Weekend Update 7/13/2019: Powerful men sometimes face consequences, but what happened at New Republic?
First: Trump Labor chief Alex Acosta resigns due to Jeffrey Epstein case. I wish I’d posted on line on Thursday what I said to my husband when I saw a news stories in which Trump was reported to have said that there was “zero chance” he would fire Acosta over these allegations. Because the moment I read that I thought, “he’s going to be out by the end of the week!” In case you don’t know what this is about, a week ago Trump pal Jeffrey Epstein arrested for sex trafficking dozens of minors and Fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy, accused by US prosecutors of paying girls as young as 14 for sex and using them to recruit others from 2002 to 2005. And not just trafficking: Wealthy financier charged with molesting dozens of girls under the age of 18.
“Prosecutors said the evidence against Epstein included a “vast trove” of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photographs of young women or girls, discovered in a weekend search of his New York City mansion. Authorities also found papers and phone records corroborating the alleged crimes, and a massage room still set up the way accusers said it appeared, prosecutors said.”
How does this involve Trump’s Labor Secretary? Well, 12 years ago Acosta was a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and mega-rich Epstein was under investigation for very similar charges involving molesting 36 young girls. Acosta stepped in a negotiated a plea deal where Epstein plead guilty to two minor prostitution charges, and would be required to register as a sex offender. Immunity from prosecution was granted on all of the other charges for Epstein, four named co-conspirators, and “unnamed potential co-conspirators.” People have been criticising that deal for years, particularly as it was pointed out that around the same time, Acosta prosecuted much less high-profile defendants on similar charges and got much more serious prison time for them.
Acosta had a press conference earlier this week in which he argued that the case hadn’t been strong enough to win, and besides, state authorities were really to blame. Those officials had something to say: ‘Abhorrent’ and ‘Completely Wrong’: Former Florida Officials Push Back Against Acosta’s Account of Epstein Case.
Some conservative sites are arguing that the new case isn’t prosecutable because of the deal. There are a few problems with that. The original deal only covered the 36 victims mentioned in the deal, for one, and More than 12 new Jeffrey Epstein accusers come forward. So none of these cases would be covered by the prosecutorial immunity. Also, one of the conditions of the deal was not just the Epstein would register as a sex offender, but that as a sex offender he would report his movement to authorities: NYPD let convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein skip judge-ordered check-ins (when you’re rich, you can get away with anything). Which doesn’t automatically mean the deal is voided, but a judge can set aside such a deal on those grounds.
Also, the original plea agreement was approved by a judge (as all have to be), and at that hearing it is traditional that victims of the alleged crimes are given a chance to address the court concerning the deal. At the time, only a few of the victims did so, and Acosta’s office told the court that all of the other victims declined to comment. Several of those victims insist that they were not consulted and not given an opportunity to speak, and a Florida judge ruled earlier this year that the non-prosecution agreement violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because at least some witnesses were never consulted or informed that it had happened. The federal court where Epstein is currently being tried doesn’t have to abide by the state court’s ruling, but it can take it into account.
So, Acosta resigned yesterday. Good riddance. Though I don’t think that simply resigning and then retiring to a cushy consulting job in the vast alt-right media-and-consulting ecosystem is adequate punishment: How Alex Acosta Got Away With It for So Long – The only way the labor secretary could give Jeffrey Epstein that 2008 plea deal is by ignoring victims.
Every now and then, someone likes to accuse me of only going after bad behavior on one end of the political spectrum. Yesterday evening was an example of the other direction: The New Republic removes op-ed attack on Buttigieg; admits it was ‘inappropriate and invasive’. Yesterday, the New Republic, which is generally considered to be a left-leaning publication, published a op-ed by an out gay writer entitled, “My Mayor Pete Problem.” I saw lots of people commenting on it throughout the day, but didn’t get a chance to go read it until the evening.
It was special.
It literally read (and I said so on line before it was pulled) like a drunken rant you would hear in a gay bar in which someone was critiquing a gay politician and blending opinions about the politician’s personal life choice, speculation about his habits in bed, along with poorly sourced comments on the politicians actual policy positions. Since the essay has been taken down (and a rather lame editorial apology posted), you can’t go read it for yourself. But don’t take my word for it:
In the hard-to-believe essay, Peck repeatedly referred to the also openly gay Buttigieg as “Mary Pete.” …Among the many gratuitous personal insults to the mayor, Peck also compares him to a 15-year-old boy who’s wondering if he should sleep with a 50-year-old man, and speculates about Buttigieg’s sexual preferences in bed — in terms that are not appropriate to repeat in this publication.
