Thursday, July 18, 2019

Trump tweets and plays us `like a Stradivarius' -- July 18, 2019 column


For an apt description of President Donald Trump’s shrewd use of social media, you need look no further than Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri.

“He’s playing us like a Stradivarius,” Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, said Wednesday.

A day earlier, the House voted 240 to 187 to strongly condemn as racist Trump’s tweets aimed at four members of Congress who are women of color. Cleaver had been presiding officer during the acrimonious run-up to the vote.

As Democrats and Republicans feuded, Cleaver grew frustrated, put down the gavel and walked away, abandoning the chair.  

“My suggestion to the House and the Senate and the people of the country is to forget the man’s tweets. . . He knows that there will be a reaction, and he also knows that a portion of his base is OK with him insulting people.” Cleaver said Wednesday on CNN.

We know the pattern. Whenever Trump feels threatened, he goes on the offensive with his Twitter account -- and Democrats reliably take the bait.  

If former special counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russians helping Trump win in 2016, Trump tweets – and changes the subject. Mueller’s appearance was postponed until July 24.

If the news focuses on deplorable conditions on the border or on a gazillionaire child predator Trump partied with, Trump tweets – and changes the subject.
Outraged Democrats always respond, but should they?  

“He’s going to insult some others, he’s going to speak some untruths and so forth – we need to just let him hang out at the White House and do that,” Cleaver said.

It’s not easy to let a president’s untruths and malicious tone go unchallenged.

Trump claimed falsely the four representatives “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.” If they didn’t like it here, they should go back where they came from, he said.

The tweets were directed -- not by name -- to freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All are fierce Trump critics and American citizens born in the United States -- except for Omar, who was born in Somalia and is a naturalized citizen.

When House Democrats rightly defended their colleagues, Trump triumphantly tweeted: “The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four `progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for Democrats!”

That’s absurd, of course, but it’s a sign of what’s ahead. Trump’s strategy is to hurl personal insults and racially infused, “love it or leave it” rhetoric while insisting he’s not racist.

“Those tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he tweeted.

The House resolution condemning his tweets quoted Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan in praise of immigrants and under House rules avoided calling Trump himself a racist.

And yet 57 percent of Americans think Trump is a racist, a poll conducted last year by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reported.

His tweets and policies put him on the wrong side of history and demography. The United States is inevitably becoming more diverse.

In 2013 for the first time, most infants under age 1 in the United States were nonwhite, the Census Bureau reported. In 2016, more non-Hispanic whites died than were born in 26 states, an analysis of Census data by the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin found.

The United States is projected to become majority minority by 2045. That is, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities will be a majority and whites will be in the minority.

But almost half of white Americans say the country’s becoming majority nonwhite would “weaken American customs and values,” a Pew Research Center survey in March found.

Make no mistake, Trump knows his tweets and anti-immigrant policies tap into and feed those fears about the future.

If Democratic presidential candidates ignore or fail to take the fears seriously while responding to his every hateful tweet, Trump will keep playing us.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Americana -- Preserving history on Virginia's Eastern Shore -- July 11, 2019 column

Visitors look at displays at the Eastern Shore Watermen's Museum in Onancock


A summer Saturday morning in Onancock, Virginia, might go like this:

Stand in line for donuts at the Corner Bakery, pick up peaches at the farmers market and swap stories of the community’s colorful past at one of the local museums.

A town of 1,215 residents may seem an unlikely place for one museum -- let alone three. But Onancock is home of the Eastern Shore Watermen’s Museum and Research Center as well as Ker Place, a Federal-style mansion built from 1799 to 1801, and Hopkins and Bro. Store, which operated from 1842 to 1966.

As economic mainstays agriculture and seafood fade from the shore -- replaced by tourism, poultry factories, government and the service industry -- more communities off the beaten path want to capture their memories and heritage before they are lost forever.

Museums have popped up in tourist favorites Cape Charles, Chincoteague and Tangier Island, but also in Eastville, Harborton, Locustville, Machipongo, Parksley and Saxis. A tractor museum in Nassawadox is open by appointment.

The watermen’s museum at Historic Onancock School – an old high school turned into a community center – preserves the stories of generations of local men who made their living harvesting fish, crabs, clams and oysters.

Less than 5 percent of jobs on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are still in agriculture, forestry, fishing or hunting, according to state figures.

“It’s a dying way of life,” said Paul L. Ewell, the museum’s executive director, told me, adding, “We’re telling a story no one had told, and no one was telling.”

Last Saturday, Lucy Shea, who was about to turn 86, brought in photos of her father in his boat, the Lucy Irene, and her grandfather’s boat, the Hattie B, for Ewell to scan into the museum’s growing digital collection.

