, and their parents, uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, we have a bigger problem than ignorance. But teachers, staring at the penalties written into these vague, new laws, are now thinking twice about what and how they teach. This is a tragic development in education, and undervalues the curiosity and capacity for learning in today’s youth.

I wonder what those educators writing each other back in 1998 would think of all this? In a moment of prescience, Professor Lowe wrote, “There are probably political dimensions to this a la “culture wars” stupidities as well.”

If we Americans are too fearful to let our children learn our history, both the good and the horrific, then the moral and intellectual foundation of our future leaders will be as thin as the skin on a grape.

 

*In 2021, the Jesuit conference of priests announced their own $100 million commitment to be used for racial reconciliation and to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off the debts of Georgetown University. And Brown University is examining its role, because Rhode Island’s involvement in slavery was ever greater than that of Massachusetts.

**In 2005, the New York Historical Society opened its fascinating “Slavery In New York” exhibit detailing New York’s deep involvement with slavery, just like Boston’s. I toured the exhibit and was positively stunned.

***All the new laws have a version of this sub-paragraph. It’s almost as if they were all written by the same person.

The Sunshine State Goes Darth Vader Dark

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022

In 1967, 55 years ago, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola Counties, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.

In that year, the Florida State legislature created a special taxing district for Disneycalled the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

Walt Disney World then moved ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that today hosts millions of visitors every year.

The Special Taxing District designation gave the Disney company significant tax benefits amounting to tens of millions of dollars every year. However, those special tax benefits came with special upkeep responsibilities.

The new legislation said Walt Disney World would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.

Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.

That all changed yesterday when Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation revoking Disney’s Special Taxing District designation. Now, Disney will be paying taxes it did not up to now have to pay. It will also be relieved of having to  provide the municipal maintenance services it has provided for the last 55 years for Orange and Osceola Counties, whose combined population is about 1.8 million. With Disney and its 80,000 Floridian employees no longer picking up the bill, the responsibility for all those municipal services, including Police and Fire, now falls to the counties. Property taxes (the way municipalities raise revenue in Florida) will  increase substantially.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is worried. “My primary concern is about any particular cost shifts that are mandated by the state to local governments,” he said in an interview with Orlando’s News 6. He should be worried.

Digging deeper, Sarah Rumpf of Mediaite notes repealing Disney’s status means that Orange and Osceola Counties, in addition to municipal services, are now responsible for Disney’s $2 billion bond debt—a 20% to 25% tax hike costing $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four. And if that’s not enough, since Disney’s RCID pays more and has better employee benefits than the Florida government, county workers taking on the jobs currently performed by Disney will likely have to take pay and benefit cuts. Yikes!

In another little twist, since both counties voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Machiavellian DeSantis has found a new and improved way to stick it to opponents.

The creation, passage, signing and enactment of this legislation happened in four days.

The question is Why? Why all this political steamrolling? The answer is because Governor DeSantis, who brooks less dissent than Caligula, is upset because Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek had the daring temerity to criticize what has come to be known as the Governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek even went so far as to apologize to his 80,000 employees for not condemning the bill earlier and more strongly.

The bill, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; lessons on those topics in other grades would be prohibited unless they are “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” a vague threshold, indeed. And parents would be allowed to sue over violations. It doesn’t take the Oracle of Delphi to see where this is headed.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is DeSantis throwing seasoned red meat to his right-wing carnivores in Florida. It is DeSantis showing his many followers exactly what he thinks of the LGBTQ+ population. It is discriminatory and downright bigoted. But in Florida, it resonates, and the Governor’s lapdog legislature is happy to walk three paces behind carrying the bags.

In the immortal words of that great American salesman and inventor Ron Pompeo, “But wait. There’s more!”