—The New York Daily News
Beside the fact that this vulgar hit piece was represented as political commentary (and then after the firestorm of criticism, the editors pivoted to claiming it was satire), the other crime it committed is that it forced me to agree with the arch-conservative wingnuts at the Washington Examiner: Nasty, horribly written New Republic op-ed attacks Mayor Pete as the gay Uncle Tom (Note, this is a donotlink.it link).
When the same publication that frequently insists that IQ is hereditary which therefore justifies some of their racist editorials recognizes that something you’ve published is homophobic, you have really screwed up!
Someone at the New Republic needs to get fired over this.
And here are a collection of awful headlines that I want to clear out and not even think about for next Friday:
Feds Bust Christian Missionary For Molesting Orphans. Arrested. Please, oh please don’t let anyone like Acosta near this case!
Finally, while I don’t feel right trying to end this on a positive note, I will end it with just a bit of schadenfreude:
Anti-Gay Former GOP Rep. William Dannemeyer Dies At 89, Called For Firing And Quarantining People With HIV. When he was still in congress he claimed that queer men infected with HIV “emitted spores” that could infect pregnant women—and that was hardly the craziest thing he ever said. Anyway, here’s hoping his soul is mounted on a nice rotisserie in hell.
I will try to get my Pride Parade/Festival post finished and uploaded before Thursday. In the mean time, several conversations in my social media streams made me think that it is time to clear out some of the images I’ve been saving in hopes of using to illustrate a post.
We have reached the point where the same people who inspired someone to go on a mass shooting spree in a synagogue, inspired someone else to drive his car into a crowd of people protesting a neo-Nazi rally (killing one woman and injuring a bunch of other people), and are cheering children being forcibly separated from their families and locked in cages… those same people are outraged beyond belief that someone threw a milkshake at one of them!
And then they are angry that some of us don’t see the injustice of the milkshake. So, just in case it isn’t perfectly clear where my moral compass is aligned, please enjoy these images:
Saw this list on tumblr at Join the Political Revolution. The original has links to news stories for each of the events.
It’s Pride Month…
…so let’s get a couple things straight about Donald Trump and LGBTQ rights:
- The Trump Admin. has made a conscious effort to ignore the very existence of Pride Month up until 2019. (1)
- As soon as Trump was inaugurated, the “LGBTQ rights” pages and recognitions on government websites were removed. (2)
- The Trump admin canceled plans to ask questions regarding sexual orientation on the 2020 US census. (3)
- Trump and Pence attempted to have the Commerce Department remove sexual orientation and gender identity from their equal employment policy. (4)
- Against expert advice of military leadership, medical authorities, budget analysts, the U.S. House, 70% of Americans, and the armed forces of allied countries, Trump and Pence banned transgender people from the military. (5)
- The Trump Admin. ordered Betsy DeVos and the Dept. of Ed. to rescind non-discrimination protections for transgender students, against expert advice of medical, legal, and policy professionals. (6)
- Betsy DeVos and the Dept. of Ed. announced they would reject civil rights complaints from transgender students. (7)
- Betsy DeVos refused to rule out federal funds for private schools that discriminate. (8)
- The Trump Admin. announced a proposal that would gut anti-discrimination protections for transgender patients in health care spaces, essentially permitting harm against trans patients. (9)
- May, 2019 – The Trump Admin. proposed a regulation that would enable medical professionals to deny ALL forms of care to LGBTQ patients solely based on the provider’s personal beliefs. (10)
- Trump Admin. has established a new office within HHS whose sole purpose would be to defend physicians and other medical professionals who refuse care to LGBTQ patients. (11)
- Trump Admin. granted a federally-funded foster program to discriminate against families who are LGBTQ or whom do not identify as Christian. (12)
- Since the fall of 2018, Trump and Pence have been attempting to circulate a federal government-wide regulation that would essentially erase trans people from all existing protections and acknowledgment. (13)
- Trump Admin ordered the Centers for Disease Control to stop using the word “transgender” in official reports in an effort to erase data dissemination on trans people. (14)
- Trump Admin. proposed a rule that would eliminate data collection on LGBTQ foster youth and parents, erasing all official knowledge of the needs of LGBTQ children in these spaces. (15)
- Trump Admin. specifically ordered questions on sexual orientation to be removed from surveys of programs that cater to the elderly and disabled, directly striking at older LGBTQ Americans and persons with disabilities. (16)
- Ben Carson and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are removing the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” in HUD’s official mission statement while scaling back enforcement of non-discrimination regulations. (17)
- HUD and Ben Carson are permitting emergency shelters to deny access to transgender persons who are homeless. (18)
- HUD and Ben Carson trim the number of LGBTQ-related questions in federal surveys. (19)