“I’m just so glad they started this,” Shea said. “I’m so interested in the past now – so many things I wish I’d asked my daddy and my grandfather.”

Ewell will be the first to say, “We’re not the Smithsonian. We’re you.”

The museum – two rooms in the basement -- includes photos of watermen and their vessels, vintage equipment and oyster cans, boat models, old signs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and other memorabilia.

A third room houses the office of the Watermen’s Heritage Foundation of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and some of the 900 books donated for a used bookstore aimed at helping support the foundation.

Ewells settled on the Eastern Shore in 1639. Growing up, Ewell loved working on the water with his dad and brother, even though it was hard physical labor. But he chose a different career.

The first in his family to go to college, he earned a Ph.D. and is chairman of the Department of Management, Business and Economics as well as dean of the University College at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach.

But Ewell, 53, also keeps his waterman’s licenses up to date and drives 75 miles to the shore weekly to welcome folks to the museum, open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

When John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, he raved about the bountiful waters. By the early 19th century, many creeks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a 70-mile peninsula that adjoins Maryland, had communities with a Methodist church, a store and families who worked on the water.

The railroad came in the 1880s, and by the 1910s watermen and farmers grew rich selling seafood, potatoes and other produce to cities on the East Coast and beyond.

Among the bustling towns on the rail line was Parksley, with Victorian homes on streets named after executives of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

But the rise of trucking and other factors took a toll. Today the two Eastern Shore counties – Accomack and Northampton -- are among the poorest in Virginia. Freight trains no longer rumble on the shore, and the tracks could be pulled up for a rails-to-trails path.

Parksley remembers its glory days with the Eastern Shore Railway Museum, which includes exhibits and a 1927 Diplomat parlor car, 1949 caboose and 1950 sleeper car.

In Onancock, Ewell said, “We’re all about keeping it real. Our stories are real. Our history is real. You won’t see dinosaurs here to draw the kids.”

On a Saturday morning, you will see local moms and dads, often with grown children and grandchildren who have moved away, poring over exhibits, telling stories – and proving museums in small towns keep history alive.  

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Summer pleasure: staying cool -- July 4, 2019 column


When the afternoon summer sun beats on the thermometer outside my kitchen window, the red liquid in the gauge shoots all the way to the top -- 120 degrees.

The radio and TV report it’s only in the mid-90s, but I feel the thermometer’s pain.

“It’s HOT out here,” it seems to scream. “HOT, HOT, HOT.” I take it seriously -- not literally.

At least we’re not in France, where the recorded temperature reached 114.6 degrees – the highest ever -- the other day. At least we have air conditioning.

Europeans have always felt superior to Americans for our wimpy reliance on artificially cooled air.

“People here don’t like air conditioning. They think it’s a waste of energy, it’s bad for the environment, and people say it makes them sick,” a Californian who has lived abroad for a decade, the last four years in Berlin, told The Wall Street Journal.

When it rarely got too hot for comfort, Europeans closed up shop – and schools and offices, too. Don’t laugh. Remember what happens when an inch of snow falls on Washington. 

But early summer heat waves have swept Germany, France and Spain -- countries that have traditionally coped with summer heat with electric fans.

Only about 5 percent of European households have air conditioning, compared with 90 percent of Americans, according to a report last year by the International Energy Agency.

That worked when the temperature rose above the mid-80s only a few days a year, but as 100-degree days become more frequent, Europeans are questioning whether they can continue their holier-than-thou attitude toward mechanically cooled air.

You never think you need the Klimaanlage – the German word that literally means climate apparatus – until the temperature hits triple digits.

The worldwide demand for air conditioning will soar in coming years, the energy agency says. It predicts 10 new air conditioners will be sold every second for the next 30 years. The number of AC systems installed in buildings is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2016 to 5.6 billion in 2050.

And that raises “an urgent need for policy action to improve cooling efficiency,” the agency said. Unfortunately, the Trump administration doesn’t see the need.

It stopped enforcing the 2015 rule that prohibited use of HFCs or  hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change, in air conditioners and refrigerators, and is rolling back scores of other environmental rules.

Meanwhile, it’s hot out there.

Naturally, sweltering Europe has made dandy fodder for reporters writing for the American audience.

The Washington Post’s man in Berlin reported: “Residents are sharing maps on social media of air-conditioned buildings and cafes in their area, fans and portable cooling systems are sold out, employers are worried the lack of cooling is killing productivity, and at least one Berlin air-conditioning installer suspended its phone service because of a flood of calls, according to a recorded voice message.”

