House bill 785 National “Right to Work” Act

House bill HR 785 National “Right to Work” or More of Is This What You Want Your Government to Do? (Part 3)

There is no summary for HR 785 National Right to Work act, but it is an anti-union bill. If you support unions, you need to contact your representatives to block this bill.

The act claims “to preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.”  However, that is a lie.  In convoluted references to five other laws, it would do the following.

  • Removes the rights of a worker to join unions.
  • Splits workers of the company into those who are and are not members in union,
  • Eliminates protections of certain unfair labor practices.
  • Forbids membership in a union as a requirement of employment.
  • Removes unions from determining necessary qualifications in the building and construction industry and from submitting the names of qualified people for those positions.
  • Specifically cancels membership of railway workers in railway unions.

Based on history, there would be some obvious effects if this bill passed.

First, it strikes down the rights of labor organizations to prevent unfair labor practices such as discrimination in hiring or continued employment. If that doesn’t scare you, it should. I don’t need to tell any minority or disabled employees what that could mean.  In the past, people were refused work due to the color of their skin, the land of their ancestors, and their religion, just to name a few.  Quite a few wars have been fought over these reasons. Refer to the US Civil War for one.

Second, it removes the law that stops employers from disciplining or firing employees who join unions.  By splitting workers into those who belong to a union and those who do not, this bill would set up a prejudicial system for treatment of employees. That should bother you too.

Third, it attempts to break union authority away from specific occupations. For the last century, the qualifications of many journeyman jobs have been determined by a union; this is common in construction, skilled trades, and manual labor positions. People are given the jobs in order according to a list. This bill would remove that method of finding gainful employment. The effect would lower the wages of people who do the work — work that is often dangerous due to weather or other working conditions — and remove incentives for those people to learn their trade, continue learning new skills, just as it would remove incentives for employers to hire the skilled tradesmen at a living wage.  In addition, it could lead to an increase in accidents at construction sites due to untrained workers replacing experienced employees.

The act would remove the requirement of railroad workers to join the railway union. Therefore, they would no longer have a union to make agreements on their behalf, and to resolve or establish working conditions.

Blocking membership in a union as a requirement of employment is a clear attempt to break union power.

Perhaps it is time to remind people of what US unions have done. They did get rid of sweatshops, those were a real thing. Here is a short list of other benefits (of the many that could be listed):

  • 5 day work week — and the weekend!
  • 8 hour work day
  • Occupational safety legislation
  • Family and medical leave act

In the past, states have implemented “right to work” legislation, but it is anything but that. Employees in those states tend to have lower wages and less secure employment. On 2/01/2017 it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for review. Let your representatives know how you feel.

 

—-

You can read the entire text of the act with links to the associated laws here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/785/text .

 

 

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Is This What You Want Your Government To Do? Current US House Bills (part 2)

Is This What You Want Your Government To Do?

A post is going around social media publicizing current House bills and asking people to call their officials to request they vote against the following bills. Today I am reporting on my continuing research into these bills.  See below the list for the current status of the bills, a summary of what each covers — and why you should care. Monday I reviewed the first four on the list in part 1, which you can read here. Today’s post covers 5 and 6, repeal of Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood. I plan to continue the review of the rest of the bills in the next few days.

  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency – referred to House Subcommittee on Environment
  2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education – referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education – referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife – PASSED and sent to Senate
  5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act – see below
  6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood – see below
  7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions) – coming in the next blog.
  8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill – coming in the next blog.
  9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”) – coming in another
  10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran – coming in another blog.
  1. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act

The entire title of this bill is “To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, and for other purposes.”  It has been referred to the following House committees: Energy and Commerce; Education and the Workforce; Ways and Means; Judiciary; Natural Resources; Rules; House Administration; Appropriations; Budget; and Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. This sounds serious: most bills only go to one committee.

This bill would cancel the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. It also repeals the health care provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. The repeal would go into effect on January 1, 2020. The bill also states “Provisions of law amended by the repealed provisions are restored,” whatever that means.

Let’s try to figure out what those confusing words mean. The Senate Democrats wrote a “detailed summary” of the Affordable Care Act that simplifies the original bill.[1] Although ACA is imperfect and some people cannot afford medical insurance under ACA, millions of people have healthcare that previously did not. In addition to coverage of pre-existing conditions and chronic ailments, ACA stipulates that insurance companies must spend a minimum of 80% of the premiums on medical care. The HR 370 bill would repeal all of that as of 1/1/2020.

Let’s look at the other provisions of HR 370.  The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010[2] (HR 4872) changed the financial provisions of ACA. This is a complicated bill. In addition to modifications to coverage of those on Social Security and changes to allowable fees paid to doctors, it reduced the percentage of insurance costs that an employer pays. It set up an increasing fine for people who did not obtain insurance coverage.  On the plus side, it set the maximum waiting period for coverage at 90 days, forbid dropping coverage except in cases of fraud, and required grandfathered medical plans to include coverage for dependents up to 26 years of age.

In addition, it changed the maximum Pell Grant amount that could be awarded beginning in 2013. Although it extended grants to minority institutions until 2019, it forbids the Secretary of Education from awarding those grants after FY2019. It also terminated unsecured Stanford loans for middle-income people.

Repealing would obviously remove health care coverage unless the government provides a replacement. In addition, it would remove the modifications set forth in Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, and so, it would affect Pell Grants, Stanford loans, and grandfathered medical plans.  Not only would HR 370 remove those provisions and end ACA, it would rewrite Medicaid.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what further changes would be enacted or restored with the passage of HR 370.  The original ACA bill[3] was a complex law encompassing 124 pages with 506 amendments, and HR 4872 added another 124 pages plus 165 amendments. [4]

On 3/6/2017, the Republican House replacement plan was announced. Despite 66 pages of text, it is incomprehensible and filled with references to other legal sections.[5]  As it was announced, it would provide tax credits for an individual or family to purchase insurance. It freezes Medicaid enrollment and puts an unspecified cap on state coverage. It removes requirements for employers to provide health coverage, removes subsidies for payment of insurance, adds a surcharge for people who have gaps in insurance coverage, and eliminates fines for individuals who do not obtain coverage. It prohibits funds to Planned Parenthood or any similar non-profit. It bans payments to any organization that provides abortion other than in cases of rape, incest or danger of death. States can remove coverage for some odd groups, such as people who receive large lottery winnings, and the state can recover any previous medical payments from that individual. Although it abolishes the Medicaid expansion coverage, which is scary, it does continue the Obamacare provision that stopped insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. However, cancelling Medicaid expansion removes coverage for more than 10 million people.

According to The New York Times, Medicare (including the expansion) currently insures 74 million people or “one in five Americans.”[6] Many of the replacement bill’s spending caps refer to money that finances Medicaid. Rather than reimburse states for actual Medicare costs, it would freeze funding for state medical health cost payments and tie increases to the Consumer Price Index. It seems odd — or immoral — that costs of health care would no longer be linked to patient needs. Instead costs would be linked to the economy.  Since health care needs tend to rise when the economy worsens, that seems barbaric.