In response to the 2020 census, the Florida legislature was required to draw up new legislative maps. It did, and the gerrymandered result gave Florida Republicans a guarantee of two additional seats in the US Congress. However, this was not good enough for Governor DeSantis, who created his own maps, which guaranteed four additional seats. In DeSantis’s version, Republicans would be expected to win 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, a four seat increase from the 16 they hold now. The Republican-dominated Legislature, in happy subservience, approved the Governor’s maps, which he signed into law three days ago. In addition to giving the Republicans four more seats, the new maps eliminate two currently held by Black Democrats, one of whom is Val Demings, who is challenging Marco Rubio in next year’s senate election. In the game of Pool, we’d call this an Elegant Combination.

The map is expected to draw a near-immediate court challenge from Democratic-aligned groups that contend the proposal violates federal and state law because it dismantles and diminishes those two seats currently held by the Black Democrats. Recognizing Democrats would challenge in court the new maps, Republicans, planning ahead, even included in the final bill $1 million to pay for that fight. Trouble is, it’s not clear if that legal battle can be resolved before June, when candidates must qualify for the ballot.

If all this were real warfare instead of the political kind, we would say Governor DeSantis and his Republican army had just won a Battle of Annihilation.

 

 

 

 

 

Unmasked In America

Wednesday, April 20th, 2022

Having now fully recovered from a week-long dance with COVID 19, I can report that here in the heart of the Berkshire mountains, once again all seems right with our little corner of the world. The grey and red squirrels have resumed tormenting Lancelot, the mighty wonder dog, as they contemptuously steal the bird seed he daily guards, impervious to his barking, too fast for his chasing. But he continues to try. We should all be so determined.

Meanwhile, in a surprise ruling yesterday, US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national mask mandate for public transportation. Airlines and their passengers appeared jubilant.

Much has been made of the fact that Judge Mizelle is both a Trump appointee and was judged by the American Bar Association “not qualified,” as noted in its 8 September 2020 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee when Judge Mizelle was being considered for her current position.

Judge Mizelle had been nominated to serve as a district court judge for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. As part of its analysis of a candidate’s qualifications for such a position, the ABA goes by criteria laid out in its Backgrounder.

The Backgrounder provides that “a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law.” The Backgrounder further provides that “in evaluating the professional qualifications of a nominee, the Standing Committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important.”

The ABA noted Judge Mizelle was admitted to the Bar only eight years before her nomination and had never “tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

Judge Mizelle had clerked for four judges, including Justice Clarence Thomas, and spent all of ten months at what the organization called a “reputable law firm.” Although the ABA wrote that the Judge had a “keen intellect,” in what appeared to be a sardonic coup de grace dripping with cynicism it noted, “We also are aware that as a law school student the nominee participated as co-counsel with her supervising law professor in two one-day state court trials as part of her curriculum.”

I’m wondering if the ABA, in its long history of evaluating people for district court judgeships, has ever before felt the need to dip into a candidate’s law school course history in order to say something, anything, nice about the candidate’s experience.

Moving beyond how she got to where she is, we need to ask how Judge Mizelle’s order will play out? As mentioned above, airlines seem to be overjoyed, but airplanes are well-ventilated conveyances. Her order affects all public transportation, and subways at rush hour, for instance, have about as much ventilation as a well-traveled sarcophagus.

And what about other industries? Although Judge Mizelle’s ruling applies only to public transportation, it is forcing others to re-examine their policies. For example, consider the health care industry.

Most health systems and physician groups have indicated they will maintain their masking requirements, regardless of changes in other industries. Some providers are easing the rules in certain markets as COVID-19 infection rates decline, but those decisions were made independent of Mizelle’s ruling.

Trinity Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Daniel Roth, said the Judge’s ruling jeopardizes the immunocompromised and those who can’t be vaccinated. “Trinity Health has followed guidelines from the CDC to ensure the safety of our colleagues, clinicians and patients. Yesterday’s court decision removing the requirement for face coverings on public transportation was irresponsibly abrupt and increases risk,” he said in a statement.