- Trump Admin’s Justice Dept. has filed a brief In the U.S. Court Of Appeals that argued federal civil rights laws do not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. (20)
- Trump’s Justice Dept. and Jeff Sessions issued guidelines to protect religious objections to public policy. (21)
- Trump Admin. defended the baker who refused to bake a same-sex couple a wedding cake. (22)
- Trump Admin is rolling back protections that provide safe accommodations for transgender inmates. (23)
- By executive order, Trump Admin. rolled back non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ federal contractors. (24)
- The Trump Admin. ordered the State Department to deny visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats. (25)
- May, 2019 – The Trump Admin. changed rules so the child of a same-sex couple born abroad via surrogate would be considered “born out of wedlock” and would not be granted U.S. citizenship. (26)
I don’t know who convinced the alleged president to send out message claiming to support queer people, but take a look at the 26 items above (and that isn’t everything). Those are all the actions of a homophobic bigot. Many of them are policy changes to don’t just take away rights, but actively hurt LGBT+ people—especially queer children. This isn’t about a difference of an opinion. These represent an assault of the livelihoods, well-being, and lives of all queer people.
And guess what? If you agree with any of those actions? That means you’re a homophobic bigot, too.
You can’t assault a group of people and then claim that you support them.
Leader of church that was the result of someone making up their own version of christianity says other people can’t make up their own version of christianity
I’m not going to link to Everett Piper’s full commentary (published in the Washington Times—a small far-right newspaper not to be confused with the prestigious Washington Post), but the article above has a link, and it’s not hard to find. The title of Piper’s commentary is: “Pete Buttigieg doesn’t get to make up his own Christianity.” And that’s just hilarious!
Because Piper is a member of the Weslyan Methodist Church (and is the president of a Weslyan Methodist college), which is a denomination that form in 1843 when it split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church, which officially split from the Church of England in 1784, which was formed in 1534 with King Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church. And each of those splits were over doctrinal differences (yes, there was a specific personal and political aim that Henry was going for, but it was over a doctrinal dispute about what would constitute reasons for annulling a marriage). That means that each of those splits was because someone decided to make up their own version of christianity.
Mayor Pete is a member of the Episcopal Church, an American denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. And the Episcopal Church has been accepting of gay and lesbian members, priests, and bishops for some years now. Mayor Pete wasn’t even one of the movers and shakers in that regard, so you can’t even accuse him of having made that particular doctrinal change.
Piper’s denomination, while being a splinter from a splinter of the Anglican Communion, has far more in common with fundamentalist evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptists, than the Episcopal Church. And many of those fundamentalist evangelical denominations which Piper considers to be practicing his version of christianity are descended from groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church back in the year 1517, after Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (proposals for reforms) to the door of his church.
Each of the thousands of denominations are the result of someone deciding to make up their own version of christianity. If Piper is going to insist that no one has the right to do that, he darn well better resign from his current church and go join the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, if anyone confronted Piper about this, he would quickly deflect, because the real issue is that Piper and his co-religionists don’t think that denominations such as the Episcopalians are “real christians.” But he doesn’t want to admit that. Instead, he tries to cast this as somehow it is Mayor Pete all by himself deciding that queer people can be out and non-celibate and be good christians at the same time.
The fact that christian denominations such as the Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterians, welcome and affirm queer members is something Piper and his ilk want to ignore. Just as they keep pretending that it is only a minority of the U.S. population that favors marriage equality and civil rights protections for queer people.
And what really worries them is the growing support in almost all denominations, especially among younger christians, for full acceptance of and legal equality for gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, et cetera people. Because it’s just another reason why many of those unwelcoming denominations are seeing the membership shrinking. Of course, I’m not the only person to observe this: Why do right wing Christians find Pete Buttigieg so threatening? Here’s the answer — The attacks on the South Bend mayor from severe fundamentalists will surely continue in the months ahead.
I suspect that Mayor Pete won’t actually wind up as the party’s nominee, but I hope he keeps making the haters foam at the mouth! And the more they do, the harder it is for others to ignore the bigotry
If you want to know more about Mayor Pete and his candidacy for president: Who is Pete Buttigieg? Meet the gay millennial mayor surging in the Democratic primary.
