Monday, December 31, 2018

America's New Year's Resolution: Impeach Trump

Robert Reich. (photo: unknown)
Robert Reich. (photo: unknown)

By Robert Reich, Guardian UK
31 December 18

The shutdown, attacks on the judiciary, the politicization of the military. All confirm it: Congress must impeach. Now
fter his first bizarre year, Donald Trump’s apologists told us he was growing into the job and that in his second year he would be more restrained and respectful of democratic institutions.

Wrong. He’s been worse.

Exhibit one: the “wall”. After torpedoing Mitch McConnell’s temporary spending deal to avert a shutdown, he’s holding hostage more than 800,000 government employees (“mostly Democrats”, he calls them, disparagingly) while subjecting the rest of America to untoward dangers.

On-site inspections at power plants have been halted. Hazardous waste cleanup efforts at Superfund sites are on hold. Reviews of toxic substances and pesticides have been stopped. Justice department cases are in limbo.

Meanwhile, now working without pay are thousands of air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors, nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents, 42,000 coast guard employees, 53,000 TSA agents, 17,000 correctional officers, 14,000 FBI agents, 4,000 Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and some 5,000 firefighters with the US Forest Service.

Having run the Department of Labor during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, I’m confident most of these public servants will continue to report for duty because they care about the missions they’re upholding. But going without pay will strain their family budgets to the point that some will not be able to.

Shame on him for jeopardizing America this way in order to fund his wall – which is nothing but a trumped-up solution to a trumped-up problem designed only to fuel his base.

In his second year, he’s also done even more damage to the nation’s judicial-criminal system than he did before.

At least twice in the past month he has reportedly raged against his acting attorney general for allowing federal prosecutors to reference him in the crimes his former bagman Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to committing.

This is potentially the most direct obstruction of justice yet. He’s now pressuring an official whom he hand-picked and whose entire future depends on him, to take actions that would impair the independence of federal prosecutors.

Last month he blasted Jon Tigar as an “Obama judge”, after Tigar blocked the administration’s limits on asylum eligibility to ports of entry, a decision summarily upheld by the ninth circuit court of appeals and sustained by the supreme court.

Chief Justice Roberts issued a rare rebuke. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges,” he wrote, adding that an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for”.

Which prompted this rejoinder: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’” followed by a baseless and incendiary claim that “they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country” and their “rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

In his second year, he has displayed even less commitment to keeping the military non-partisan than he did initially. During a teleconference with US troops and coast guard members last month he continued his rampage against the judiciary, calling the ninth circuit “a big thorn in our side” and “a disgrace”.

Then he turned last week’s surprise visit to American troops in Iraq and Germany into a political rally: praising troops wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps, signing a “Trump 2020” patch, and accusing Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats of being weak on border security.

Some Americans are becoming so accustomed to these antics that they no longer see them for what they are – escalating attacks on core democratic institutions.

Where would we be if a president could simply shut down the government when he doesn’t get his way? If he could stop federal prosecutions he doesn’t like and order those he wants? If he could whip up public anger against court decisions he disapproves of? If he could mobilize the military to support him, against Congress and the judiciary?

We would no longer live in a democracy. Like his increasing attacks on critics in the press, these are all aspects of his growing authoritarianism. We normalize them at our peril.

America’s democratic institutions remain strong, but I’m not sure they can endure two more years of this. Trump must be removed from office through impeachment, or his own decision to resign in the face of impeachment, as did Richard Nixon.

Republican members of Congress must join with Democrats to get this task done as quickly as possible. Nothing is more urgent. It must be, in effect, America’s new year’s resolution.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Halfway Point: What Have Two Years of Trump's Wrecking Ball Done to America?

President Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. (photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. (photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

By David Smith, Guardian UK
30 December 18

The republic has undergone a wild stress test but despite new lows, Donald Trump’s presidency has also seen a democratic renaissance

t’s nearly half-time and we’re still here. On 20 January it will be two years since the businessman and reality TV celebrity Donald Trump took the oath as president, spoke of “American carnage” and boasted about his crowd size, leaving millions to wonder if the US, and the world, could survive him.