Due to the Medicare changes, states could not institute new treatments. They might not manage to cover existing levels of medical coverage, for instance, if the medical needs of the state’s population were to change. One example would be public health care emergencies.

Some health experts worry that over time, states would be unable to respond to changes in the health care needs of their population unless they use their own money, potentially risking the survival of a program that has been a critical source of health coverage for the poor. … The Republican plan would set different spending targets for different types of Medicaid beneficiaries, like older Americans, the blind and disabled, children and adults.[7]

We will need to pay vigilant attention to what happens with these interlocked bills in the future.

  1. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood

To many Republicans, Planned Parenthood has become scapegoat for what they perceive as society’s evils. Based on that belief, the bill would prohibit any federal funding for one year unless all of the clinics associated with Planned Parenthood certify that they will not perform an abortion during that year.  There is an exception to the abortion provisions of the bill in the case of rape, incest or endangerment of the woman’s life. Since Planned Parenthood offers many more services than abortion, this is a way to blackmail the organization. Although Republican politicians claim they want to give families more power, HR 354 wants to remove decisions about family planning from women and from couples.

In addition, it instructs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to obtain repayment of funding if the terms are violated at one of the locations nationwide.  It would remove funds from all clinics associated with Planned Parenthood if one location was determined to be at fund. The bill does not state who would make the determination. It also does not explain if the money would be sent to Planned Parenthood after a year of defunding.

Money already budgeted for Planned Parenthood would go to existing community public health as set forth in section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.  Public health centers are wonderful providers, but they do not cover the same population. That act sets up public health programs for specific “medically underserved” populations. The Public Health Service Act covers programs for the homeless, residents of public housing, and seasonal agricultural workers.[8]  That is not the population served by Planned Parenthood.  This is beginning to sound like a shell game.

Again, federal funds do not currently cover abortions. Planned Parenthood does provide sex education (focused on prevention of pregnancy), [9]  Pap tests, breast exams, cancer screenings, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, family planning services, and education on health and safety.[10] Essentially, this bill threatens to take all medical treatment away from Planned Parenthood populations.

HR 354 claims that people could go to other clinics instead of Planned Parenthood.  However, Planned Parenthood serves millions of people who don’t have another clinic, who don’t have a doctor, and do not have insurance. Planned Parenthood serves low-income people who aren’t on welfare; it serves the working poor, middle-income people, and young people who have no other means to medical treatment.  Last year, millions of men and women went there for information, medical services, and medical treatments.

Recently, I had a conversation with a doctor at a low-cost clinic; she told me that she had never received birth control training in medical school because it was affiliated with a Catholic hospital. Think of all of the religious hospitals and how many doctors are doing residency there. If regular doctors don’t know about birth control, what will happen if people don’t have insurance and cannot turn to Planned Parenthood?

HR 354 has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce committee and the Subcommittee on Health for review.

 

—- Footnotes—-

[1] Responsible Reform for the Middle Class “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Detailed Summary”  Democrats.Senate.Gov/Reform (2010)  https://www.dpc.senate.gov/healthreformbill/healthbill04.pdf

[2] “H.R.4872 – Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” Congress.Gov (2010) online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/4872 (3/6/2017).

[3] “H.R.3590 – Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”  Congress.Gov (2010)  online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/3590/text (3/6/2017).

[4] “H.R.4872 – Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” Congress.Gov (2010) online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/4872 (3/6/2017).

[5] For example,  section 302 reads (in part): “Notwithstanding section 504(a), 1902(a)(23), 1903(a), 2002, 2005(a)(4), 2102(a)(7), or 2105(a)(1) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 704(a), 1396a(a)(23), 1396b(a), 1397a, 1397d(a)(4), 1397bb(a)(7), 1397ee(a)(1)), or the terms of any Medicaid waiver in effect on the date of enactment of this Act …”

[6] “Republican Changes to Medicaid Could Have Larger Impact Than Its Changes to Obamacare” The New York Times (2017) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/07/us/politics/medicaid-reform-impact-on-states.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FHealth%20Insurance%20and%20Managed%20Care (3/7/2017).

[7] “Republican Changes to Medicaid Could Have Larger Impact Than Its Changes to Obamacare” The New York Times (2017) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/07/us/politics/medicaid-reform-impact-on-states.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FHealth%20Insurance%20and%20Managed%20Care (3/7/2017).

[8] “42 USC 254b: Health centers” (2017) online at http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:42%20section:254b%20edition:prelim) (3/8/2017).

[9] “Planned Parenthood at a Glance” Planned Parenthood (2017) https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/planned-parenthood-at-a-glance (3/7/2017).

[10] Debra Goldschmidt and Ashley Strickland  “Planned Parenthood: Fast facts and revealing numbers” CNN http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/04/health/planned-parenthood-by-the-numbers/

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Is This What You Want Your Government To Do? Current US House Bills (part 1)

Is This What You Want Your Government To Do?

A post is going around social media publicizing current House bills and asking people to call their officials to request they vote against the following bills. See below the list for the current status of the first four bills and what each covers — and why you should care. I plan to continue the review of all of these bills in the next few days.

  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
  2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
  3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
  4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
  5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
  6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
  7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
  8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
  9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
  10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran
  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

This bill would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency on December 31, 2018. On 02/10/2017, it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Environment.  While pundits do not believe this bill will pass, it is the first in a long line of bills that are intended to weaken or destroy EPA.[1]

For instance, H.R.1030 – Secret Science Reform Act of 2015. It will stop “Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” Essentially, under cover of supporting science and the scientific method (the text of the bill does neither), the bill will prevent EPA from passing regulations unless the information used for the basis of the ruling is available online, thereby preventing EPA from using public health research its rulings. Because public health research examines private medical records, this bill would mean that EPA could not use medical records[2]  to make rulings such as the recent ones about antibacterial soap, lead poisoning, or mercury contamination. H.R.1030 passed the House and was referred to Senate where it was sent to Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Under President Nixon, EPA was established to restore and maintain clean air and clean water. All of the Republican Presidents since Nixon have supported EPA; however, but the current crop of Republican representatives seem to think the costs in money outweigh the future health and well-being of our citizens. I wonder what people living in Beijing and Mexico City who cannot breathe the air where they live think about air pollution?

  1. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education

This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education so that block grants can be awarded only to states qualified under the bill.  To find the truly bad news, you have to read the entire bill: it also repeals the No Hungry Kids Act which improved nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches.[3] On 01/23/2017, it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Critics claim using public school money in vouchers will not bring advantages and will lead to increased segregation in schools. Privatization of public education hurts those who cannot go to private schools and does nothing to improve or fix problems in either private or public schools. In addition, voucher money often goes to religious schools, a violation of the separation of church and state as set up in US Constitution.[4] Since this bill will apply regulations to control which states receive the money, federal government will increase its control on education at the state and local levels. For an administration that claims it wants to reduce government oversight in education that seems hypocritical. This bill should go away simply because it reduces the level of nutrition in school meals.