The current wave of White Nationalism and Islamophobia we’re embroiled in was hardly the first time that the U.S. succumbed to anti-immigrant fervor. When the 1845 potato famine sent thousands of Irish people to America, hoping to find work and feed their families, the long-brewing anti-Catholic feelings in the country boiled over. Take this paragraph that describes the cartoon above:
“[Thomas] Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons focus on the Irish as a destructive and lying group, who endangered American society. In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871 in New York City, in which Irish Catholics clashed with the National Guard protecting an Irish Protestant parade, Nast drew a number of anti-Irish cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. One cartoon illustrated the Draft Riots of July 1863, where Irish Catholics attacked African-Americans throughout New York City. At the top of the drawing Nast wrote that the Irish Catholic is bound to respect “no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights,” highlighting the believed lack of respect the Irish immigrants had for American society. Furthermore, the contrast between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons in this cartoon clearly shows the Irish in negative light. While the Anglo-Saxons are drawn as regular looking people, the Irish are drawn with ape-like faces illustrating their inferiority as well as the lack of intelligence. Such depictions of Irish were not limited to Nast, with other papers such as Puck and Judge also using caricatures of Irish as primitive and violent.”
—“Thomas Nast Anti-Irish Cartoons”, Catholic Historical Research Center
As I said, anti-Catholic sentiment had been a thing in the U.S. before the famine. There were the Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where anti-Catholic mobs set homes and churches on fire, killing dozens and wounding far more. And I want to emphasize that popular perception was that Catholicism was the religion of invaders. Most of the English colonists had been protestant, and many of the people who participated in the riots and demonstrations were part of so-called “Nativist” organizations, out to protect “real American culture.”
To be perfectly clear, I say so-called because none of them were members of Native America tribes. These were white mutts just like me, whose ancestors had come over mostly from Holland and England just a few generations before and either participated in or profited from the systemic slaughter and displacement of America’s indigenous peoples.
Anyway, the Archbishop of New York had a wall built around St. Patrick’s Cathedral during this time, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (a pro-Irish group) stationed men armed with muskets around many catholic churches in cities where tensions were high. This is the same organization that sponsored (and in some places still sponsors) many of the St. Patrick’s Day parades throughout the U.S. today.
St. Patrick’s Day parades, during the 19th Century and well into that the 20th, were acts of political protest. Police and National Guard units were sometimes sent in beat up and arrest as many of the parade participants as possible. When Harry S. Truman first participated in the New York City parade in 1948, it was a big deal.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades were Irish Pride Parades—people marched to protest inequality, anti-Irish prejudice, anti-Catholic prejudice, and to honor previous generations who endured those riots, police assaults, and so on.
And during those turning point years, after Irish-America cops fought for the right to march in their uniforms, there was a bit of controversy in some parts of the community—people who were old enough to remember when riot police were sent in to stop the parade.
Now, most people think they are just big parties. Green beer! Everyone’ Irish on St Paddy’s Day! Right? Right?
Over the last few years some of the big city St Patrick’s Day Parades have begun to allow gay Irish-American groups to participate in the parades. But not everywhere. And before you try to argue that since St Patrick is a religious figure (though he was never canonized by a Pope, so not officially a saint), remember all that green beer and cheap Irish whiskey shots at bars? All the raucous behavior and public drunkenness at the parades?
It is not a religious event.
The St Patrick’s Day Parades in America have always been political events. They were originally about fighting discrimination. They are supposed to be about pride in being Irish, right?
Guess what? A lot of Irish-Americans are queer. Hell, a lot of Irish people are queer. The current Prime Minister of Ireland is an openly gay man! He brought his husband with him when he met with the Vice President last week, and then our very homophobic Veep had to stand by and smile diplomatically while the Prime Minister gave an anti-discrimination speech. In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote!
My own heritage is mixed, like a lot of pasty-pale-skinned Americans. A chunk of my dad’s ancestors came to the U.S. from Ireland, but they were descended from Anglo occupiers who invaded Ireland in the 15th Century. Many of my mom’s ancestors came from Ireland and were poor Irish Catholics. There are conflicting stories in the family about exactly how and when each branch converted to evangelical Protestant, but, my great-grandpa was proud of his Irish roots, and told stories of how his great-grandpa struggled to find work after coming to America during the potato famine.
So, I think I have at least a bit of a right to state an opinion on Irish Pride Parades. And this queer fairy descended from more than a few Irish immigrants, thinks that telling queer Irish-Americans they can’t march in a St Patrick’s Day Parade is bigoted, backward thinking best described as pure blarney.