It will also be two years until the next inauguration in Washington. Has the 45th president kept his campaign promises and made America great again? Or has he proven an existential threat to the republic, stoking internal divisions, destroying its reputation abroad and assailing norms and values, the rule of law and reality itself?

For sure, Trump is testing his infamous January 2016 claim – “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” – to destruction.

True, there has been no new war, no major terrorist attack, no economic crash – at least not yet – such is the soft bigotry of low expectations. There is also a school of thought that this presidency was necessary, that the rise of a narcissistic authoritarian has brought about a moment of reckoning, forcing white Americans to confront a racism many had dismissed as ambient noise and forcing everyone to confront a broken politics. 

There’s no question that the institutions of our democracy are being tested every day in terms of the fundamental checks and balances built into our constitution,” said Leon Panetta, a former defence secretary and CIA director.There are some days when you wonder whether the system is going to work well, but I think generally we’ve been able to survive. But presidencies ought to be about a hell of a lot more than just survival.” 

Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington and former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, agrees: “America is surviving; it isn’t thriving. Our institutions have undergone a stress test. They have bent; they haven’t broken.”

Most observers agree that Trump has remained true to himself and his candidacy, the anti-Barack Obama. Last month he awarded himself an A+, asking on Fox News: “Is that enough? Can I go higher than that?” 

Trump presides over a strong economy with unemployment at its lowest rate for half a century, though Democrats argue that he is building on Obama’s foundations and warn of a spiralling national debt. He passed sweeping tax reform in what critics say was a giveaway to the super-rich at the expense of working families. He slashed regulations with little heed for the environment (he denies the science of climate change).

He appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court, and many more conservative judges to the lower courts, delighting his base but infuriating millions of women and men after allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh were brushed aside. He has failed to build the wall he promised on the Mexican border but enforced an anti-immigration policy that separated children from their parents.

Overseas, Trump has praised authoritarians while alienating old allies and rattling the post-second world war liberal order. His relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, remains a mystery, exemplified by a summit in Helsinki that led to cries of treason, but special counsel Robert Mueller has caught several criminals in Trump’s orbit and has cast a long shadow over the White House. Trump’s trade war with China could hurt the people who elected him the most. 

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, says: “Trump is squandering one of America’s greatest strengths, which is its allies. Stand back and say, is America more powerful than when he got elected in 2016? The answer has to be no. There has been only slippage.”

Along the way, the Republican party has done little to stop him, with most critical voices in the Senate – John McCain, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake – stilled by death or retirement. Even so, Jacobs retains faith in the country’s resilience. He said: “I’m not one of those people who think American democracy is ending. This is not a late-night horror movie. This is a country that had hundreds of years of democracy with a civil war, the McCarthy hearings and a lot more. The country has been through the wringer and democracy has held.

“When I look at the performance of institutions, I’d say it’s largely operational. The media has been described as the enemy of the people but the press looks more vibrant and aggressive in its reporting than at any time since Watergate. Trump is an aberration in his conduct but the operation of the American electoral system, judiciary and media continue.”

Trump also provokes questions of character, ethics and temperament. His White House has been a vortex of chaos with a record turnover of staff. He surrounded himself with ageing white men and members of his own family, inviting accusations of corruption. He drew moral equivalence between white nationalists and anti-fascist protesters after deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and appears to reserve particular venom for women and people of colour. He has attacked the media as “the enemy of the people” while chalking up thousands of false statements. His Twitter account brims with insults, lies, vulgarity and bad spelling. 

Sidney Blumenthal, a biographer of Abraham Lincoln, says: “Trump is certainly the person with the worst character ever to be president. At two years and counting, the damage may equal the damage done by the worst presidents which brought on the civil war, and the damage done by Andrew Johnson who encouraged the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalist attacks on Reconstruction that brought about legalised segregation.”

Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to Clinton, warns that even if Trump – who lost the popular vote in 2016 and saw House Republicans routed in 2018 – is defeated in 2020, his legacy will endure. “The idea that there can be a simple restoration and the country can pick up where we left off the minute before Trump took the oath is a dangerous illusion. We’re going to have to deal with the damage. It is too profound that it is an unprecedented assault on our constitution.”

