Sunday Morning Coffee, 20 January 2019

What I read while having my coffee this morning:

Over at Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler lays out the reasons why Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Office pushed back on the BuzzFeed story claiming that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.  It boils down to a need to rehabilitate Cohen’s credibility in the event Mueller calls him as a trial witness and to protect the Mueller team’s reputation as a tightly-run ship that doesn’t leak.  If you want to keep up with developments in the Mueller investigation, by the way, you should read this website daily.

“Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous People’s March” reads the headline in the New York Times.  On a field trip from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky to participate in the March for Life yesterday, these thugs surrounded and mocked the man, a Vietnam War veteran, screaming “Build that wall!”at him while he played a ceremonial song.  In the video you can see many of them making fun of him while one punk stood in front of him smirking.  We’ve seen this look before, as Ruth Graham points outat Slate, and it’s yet another example of Christians completely ignoring the core teachings of their faith.  Or maybe these boys are just from families who don’t want their kids in desegregated public schools.

Perhaps in an effort to distract the media from yesterday’s Women’s March, Donald Trump offered temporary relief for Dreamers and other limited immigration changes in return for the $5.7 billion he wants to build a border wall.  This pleased no one, including Ann Coulter, who whined that conservatives “…voted for Trump and got Jeb!”  Of course, Trump is worried enough about what Coulter and other immigration hardliners thinkthat he felt the need to respond on Twitter.  I spend a good bit of time trying to figure out how conservatives think, and I’m frankly wondering how this works for them.  They complain constantly about ineffective government but think it can successfully complete a massive project like a thousand-mile long wall. They whine every day about government spending, deficits, and debt but happily advocate borrowing tens of billions of dollars for a wall that won’t solve the problem anyway.  And they prioritize property rights over community needs but don’t seem to mind that a border wall project on Trump’s scale would require confiscation of private land in the millions of acres.  Could it be racism all the way down?

On a somewhat lighter note, at least one Harvard scientist seems to think an object first spotted by University of Hawai’i astronomers could be an interstellar probe sent from another galaxy.  If so, whoever is behind it must have started the project quite a long time ago.  Since we’ve launched a few of these ourselves, it’s hardly beyond imagination.  Wonder what our interstellar counterparts will think as they watch Voyager 1 fly by?

And finally, today is the penultimate week of National Football League play.  If I were in Las Vegas (or Virginia had already legalized sports betting) I’d take the Chiefs giving up threeand the Rams getting three and a half points.  And the over on both.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

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More Equal Rights Amendment Thoughts

Virginia’s State Senate has passed SB 284, a resolution ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by a 26-14 vote.  Republicans, including my Senator (Ryan McDougle) cast all 14 no votes.  The House version, HJ 577, now sits in that body’s Privileges and Elections Committee. It’s not clear yet whether the Chair of that Committee, Delegate Mark Cole, will even allow a vote, and I’d be surprised if he lets this out of his Committee.

The ERA seemed on a fast track for ratification when Congress sent it to the States in 1972. Large bipartisan majorities supported it, as did President Nixon (and later Presidents Ford and Carter).  Then Phyllis Schlafly organized a “STOP ERA” campaign to protect what she and other conservative women saw as female privilege.  Schlafly and her supporters argued that the ERA would eliminate gender-specific protections against drafting women for military service and forcing them to share public restrooms, as well as “dependent wife” benefits under Social Security.  Largely a religious movement, these activists also believed in a social structure dominated by men.  Their attacks on the ERA focused on the ways it could hurt women by limiting the ability of government to protect women from abuse by men who had more agency and power within this structure, but their true goal included protecting traditional male and female social roles.  

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Equal Rights Amendment

Virginia Ratify ERA Party4Parity in Richmond.

Virginia’s General Assembly opened last Wednesday, and Virginia Ratify ERAactivists spent the day lobbying legislators in support of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  Late in the day they gathered to thank supporters, including legislators and Attorney General Mark Herring.  Elected officials took the stage, but grassroots activists owned the room.

Congress sent the ERA to the States in March 1972 with a seven-year deadline.  If approved by 38 of 50 States by 22 March 1979, this language would become part of the Constitution:

“Section 1.Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2.The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3.This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

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Transportation

A week before Christmas, John Massoud wrote about a Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance (VTCA) poll at The Bull Elephant.  The poll shows strong public support for levying tolls on freight trucks or spending taxpayer funds to improve Interstate 81 in the western part of Virginia.  Massoud rightly points out that the VTCA is a lobbying group with an interest in highway construction funding and we should take the poll with a grain of salt (I have not looked into the methodology).  Still, he offers no solution to the mess I-81 has become and instead rejects the idea that government can be trusted with “my money.” We need infrastructure that helps Virginians efficiently move themselves and the products we make and sell, so I thought this would be a good hook to share some thoughts on transportation issues in the Commonwealth.

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Federal Judge Rules ACA Unconstitutional

A Federal District Court judge for the Northern District of Texasruled the Affordable Care Act(ACA) unconstitutional on Friday night.  Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bushappointee, wrote that “[the] Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause—meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional.”   

Because the Supreme Court in 2010 allowed the individual coverage mandate to stand as a tax, and Congress reduced the tax to zero in 2017, Reed argues, the entire law violates the Constitution since Congress has no power to require coverage except as a tax.  Democrats will of course appeal this decision and may have the stronger argument.  The ruling ignores the fact that Congress simply changed the tax rate – the tax itself remains in place.  Until outright repeal, the law still rests on exercise on the power to tax even as Congress exercises its discretion by applying a zero rate.  It’s also not clear that the entire law fails without the mandate.  The US Supreme Court will of course adjudicate this question – and when it does all eyes will turn to Gorsuchand Kavanaugh.