  1. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education

House bill 899 terminates the Department of Education on December 31, 2018. It was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on 02/07/2017.   I’ll let the founders of our country argue against this one.

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people, enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve it … they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

James Madison: “Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people … the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay:  “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”

Thomas Jefferson again: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

  1. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife

The House passed HJR (House Joint Resolution) 69. By doing so, they sent the bill to the Senate. If the Senate passes it, the bill will repeal protections on hunting or trapping bears, wolves, and other endangered predators in Alaska national wildlife refuges. It will allow hunting in dens with cubs, permit using aircraft to hunt, allow use of wire traps, and permit baiting (using food to lure them into kill areas).[5] The arguments included a statement that Alaskans needed to be able to put food on their families’ table. I don’t think Alaskans really want to feed their children wolf and bear meat.

This bill is also another attack against federal level environmental laws. The bill passed the House under the rarely-used Congressional Review Act measure which permits Congress to repeal a federal regulation with a simple majority vote.[6] Before 2017, the Congressional Review Act was only used once since its creation in 1996. The same act was used a few days ago to repeal the Stream Protection Rule. [7]
—- Footnotes —-

[1] Robinson Meyer  “Congress and Trump Won’t ‘Terminate the EPA’ Instead, they’ll restrict the agency in far subtler ways.” The Atlantic (2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/congress-wont-terminate-the-epa/516918/  (3/4/2017).

[2]  Ed Young “How Trump Could Wage a War on Scientific Expertise: The mechanics of stripping empiricism out of America’s regulatory systems The Atlantic (2016)  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/how-trump-could-wage-a-war-on-scientific-expertise/509378/ (3/4/2017).

 

[3] Summary: H.R.610 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+610+Vouchers+for+Public+Education%22%5D%7D&r=1 (3/4/2017).

[4]  Valerie Strauss “Study: Private school vouchers favored by DeVos don’t offer real advantage over public schools” The Washington Post (2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/27/devos-favors-private-school-vouchers-but-new-study-says-they-dont-offer-real-edge-over-public-schools/?utm_term=.f40b946bdf72 (3/4/2017).

[5] Dakshayani Shankar “House Overturns Obama-Era Law to Protect Alaskan Bears and Wolves” NBC News (2017) http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/house-overturns-obama-era-law-protect-alaskan-bears-wolves-n722481 (3/4/2017)

[6] Erica Martinson “U.S. House passes Don Young’s bill to repeal Alaska wildlife management rule” adn.com (2017) https://www.adn.com/politics/2017/02/16/u-s-house-passes-rep-don-youngs-bill-to-repeal-alaska-wildlife-management-regulation/ (3/5/2017).

[7] Erica Martinson ibid.

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Stephen Miller: Donald Trump and the Muslim Ban

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to the President) leapt to the country’s attention when he appeared on numerous shows[1] defending President Trump’s executive order banning immigration (the “Muslim ban”). His comments ranged from unsubstantiated claims to downright scary and unconstitutional statements. In lambasting the judges who blocked the Muslim ban, he said, “In the end, the powers of the president of the United States will be re-affirmed.”[2] In his nationalist fervor, he declared, “One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country.” [3] With blind faith in Trump, he stated, “that the powers of the president to protect our country … will not be questioned,”[4] and that it was “judicial usurpation of the power. … We will fight it. And we will make sure that we take action to keep from happening in the future…”[5]

When I first heard those statements, I was overwhelmed with thoughts. Does he really expect President Trump to be above the law? Based on his responses that Sunday morning, he thinks so. Regardless of where you stand in the political arena, that attitude should bother you. Perhaps it should terrify you.

Miller as Senior Advisor to the President should know how the federal government was set up. I’m sure you remember from your government class that US Constitution set up three equally powerful branches for the federal government: Executive, Judicial and Legislative. Regarding the Judicial, US Constitution Article III states: “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority.”[6]  In other words, the constitution states that the Judicial Branch is supposed to rule on every law, every treaty, and every controversy that effects a US citizen, a state or the country as a whole. The only exemption to this power is Impeachment and Trial, which is set out as a power of Congress.

An important member of the Executive Branch should not be telling the public that it the Judicial Branch is wrong when its Judges make rulings. That’s exactly what Judges are supposed to do. Their jobs are to review the actions of the Legislative and Executive branches. Federal Judges are supposed to eliminate rulings that are unconstitutional. That’s the job. We may not like the ruling, and it is obvious that Miller does not, but he has little recourse. Sure, he can go on television and complain about it, but unless he can find another federal judge to rule differently, [7]  he is just as stuck as those who fought against segregation were. [8]

Setting aside the discussion of his racist sentiments, Miller complained that an unelected federal judge in Seattle overstepped his power by stopping the president’s executive order that created the Muslim ban. It is true that federal judges do not run for election in the same way that local judges do. Federal judges are appointed by POTUS and confirmed by US Senate. They are appointed for life precisely so they are not limited by political elections or influenced by politics. Therefore, they remain in their positions until they die unless they resign or are impeached by Congress.

Looking at the specific Seattle ruling, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought the case to U.S. District Judge James Robart. Ferguson asked Robart to determine if the Executive Order was valid under the president’s national-security powers.[9]  Although immigration law is set by Executive and Legislative Branches, the Muslim Ban struck an unconstitutional cord.  In 1982, the US Supreme Court declared: “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”[10] Thus, when Trump signed the Executive Order banning Muslims, it clearly and specifically violated constitutional law.

Robart’s ruling was appealed to a higher court: the Justice Department (part of the Executive Branch) asked US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to review the case. The Appeals Court unanimously upheld Robart’s ruling.[11] They maintained the freeze on the immigration order.[12] When Miller said, “One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country,” he was wrong: one federal judge can do that, and three other federal judges agreed.

Judges protect our country too. Miller claimed on TV that Trump will protect the US — even writing that seems silly. It ignores the thousands of people who make up US military forces and many other people who work at airports, etc. But it ignores something more important. Protection is not only an external job; it is internal too.  I’m not talking about terror attacks on US soil. I’m referring to something much more important: the role of the federal judicial branch. As set up in the US Constitution, neither Congress (the legislative branch) nor the president (the executive branch) can alter a judicial ruling. To do so violates the separation of powers. Just to be clear: violating the separation of powers is unconstitutional.  If Stephen Miller ignores that, he turns himself into a flunky who arrogantly insists his side is right even when it means going against the constitutional power that he claims he wants to maintain.

— Footnotes —

[1] He spoke on most of the major networks (excepting CNN), appearing on “Meet the Press” (NBC), “Face the Nation” (CBS), “This Week” (ABC), and “Fox News Sunday.”

[2] David Jackson “Aide Stephen Miller takes vigorous Trump defense to TV Sunday shows” USA Today (2017) online at  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/12/donald-trump-stephen-miller/97819774/ (2/23/2017).