And yet there is a striking paradox. Over the past two years, Trump has also caused a democratic renaissance. The first Women’s March on Washington the day after his inauguration was probably the biggest single-day demonstration in recorded US history, with an estimated 725,000 people. In November 2018, 49% of the voter-eligible population showed up at the polls, the highest midterm turnout seen since 1914.

Activists, authors, journalists and satirists have thrived in an age when politics suddenly matters again. The complacent myth of a post-racial country, which some espoused after Obama’s election, has been exploded, forcing some long-overdue conversations.

Asked if he considers Trump a white supremacist, Rashad Robinson, president of the advocacy group Color of Change, replies instantly: “Absolutely.” But he adds: “If Trump was the only one, he couldn’t survive. There is potential for us to be more honest and more clear and see what people do when things are hard. When you’re getting your tax breaks and your judges, are you willing to go along with racism?”

The president has shaken up norms once taken for granted, he adds. “Trump and the right have sort of called the bluff on those things where we thought the system was supposed to work: you can’t steal a supreme court seat, you can’t say racist things to a black female reporter, you can’t lie every day and get away with it. The bluff has been called and we can’t rely on the old structures and rules of cordiality.”

But the “resistance” to Trump has produced a surge of civic activism. Robinson says: “As much as the levers of power are being used, racial justice is winning as never before. People are working across silos as they haven’t in the past. There’s a new level of engagement.”

One example is Jjana Valentiner, an actor and makeup artist from Salt Lake City, Utah, now living in Washington, who stood outside the White House with candles on the night of Trump’s election. “I was in shock,” she recalls. “I was just numb. I heard a lot of people say it felt like a death.”

Valentiner’s response is to regularly hand-deliver boxes of cupcakes to members of Congress, the media and others she wants to thank for “saving democracy”, helped by a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $2,000 to date. She reflects: “We had stages of grief and, now that we’re two years in, I can look at it and go, right, it was necessary because I think it’s exposing a lot of what was under the surface already that needed to be exposed, especially for white folks.

“I actually think we’re going to get through this and I think we’re going to be stronger and better because of it.” 

Neil Sroka, communications director of the progressive group Democracy for America, also finds consolation in the country’s response. “A giant Trump-shaped cloud sits over everything, but the silver lining is that the rise of this administration has led to a progressive awakening that had been thought of as possible but not guaranteed,” he says. “What many folks have realised is how fragile institutions are and in a lot of ways Trump himself hasn’t rotted the trust, but the wrecking ball Trump has been to our democratic norms has exposed the rot that lay beneath the surface.”

Race has been at the core of the Trump presidency, just as it is at the core of America. Sroka adds: “In January 2017, we had millions of white liberals running around saying this isn’t our country and what the last two years have shown is that, yes, this is our country and the only way we’re going to fix it is to fundamentally change our politics.”

Trump is as American as Obama. His presidency has laid bare America’s soul and shaken its oldest institutions, including the church. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal church, says: “I think in most folks there’s a sense that something’s out of kilter. We don’t know exactly what, and that’s not a liberal or conservative thing, but there’s something in the way we’re even engaging each other.”

Curry, 65, who shot to fame at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, says he is now having more conversations with members of Congress and people in government about spiritual values. Despite it all, does he remain optimistic? He pauses and leans back, then replies: “I believe in hope. I believe in God. This isn’t the first time the human race has been in trouble and I expect it won’t be the last.

“We’re in the midst of some tough times right now but like the old slaves used to say, tough times don’t last always. As long as there’s a God.”