This evening, the Biden administration’s Justice Department, in keeping with a recommendation from the CDC, announced it would appeal Mizelle’s ruling. Although this might be the right health decision, it is likely the wrong political decision. It will perpetuate the uncertainty and confusion Americans face every day as they travel, and that will only strike another blow at Biden’s approval ratings. It may be time, finally time, to let Americans decide for themselves, with all the heartbreak that might bring to some.

No one’s asking me, but if they were, I would dearly love to advise President, also Politician, Joe Biden to do nothing, absolutely nothing. Let this go and, with a smile on your face, watch it fly off into the vastness of the darkest of nights never to be mentioned again. With all the problems of the last 15 months, if he never again had to get into the “to mask or not to mask” debate, our President would be one very happy guy.

Yes, I would dearly love to offer that advice.

But what about the many immunocompromised people who have to travel but are scared to death to do it. What about them?

And what about the children? What about the children too young to be vaccinated, in some cases too young for a mask? What about unmasked adults on public transportation near those children who might infect them because they chose their personal “freedom” over the potential harm to a child?

What about that?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Process Is A Repulsive Metaphor For Our Time

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would be retiring as soon as his replacement was confirmed by the Senate, he gave President Joe Biden perhaps the only chance he’ll ever have to make his mark on the Court.

Biden had promised to nominate a “black woman” if he ever had the opportunity—and that is precisely what he did in nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Most people thought that because Brown Jackson’s appointment would not change the mostly conservative makeup of the Court in any way—a perceived liberal replacing a bona fide liberal—and because of her standing as the first Black woman in the Court’s history, and because she went through the confirmation process with the Judiciary Committee in 2021, one year ago, for her current position, her appointment would be approved in a show of bipartisanship that is ever so rare in today’s America. Most people thought a bipartisan confirmation process would allow Republicans to appear big-hearted and welcoming.

Well, “most people” were wrong. We were suckered into and down the rabbit hole of delusional thinking. Although three Republicans, Romney, Murkowski and Collins, have announced they will vote for her confirmation, the final vote will be anything but bipartisan. The voting is scheduled for 1:45 pm today. She will be confirmed, just not in the way Biden would have liked. After that, Congress will go back to the normal internecine warfare we’ve grown to know so well.

In the Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination, the knives came out long and sharp. The vileness of the Republican strategy was exemplified Tuesday on the Senate floor by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who fancies himself quite the  presidential contender, when he said, “The last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Cotton’s execrable remark was apparently meant to suggest that not only is Judge Brown Jackson a Nazi sympathizer, she’s also a full-blown Nazi herself!

Why would this Harvard Law graduate and former Infantry officer say such a stupid and hateful thing? How could a demonstrably smart guy stoop that low? What could he possibly stand to gain from such a ridiculous statement? In defending himself, he said he attacked the Judge, because, when working for the Federal Public Defender Program, she defended three Guantanamo detainees, thereby making her sympathetic to terrorists.

In their questioning and public statements, it’s almost as if Republicans were describing an entirely different person. For example, they criticized her for being “soft on crime” and berated her for lenient sentences that go against judicial sentencing guidelines. But Judge Brown Jackson enjoys the full-throated support of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States, with more than 356,000 members. This organization rarely comments on judicial appointments, but they’re all in for her. Yet, still, on Fox News over the weekend, Senator Ted Cancun Cruz criticized Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.”*

Ask yourself why, really why, Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who, by all accounts, both deeply conservative and liberal, is eminently qualified for the appointment. Why did a number of Republican Judiciary Committee members, led by Cruz, focus so much on pedophilia? Why, in their 11.5 hours of questioning, were so many of their sanctimonious “questions” dripping with condescension, misogyny and naked racism? Why were they so very proud of that heroic accomplishment?

I will tell you why. It is because to this day 32% of Republican voters have continued to fall for the Big Lie and believe Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate (23%), or they’re not sure (9%).