I could write yet again about the foolishness of Daylight Saving Time, but despite not needing to be anywhere at a specific time, all day Sunday I was feeling confused about the time and had to deal with two nap attacks.
Anyway, my state is not the only one that currently has a bill moving through the legislature to make us stop changing clocks twice a year. Find out if yours is one of the many considering it, and call your state legislators and encourage them to vote for it! There is at least one bill in the U.S. Senate (with, last I checked only two co-sponsors) that would make it easier for states to opt out of the Daylight Saving Madness. So, maybe consider calling your federal representative.
I know that, despite the fact that the time change contributes to an increase in traffic accidents and death, workplace accidents and injury, and exacerbates many health issues, it isn’t as dire as the things I’m usually going on about here, but maybe if we can make some progress on something like this, it will make some of the other issues a little more conquerable?
Anyway, I’m reposting what I posted last year on the topic of Daylight Saving Time, why we do it, and all the myths about it. Enjoy:
100 years of Daylight Saving Time, and most of what you know about it is wrong
I was going to write a post about Daylight Saving Time, specifically the many myths that get thrown around by people trying to explain it. I think the fact that almost no one understands why we do it is one of the best arguments for why we shouldn’t do it at all. Let alone the problems the switch causes: Heart problems, road accidents and mood changes are associated with the DST time change. But while I was searching for a good image to attach to such a post, I found this Buzzfeed article and includes a section that hits all the notes I wanted to:
In 1905, a British architect named William Willett invented daylight saving time. Willett was out for his regular early-morning horse ride when it he noticed that 1) it was rather light outside, and 2) he was the only one up. Like Franklin, he thought this was a waste of perfectly good sunlight. And it ~dawned~ on him that instead of getting everyone up earlier by blasting cannons, they could simply shift their clocks forward to take better advantage of that sweet daylight. So, in 1907 Willett published a pamphlet outlining his formal proposal. He suggested that people turn their clocks forward 20 minutes every Sunday in April at 2 a.m. (And then they would set the clocks back by 20 minutes every Sunday in September.) He argued that this would get people outside and exercising, and that it would save on electricity, gas, candles, etc. (He also estimated it would save $200 million in today’s dollars. This was…again, a wild exaggeration.) A member of parliament, Richard Pearce, heard about Willett’s idea and was into it; he introduced Pearce’s Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in February of 1908. The idea of changing the clocks four times in a month didn’t go over well, and the bill was eventually revised so that the clocks would be set forward one hour at 2 a.m. on the third Sunday in April (and then set back in September).
The bill was endorsed by merchants, banks, railroad companies, and the guy who created Sherlock Holmes, but was opposed by most astronomers and scientists. And one newspaper wrote “that if a man were going to a 7:00 dinner, under the new arrangement of daylight he would appear on the streets of London in evening dress at 5:40, which would shake the British Empire to its foundations.”
You know who else opposed the bill? FARMERS. They argued from the start that they couldn’t perform their operations at a different time — for example, they couldn’t harvest grass for hay while it was still wet with dew, and the dew wasn’t going to disappear earlier just because the clock had changed. And there were other activities that they couldn’t do until temperatures dropped after the sun went down. Basically, they hated DST from its inception.
Despite the association with farmers, daylight saving time actually came to the United States thanks to business owners (and war)
If you feel like garbage this week, you can direct your curses toward Marcus A. Marks, a clothing manufacturer; A. Lincoln Filene, a department store owner; and Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist. These three were very pro-DST, and were able to get labor organizations on board, along with the US Chamber of Commerce, the president of the National League of Baseball Clubs, and other prominent business owners. Even President Woodrow Wilson wrote a letter expressing his support for their efforts.
Less than two weeks after the US entered WWI, a daylight saving bill was introduced in Congress. It was heavily opposed by farmers, and also railroad companies, who were concerned about anything that could mess with the standard time zones (which had only recently become A Thing — a story for another day), and who said that 1,698,818 (!!) clocks and watches along their routes would have to be changed if DST were implemented. Because the fewest trains were running at 2 a.m., that became the proposed hour for the change-over. And because the most coal was consumed in March and October in the States, the bill was expanded to include those two months. On March 19, 1918, daylight saving time was signed into law in the United States, and took effect on March 31 of that year.
—“9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Daylight Saving Time” by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, for Buzzfeed
The energy consumption savings argument was difficult to back up with numbers in 1918. The energy consumption argument at least had some slight possibility of being correct in 1918, when the vast majority of energy use was in factories, retail businesses, and the like. Residential energy use was limited to cooking, heating, and providing light usually with oil- or gas-burning lamps.