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Mouth Trump during 2013 shutdown: Fire Obama, because ‘problems start from the top’

A rare moment of Donald Trump with his mouth shut

Donald Trump ran his big mouth in 2013 when a Republican-led Congress shutdown the government during President Obama’s second term, an act that Standard & Poor’s says took an estimated $24 billion out of the U.S. economy. The folks at Fox News had the reality show entrepreneur on their highly rated morning show to weigh in on the shutdown and big mouth Trump delivered what they were looking for—a statement that Barack Obama should be fired. 
Hasselback: Who’s getting fired? Who’s gonna bear the brunt of the responsibility, if indeed there is a shutdown of our government?
Trump: Well, if you say who gets fired, it always has to be the top. I mean, problems start from the top and they have to get solved from the top and the president’s the leader and he’s gotta get everyone in a room and he’s gotta lead. And, he doesn’t do that, he doesn’t like doing that, that’s not his strength. And, that’s why you have this horrible situation going on in Washington. It’s a very, very bad thing and it’s very embarrassing worldwide. 
And now what? Donald Trump couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag. He rejected a $25 billion offer from Democrats in March. Why? Because he refused to accept any protections for 10-14 year old DREAMers. And now he’s begging for $5 billion from a Congress that is, at least for now, still led by Republicans.

He tried to have a reality show bargaining episode with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and they weren’t having it. What did Donald Trump expect? This isn’t a fake boardroom and fake negotiations. This is real life, real people’s lives on the line and he’s yet again exposed as nothing more than a phony who got away with running his big mouth on television for years, to the detriment of this nation. 

For once, Donald Trump is right. The president should be fired.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Progressives Playing the Long Game to Get Medicare for All

Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders hold up signs in support for Medicare-for-all during a health care rally in Washington D.C. on September 13, 2017. (photo: Getty)
Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders hold up signs in support for Medicare-for-all during a health care rally in Washington D.C. on September 13, 2017. (photo: Getty)

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg
27 December 18
clamor to create “Medicare for All” has exploded on the left. Democratic presidential hopefuls are racing to co-sponsor legislation, rising stars in the party are embracing it, and national polls show Americans warming to the concept.

But even the idea’s most fervent backers acknowledge that the goal is far off in the distance, beyond the next year or even the 2020 election.

Their aim for now is to shift the health care debate. By making single-payer health care -- a model under which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan -- the progressive position, advocates argue that gives Democrats representing conservative areas of the country political cover to support more modest proposals to expand the government’s role in health insurance.

“Everybody understands we’re not going to get Medicare for All enacted in January. 

But it’s a marker about where we want to land, which is to say we want everybody to have health care,” Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said in an interview. “This is about moving the so-called Overton window.”

Moving that Overton window -- the spectrum of ideas the public will accept -- captures the progressive strategy for making the government’s Medicare program available for everyone, not just those over 65. Schatz, for instance, is a co-sponsor of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation, but has also offered a less comprehensive alternative which would give states the authority to let people who aren’t otherwise eligible buy into the Medicaid program targeted to aiding low-income individuals.

Obamacare Challenge
The maneuvering on health policy comes as the Affordable Care Act, which expanded insurance coverage to millions of Americans, is under a Republican-led court challenge. While the law, popularly known as Obamacare, remains in effect, the court case may drag into the 2020 campaigns for the White House and Congress. In the meantime, there’s a wide range of potential proposals between the status quo and a government-run single-payer system that are gaining support among Democrats.

“We will be having a conversation about many ideas on how we can lower the costs of health care,” said Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. The Democratic-led House will discuss the Medicaid buy-in that he co-sponsored with Schatz, as well as Medicare for All and “other initiatives members have, as opposed to Republicans who were only intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Republican Opposition
President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans are unlikely to give up their opposition to Obamacare, much less embrace an expansion of Medicare. Any hope of movement would rely on Democrats riding the issue to control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2020.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declined to say if he supports Medicare for All. “There are lots of different routes,” the New York Democrat said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” program on Dec. 16. “Many are for Medicare for All. Some are for Medicare buy-in. Some are Medicare over 55. Some are Medicaid buy-in. Some are public option.”

Schumer said Washington has to “do a lot more on health care,” and that it’ll be “a major issue in 2020.” Representative Nancy Pelosi, poised to become House Speaker in January, has also kept her distance from a federal single-payer program, suggesting states adopt it first.

Political Attacks
While Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a health care alternative, they found unity in attacking Medicare for All against Democrats in 2018 House races, calling it a radical and costly government takeover of health care. Democratic candidates running in swing districts generally distanced themselves from the idea.

But the Kaiser Family Foundation found in March that 59 percent of Americans favor “Medicare for All,” a figure that’s grown in recent years, while 38 percent oppose it. Support fell to 53 percent, though, when it was dubbed a “single-payer plan.”