It now seems the main goal in life for most Republican politicians, regardless of national interest, is getting reelected—they’ve become addicted to the power in the Washington they decry—, and to do that requires outright pandering to the Trump base and its enablers and supporters. Mustn’t upset Tucker Carlson and his 3.21 million misguided viewers.

American leaders, whose opportunistic ambitions know no bounds, are digging us a hole out of which not even light can escape. This is how democracies and empires die.

 

*Public Defenders do noble work for little compensation, representing people who would otherwise go unrepresented. They provide the legal representation the Constitution requires. The same thing John Adams did for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

Rick Scott Is Going To Rescue America!

Friday, April 1st, 2022

Rick Scott is the junior U.S. Senator from Florida. Elected in 2018, Scott has now served in Congress for 39 months. In November, 2020, his Senate GOP colleagues elected him Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). His job is to get Republicans elected and reelected to the Senate.

Prior to the Senate, Scott was a two-term governor of Florida, succeeded by Republican Ron DeSantis. Before that, he was a businessman. We’ll get back to that later.

You would think the Chairman of the NRSC would be lock-step with Republican leadership in the strategy to take the Senate from the tenuous hold of the Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms. But this does not appear to be the case. Senator Scott is marching to his own drummer.

On Thursday, after no consultation with or cooperation from Senate GOP elites, Scott officially unveiled and launched the Rick Scott, 31 page, 11 Point Plan to Rescue America. The Rescue Plan has 117 agenda items.

This is not a surprise to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Scott’s Plan has been discussed for more than a month, and as far back as 1 March McConnell publicly rebuked Scott for it. McConnell is fixated on making the mid-terms a referendum on President Biden, not on laying out a Republican plan he and the GOP establishment would have to spend the entire mid-term campaign defending. He wants Biden playing defense. Scott, on the other hand, wants America to know what Republicans will do if given control of the Senate. Right at the beginning of his Rescue Plan he says, “Americans deserve to know what we will do if given the chance to govern.” If Scott gets his way, now they will. And you have to hand it to him; he certainly doesn’t tap dance around the many issues facing the country.

Before diving into his 11 point, 117 agenda item plan, Scott lays out what the future will look like if nothing changes:

The militant left now controls the entire federal government…Among the things they plan to change or destroy are: American history, patriotism, border security, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, Judeo-Christian values, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools, and private ownership of firearms.

Wow! We need a plan to stop all that!

A few of Senator Scott’s 117 agenda items, guaranteed to be saliva-producing red meat for the trumpiest of trumpsters caught my eye.  For instance,

We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.

Kids in public schools will say the Pledge of Allegiance, stand for the National Anthem, and honor the American Flag. We must foster national unity.

Teacher tenure at public schools must be eliminated

We will not allow political or social indoctrination in our schools. Teachers who refuse to comply will need to find new jobs.

We will close the federal Department of Education. Education is a state function.

Government will not ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government form.

Our military will engage in ZERO diversity training, teachings on critical race theory, or any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.

We will force prosecutors to prosecute. At present, many prosecutors in big cities are allowing criminals to go free with no justice, and they are doing it on purpose.

Immigrants will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits or welfare for the first 7 years after arriving in the US.

No government assistance unless you are disabled or aggressively seeking work.

If Congress does not pass a budget, the members of Congress do not get paid. Full stop.

Other than disaster relief, the federal government must stop spending money on non-essential state and local projects until the budget is balanced.

All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.

Enact term limits for the Washington ruling class – 12-year limits for Congress and government bureaucrats.

All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.

We will immediately cut the IRS funding and workforce by 50%.

Humans are born male and female, there are two genders, and to deny that is to deny science. No government forms will include questions about “gender identity” or “sexual preference.”

We will protect women’s sports by banning biological males from competing.

No tax dollars will be used to pay for any diversity training or other woke indoctrination that is hostile to faith.

We will not pay any dues to the United Nations or any international organization that undermines the national interests of the USA.

The weather is always changing. We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt nutty policies that harm our economy or our jobs.