But in 2018 the argument doesn’t hold up. For instance, residential energy use thanks to all our computers, TVs, sound systems, game systems, refrigerators, microwaves, et cetera is a larger fraction of the total national energy consumption. And the amount of that home energy consumed for lighting is much smaller than all those other things. Also, a much larger proportion of businesses run 24 hours a day than did back then. Setting clocks forward or back has negligible impact on how much energy is used per day on a 24-hour business.
What I’m saying is, there isn’t much reason to justify the effort, the impacts on people’s health, and other costs of this twice annual fiddling with the clock.
Besides, I’ve always agreed with the one reaction, usually attributed to an elderly man on a Native American Reservation after first getting an explanation of Daylight Saving Time: “Only a fool would think you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, then sew it to the bottom to get a longer blanket.”
I am constantly saving various images to possibly use to illustrate a post, then wind up using only a fraction of them. Between the recent slushmageddon and my being sick, I’m behind on lots of things and have way more errands to run than usual. So, rather than rant about some news developments that have happened since I compiled yesterday’s Friday Five (sold them the rope edition) here are some of my recently collected images/memes/what-have-you:
Finally, some of you may know that my latest musical obsession is Panic! At the Disco—specifically lead singer Brendon Urie, so when I saw this tweet I laughed outloud and said, “Welcome to the club!”:
Which seems like a good reason to link to one of his music videos that hasn’t been included in any of my previous posts:
Panic! At The Disco: Girls/Girls/Boys [OFFICIAL VIDEO]:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
A senior Democratic aide told the Daily News that the deal started with a meeting between Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office Thursday evening.
McConnell proposed a short-term funding bill with a down payment on the wall, but Schumer rejected that, suggesting Democrats would commit to the path that Trump announced — an agreement for the House and Senate to work out border security in a conference committee.
And I want to get the timeline completely clear: Back in December, before the shutdown, when the Republicans still controlled both Houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans hammered our a spending deal, Trump had agreed to sign in, and then, when presented with the actual bill that he had already agreed to, Donald changed his mind. Vice President Pence urged Trump to sign the bill and not shutdown the government. Trump, apparently being egged on by one of his slimiest advisors, Stephen Miller, vetoed the bill. A couple weeks later, Democrats officially took control of the lower House and immediately passed the exact same bill that Trump had originally agreed to. Senate Majority Piddler Mitch McConnell, despite private calls from other Republican Senators, refused to even schedule a vote of the bill. As the House passed 9 more versions of the spending bill (one unanimously), members of McConnell’s party began to publicly call for him to schedule a vote.
Pelosi informed the President that there would be no State of the Union Address while the shutdown was going on. Donald got into a snit, seeming to think that the earlier letter from Pelosi suggesting the date (back when everyone assumed the Senate Republicans were going to vote to re-open government sooner) somehow constituted a legal contract(?). Then insisted he could just show up and give the speech. At which point finally pundits on Fox News even had to admit that it doesn’t work that way. The State of the Union is defined in the Constitution as a report from the President to the Congress. And the Constitution also makes the Congress and co-equal branch of the government, and gives each House absolute control over its own chamber. The President cannot address either House without a resolution from the House inviting him. The Senate might pass such a resolution (though it was looking as if that wasn’t certain), but if the House doesn’t pass a matching resolution, and if Pelosi doesn’t approve turning the cameras on in the House Chamber, Donald isn’t going to get his big stage and those hundreds of thousands of viewers that he craves.
So that was the first surrender that Donald made this week: because it was clear that even his loyal Fox News wouldn’t call or cover any speech given anywhere else the same as a State of the Union.
I’ve been seeing a bunch of people claim that Pelosi didn’t really win the fight over the shutdown, that the Air Traffic Controllers did, as delays started to occur at major hub airports. I understand the attraction of that argument, but the timing is off. Trump already had caved, and was sending his surrogates to find a way to give in while saving face before that happened. Yes, the Air Traffic Control situation surely is what pushed a bunch of Congressional Republicans who had been holding out before, but Trump was already giving up.
Don’t believe me? Well, would you believe one of Donald’s most fervent fanboys from Fox News? Lou Dobbs: Nancy Pelosi “Just Whipped” The President.
“She has just whipped the president of the United States. You know I’m an animated, energetic supporter of this president, but you’ve got to call it as it is. This president said it was going to be conditional, border security, building that wall, and he just reversed himself. That’s a victory for Nancy Pelosi.”