Meanwhile, 72 percent favor a “Medicaid buy-in for everyone” and 75 percent favor an optional “Medicare for All” proposal that also lets people who already have coverage keep their plans.

The obstacles are enormous. Major changes to health care are politically treacherous as Americans, about half of whom get insurance from an employer, fear their coverage will be reduced. Opposition from industry and conservatives would make plenty of Democrats wary of such a disruptive change.

Practical Strategy
“We don’t have the support that we need,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who will co-chair the Progressive Caucus. She said that she’d favor modest expansions of Medicare or Medicaid eligibility as a step toward Medicare for All.

“I am a big bold thinker; I’m also a good practical strategist,” Jayapal said. "It’s why the Medicare For All Caucus was started, because we want to get information to our members so people feel comfortable talking about the attacks we know are going to come.”

The Democratic Party shift is already under way. In September, former President Barack Obama praised Democrats are running on “good new ideas, like Medicare for All” -- a stark reversal after he rejected the idea of a single-payer system at the outset of his health care overhaul push in 2009. Medicare for All legislation offered by Sanders is backed by numerous Democratic senators considering 2020 presidential bids, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Top Issue
The Sanders proposal is estimated to raise federal spending by $32 trillion, according to a study by the conservative Mercatus Center, which also found that it would modestly reduce overall U.S. spending on health care by saving money on provider payments and administrative costs. In other words, Americans would pay higher taxes to finance universal coverage and save on premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

“Our first job is to defend the Affordable Care Act. Our second is to improve it and make changes, for example to families’ vulnerability to the impact of high-priced drugs. And the third is to find a system of Medicare available to all that will increase the qualify of care while it decreases the cost of all of us,” Warren said in an interview.

Jayapal predicted it would be “the top issue of the 2020 presidential campaigns.”
“The left is not bulls---ing when it suggests we should have a single-payer system, but there is definitely some Overton window playing on Medicare for All,” said Sean McElwee, a left-wing activist and researcher with advocacy group Data For Progress.

‘Political Hurdles’
McElwee said there are “significant political hurdles in the way of single payer" and there likely will be attempts “water down” the idea of Medicare for All so that it becomes palatable to centrist Democrats.

The biggest challenges, he said, will be in the Senate, where less populous, solidly Republican states are on equal footing with larger, solidly Democratic states and there’s a 60-vote threshold for legislation. In addition, several Democratic senators, including Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, have conservative constituencies.

Even before the next Congress convenes in January, young, newly-elected House progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are pushing the idea of Medicare for All to their social media followers. Liberal groups like MoveOn and the Sanders-aligned Our Revolution want to make it a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates in 2020.

“In the debate about what it means to be a Democrat, the progressive vision has won out. They’ve lost the war. They’re going extinct,” McElwee said of some of the conservatives who prevented a single-payer system from being considered when Obamacare was first debated. “They’re like the dinosaurs and the meteor’s already coming.”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Podiatrist's Daughters Say He Diagnosed Trump's Bone Spurs as Favor to His Daddy Fred Trump

The office where Dr. Larry Braunstein practiced podiatry in Jamaica, Queens. His daughters say he came to Donald J. Trump's aid with a diagnosis of bone spurs during the Vietnam draft. (photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times)
The office where Dr. Larry Braunstein practiced podiatry in Jamaica, Queens. His daughters say he came to Donald J. Trump's aid with a diagnosis of bone spurs during the Vietnam draft. (photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

By Daniel Politi, Slate
26 December 18
t turns out all the rumors and speculation may be true after all and President Donald Trump likely never suffered from bone spurs.

Trump famously received a medical exemption from the military during the Vietnam War because he was diagnosed with bone spurs in his heels. But now the daughters of a Queens podiatrist tell the New York Times their late father wrote the diagnosis as a favor to the president’s father, Fred Trump, who was the foot doctor’s landlord. 

“I know it was a favor,” said Dr. Elysa Braunstein, one of the daughters of Dr. Larry Braunstein, who died in 2007. “It was family lore.” She added that “it was something we would always discuss.” Her sister, Sharon Kessel, also corroborated that account although neither daughter could confirm whether their father had actually examined the president.