There are a few difficulties with a number of these policy tectonic changes. Ending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in five years being among the biggest. Also, Scott’s colleagues in Congress might have something to say about going without pay and getting sent home after 12 years. Increasing taxes on 50% of Americans may prove challenging for Republicans on the campaign trail. Pulling billions of dollars from the states until we have a balanced budget might irritate a few Republican governors. And reducing the IRS’s funding and currently understaffed workforce by 50% would have brought tears to the eyes of mobster Al Capone.*

Although Senator Scott’s plan is dead on arrival, the problem is it arrived in the first place. It’s not about getting Republican senators elected; it’s about Rick Scott.

And what about Rick Scott? As I mentioned above, before getting into government, Scott was a “businessman.” He co-founded Columbia Hospital Corporation in 1987. Columbia later merged with another corporation to form Columbia/HCA, which eventually became the nation’s largest private for-profit health care company with Scott as Chief Executive. According to The New York Times, “[in] less than a decade, Mr. Scott had built a company he founded with two small hospitals in El Paso into the world’s largest health care company – a $20 billion giant with about 350 hospitals, 550 home health care offices and scores of other medical businesses in 38 states.”

Sounds good, right? Quite the businessman.

But there were problems. In March of 1997, the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services arrived with search warrants. Four months later, Scott was forced to resign by his Board. He didn’t leave willingly, but when he did, he left with a settlement $9.88 million and 10 million shares of stock worth $350 million. Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to a $600+ million fine in what was at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

The company admitted to systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. It also admitted to fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. It filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, it gave doctors “loans” never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.

And that’s not all. In 2002, HCA agreed to pay the government an additional $631 million, plus interest, and $17.5 million to state Medicaid agencies, in addition to $250 million paid up to that point to resolve outstanding Medicare expense claims. The entire fiasco cost the company $1.7 billion.

All on Senator Scott’s watch.

There’s one last twist. In a civil suit deposition connected to the case (there were a lot of civil lawsuits), Senator Scott invoked his 5th Amendment rights 75 times.

Somehow, all of that has been forgotten, and Scott has managed to be a governor, a Senator, and, I’m guessing, a man, a businessman, who has his eyes on the biggest prize of all, the one up for grabs in 2024.

Rescue Plan, indeed.

*Capone was a nationally famous, Chicago-based killer and crime boss who went to prison in 1931 for tax evasion.

 

Last Week Today: Mr. & Mrs. Thomas, Cory Booker’s Sermon, And The Loss Of A Titan

Saturday, March 26th, 2022

Last week was a crazy week in America. Trying to sum it up requires leaving out much. This column is a bit long, but its tragedy is there was not enough space to wax eloquent about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Go Peacocks!

At home with the Thomases

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni have made more news in the last week than either of them has in the last ten years.

First, the Justice was admitted to hospital a week ago for an infection with flu-like symptoms (which were not Covid-19). In and of itself this was big news, especially with the backdrop of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Stephen Breyer. Thomas was released on Friday, and is apparently healthy again, which makes many people happy and many others not so much.

Next, the Supreme Court released an 8 to1 decision on Thursday in which Justice Thomas spent 23 pages of a 60 page ruling in a dissent involving a condemned man in Texas who filed a motion to have his pastor present, “laying on hands” as he prayed over him in the death chamber. Twenty-three pages of “No.”

Finally, on Thursday night there was the bombshell story broken by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the attempts to overthrow the results of the presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had turned over a trove of emails and texts to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection (Meadows has since stopped cooperating with the Committee). Among the texts were 29 back and forths between him  and Ginni Thomas — 21 sent by her, eight by him. Typical of the lot was this one from Thomas:

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

In her texts, Mrs. Thomas was disparaging of Vice President Mike Pence (“We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP…”) and complimentary of Sidney Powell, the attorney who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, and who led the “stop the steal” legal team, along with with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and John Eastman, the lawyer who wrote the eight-point plan by which he asserted Republicans could keep Trump in power. Of Powell, Mrs. Thomas wrote she should be “the lead and the face” of the battle. Thomas wrote, “Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