—Lou Dobbs, Fox Business January 25, 2019
I know it’s more complicated than just one person. ‘Complete, total surrender’: Why Trump waved the white flag – The sudden erosion of support from Senate Republicans ultimately forced Trump’s hand. But that’s the way it is with these battles. There is a context.
And obviously, the fight isn’t over. The bipartisan conference committee has to meet and hammer out some kind of deal. And clearly our Alleged President is willing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus to try to get his way. But I’ll take victories when we get them.
There were problems with the teacher’s analogy, of course. The first is that Virginia was a “big state” for purposes of the actual Constitutional question, not because it was physically larger, per se, but because it had a much higher population. The second is that, while a state is a governmental entity that in theory represents the people inhabiting it’s territory, that entity doesn’t always represent the needs and wishes of all of its citizens equally.
Now, at the time the Continental Congress was drafting the Constitution, state population densities were not as lopsided as they are now, so there happened to be a rough correlation between the physical size of most states and their populations, so it is easy to understand how the geographic size became conflated with size of population.
There was a fear among the states with lower populations that the higher population states would, if given power in the new government proportionate to population, overrule concerns raised by those states. That is one reason why the original Continental Congress had consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, and why each state only got one vote (despite having multiple delegates). It is also why under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress (which consisted of only one house, and was the entirety of the Federal government for the first ten years of independence—there was no executive branch nor a judiciary) had also consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, regardless of population.
It wasn’t a fear of a few big hulking bullies, it was a fear of the tyranny of the majority.
So, when the states all agreed in 1787 that the Articles of Confederation weren’t giving them an actual working government, they called a Continental Congress (separate from the federal Congress) to draft a solution.
That process created a Congress of two houses, one had members (in theory) proportionate to the population of each state, the other gave equal representation to each state regardless of population. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant compromise. Another portion of the Constitution laid out the election of the President in a similar way: each state would get a number of votes equal to the total number of representatives and senators it had in the Congress. This gave high population states more votes than low population states, but also gave the low population states more votes than they would be entitled to due to population alone.
I mention above that the representation in the lower house is only proportionate in theory, and here’s why: every state, regardless of population, gets at least one representative. There are currently three states whose populations are fewer than the average population of a congressional district in more populous states. And, because the size of the lower house hasn’t been increased in 90 years, these disparities get weird even when comparing only states that have more than two Representatives in the House: some districts are nearly twice the population of others.
Because the Electoral College is skewed by both the two-senators-no-matter-population rule and the mathematical disparities of the apportionment of the House, that means that voters in the less densely populated states have, for all intents and purposes, four times as much say in selecting the President as voters in some of the more densely populated states.When maps like the second one here are shared by conservatives, the question that gets asked, “Do you really want only this much of the country to elect our Presidents?” This plays into the same misconception that my teacher gave about big states and little states: Even though it says right there in the text by the map that these nine states comprise a full half of the population, emotionally you process the size of the other states as representing a majority, when it doesn’t.
The fact that 82 of the 100 members in the Senate represent only half the population of the country, is also one reason why we frequently have Congressional gridlock. And it is certainly playing out in the current government shutdown.Gerrymandering of district for electing Representatives also contributes to these problems. And gerrymandering can be very powerful. My favorite example is to just look at what happened in my state, Washington, during the 1994 midterm elections. At the time, Washington had nine Representatives in Congress. In that election, just over 60% of the voters of Washington state voted to have a Democrat represent them in Congress. Knowing that 60% of the voters chose a Democrat, you would expect that out of 9 seats, at least 5 of them would be filled by Democrats, right? That isn’t what happened. Instead, only 3 seats went to Democrats, and 6 went to Republicans. That was because of gerrymandering.
When I’ve written about these issues before, some folks have pointed out that fixing it would require amending the Constitution—which requires supermajority votes in both houses of Congress and then a supermajority of states have to ratify. Plus, fixing the Senate is a particularly difficult issue. And no one likes the solution I suggested (half-jokingly), which is a Constitutional amendment that requires any state whose population isn’t large enough to justify three Representatives must cease to be a state and merge with a neighboring state.
But there are things that can be done to alleviate the problem which don’t require amending the Constitution. The first is to simply increase the number of Representatives in the House so that the district disparities are alleviated. There have been a number of bills proposed (and some with bipartisan sponsors) toward this end. One popular solution is called the “Wyoming Rule.” Not because it was proposed by Wyoming, but because Wyoming is the lowest population state. The Wyoming Rule would set up a system where each time when Congress does reapportionment after each Census, part of the process is to increase the total number of Representatives so that the average size of a Congressional District equals the population of the least populous state. Many nations of parliaments/assemblies/what-have-you that are much larger than our House of Representatives and they manage to conduct business just fine.