German authorities, worried the surface of the famous Autobahn will melt in the heat, has set speed limits in some areas. France barred cars over 10 years old from some city centers to curb pollution.

A fellow in Germany caught riding naked on a motorcycle said it was too hot for clothes, and women in Munich were told to put their bikini tops back on.

In the United Kingdom, SkyNews advised Brits to stash their pyjamas and pillow cases in the freezer before bedtime and, of course, to carry an umbrella -- the British answer for any weather emergency.

Sizzling Europeans might learn from orator, Secretary of State and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who, in America’s pre-AC era, had a secret, low-tech technique to keep cool on the summer lecture circuit:

“I take a small piece of ice . . . I put it in the palm of my right hand and hold it tightly. Then I shift it to my left hand, holding it in either hand for about five minutes. Then I pass my cold hands over my forehead. I have always found this very effective,” Bryan said, according to an article on the White House Historical Association site.

As for me, I’d rather keep cool with the ice in a drink and the AC cranked up.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All right reserved.

Monday, July 1, 2019

STATELINE -- online news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts July 1, 2019

Progress Stalls for Minor Parties to Get on State Ballots

The first man to the microphone wore a Trump 2020 cap and a scowl.
“I want to vote for Donald P. Trump for president!” he roared, misstating the president’s middle initial, and stepped aside.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll take that as a ‘no’ on the bill,” California state Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Democrat and chairman of the state Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, said without missing a beat.
Senate Bill 27 was “the hot bill of the day” at the committee’s June 19 public hearing, Berman said. The bill would require all presidential and gubernatorial candidates to release five years of income tax returns to the California secretary of state as a condition for appearing on California’s primary ballot starting in 2020.
California is among 18 states that have considered tax return disclosure requirements this year for presidential candidates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), after 27 states considered such legislation last year.
So far, the presidential ballot bills are mostly political talking points for both sides. None has been enacted. But bills to require presidential tax return disclosure are alive in eight states — California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — and will be carried over to the next legislative session in four states — Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington, according to NCSL.
“It’s kind of surprising no state has taken the plunge yet,” said Richard L. Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and author of the Election Law Blog. “I’m still waiting for something to happen.”
California is poised to become the first — and perhaps only — state ever to possibly ban a president running for re-election from its presidential primary ballot. But several states this year — including Arkansas, Colorado and Texas — have made it harder for lesser-known minor parties and independent candidates for state office to get on the ballot.
“I think it’s the worst year for hostility to minor parties and independent candidates since 1971,” said Richard Winger, a Libertarian who is editor of San Francisco-based Ballot Access News.
That year, Winger said, states were reacting to the 1968 presidential campaign of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who ran on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace, a segregationist, received 13.5% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes, and carried Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.
This year, polarized politics is to blame, he said.
“Partisanship is getting more and more intense,” Winger said. “You think it can’t get any worse and it does. Each side feels it can’t stand what the other side is doing.”
Efforts to make it easier for independents and minor parties to run failed this year in at least seven states, he said — Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Montana.
“Normally when we have that many bills improving things we expect about a third of them to pass, but they all failed,” Winger said.