There is no documentation to back up the claim, and the daughters openly acknowledge they are Democrats who dislike Trump. The late podiatrist, who was a lifelong Democrat, also apparently wasn’t a big fan of the now-president. Although he once talked about the diagnosis with pride because he had helped a “famous guy,” he later got irritated by Trump’s tabloid persona.

At the time though, it seems Braunstein got a clear benefit from helping his landlord’s son. “What he got was access to Fred Trump,” Elysa Braunstein said. “If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call and Trump would take care of it immediately. That was the small favor that he got.”

The daughters say they believe another podiatrist, Dr. Manny Weinstein, also assisted in the diagnosis although his role is not exactly clear. He did live in two apartments in Brooklyn owned by Fred Trump and moved into the first one the same year that Donald Trump received the exemption. Weinstein died in 1995.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Supreme Court Sustains Compassion and Law by 5-4 Vote, for Now

Chief Justice John Roberts stands with U.S. Supreme Court Justices in the House chamber  prior to the 2016 State of the Union address. (photo: Reuters)
Chief Justice John Roberts stands with U.S. Supreme Court Justices in the House chamber prior to the 2016 State of the Union address. (photo: Reuters)

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
26 December 18

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

nited States asylum law, duly enacted by Congress and the president of the United States, has remained unchanged and largely unchallenged since 2008. The clearly stated intent of the law is to allow any alien physically present in the US to apply for asylum, in a legal process consistent with both international and federal law. The unstated subtext of the law is that the US should be a compassionate country where people fleeing oppression, persecution, and violence may find a safe haven.

This one of America’s founding myths, that we are a country of immigrants, in the best sense of the word. Despite glaring violations, the myth has served as the basis of consensus national policy until very recently. And it has been the settled law of the land.

On November 1, 2018, in a provocative and less than honest speech on immigration, President Trump set out on a campaign to change all that, as he challenged the law of the land and the constitutional process by which law is created. Masking the constitutional challenge, Trump distracted attention with threats that US military would kill asylum seekers if they threw stones. Despite his deliberate demagoguery, Trump’s extreme language failed to have a discernible effect on the fall election.

On November 9, in the latest strike in his unrelenting war on immigrants, Trump issued a proclamation asserting that he, as president, had the unilateral authority to change any law passed by Congress – in this case, the asylum law. The proclamation implemented a 78-page “interim final rule” issued the previous day by the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The Washington Post, adopting Trump’s false framing, disingenuously and falsely headlined this move as “Trump administration tightens immigration asylum rules as caravans continue to push for US border.” NBC News had a somewhat different take on the interim final rule:

The Trump administration expects to be sued over the draconian new immigration plan it unveiled Thursday afternoon, say two senior administration officials with knowledge of the discussions — but with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court, it expects to win.

Lawsuits followed, as expected. In San Francisco, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) promptly filed suit on behalf of four organizations involved with immigrant rights.

On November 20, US District Judge Jon Tigar issued a temporary restraining order that barred the administration from implementing the interim final rule until it had been fully litigated. In his ruling, Judge Tigar wrote:

The rule barring asylum for immigrants who enter the country outside a port of entry irreconcilably conflicts with the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965] and the expressed intent of Congress. Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.

The White House responded by attacking the judge for being appointed by President Obama. The White House also issued a statement falsely describing reality on the border and falsely representing the president’s authority. The White House appealed to the full 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Judge Tigar’s ruling. If granted, the stay would allow the White House to move forward with the interim final rule.

On December 8, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld Judge Tigar and rejected the White House request. Writing for the unanimous court in a 65-page decision, Judge Jay Bybee (previously well known in the Bush administration for writing memos justifying torture) began by reiterating the legal and historical baseline for considering applications for asylum in the US:

For more than 60 years, our country has agreed, by treaty, to accept refugees. In 1980, Congress codified our obligation to receive persons who are “unable or unwilling to return to” their home countries “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Congress prescribed a mechanism for these refugees to apply for asylum and said that we would accept applications from any alien “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States whether or not at a designated port of arrival … irrespective of such alien’s status. [Emphasis in original]

Judge Tigar’s temporary restraining order lasted only until December 19, when he held a hearing on the White House appeal to let the interim final rule go into effect.

