Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sanctuary Cities follow familiar strategy

Does the "Sanctuary Cities" strategy sound familiar? It should. It's little different from the "nullification and obstruction" strategies adopted by recalcitrant Southern states to oppose the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring racial segregation in education unconstitutional.

Both strategies were hatched to subvert federal laws. Fifty years ago, the despised law required school assignments to be made without regard to race. In the 21st century, the despised law allows federal agents to deport persons who are in this country illegally. Sanctuary cities, such as San Francisco, have declared that their law enforcement and criminal justice officials will not cooperate with federal authorities. They will not turn over illegal aliens to federal authorities or detain them until federal agents can take custody.

Cities are essentially telling the federal government "you don't have authority over us." But that claim of state sovereignty was fought over and settled 150 years ago. Federal law takes precedent over state laws.

Fifty years ago, some Southern states sought to avoid integrating their schools by withdrawing state funds from public schools and providing those funds to private, racially segregated schools. That tactic and other efforts to avoid integrating schools (such as "freedom of choice," allowing students or their parents to choose which school they would attend) succeeded for a while but ultimately were defeated by federal courts.

When some local governments sought to fight illegal immigration by establishing their own arrest and removal policies, immigrant advocates argued that border security and immigration enforcement are federal issues. Now, they argue that cities should be able to stop the federal government from enforcing federal immigration laws within cities' jurisdictions.

The Sanctuary Cities movement may be headed for a showdown, but it need not be as violent as the showdown over school desegregation. The federal government can withhold federal funds from uncooperative cities and may even be able to arrest city officials if they violate federal law. Make no mistake: federal law takes precedent over local and state laws.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Impeaching Trump will not be easy

With Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in the special prosecutor's probe of Russian influence in the 2016 election and with new anger aimed at men who fondle and sexually harass women, one has to wonder whether President Trump's administration might truly be endangered.

Articles of impeachment have reportedly been discussed in the House of Representatives. Potential charges include obstruction of justice by firing FBI Director Comey in order to slow down or stop the Russia probe, false statements presented to the American public, either in interviews or tweets; racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other legislation; and bringing disrepute upon the presidency by multiple alleged  incidents of sexual harassment of women.

Congress is far from an impeachment indictment, which is a rare event in the history of the Republic, and should be. However, the special prosecutor is gathering charges and testimony that could readily present an impeachment that easily could  match the seriousness of the charges against Richard Nixon and exceed the impeachment charges against Bill Clinton. Impeachment still seems unlikely, but it is not impossible, perhaps not even improbable.

The House of Representatives, which must vote to impeach the president, is standing solidly with the president on a string of controversial bills, regardless of public opinion. Passing an impeachment bill in the overwhelmingly Republican House has little chance as the Trump administration nears its first birthday. However, more indictments of top Trump aides and more details of cooperation with Russians in disrupting the 2016 election in Trump's favor could force all but the truest believers to vote to impeach.

The odds in a Senate trial, where Republicans have a 52-48 majority, might seem more hazardous for Trump, but the Senate is properly reluctant to remove an elected official from office, and a verdict of guilty to "high crimes and misdemeanors" seems unlikely.

Making the Senate's vote more difficult is the apparent willingness of die-hard Trump supporters of stick with their man regardless of what he says or does. This Trump base does not believe anything they read in the "mainstream media" — if they read anything at all from traditional news media — and blindly accept Trump's claim that any negative reporting about him is "fake news." They won't be moved, even if the House and Senate vote unanimously to impeach and remove the president from office, even if Vladimir Putin admits that he called the shots in Trump's election and helped him win.

This unyielding Trump base is believed to account for about 20 percent of voters, far from a majority but still a lot of angry people. It helps to remember that even after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and was caught on tape trying to obstruct justice, millions of Americans continued to support him, bought his books and held him in highest esteem.

Impeaching Trump may be possible, but it is not likely without a landslide of new facts in the criminal probe. A better, more likely way of removing Trump will come in 2020. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The sex offenders keep coming

Four weeks ago, I wrote a post about the frenzy of accusations of sexual misconduct that followed disturbing revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Already, allegations were swirling about men in politics, entertainment and professions engaging in various degrees of improper behavior, ranging from unwelcome comments to extortion to violent rape.

A month into this new era, the accusations show no sign of stopping, and the esteem in which some men have been held for decades has collapsed. Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show is the latest incident. Initially, the sudden firing of Lauer based on one woman's accusation seemed lacking in due process. But when details emerged of Lauer's offensive behavior and his use of his own celebrity and power to demand sex from subordinates, a sudden firing was clearly years too late and too little punishment.