[3] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[4] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[5] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[6] “US Constitution Article III Section 2” FindLaw online at http://constitution.findlaw.com/article3.html#sthash.HyFchLXy.dpuf (2/24/2017).

[7] Rulings of a federal judge can be appealed to a federal appeals panel. In addition, once a federal judge rules, it is possible for a different case to go to another federal judge and for that second judge to rule differently.  If that happened, the case would go to a higher level court for determination. The federal higher court is an appeal’s court. In this case, if the president did not like the appeals court ruling, Justice Department attorneys could ask SCOTUS to review it.

[8] Whether on the federal level or in local courts, people don’t always like the rulings. There is an appeals process in place (if a person can afford that). Many organizations such as ACLU or Anti-Defamation League work towards changing law by bringing new cases to court in attempts to overturn a previous ruling. For instance, during US segregation, cases went to federal judges and SCOTUS many times before segregation was finally overturned.

[9] Jim Brunner, Jessica Lee, and David Gutman “Judge in Seattle halts Trump’s immigration order nationwide; White House vows fight” The Seattle Times online at http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/federal-judge-in-seattle-halts-trumps-immigration-order/ (2/24/2017).

[10] You can read “Larson v. Valente” at FindLaw (2017) online at  http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/456/228.html (2/23/2017).

[11] Matt Zapotosky “Federal appeals court rules 3 to 0 against Trump on travel ban” The Washington Post online at  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/federal-appeals-court-maintains-suspension-of-trumps-immigration-order/2017/02/09/e8526e70-ed47-11e6-9662-6eedf1627882_story.html?utm_term=.7e1904ed9082 (2/24/17).

[12]  If you want to read more about their ruling, I suggest Matt Zapotosky’s  “7 key take-aways from the court’s ruling on Trump’s immigration order” The Washington Post online at  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/02/09/7-key-takeaways-from-the-courts-ruling-on-trumps-immigration-order/?utm_term=.2ccc8e6331b9 (2/24/17).

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President Trump and Conflict of Interest Laws

President Trump has claimed that conflict of interest laws do not apply to him, and many of his followers have repeated that claim. I got so tired of hearing that he is exempted from conflict of interest laws simply because he is President that I did some research and wrote this blog. I am not an attorney, but I know how to investigate what attorneys have written and courts have ruled. Although the rules are not the same as those that pertain to other government employees, the president does have to obey conflict of interest laws.

President Trump, as every US President does, swore the public Oath of Office to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and … to … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The US Constitution lists the powers and responsibilities of the president. Under Article 2, Section 3, one of those responsibilities is to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed. In other words, the president must follow the laws. Regardless of his personal opinions, he swore an oath to do that.  It doesn’t matter if he agrees with the law or not. If the president does not faithfully execute the laws, he can be removed from office. That would be impeachment under “High crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Of course, the rules applying to a president are a complicated mess of laws. Lawyers and politicians have argued the ethics that apply to the president. The Office of Government Ethics, as specified under 5 CFR 2635.702,  states that “an employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.” That seems straightforward — and it should be.

However, sadly, various government employees are exempted from that rule.  Under 18 USC 202,  Congress wrote: “except as otherwise provided in such sections, the terms “officer” and “employee” in sections 203, 205, 207 through 209, and 218 of this title shall not include the President, the Vice President, a Member of Congress, or a Federal judge.” There it is: that’s what Trump meant when he claimed he did not have to worry about conflicts of interest. Isn’t he lucky that Congress exempted itself, and the President, from such a worrisome law?

Once again, it is not that simple. In 1983, the Office of Government Ethics wrote with the support of the Department of Justice that the president should follow the conflict of interest law. Specifically, although the president and vice president were exempt from the conflict of interest law due to 18 USC 202, both of them should “conduct themselves as if they were so bound.”[1] That legal opinion specifically referred to Ronald Reagan, but it continues as government policy and thus, government law.

All contemporary US Presidents prior to Donald Trump removed themselves from direct control of or indirect interest in their businesses so that they would not be tainted by ethical problems. After all, the president is supposed to uphold the constitution. That’s his job. A President who is concerned about his/her personal finances and one who worries about his/her personal businesses could be seen as not doing that job. At the least it could be considered a distraction from that job; at the worst, it could be viewed as a crime. A crime might lead to impeachment. Most Presidents didn’t want to take the chance.

To further complicate the law, US Constitution Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 states that a person holding any position cannot accept any kind of present, emolument, office, or title from any foreign state. This is called the “Emoluments Clause.”[2] Emolument means any profit or fees received due to holding an office.[3]  In a recent interview, “George Washington law professor Steven Schooner said that Trump could have an ‘impeachment issue because you have foreign states basically paying money to the Trump Organization by using their hotels.’”[4]

Let’s consider that statement. One of Donald Trump’s businesses is the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. The president turned over the company, Trump Organization, to his two sons and said he has put his assets into some kind of trust — we don’t know the type of trust because it has not been made public. But the president travels there regularly and calls it the Winter Whitehouse. Inside the resort, the presidential links continue with his photograph on the walls, the family crest, and the name branded on everything. When Trump took office, the fees to join Mar-a-Lago increased to $200,000 plus a yearly membership fee of $14,000. That seems like an obvious profiting from his presidency. In addition, there is the elephant in the living room question. If his children prosper from Mar-a-Lago, does their father also make money from those visits?

In the first month that President Trump was in office, he spent three weekends at Mar-a-Lago. In fact, he entertained Japanese Prime Minister Abe there. Although a press release said that Abe’s stay was a personal gift from Trump, Mar-a-Lago certainly got a lot of publicity from the stay and more news coverage from their public dinner (with its huge potential for breach of security).[5] Publicity is considered a form of remuneration. Ignoring the potential security issue, that publicity highlights an ethics problem.

What if a foreign official stays at one of Trump’s US hotels? What if a foreign government leases a floor at one? Does that influence Trump’s policies? It would be difficult to think it would not. Especially at Mar-a-Lago, with the $214,000 fee just to have the privilege of reserving a night’s stay (or ordering dinner); it seems unlikely that money would not become a consideration. And that fee might offer a chance to talk to the president, his wife, or his cabinet members.

Things get even more confusing when we consider that Trump continues to maintain hotel assets in other countries. In addition, his US hotels involve foreign investors and have active agreements with foreign governments. As Norman Eisen, the man President Obama consulted about ethics, said “we’ve never had a president who seems to insist on breaking the precedent set by every previous president for at least four decades of doing a true blind trust or its equivalent.”[6]

Let’s consider another law, USC 502 the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. USC 502 states that an officer or employee cannot “receive compensation for affiliating with or being employed by a firm, partnership, association, corporation” nor “serve for compensation as an officer or member of the board of any association, corporation, or other entity.”[7] It prohibits the use of an official’s name on any organization. The US Office of Government Ethics ruling forbids the use of the official’s name in law firms, real estate agencies, and consulting. That seems straight-forward: the name “Trump” could no longer be licensed to a corporation, and if it were to continue as the brand, the president would not be allowed to receive compensation for the branding.[8]  This ruling was tested when another famous wealthy Republican, Nelson Rockefeller (think of Rockefeller Center in New York City), took over the office of Vice President. At that time, both the Justice Department and Congress upheld that the ruling covered the offices of vice president and president.