After hearing argument from both sides, Judge Tigar concluded that “Plaintiffs [ACLU] have established an overwhelming likelihood that the new rule barring asylum is invalid.” The judge then granted a preliminary injunction barring the White House from implementing unlawful restrictions on asylum seekers.

The White House had already applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of Judge Tigar’s restraining order and allow the new rules to go forward. The Supreme Court rejected the request without comment on a 5-4 vote. The entire Supreme Court order reads:

The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied. Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, Justice Gorsuch, and Justice Kavanaugh would grant the application for stay.

It’s not really news that Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh have no objection to the president rewriting Congressional legislation on his own, without review even by the judiciary. These men are all well known for their shaky adherence to constitutional law when the opportunity to support authoritarianism presents itself.

Nor is it really news that Justices Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Breyer come down in support of the rule of law.

The news – and it really looks like good news – is that Chief Justice John G. Roberts is the swing vote here in opposition to legislation by presidential diktat. As NBC News reported, the White House expected to win this in the Supreme Court. We should be grateful that their expectation was wrong, at least for now. The asylum case is far from over. The White House is almost surely going to go on trying to create a presidential dictatorship. But for now, we’re still one justice shy of the end of constitutional government.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Here Are the Gifts Trump Is Giving His Billionaire Buddies on Christmas

Bernie Sanders. (photo: Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty Images)

By Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders' Facebook Page
25 December 18
ere is what Donald Trump is doing for the American people on Christmas:

Give a $3.7 billion tax break to Wells Fargo - a bank that is closing 800 branches.

Take away paychecks of some 800,000 workers by shutting the government.

Give $1.4 billion tax break to the Koch brothers.

Take away $1.40 meals from 755,000 hungry, unemployed Americans.

Give Pfizer a $26.5 billion tax cut after it increased the price of life saving drugs.

Take away healthcare from 13 million Americans by gutting Obamacare.

Give Walmart a $2.2 billion tax break after it laid off thousands of workers.

Take away $1.1 billion a year in overtime pay from 12.5 million workers.

Our job:

End the 40-year war on the working class and the poor and create an economy that works for all of us, not just those on top.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Why Bernie Sanders Is (Still) the Most Progressive Choice for President

'Bernie Sanders' ideas have set the agenda for the Democratic party for the past two years.' (photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
'Bernie Sanders' ideas have set the agenda for the Democratic party for the past two years.' (photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

By Nathan Robinson, Guardian UK
24 December 18

With less than two years until election day, no other Democratic candidate has the ability to defeat Donald Trump

peculation over the 2020 US presidential elections has already gotten contentious. The Democratic field looks as if it’s going to be crowded, and new prospects are floated by the press seemingly every week, from Oprah Winfrey to Beto O’Rourke.

With just under two years to go until election day, it’s best not to become too consumed by presidential speculation. But for those on the left who want to defeat Donald Trump and advance egalitarian political values, it’s important to start to think about who can succeed. For those of us who believe in radically transformative political change, the choice is already clear – Bernie Sanders is the only viable option.

Based on his record, Sanders should be the progressive favorite by default. In 2016, he ran an impressive insurgent campaign that came close to defeating the party elite’s handpicked candidate. Savvier Democrats have already recognized that Sander’s message is the one that best suits the mood of the electorate.

His ideas have set the agenda for the Democratic party for the past two years, with elected officials trying to burnish their progressive credentials by doing photo ops with Sanders and adopting his policies, from free college to Medicare for All (a plan that even the majority of Republican voters now favor). Many polls suggest he is the most popular politician in the country, and would be the clear favorite in a match-up against Trump. Attempts to portray Sanders as the candidate of white “Bernie Bros” ignore the facts – Sanders has higher favorability ratings among people of color than any other Democratic politician. It’s obvious that he’s the party’s best shot. He has a formidable team of experienced organizers, national popularity and name recognition, and a clear, bold agenda that can win over working-class people of all genders and races.