I never watched the "Today" show (I don't turn the TV on in the morning) and knew nothing about Lauer, but the next accused offender was a hero of mine — Garrison Keillor. I began listening to "Prairie Home Companion" in the mid-1980s and was quickly enchanted by the imaginary town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average." Keillor, who has written poetry and novels and is a well-known advocate for literature, presented a world as tangible as Narnia or Middle Earth. It was a world as wholesome as Mayberry and just a little funnier with characters who lived through failings and small triumphs — real characters.

The accusation against Keillor, at least as so far has been revealed, is that he placed his hand on the bare back of a female colleague beneath her shirt. He has said that he was seeking to comfort her and that his hand inadvertently touched her bare back. He said he apologized at the time and the two remained friends. But he is not appealing his firing by Minnesota Public Radio and the end of his "Writer's Almanac" daily feature. If that is all there is to this matter, perhaps a firing is too hasty. There is no equivalence between what Keillor described and the accusations against Lauer, and as these accusations pop up non-stop, the public and employers should be willing to distinguish between extorting sexual favors or physically attacking a woman and an inadvertent, unwelcome touch. The former should be punished by firing and, if possible, criminal charges. The latter may be offensive but is not criminal and should not be punishable by firing without warning or even a thorough investigation.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who is representing "We the people"?

The Republican push to pass a tax bill this year provides a lesson in how things really work 130 years after the creation of the Constitution. The lesson is this: Forget what you might have heard about members of the House of Representatives and the Senate representing the people. (Senators originally represented the states and were selected by state legislatures. The passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 provided for "direct election" of senators.) The voters are not being consulted in this effort to rewrite U.S. tax law. Calling the shots are not voters but corporations and foundations — wealthy donors to political campaigns and the tax-exempt "think tanks" that provide ideas, research and wording for congressional actions.

One look at the tax bill shows the consequences of this shift in representation from voters to big business, from people to money. The winners in the complex tax bill are politically powerful corporations and the top one percent of taxpayers. Despite repeated claims that the "middle class" is getting a tax cut, closer analysis shows the middle-income taxpayers get little or no tax relief. And to provide the tax benefits to rich individuals and richer corporations, Congress is cutting programs aimed at helping the poor and people striving to achieve the upward mobility this country once stood for. Health care, income assistance, education, food programs, low-income housing and other assistance for poor and middle-income Americans are being cut to pay for the tax reductions being given to the wealthy.

Public opinion polls show widespread distrust of the tax bill provisions; the people are catching on to the lies about tax cuts for working Americans. This epiphany compounds long-standing distrust of Congress. Who can blame voters for thinking their opinions and their votes don't matter? If you can't make big donations to political campaigns or establish a tax-exempt research foundation, your voice in Washington is drowned out by those with more powerful amplifiers.

For this system to change, it will take something other than the Steve Bannon strategy of tearing down the congressional establishment and the "deep state" in favor of more government of, by and for big corporations. A slim possibility for major change lies in the likelihood that if the current tax bill passes, voters will find their tax deductions ended, their educational opportunities closed, their health care unavailable and their prospects hopelessly bleak. If that happens, voters may revolt and demand an end to the oligarchy of wealthy donors and corporations controlling Washington. They may demand revolutionary change in campaign finances, lobbying, ethics, party leadership and simple attention to voters' true interests.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Nonpartisan means no party labels

By custom and by law, most municipal elections in North Carolina are non-partisan. There are no party primaries and no party labels on the ballots in these municipal elections. (Most school board elections are the same way.)

But some people just can't abide not having party labels and party officials deciding how things should be run. Republicans in the General Assembly have proposed making all municipal elections partisan so that Republicans can have their own candidates, and Democrats can have their own candidates. The GOP has been riding a powerful wave and thinks it can expand its authority and power by taking control of local government in the same way it has taken over state government.

Democrats are headed down that same path, but without the legislative authority of the GOP. Democrats who want partisan purity have to resort to protests and shaming. The News & Observer is reporting today that some Democrats are upset that former Gov. Jim Hunt endorsed an independent (the incumbent) in the Raleigh mayor's race instead of her challenger, who is registered as a Democrat. These Democrats want to remove Hunt's name from a party fundraiser to punish him for his disloyalty.

If you believe party politics are all that matter in this old world, punishing Hunt makes sense. But a reality check would remind these Democrats that the Raleigh mayor's race was a nonpartisan election. By law there were no party labels. Party registration, whether Democratic, Republican or independent, should not matter. Ideally, party affiliation does not exist in the mayor's race. All that should matter is ability and accomplishments. On that basis, Hunt endorsed the candidate who had proven ability and an impressive list of accomplishments in her three terms as mayor. She has advocated what most people would consider "Democratic" policies, such as low-income housing improvements and buying the Dix property for a landmark city park. Nancy McFarlane won 58% of the vote against her challenger.