Trump said it would be too complicated to set up blind trusts during his presidency.  It is likely to be more than complicated if he continues as the head of corporations that are affected by his job as US President. Nelson Rockefeller managed to put his vast assets into blind trusts, and he managed to release his financial documents too.[9] Perhaps Donald Trump could too. Then we would know that he truly wants to uphold the laws as he swore to do.

As previously mentioned, regardless of the loophole arranged by Congress, the Office of Government Ethics expects a president to follow the standards of the conflict of interest laws. That expectation applies to his family too. Since the Emoluments Clause rejects payments, maintaining an interest in hotels brings the appearance of Trump receiving payments for services; depending on the type of trust (and ignoring the potential problems based on the fact that his sons are running the businesses), those potential payments might be actual ones. In addition, USC 502 forbids the use of a president’s name to obtain money. Sure, Congress could repeal the name ban, but the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution would still stand.

The law seems clear, and Trump seems to be violating it. He should follow the precedent of previous presidents and divest from his businesses.  If he does not, Congress could impeach him. Yes, I wrote “could” because they don’t have to. Since Republicans control both Senate and House, whether they will is another question.

 

— Footnotes —

[1]  The transcript of the official letter can be read here: https://www.oge.gov/Web/OGE.nsf/All%20Advisories%20by%20Year/01F8E09232041FD185257E96005FBBE8/%24FILE/64ed9ad9bd294b45a88ac8729a97968a3.pdf  (2/14/2017).

[2] The Emolument Clause is separate from the laws regarding bribery although they certainly overlap. Simple put, anything considered a bribe can be reason for impeachment.

[3] “Emolument” Dictionary.com online at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/emolument?s=t  (2/14/2017).

[4]  Rachel Stockman  “Trump is Right, Conflict-of-Interest Rules Don’t Apply to Him” Law Newz: Opinion  online at http://lawnewz.com/high-profile/trump-is-right-conflict-of-interest-rules-dont-apply-to-him/ (2/14/2017).

[5]  “The Ethics Of Trump Hosting Japan’s Shinzo Abe At Mar-A-Lago” NPR Morning Edition online at  http://www.npr.org/2017/02/10/514458649/the-ethics-of-trump-hosting-japans-shinzo-abe-at-mar-a-lago (2/14/2017).

[6] Julie Bykowicz and Mark Sherman, “Why conflict of interest rules apply differently to the president” PBS Newshour: The Rundown (2016)  online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/conflict-interest-rules-apply-differently-president/ (2/14/2017).

[7] “USC 503 Limitations on outside employment Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute online at  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode05a/usc_sec_05a_00000502—-000-.html  (2/14/20107).

[8] Andrew Stark “Can a President Trump Keep His Business Intact?”  The Atlantic (2016) online at  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/trump-holdings-conflict-of-interest/503333/  (2/14/2017).

[9] Lily Rothman “Actually, Nelson Rockefeller’s Fortune Was Scrutinized Too” Time (2017) online at http://time.com/4631550/donald-trump-nelson-rockefeller-history-conflicts-interest/(2/22/2017).

 

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Gorsuch: Conservative is Not the Word I Would Use

When Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, he stated that he had picked him as someone who would be a conservative similar to former Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia was considered a proponent of originalism. Unfortunately, that is the least of the problems with Gorsuch as a justice.

Originalism

Typically, constitutional attorneys consider the US Constitution to be changeable document; in other words, it is not static but permits changes in its interpretation. For example, for decades SCOTUS upheld segregation under “equal but separate” opinions. Those who believe the Constitution is a living document, those who do not follow originalism, see that underscored by changes implemented by many anti-segregation rulings. However, lawyers and justices who follow originalism would arbitrate changes on how they view the original document as written by the authors. “Justice Scalia’s opponents stress that by interpreting the Constitution in its original form, any progressive law would be declared unconstitutional because it doesn’t adhere to the original intent of the founders.” [1]  Scalia used originalism to vote against Affordable Care Act, to support an anti-sodomy law, and to vote George W Bush into office to end the 2000 Presidential election.  In fact, his view of originalism incorporated support for what he called moral legislation, that is, laws that uphold certain Christian beliefs under the guise of Constitutional liberties.

Personally, I am not a fan of originalism nor do I see any reason to return to a society that views white men who are landowners as citizens and everyone else not. I surmise that many minorities, women, LBGTQ people, reformists, historians, liberals, progressives, and Democrats (as well as many others) would have a problem with returning to the culture in effect at the time of the writing of the US Constitution, especially if it comes with an overlay of right-wing Christian condemnatory beliefs.

Assuming that Gorsuch is a legitimate proponent of originalism, which is not really confirmed, that stand would be reason enough to dislike his viewpoints. However, Gorsuch has other attitudes that cause me concern.

Views on Religious Freedom

In 2013, Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide birth control as part of its insurance for employees. In fact, he stated that any individual should be allowed “to challenge the government’s rules for employer-sponsored health insurance plans.”[2]  He extended his religious rulings to permit prisoners to attend sweat lodges — a ruling that I support. However, I am concerned that Gorsuch will further erode the separation between church and state on which the US Constitution was based. Please see Amendment 1, if you doubt the veracity of that separation. Please see Amendment 1, if you doubt the veracity of that separation.

Views on Birth Control

Under the concept of religious freedom, Gorsuch has consistently sided against access to contraception. Please realize he was not simply against abortion; he sided against any method of birth control. The privilege of safe contraception was a long hard battle in the US. Beginning in the late 1800s, women fought to obtain legal and safe birth control, and no, I’m not talking about abortion. Nurses and doctors went to jail for prescribing birth control devices such as diaphragms or simply talking about methods like how to use condoms. In 1965, SCOTUS ruled that it was illegal to prevent married couples from using birth control. Please note the year: 1965! Prior to 1965, any type of birth control device or pill was illegal. If nothing about this man concerns you, his stand against insurance coverage of birth control should.

Views on Fascism

While there have been posts about Gorsuch founding a fascism club in high school, Factcheck.org claims it was not true. Apparently, we are to believe it was a joke. Gorsuch wrote it for his yearbook biography “to poke fun at liberal peers.” [3]  Now, I recognize that high school students do dumb things, but I have never known a student who thought that fascism was a joke (especially one who had read Anne Frank or studied WWII). So, we are left with a choice: we can believe that he thought calling himself a fascist was funny or we can believe that he thinks lying about his activities is okay (or that it was acceptable to do so in high school) — or we can believe both.

In any case, I ask you to consider if this man should be seated on the Supreme Court as judge of highest law in US and permitted to influence our society for the rest of his life. If you think he should, I invite your comments below. If you think that he should not, I invite you to send postcards to your senators and representatives, President Trump, and to other senators and representatives. Of course, if you agree with me that there has to be a better choice for justice, you can comment below too.