This story will develop further in the coming days; there is no way it couldn’t. It cannot prove anything but awkward for Justice Thomas, especially when one considers that the Supreme Court will, as it already has, inevitably hear cases stemming from the insurrection. Thus far, Thomas has refused to recuse himself from these cases. Continuing that refusal would be saying to the American public, as well as to his Supreme Court fellow Justices, that, while he may have had knowledge of his wife’s intimate involvement with the attempt to overturn the election and keep Trump in power, they did not discuss it in any husband and wife interplay and her profoundly strong views about the election never influenced his thoroughly impartial decisions.

Perhaps. Mrs. Thomas recently told the Free Beacon,“But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”

Right. Perhaps.

Cory Booker’s paean

As any rational person knew it would, this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court had some predictable moments. We knew that certain Republican senators on the committee would take the national TV spotlight as an opportunity to demonstrate the fine art of political grandstanding. We were not disappointed. In fact, Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, Graham and Cotton exceeded our wildest expectations. The disrespect, utter poor taste, condescension, outright misogyny, and, let’s face it, naked racism on display by these five, while probably greeted with applause in their MAGA base, showed them for the woeful human beings they really are. That Judge Jackson took it all with grace and dignity, while responding cogently to their dog-whistle “questions” and sanctimonious, self-righteous speeches with exponentially more intelligence than they exhibited, was a credit to her beyond anything her cynical detractors could imagine.

But toward the end of the inquisition of the fifth female, and the first black female, ever nominated to the nation’s highest court, Senator Cory Booker’s turn came. He was fifth from the end of the ordeal. At that point, questions didn’t matter. Like an old time gospel preacher, he delivered a sermon on racial progress that reduced the hypocritical Torquemadas to burnt ash. Booker told Jackson:

“Your family and you speak to service, service, service. And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.

“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”

I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian. You’re a mom. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. I see my ancestors and yours. You faced insults here that were shocking to me. Nobody’s taking this away from me.  Republicans are gonna accuse you of this and that. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.

This was an emotional moment that broke through Judge Jackson’s week-long, iron-like wall of rectitude.

With the conservative bent of the current Supreme Court, it is a given that Judge Jackson’s presence won’t change much. But you never know. Over time, things can change.

The loss of Madeleine Albright

Speaking of formidable women, the nation has lost a great one.

As the first female U.S. Secretary of State and one of the few women in leadership on the global stage during the 1990s, Madeleine Albright — who died Wednesday at the age of 84 — stood firm against dictators and tyrants from the Balkans to Haiti to Rwanda.

Throughout her life, she demonstrated a steadfast belief that democracy would triumph over authoritarianism and that the United States had to lead for it to happen.

Born in Czechoslovakia just before World War II, she came to the United States at age 11 as a refugee from the Nazis and communism and graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. After her twins were born prematurely, she learned Russian staying in the hospital with them. She knew Russian would come in handy later in life. She earned a doctorate in government from Columbia University in 1976, and at the age of 39 reentered the workforce, having been shut out for many years prior due to the sin of being a woman. She always advised other working moms that “women have to work twice as hard.”

She joined the Clinton administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, and in 1997 she became the first woman ever to be Secretary of State.

She was an ardent defender of democracy; her time in Czechoslovakia gave her a first hand look at what the other side was like, the other side that is now doing all in its power to eliminate an entire country of 44 million people. Her final Book Fascism: A Warning is exactly that, a warning we had best heed.

Madeleine Albright will be missed — Greatly.

 

North Carolina And Ohio: Worlds Apart

Friday, January 14th, 2022

Law requires all the states to redraw their state and congressional districts in the year following the decennial census of the country. Once they do that their legislatures approve the new maps, and the maps become enacted law. Then the lawsuits begin.