What about the other frontrunners? Some current polls put Joe Biden ahead of Sanders in a potential primary. But while Biden’s “Uncle Joe” persona has endeared him to Democrats across the country, no serious progressive can support him. For one thing, Biden has declared himself indifferent to the concerns of millennial voters, saying he has “no empathy” for young people who complain about student debt, precarious employment, and high rent. I don’t know about other millennials, but I prefer a candidate who can empathize with me.

Biden has also spent a long career in Washington failing to take important stands at critical points. He has misrepresented his pandering to racists during the 1970s, and his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony during 1991’s was infamously shameful. (After decades in which Hill waited for an apology from Biden, he finally gave a partial one this year, while still declining to accept blame for what happened to Hill.) If that wasn’t enough, Biden’s creepy history of routinely violating women’s personal space should make his candidacy a non-starter in the post-#MeToo era.

How about Beto O’Rourke, the “Kennedyesque” golden boy currently being floated as a potential nominee? O’Rourke turned in an impressive showing against Ted Cruz in Texas. But O’Rourke is a member of the centrist New Democrat coalition, and his commitment to progressive values is so lukewarm that he refuses to even use the word “progressive” to describe himself. His record as a legislator is thin, and he has been noncommittal and evasive when discussing core progressive policies like tuition-free college and single-payer healthcare. Since he hasn’t taken the lead on pushing a left agenda in Congress, there’s little reason to think he would be effective at doing so as president.

In fact, every candidate other than Sanders has qualities that should be deeply troubling to those on the left. Elizabeth Warren, whose calls for a more democratic economy put her closer to Sanders than any other senator, has called herself a “capitalist to my bones” – a sharp contrast with the democratic socialism with which the majority of millennials sympathize. (Warren’s disastrous handling of the “Native American” controversy also does not suggest the kind of nimble political instincts crucial to taking on a master of sleaze and scandal like Donald Trump.)

Kamala Harris has a record of overseeing and then defending serious prosecutorial misconduct as California’s attorney general, and racial justice advocates strongly criticized her for her failure to hold police accountable. Cory Booker, whose political rise was fueled by corporate money, has such warm feelings for Wall Street that he actually criticized Barack Obama for being too harsh on private equity firms.

Kirsten Gillibrand spent the first part of her career as a lawyer for Big Tobacco, and according to the American Conservative was originally elected by “running to the right”, such as by staunchly opposing drivers’ licenses for undocumented people.

Gillibrand has recently begun to sound far more progressive, but someone who served as the paid agent for “merchants of death” faces a high burden to prove they’ve changed.

A candidate should be judged on their record. Based on how recently most of the 2020 prospects have embraced the progressive agenda, it’s reasonable to suspect some opportunism. Sanders, on the other hand, has a lifelong history as a thorn in the side of the establishment. Even as a teenager, Sanders was getting himself arrested in civil rights demonstrations.

As mayor of Burlington, he pioneered an innovative community land trust approach to affordable housing. He has been an efficient legislator, even earning the title “amendment king” for his success in getting measures through Congress. And he has shown a willingness to take principled stands, including his early opposition to the Iraq war plus his votes against the Defense of Marriage Act and the Patriot Act.

There are only a few serious criticisms of Sanders, the main one being “he’s too old.’

But while age might be a more serious factor if the current president were far younger, Trump is a septuagenarian like Sanders. Sanders still shoots hoops, he criss-crosses the country giving speeches, and he has more energy than many of us who are less than half his age. If Trump tries to make an issue of Sanders’ superior age, experience, and wisdom, Sanders can just challenge him to settle it on the basketball court.

There are a few other criticisms that can be made of Sanders, including his unfair criticism of leftist “open borders” advocates. He has cast bad votes (the 1994 Clinton crime bill comes to mind) and sometimes makes frustrating gaffes. I do not think Sanders is the ideal candidate, the one I would make in a laboratory. It would indeed be nice to have someone younger, ideally a woman of color (if only the constitution didn’t bar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!) But the question isn’t “Is Sanders flawless?”

Rather, it’s “Is Sanders the best candidate we have available?” To that, the answer is clear. No other 2020 prospect comes close.