 

Footnotes

[1]. “Antonin Scalia Biography”  BIO (A&E Television Networks, LLC) (2016)  online at  http://www.biography.com/people/antonin-scalia-9473091#synopsis (2/13/2017).

[2].  Steve Vladeck “Hobby Lobby and executive power: Gorsuch’s key rulings”  CNN Politics (2017)  online at http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/31/politics/hobby-lobby-executive-power-gorsuch-key-rulings/ (2/13/2017).

[3]    D’Angelo Gore , “Neil Gorsuch Didn’t Start Fascism Club.” FactCheck.org (2017)  online at http://www.factcheck.org/2017/02/neil-gorsuch-didnt-start-fascism-club/ (2/13/2017).

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US Media Ownership

Recently several friends have mentioned that they watch news on many different stations. By doing that, they think they are getting a well-rounded view of the situation. But are they? Probably not. Most of our TV networks (and radio stations) are owned by giant corporate conglomerates.  It’s been about five years since I looked into media ownership so I did some research.  What follows is a list of owners, stockholders, associated companies, important people and their politic viewpoints.  If you don’t want to read all of this — I’d really like you to read the whole thing because you should know where your news comes from, but I realize it is a lot to ask — you can skip to the section called “Fair and Balanced News” at the end.

ABC

ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company, the second largest media conglomerate in the world. Major shareholders of Walt Disney include the Disney management, but it is partially owned by Vanguard and four other investment companies (and public shareholders). Disney also owns (fully or partially) a lot of other media companies including ESPN, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel Comics, and A&E.

Of the companies holding major news networks, Walt Disney Company is probably the most supportive of Democratic incumbents. In the last eighteen years, Disney lobbyists focused on copyright laws, regulation of toxic substances, and lawsuits against public figures.[1] However, as listed below, that does not mean Disney is clean and tidy in its dealings with other media conglomerates.

NBC/MSNBC

NBC and MSNBC are owned by Comcast. Comcast is owned by Liberty Media Corporation.  Comcast also owns DreamWorks Animation studio, The Weather Channel, Universal Studios, Telemundo, [2] and Liberty Media holds many other media stations and the Atlanta Braves.

If you think NBC or MSNBC will give you an opposing viewpoint for Fox News, you would be wrong. John Malone controls Liberty Media and so he has power over NBC/MSNBC. Although Malone calls himself a Libertarian, he is an avid Trump supporter and a foe of the open internet. He’s also the biggest individual US land-owner. [1]  Malone seems to do his lobbying efforts through social events, philanthropy, and other private donations.  Therefore, they are fairly surreptitious.

CBS

CBS is owned by Viacom, and the majority owner of Viacom is National Amusements, which is controlled by Sumner Redstone. Viacom also owns Paramount, Comedy Central, United International Pictures, and Nickelodeon. It previously sold DreamWorks Animation to NBC Universal.

Recently the mental competency of Sumner Redstone was contested; despite some strange testimony from Redstone, the case was dismissed by the court. [3] I surmise the dismissal was based less on testimony and more on the wildness of Redstone’s reputation. He has been known as a cantankerous, opinionated, rough-speaking, philanderer who could act impulsively.

In any case, between 1998 and 2004, Viacom lobbied for the TV/movie industry with actions on behalf of GE (partial owner of NBC, MSNBC, and Universal Studios), Time Warner (owns CNN), Walt Disney Company (owns ABC), Liberty Media (owns NBC/MSNBC and through the latest merger, CNN), ABC, Fox Theater (yes, it’s owned by 21st Century Fox), News Corp (Fox), itself, and many others. [4] It’s starting to look like Celtic knotwork!

CNN

CNN is owned by Turner Broadcasting System which is owned by Time Warner. Time Warner also owns Home Box Office (HBO), and Warner Brothers Studio.

Time Warner used to own Time Warner Cable, but the cable division was split off in 2009. Legally they are two separate companies. However, the separation was achieved by a dividend distribution to current stockholders where Time Warner stockholders received a certain number of shares of Time Warner Cable stock based upon how many shares they owned of Time Warner common stock. Because of that distribution, over 300 million shares of Time Warner Cable stock were handed to people who owned stock in Time Warner, effectively giving the same people interests in both companies.[10]

To further complicate things, Time Warner Cable just merged with Comcast, Charter Communications, and Bright House Networks to create Charter Spectrum. Although the other companies still exist, it looks like the new conglomerate is controlled by Charter Communications. According to Nasdaq, the owners of Charter Communications include Liberty Media Corporation, Liberty Broadband, and five investment companies including Vanguard (and public shareholders).

Once again, as head of both Liberty Media Corporation and Liberty Broadband, John Malone ends up at the top of the pyramid that leads down to CNN. Malone personally owns about 25% of Charter Communications,[5] and he spent $67,000,000,000 (that’s 67 billion) to have Charter Communications buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.[6] This is the same Malone that controls NBC/MSNBC. He’s a Trump supporter who advocates tax reductions for the rich and for corporations, deregulation, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country as long as they continue to be “hard working people.” [7]

FOX

Fox is owned by Fox Entertainment Group; it is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, which was previously called News Corp. News Corp owns the Wall Street Journal, New York Post and other print and TV media. News Corp was started by Rupert Murdoch who quit his chairman post due to international phone hacking indictments. After that, News Corp was split into two corporations, but both are still operated by Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan Murdoch, who seem to be following in their father’s footsteps.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns 6% of 21st Century Fox and part of News Corp. That sounds small, but he is the biggest non-family investor in 21st Century Fox. Since he has maintained shares for more than fifteen years, Talal must consider his money well spent at the conservative pundit’s network. Despite Talal’s public rebuke of Trump’s behavior, he contributed money towards Trump’s presidential election. To be fair, Talal also has (fewer) shares in Disney, Citibank, and Apple.

Until recently, Fox News was headed by Roger Ailes, who used to run MSNBC. Ailes left NBC/MSNBC due to problems with his prejudicial comments. Perhaps it should not be a shock that he left Fox due to his comments and actions that led to sexual harassment charges.

Rupert Murdoch is an anti-tax conservative who supports deregulation, ridicules climate change and global warming, scorns scientific reason, and supports military expansion into the Middle East. He has influenced Australia, Britain and US policy with full-time lobbyists who report directly to him.  Since 1998, lobbying under auspices of 21st Century Fox included actions on behalf of Time Warner (owns CNN), National Amusements (owns CBS), Walt Disney Company (owns ABC), Sirius Radio (owned by Liberty Media), the Weather Channel (owned by NBC), and many others.[8]  What a delightful mess this is!

Fair and Balanced News

Getting back to the topic at hand, if people watch several news networks, will they get balanced and unbiased news? Simply put, it seems unlikely, but it could depend on which news sources you select.