Yesterday, I wrote about a State Court Panel of the North Carolina Superior Court’s decision, rendered on Tuesday of this week, to uphold that state’s recently enacted election redistricting maps, maps the Court strongly affirmed were examples of extreme partisan gerrymandering in every respect in every district. Why? Because the Court said history had shown that’s the way the legislature and the state’s electorate wanted it regardless of which Party was in power.

It’s about 480 miles from Raleigh, capitol of North Carolina, to Columbus, capitol of Ohio. But from yesterday’s ruling on the same subject by the Ohio Supreme Court, you’d think they were on separate planets.

The three signers of the North Carolina decision are Republicans, and in the Ohio Supreme Court there is also a Republican majority. But on a 4-3 vote, with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, siding with the three Democratic Justices, the Court invalidated the GOP’s recently-drawn legislative maps.

The Ohio Constitution requires mapmakers to attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of voters over the past decade. That amounts to 54% for Republican candidates and 46% for Democratic candidates. According to the decision, “The commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages.” The Court ruled that did not happen. What did happen was extreme partisan gerrymandering.

Until November 2015, Article XI of Ohio’s constitution specifically allowed, and the Court upheld, partisan gerrymandering. However, in that year Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the constitution repealing Article XI and replacing it with a new version, which established a new process for creating General Assembly districts. The amendment provided for the creation of a seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission, composed of elected officials, such as the Governor and other legislative leaders. The Ohio Redistricting Commission that drew up the new maps under dispute consisted of five Republicans and two Democrats.

The Ohio commission is responsible for redistricting the boundaries of the 99 districts of the House of Representatives and the 33 Senate districts in the year immediately following the release of the federal decennial census. This is the same procedure followed in North Carolina and in every other state. However, Section 6 of Ohio’s new Article XI mandates: “No general assembly district plan shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a political party.” Further, “The statewide proportion of districts whose voters, based on statewide state and federal partisan general election results during the last ten years, favor each political party shall correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio.”

And that’s not all. The Court’s majority, interpreting the state’s constitution, wrote, “To adopt a plan under Section 1(C) (of Article XI), at least two members of each of the two largest political parties represented in the General Assembly must be in the majority voting for the plan.” Wow! The Ohio Supreme Court’s interpretation of the state’s constitution is requiring Republicans and Democrats to work together to establish state voting districts. With respect to gerrymandering, the Court has handcuffed the partisan Commission.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision is 146 pages (Thank you very much; North Carolina’s was 260.). The beginning of it gives a highly readable history of the drawing up of the maps. Anyone interested in an application of the quote about laws and  sausages misattributed* to Germany’s Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck should read pages 6 through 21. Enough said.

Because 2 February 2022 is the deadline in Ohio for candidates for legislative offices to submit petitions and declarations of candidacy, the Court ordered the Commission to meet, draw up, and submit new redistricting maps to the Court within ten days of its decision.

In yesterday’s column I wrote about North Carolina’s two decade charade in which the Party out of power repeatedly calls for an Independent Commission to formulate map redistricting, rather than elected officials. That is, until they come to power, when it suddenly doesn’t seem like such a good idea. In Chief Justice O’Connor’s concurring opinion she begins by saying she agrees with everything in the Court’s decision and order. But then she goes into depth about how Ohio’s voters might want to amend the Constitution again in order to create such an Independent Commission in an attempt to stop all the partisanship, or at least slow it down. She analyzes Arizona’s decision to do just that. In my next column, I’ll examine the Arizona change and report on its results thus far.

But for the moment, ask yourself this: Are we one country, or are we fifty countries? Are the shenanigans that go on every ten years in every state capitol what we really want for America? Or, do we want one, unified system that insures all elections, at least at the federal level, are governed by the same rules?

I’d love to know how America’s voters, not America’s legislators, would answer those questions.

*The true author is now  believed to have been American poet John Godfrey Saxe, who said it in 1869, 25 years before Bismarck. Saxe’s exact quote is, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”