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Predictions from The Bull Elephant – and a Few of My Own

Contributors and staff at The Bull Elephant have predicted the outcome of today’s elections and they deliver about what you’d expect from true believers.  Most think the GOP will hold the House and some think Republicans will pick up 3 or more seats in the Senate, with one suggesting a 60-seat majority.  Many argue that Corey Stewart will outperform polls and one thinks he could have won with more help from the Republican national and state parties.  Almost all think Barbara Comstock will lose, but few think any other Democrats will win Virginia House seats they aren’t heavily favored to win (e.g., Don McEachin [D-4]).  Continue reading

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Comment at Virginia Right

A few weeks ago Bob Shannon, former President of the Mechanicsville Tea Party, wrote an essay at Virginia Right criticizing Congressman Rob Wittman for continuing to “duck and dodge the King William T. E. A. Party.” Mr. Shannon notes in his post that Wittman met with three different King William County groups, calling them “‘soft audiences,’ friendly groups inclined to give the Congressman a warm welcome with softball questions.”  This implies that the King William Tea Party might not greet the Congressman so warmly.

I attend Mechanicsville Tea Party meetings because I’m curious about the movement generally and how my more conservative neighbors think about politics.  I’ve learned from these interactions that conservatives in my region have two chief complaints about Republican politicians: they vote too often for government spending and they meet too rarely with constituents.  Your mileage may vary with respect to the validity of these criticisms.  But I wanted to engage with the Virginia Right readership in the hope of learning more about the way they think.  So I posted a comment to Shannon’s post.  Though no readers responded, I thought I would post it here, if only to get it into the Foggy Bottom Line archive.

I’m a Democrat considering a run for the Virginia Senate in the 4th District next year. I’d be very happy to engage with the King William or any other Tea Party group. I have in fact attended several Mechanicsville Tea Party meetings, though not as a candidate.

Generally speaking, I understand you think liberty cannot survive a powerful government. But I wonder just what role you think it should have. National defense, of course, and presumably regulation of immigration. Some hierarchical authority must legislate at least minimal regulations to govern capitalism, protect core values such as “thou shall not steal,” and provide courts to adjudicate disputes. Some collective action is necessary to create the infrastructure required for a modern economy to function.

I also wonder whether you think government action can sometimes protect liberty. Lack of access to health care, for example, or connectivity with others in an economy that depends on integration of businesses with consumers and each other, can have the effect of limiting my choices. The corporations that provide these services, after all, care more about profit than anyone’s personal freedom.

Government needs revenue to pay for all this of course. What is the appropriate level? And should those who benefit most from our system pay a bit more? If you don’t think so, then why not?

In any event, government should of course not spend more than it takes in, but It’s obvious that under some circumstances government must borrow money. No budget can allow for every emergency, and every organization sometimes borrows to invest where managers believe that investment will bring returns that exceed interest costs. Government should not go into debt without good reason – and I’m wondering how you would define “good reason.” Does “give wealthy people more money in hopes that they’ll pay if forward” qualify?

Forgive me if I sound like I’m brainstorming – but I’m sort of doing just that. I’m genuinely interested in how I, as a Democrat, might secure your vote. I do have core principles that I won’t compromise to get your support. But I wonder where, if at all, we might find common ground.

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Kavanaugh, Politics, and the Conservative Project

I think Susan Collins had no good choice here.  Her vote to confirm buys her a credible and well-funded challenger, but a vote the other way would likely have created a primary challenge from the right.  It seems to me that while Collins has rarely deviated from conservative orthodoxy with respect to her actual votes, she has carefully cultivated a reputation as a moderate (chiefly by claiming to respect reproductive choice for women).  This and incumbency has so far protected her politically, but Democrats (especially women) in Maine will now do everything they can to replace her.  This challenge comes in 2020, when Democrats will also show up in force to vote against Donald Trump if he runs again.  I think she had a better chance to win a challenge from the right and keep the seat by voting no on Kavanaugh but supporting his just-as-conservative replacement.

Joe Manchin faced a similar problem except that he depends on some level of support from conservatives to keep his seat where Collins depends on marginal liberals for hers.  I would suggest to Senator Manchin that (like in Maine) a “right thing to do” vote against Kavanaugh would have kept enough conservatives in his corner as long as he votes to confirm Trump’s next choice.  And as in Maine voting to confirm Kavanaugh will alienate Democrats he needs to win.  It’s too late for a primary challenge from the left, but to win he needs every vote he can get, and many women will now stay home. Continue reading

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Brett Kavanaugh

We’re learning a lot about Republicans and Conservatism watching them push through the Kavanaugh confirmation.  The Federalist Society could give them the names of a hundred other judges with the necessary background to join the US Supreme Courtand vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, protect corporations from regulation, and permit expansive voter suppression laws.  Most of these could at least maintain the appearance of impartiality and show more judicial temperament than Kavanaugh showed.

Yet they not only press forward, they feel a need do so in the most mean-spirited way possible. We’ve come to expect that from Donald Trump, and he hasn’t disappointed the last few days.  But until now we could at least try to tell ourselves that senior GOP leaders like Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham would not sink to such a base level.  Continue reading

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