The major news networks do business with each other, buy and sell divisions to each other, and lobby for each other; therefore, watching several major news networks may not help. US media is an oligopoly, that is, a few companies control the supply of a commodity, in this case, the supply of the news. Because of the oligopoly, you may not get the truth or even the entire news story.  In fact, GE, News Corp (21st Century Fox), Disney, Viacom, Time Warner (now merged with Charter Communications), and CBS own 90% of US news media.[9] Since the major companies have divided up the markets, we don’t really have competition. Therefore the viewer can be fooled into thinking they are getting balanced news from competing news sources when they are not.

Fair and balanced news? I think not.

 

 

Update on 2/8/2017: thank you, Kurt Hohmann, for bringing to my attention errors in the original blog. I have updated the information concerning Time Warner and Time Warner Cable for clarification. In addition, I included a correction about Comcast. Originally I wrote that Comcast was part of the merger completed in Summer 2016, but Comcast was not a partner to that merger.

 

— Footnotes —

[1] “Walt Disney Co.”  OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics  (2016)   https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=d000000128&cycle=2016  (accessed 2/5/2017)

[2] Madeline Johnson “Your Complete Guide to Everything Owned by Comcast” Nasdaq (2016) http://www.nasdaq.com/article/your-complete-guide-to-everything-owned-by-comcast-cm615010 (accessed 2/5/2017).

[3] Maria Bustillos “Sumnerdämmerung” New Yorker (2016) http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/sumner-redstones-sad-angry-decline  (accessed 2/5/2017).

[4] “ Viacom, Inc.” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics  (2016)  https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000190&year=2001  (accessed 2/5/2017).

[5] Cynthia Littleton “John Malone Talks TV Biz, Presidential Politics and His TCI Regret in Candid Q&A” Variety  http://variety.com/2016/biz/news/john-malone-brian-roberts-charter-time-warner-cable-merger-comcast-1201778366/  (accessed 2/5/2017).

[6] Cynthia Littleton “John Malone: ‘Cable Cowboy’ Faces the Test in Rounding Up the Right Mix of Assets” Variety  (2016) http://variety.com/2016/tv/features/john-malone-liberty-media-charter-communications-1201729414/  (accessed 2/5/2017).

[7] Liberty Media Chairman John Malone On Donald Trump, AT&T-Time Warner, Media  CNBC (2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt6mmH25s74 (accessed 2/5/2017).

[8] “21st Century Fox” OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics  (2016) https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000227 (accessed 2/5/2017).

[9] Ashley Lutz “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America” Business Insider  (2012) http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6 (accessed 2/5/2017).

[10]  It was a 1-for-3 reverse stock split. For more information, please refer to Time Warner’s website at  http://ir.timewarner.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=70972&p=irol-twcseparation (2/8/2017).

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In Honor of Imbolc: Brighid from the Past

Brighid has also been known as Brigit, Lady Bride, Bridget, Brighde, Ffraid, Breda, Bree, Breeshey, Brigdu, Brigantia, and Braganca.

Long ago, the culture we now call the Celts worshiped this goddess. In fact, history records the worship of her as early as 16th century BCE. Linguists state that Brigit means “the Exalted One,” and for centuries she was. Not only did the ancient peoples known as Picts and Brigantes consider her their divine guardian, but her followers ranged in lands as diverse as Ireland, Austria, Iceland, Portugal, and Italy. Over the centuries, people of disparate professions worshiped her. She was the patron deity of blacksmiths and craftsmen, poets and artists, healers and midwives. In fact, She touched all aspects of life beginning with the celebration of the newborn and ending with the mourning of the dead.

While Christianity gradually encroached on the British Islands, goddess worshipers knew her as Fire of Inspiration, Forge of the Forest or She Who Kindles the Hearth, while churchgoers called her the Irish Mary, Our Lady of Peace, or Bridget of the Cows. By the late Eighth Century, she was canonized as Saint Bride or Saint Bridget. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church sainted Brighid, but the story isn’t that simple. Was the sainted woman a high priestess of the goddess Brighid or the goddess herself? Was she the charitable daughter of a chief in Fifth Century Ireland? Was she the foster-mother of Jesus, Mary’s midwife or a powerful Catholic Abbess? At one time or another, scholarly works have supported all of these theories. In fact, there are at least five disparate but official church biographies of this saint’s life.[1]

Thousands of years of worship meant that mythology shifted as stories were passed down through the generations, creating regional transformations. Yet, the memory of the  legendary exploits of this goddess could not be ignored. As an example,  the life of the first Abbess of Kildare, called Brigid of Ireland, was as legendary as the tales handed down about the goddess. “She had the power to increase the milk-yield and to help with butter-making, to change water to ale and stone to salt, and was called ‘the All-Giving.’ . . . There seems good reason to believe that here we have scattered traces of a once-powerful goddess, whose cult was important for the community as a whole.”[2]  Moreover, this Abbess was considered as much a miracle-worker as the goddess Brighid. “Some say that by simply stepping into her shadow you would be instantly healed.”[3]  Seems to me that goddess mythology was rewritten so the lady could fly undercover.

By the way, another holy Catholic martyr, Saint Blaze, was named for this goddess. In a few regions, people considered Saint Blaze a female, which has caused more uncertainty with cataloging the stories into a neat and tidy history.

Today, the enigma remains. Is she a Pagan goddess or a Christian saint?  Catholicism definitely borrowed a popular ancient holy day when it created Candlemas, ostensibly honoring the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple. The holiday has many similarities to the Pagan sabbat of Imbolc, most notably the blessing of candles. Yet, Brighid is not that easily limited to one day a year. Especially in Catholic regions of Ireland, church services also incorporate ceremonies commemorating Brigid in Spring and at Winter Solstice, just as their non-Christian ancestors might have. The Catholic Prayer to St. Brigid is a common supplement to the service.[5]

Prayer to St. Brigid (excerpt)

May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious, and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world. …Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary, strengthen what is weak within us. Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens. May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.

Of course, with a feast day on February 2, we can’t ignore the secular event of Groundhog’s Day.  This popular day evolved from the custom of predicting weather during Candlemas (which you recall arose from Imbolc). An old traditional English song, of which several versions exist, seems an obvious precursor to the modern practice.

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again. (Anonymous)

In spite of the confusion about her past, St. Brigid remains one of the most popular saints worldwide. According to the Catholic Forum, in current times, she is the patron saint of people as diverse as nuns and fugitives, poets and sailors, dairy workers and travelers.[4] Certainly, many non-Christians happily continue to honor their lady Brighid, especially at Imbolc.

 

—- Footnotes —-

 

[1] Grattan-Flood, William. “St. Brigid of Ireland.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. (Robert Appleton Company, 1907) online at New Advent  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02784b.htm (accessed August 3, 2008).

[2] Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis. The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (Routledge, 1993) pg 112-113.

[3] Soror Ashera. The Peace Beads “Our Lady of Peace St. Brighid (Irish Catholic)” online at http://www.thepeacebeads.com/ourlady/stbrighid.htm (accessed December 1, 2008).