Increasing the number of Representatives alleviates at least two of the problems: it decreases the odds that a Presidential candidate who lost the popular vote will win the electoral college, and it makes gerrymandering much more difficult.
Another couple of things that could help: Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. D.C. has a population larger than two of the states of the union, and they have no vote in either house of Congress. D.C. statehood has been opposed by National Republicans for several years because the demographics of the district make it likely that it was most often elect Democrats to the Senate. Puerto Rico has a population that exceeds the three least populous states added together! In fact, it has a higher population that 21 of the states. Again, National Republicans have opposed statehood for the territory because it is assumed it would likely add two more reliably Democratic seats to the Senate. And that is precisely why statehood for each would alleviate some of the problems of partisan imbalance in the Senate.
Then, of course, there is the movement to change the way the states appoint their electors: National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Once again some news stories either broke after I had finished this week’s Friday Five or new developments related to stories I’ve posted about before. And these are stories I want to make a bit more commentary on than I usually do with the Friday Fives. So, let’s jump into these things…
First, the shutdown is still a thingL Pelosi and Schumer Meet With Trump – Say He Vows to Keep Government Shutdown for ‘Years’ Over Wall Funding. And later in the day Trump confirmed his words. This is bad. There are hundreds of thousands of federal employees being forced to work without pay (and they are ordinary people who need to pay rent, buy food for their kids, et cetera), and hundreds of thousands more that have been sent home without pay. ‘I feel used and insulted’: Furloughed IRS employee on CNN shames Trump for treating him like a pawn.
This isn’t just bad for them, it is bad for the economy. What makes the economy work isn’t the giant billion-dollar companies or wealthy investors: it is ordinary people spending money day to day.
And the really insane part is contained in this article: Millions face delayed tax refunds, cuts to food stamps as White House scrambles to deal with shutdown’s consequences. Go read some of those quotes! There are a number of Republican congresspeople quoted who were cheering the shutdown a week ago, who are only now learning that government shutdown means that people who voted for them aren’t getting their foodstamps, or the social security checks, and won’t get tax refunds. There are Trump cabinet officials quoted in there who didn’t understand it.
They didn’t understand that ‘government shutdown’ means that the government shuts down!?!?
It isn’t just Trump who is ignorant and doesn’t know how things work. It’s like half the goddamn Republican party!
The thing is, they can end this. The first deal, the one Trump vetoed a couple of weeks ago, passed the Senate unanimously. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the deal with no wall funding already. Congress can override the President’s veto. Now, since new Congresspeople were sworn in and this is technically a new Congress, I believe that means that they have to first pass the deal again, let him veto it, and then if all the Senators who voted for it before, and a bunch of these Republican Reps in the House who are finally realizing what this means joins the Democrats on the reconsideration, BOOM, veto overridden and government is running again.
I’m going to repeat something that I say from time to time: the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with the assumption that it is Congress that runs the country. Article I of the Constitution describes the Congress, its powers, its responsibilities, and its limitations. Everything that follows in the Constitution (the Presidency, the Judiciary, the Amendment process, the Bill of Rights) are in relationship to the Congress. The President isn’t supposed to run the country, Congress is. And they can. I realize it means some Republicans (not even half of them—just enough to with the Democrats—reach two-thirds) growing at least a teensy bit of a spine.
I’m not terribly hopeful at the moment, but…
There are some Republicans with spines: Bush speechwriter uses Bible to slap evangelicals for sucking up to ‘unethical and racist’ Trump. Wow, he even understands what the Bible actually says!
“In this struggle, many evangelicals believe they have found a champion in Trump. He is the enemy of their enemies. He is willing to use the hardball tactics of the secular world to defend their sacred interests. In their battle with the Philistines, evangelicals have essentially hired their own Goliath — brutal, pagan, but on their side… A hypocrisy becomes unsustainable. A seed gets planted. And a greater power emerges, revealing new leaders and shaming those who reduce Christianity to a sad and sordid game of thrones.”
I think another point he makes is the most important:
“The employment of an unethical, racist, anti-immigrant, misogynist Giant is not likely to play well with women, minorities and young people, who are likely to equate conservative religion with prejudice for decades to come.”
Honestly, polling information indicates that’s already happened. Which actually gives me a lot of hope.