The election is nonpartisan. Support for candidates should be as well. The news media have contributed to this insurgent partisanship. The News & Observer frequently mentioned the challenger's registration as a Democrat, even though that is irrelevant in a nonpartisan election. In a nonpartisan election, a candidate's party registration need never be mentioned.

The Democrats who want to "punish" Jim Hunt have short memories. Hunt is the only North Carolinian to serve four terms as governor. His terms were among the most progressive in North Carolina history. If he had not been stopped by Jesse Helms in 1984, he might have been elected president.

And what good will punishing Hunt do? These Democrats would alienate the 58% of Raleigh voters who went for McFarlane, and they will come across as ignorant and vindictive toward a man who should, by all normal standards, be a hero in Democratic politics in North Carolina.

They want an excuse for their preferred candidate's electoral loss. Jim Hunt is not it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A prediction about Alabama's voters

I usually don't make predictions of any kind — sports, weather or politics — but I'm going to make an exception in the case of Roy Moore of Alabama.

Please note that this is not an expression of preference. I would prefer that Moore crawl back into the hole whence he came. This is what I expect to happen, like it or not, folks.

I expect Roy Moore to be elected to the U.S. Senate by the voters of Alabama. These are the people, after all, who elected him repeatedly to be a judge and even to be the chief justice of the State Supreme Court. All of those elections took place before five women came forward to accuse him of misconduct with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. But Moore's constituency is not focused on 40-year-old molesting/harassment/pedophilia accusations.

Moore has only one thing going for him. He swears that he is a Christian and puts the Word of God before all else. That commitment is what prompted him to install a mammoth stone engraving of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building. Federal courts ordered its removal. Moore defied the courts and was removed from office. When the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal, Moore defied the highest court in the land and was removed from office. All these removals and embarrassments just made him more adorable to his supporters. Critics might say that Moore is more interested in using religion for publicity and that many of his actions are not Christ-like.

And so it will go with this year's U.S. Senate election. Alabama voters will send Moore to the Senate, and the Senate will have to decide whether he should be seated. Section 5 of Article I of the Constitution provides that each legislative chamber "shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members." Therefore, the Senate can refuse to seat Moore. This authority has not been exercised by the Senate in the past 150 years, but it can be used to deny Moore a seat if Alabama voters elect him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he believes Moore's accusers, and several Senate Republican leaders have indicated they agree. Many Republicans would like to see this embarrassment go away.

If the Senate refuses to seat Moore, the Republican governor of Alabama may appoint another candidate to the Senate in his stead. This course of action will not be completed until some inevitable court challenges are settled.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Local newspapers are still indispensable

For the first time in several years, I am subscribing to the local newspaper. When that newspaper laid me off after 29 years, I saw no reason to contribute to the revenues of a company that had, in my view, mistreated me and dozens of other employees who were laid off as the Great Recession and changing media erased print newspapers' business model.

I continued to take a regional daily newspaper and to read other newspapers online. My interest in public affairs, politics and world events was as strong as ever. I just didn't feel a need to purchase a local newspaper.

As this week's election approached and I saw some campaign signs around town, I realized that my thorough knowledge of city/county politics and elected officials had lapsed. Without a local newspaper, I did not know who was up for election and who the challengers were. I didn't miss late nights waiting for results to come in, which was my practice through more than 30 years as a newspaper editor. I did miss getting to know local and state officials and digging into local/state issues.

As I looked at the newspapers tossed into my driveway, I realized I had missed a few other things, such as local entertainment events, festivals, local obituaries, local art and culture reports. Yes, Facebook posts often include such matters, and I knew about many local events from social media, emails, personal contacts. Likewise, the city government posted news on social media that was sometimes helpful but always giving the government's perspective. I was still missing things, which I hope to be kept aware of if the local paper does its job.

Decades ago, when I was in the midst of my newspaper career, I could not understand how some neighbors and friends never subscribed to the local paper. "How can you get along without it?" I would wonder. Reading a local newspaper was integral to my daily life. The paper provided important news of local politics, governmental actions, criminal activity, life events (weddings, etc.), obituaries, business activity, road closures and improvements, sales at department stores and supermarkets, job opportunities, houses, cars and other items for sale, and legal notifications, such as foreclosures and estate settlements.

Alas, many of these news items are now available more promptly and conveniently than traditional print newspapers can provide them. Want ads used to provide newspapers with a steady cash flow, but nearly all of that business has shifted to internet job sites, the same for personal for sale items. That is a large reason why so many newspapers have collapsed. Another reason is many people's unwillingness to read instead of listening to broadcasts or watching videos for information.

Despite the drastic changes in the newspaper business, I am happy to renew my love of local newspapering and to feel its indispensable nature again.