Stateline Jan28

Texas Two-Step

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a bill in early June that Winger called “half good and half bad.”
It requires candidates from parties that nominate by convention to pay a filing fee (bad because minor candidates may not have the money). But it also sets a new threshold of 2% of the vote in one of the last five general elections to ensure a party’s spot on the next ballot (good because it makes it easier for a minor party to stay on the ballot, Winger said).
Previously in Texas, a minor party candidate had to win 5% of the vote in a statewide contest during the last election.
Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said in floor debate in May that the new rules would give voters “more parties to choose from,” according to his office. Hughes did not respond to a request for an interview from Stateline.
“Different parties were paying different fees, and this equalizes the amount,” said Drew Tedford, general counsel in Hughes’ office, adding that in some cases minor parties paid no fee at all.
Democrats countered that the new rules would make it easier for the Green Party to qualify but more difficult for the Libertarian Party. It’s thought the Green Party typically takes votes from Democrats while the Libertarians take votes from Republicans.
The measure passed on a party-line vote.
Colorado makes it easier than almost any other state to get on the presidential ballot. A record 22 presidential candidates appeared on the state’s 2016 ballot.
“The concern we have is voter confusion. With this threshold, voters have way too many choices,” said Joel Albin, Colorado ballot access manager in the Secretary of State’s office. “I don’t think having 20 candidates for office is good for voters.”
But when the Colorado legislature rewrote the ballot access law earlier this year, it left unchanged the rules for presidential candidates to qualify for the general election ballot: Pay a $1,000 filing fee, and you’re in.
The new law makes it more difficult for minor parties to qualify for state office ballots by requiring more signatures. Last year, a minor party candidate for Colorado state Senate had to collect either 600 signatures or 2% of the total vote in the most recent election for the seat, whichever was less. In 2020, a minor party candidate will need either 1,000 signatures or 3.3%.
For minor party candidates seeking seats in the Colorado state House, the number of signatures went from 400 signatures or 2%, to 1,000 signatures or 5%.
The idea was to match the requirements for state offices with requirements for major parties to make them more equal, Albin said.
In Indiana, one of the toughest ballot access states, a candidate for statewide office from a minor party must collect 26,699 signatures.
James C. Linger, an attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who has litigated ballot access cases for 39 years, said while state laws for third parties have much improved over the past 20 to 30 years, a new trend of earlier primaries and filing deadlines is worrisome.
“The major parties want to get their infighting over early, but many voters don’t get interested in third parties until the major parties have chosen their candidates,” he said. By then it may be too late for minor parties to qualify.
“Most voters want more choice,” Linger said. “Third-party candidates will bring up issues the major party candidates want to avoid.”
The Libertarian Party qualified for the presidential ballot in all 50 states in 2016 and is working to do so again in 2020. The Green Party qualified for the presidential ballot in 44 states and the Constitution Party in 24 states in 2016, according to Ballotpedia.
Linger represents the Libertarian Party of Arkansas in fighting a law Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, signed in February, changing the way a new political party is recognized. Previously, a new party needed petitions signed by 10,000 registered voters.
The new law requires at least 3% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. In 2018, just under 892,000 people voted in the gubernatorial election, so a new party now would need nearly 27,000 signatures to be recognized.
The Libertarian Party of Arkansas has asked a federal judge to block enforcement of the new law until she decides whether it is constitutional.
Linger also criticized the state for setting an earlier deadline for submitting the signatures — 14 months before the election.
In a court hearing June 4, state Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni said the state’s duty is to ensure elections run smoothly by regulating them and requiring minor parties to demonstrate some “reasonable quantum of voter support” to appear on the ballot, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
“Circumstantial evidence is strong they [Republicans] had a political motivation,” Linger said in an interview. “They can deny it.”
“It’s not about Democrats or Republicans or anyone else,” Republican state Sen. Trent Garner, who sponsored the bill, told Stateline. “It’s not about politics. It’s about the people of Arkansas who go to vote knowing the parties on the ballot have a minimum amount of support.”

Trump’s Tax Returns

Politics is undeniably front and center in the battle for Trump’s tax returns. The California and New Jersey legislatures passed tax return requirements in 2017, but then-governors vetoed them.
Trying again this year, the California Senate passed the measure on a party-line vote in May. Democrats on the Assembly elections committee sent the bill — which now has an added requirement for returns from gubernatorial candidates — to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which passed it June 26 on a party-line vote. No date for floor debate has been set.
Winger expects the California Assembly to pass the bill, but he's uncertain the governor, who has not commented on the bill publicly, will go along.
"Governors are more responsive to their constituents. Most governors, I've found, work quite hard at making a rational decision," Winger said.
If Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, does veto the measure, the legislature is unlikely to override it. But if Trump is not on the primary ballot, all is not lost for Trump voters in California. 
"This bill does not prevent any candidate from filing as a write-in," Winger said. 
“It’s clear there are issues and opposition,” said California state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. “But two-thirds of Americans want the president — and not just President Trump — to release his or her tax returns,” he said.
California Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican and vice chairman of the elections committee, said at the June 19 hearing that the measure looks “very political.” If Trump is not on the primary ballot in March, he said, “There’s no reason for Republicans to turn out, and that affects all the down-ballot races.”
Gallagher also cited privacy issues.
“We don’t give up all sense of privacy when we run for office ... to me, my tax returns are nobody’s business,” he said.
McGuire countered at the June 19 hearing that Trump is “the biggest organizer for the Democratic Party,” spurring Democratic turnout. “We’d have Donald Trump on every flippin’ ballot in California if we could.”
Trump says voters elected him in 2016 even though he did not release his tax returns and they don’t care about the issue now. A Quinnipiac University poll in March found 64% of voters thought Trump should release his tax returns, and other polls have found about half of Americans think he should.
Newsom has not said whether he will sign the measure, which critics say may violate the California Constitution’s mandate that “recognized” candidates be listed on the ballot. Newsom released six years of his own tax returns in 2017 during his campaign.
In his 2017 veto message, then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who had not released his returns, called the ballot access requirement a “slippery slope.”
“Today we require tax returns but what would be next?” Brown asked at the time. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”