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US Presidential Impeachment

Lately social media posts have been bouncing around the idea of impeaching the new president. Petitions state various reasons ranging from Trump’s narcissism to his signing of unpopular executive orders (I’ll probably write more on that topic later). Unfortunately, by themselves, none of these reasons are useful for an impeachment. US Constitution states “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”[1] Under the same clause, federal judges can be impeached too.

Treason and bribery are obvious offenses. However, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is an archaic legal term relating to the power of an official in the federal government. It simply means the individual did something that was politically wrong. That is, the crime must be based on the terms of the oath of office and constitution. Think of someone who steals money from the country and the public official who covers up such a crime. In addition, a crime committed against the federal separation of powers or actions against constitutional laws would be valid reasons for impeachment.

But, impeachment does not mean the politician will leave office. Impeachment is similar to an indictment in other courts. It does not mean the person is guilty, just that they could have committed a crime. The official would need to be convicted; then they would be removed from office.

How hard is it to impeach and convict a President? To understand, we must look at the three previous presidential impeachments.

William (Bill) Clinton

Bill Clinton was impeached but acquitted. In plain terms, that means that Congress investigated and charged him on two allegations that he obstructed justice through perjury (that he lied under oath). For those of you who don’t remember the incident, the charges were related to an affair he had with an intern. Although the president publicly denied the affair, the investigation continued and determined it had happened. Impeachment charges went to trial in the Senate. The charges were not due to his affair; they were based on the fact that he lied about it. After much testimony and debate, the Senate acquitted him.[2]  Bill Clinton remained in office and is now ranked as the eighth best US President in history.[3]

Richard Nixon

Nixon’s impeachment was perhaps the most notorious since it encompassed the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices, numerous political shenanigans, the ensuing Watergate hearings, the Vietnam War protests, and the first unelected US President. In the impeachment, Nixon was charged with three enormous crimes. First, obstruction of justice with charges including violating his constitutional duties, interfering with justice, lying to the Department of Justice, misuse of CIA, and multiple counts of bribery. Second, he was charged with abuse of power including misuse of FBI and Secret Service, disregard of the rule of law, and impeding justice. Third, he was charged with contempt of Congress, including forswearing his oath of office and refusing to provide evidence to Congress.[4]

Previously, Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had resigned due to federal income tax evasion.[5] Due to that, Nixon had nominated Gerald Ford as VP and he was approved by the House and Senate. A year later, impeachment charges were brought. When Nixon realized he was likely to be convicted, he resigned.[6] Gerald Ford became the first (and only) US President who had not been elected to the office. President Ford gave Nixon a full pardon for any crimes he might have committed. However, 25 government officials (including Nixon’s attorney) were indicted and many were imprisoned for crimes.[7]  Because of the resignation and pardon, Nixon was never tried and never convicted (but he did retain his pension). In the next presidential election, Ford lost, and many historians believe the pardon cost Ford the election. In 1976, after two years as a recluse, Nixon traveled to China, beginning a time of post-presidential influence that continued until his death in 1994.

Andrew Johnson

Way back in 1865, Andrew Johnson became president following Lincoln’s assassination. He also became the first president to be impeached. During his impeachment, Congress charged Johnson with forswearing his oath of office in eleven articles of impeachment.[8] Actually, the charges stemmed from a battle between President Johnson and Congress over the Tenure of Office Act, a law enacted to restrict the president from firing certain executive officials.[9]  The Senate did not convict Johnson. Reactions to that situation caused a grass roots movement to amend the Constitution to abolish the presidency — as we know, that failed.  For good or bad, Johnson continued as president until 1869. Many contemporary historians consider him to have been both incompetent and a racist who mishandled the reunification. Eventually, US Supreme Court ruled against the Tenure of Office Act and Congress repealed it in 1887.

Back to the Present

What kind of action might be considered an impeachable offense? Hypothetically, I’ll offer a few fictional possibilities. Let me repeat: these are totally fictional. If Trump were to overstep the boundaries of the executive branch, perhaps by bypassing the power of the Senate and the House to create and pass laws, that would threaten the separation of power. Since he was elected as a businessman, another potential issue would be if Trump implemented a conventional business practice: in business, it is common to give someone a monetary incentive, but in government, under US Constitution, that is considered a bribe. Another example would be if it were discovered that Trump gave secret information to Putin. Any of those, if true, would be impeachable crimes.

Now we come to the main question. Is it possible that the current movement to impeach Trump can make headway?

Since the US House must bring an impeachment charge, and the US Senate must implement the hearing and convict the individual, it is unlikely they will do so. Both US Senate and US House majority are Republicans, and they like having power in both the executive and legislative branches. Sure, their attitudes could change. Only time will tell.

—- Footnotes —-

[1] Constitution, Article II, Section 4 (capitalization and punctuation from the original).

[2] “1998 President Clinton Impeached” This Day in History online at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-clinton-impeached (accessed 1/28/2017).

[3] James Lindgren, “Ranking Our Presidents: How did 78 scholars decided [sic] how to rank the presidents from Washington to Clinton?” Wall Street Journal, online at http://history-world.org/pres.pdf (accessed 1/28/2017).

[4] “Richard Nixon: 37th U.S. President” The History Place: Presidential Impeachment Proceedings online at http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/impeachments/nixon.htm (accessed 1/28/2017).

[5] “1973: Vice President Agnew resigns” This Day in History online at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/vice-president-agnew-resigns (accessed 1/28/2017).

[6] This website presents an excellent timeline: “The Nixon Administration and Watergate: Legal Repercussions” History Commons online at http://www.historycommons.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=nixon_and_watergate_tmln&nixon_and_watergate_tmln_legal_repercussions=&startpos=100 (accessed 1/28/2017).

[7] “Watergate Casualties and Convictions” Watergate.Info online at http://watergate.info/analysis/casualties-and-convictions (accessed 1/28/2017).

[8]  “Proceedings of the Senate Sitting for the Trial of Andrew Johnson President of the United States” online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/articles.html (accessed 1/28/2017).

[9] “The Tenure of Office Act” Famous American Trails online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/imp_tenure.html (accessed 1/28/2017).

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Hello World~!

Anyone who has been online, turned on a radio or TV (or left their house) knows that US citizens are divided over the presidential election. Disunity and emotional reactions have become the typical responses. I’ve been finding myself reading social media posts, discussing current events over dinner, and yelling at the television. Lately, politics have interrupted way too many social events. My facebook feed is filled with pro-Trump and anti-Trump comments and memes.

Rather than spend inordinate amounts of time posting responses (and at the suggestion of several close friends), I’ve returned to blogging as a way to explain my positions. More importantly, I’m going to attempt to spread a bit of logic in the midst of political and social confusion and attempt to shine a light on the truth.

As Leonard Cohen said:

The birds they sang at the break of day
“Start again” I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be.
… There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

I plan to write about US society, politics, and civilization. I will offer sources (and yes, that means footnotes). Rants may ensue. You’ve been warned.

Thanks for reading.  See you soon.

Walk in Beauty!

 

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