Thursday, June 22, 2017

Still learning from a Supreme Court justice -- June 22, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

News that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may become America’s next fitness star takes some getting used to.

Yes, she’s a lifelong champion of gender equality and civil rights.

She wrote the majority opinion in the landmark sex discrimination case United States v. Virginia. The ruling 21 years ago this week -- June 27, 1996 -- required Virginia Military Institute, after 150 years of male-only admissions, to accept women.

Yes, she’s a cultural icon and a hero to millennials, thanks to “Notorious R.B.G.,” a Tumblr blog that went viral in 2013.

A book by that title became a New York Times bestseller in 2015. Her picture is on T-shirts, mugs, shot glasses and hoodies. She’s been making a fashion statement with her signature fishnet gloves for nearly two decades.

Her consequential life is even the subject of a children’s picture book, “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark.”

Yes, she’s an author. “My Own Words,” her book published last October, has brought her $204,000 in royalties, she reported in a recent financial disclosure.

But a gym rat – at the age of 84? Yes, that too.  

Ginsburg has been working out with personal trainer Bryant Johnson since 1999, after treatment for colon cancer left her weak and frail. She went back to the gym after surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2009.
 
Johnson’s pushup-and-tell book is coming out in October: “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong . . . and You Can Too!”

It’s a sign of how much American has changed that an accomplished jurist and “little old lady in tennis shoes” can also be a model for pumping iron.

Not everyone will rush out to buy Johnson’s book. The court’s most reliable liberal excites foes as well as fans.  

Last summer, she candidly criticized then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. “I can’t imagine what the country would be – with Donald Trump as our president,” she told The New York Times.

Trump responded with a tweet: “Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot—resign!”

Ginsburg doubled down. “He’s a faker,” she told journalist Joan Biskupic. “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego . . .”

After a firestorm of criticism, Ginsburg said in a statement she regretted the remarks – and both sides retreated to their corners.

It didn’t have to be that way. In 1987, Justice Thurgood Marshall ripped President Ronald Reagan on civil rights, saying Reagan was at “the bottom” among presidents.

Instead of blasting Marshall, Reagan invited him to the White House and told him his life story. “That night, I think I made a friend,” Reagan wrote.

Friendship seems a quaint notion in Washington these days, but Ginsberg’s close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom she amicably disagreed on almost every legal issue, is legendary, literally the inspiration for an opera.

Ginsburg tells an enlightening story about their collegiality. While she was writing the majority opinion in the VMI case, Scalia, the sole dissenter, dropped off a draft of his stinging dissent.

“It absolutely ruined my weekend,” she said in an interview at the Aspen Institute last month but added she was glad to have the extra days to answer his points.

Asked about the current rancor in Congress, she recalled the Senate used to be called a gentlemen’s club. In 1986, that less combative Senate confirmed Scalia, whose conservative views were well known, with no negative votes. In 1993, it confirmed Ginsburg 96 to 3. 
    
Many think had Hillary Clinton been elected president, Ginsburg might have retired. Now, though, she shows no sign of giving President Trump another court pick.

“I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam,” she said at George Washington University in February. “When I can’t, that will be the time I will step down.”

Her regimen of pumping iron means her critics may have to wait a long time for that moment.

 ©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't let town halls be another casualty of shootings -- June 15, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

Washington was badly shaken Wednesday by what appeared to be the politically motivated shootings of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, a top congressional leader, and three others at a baseball field in Alexandria.

The shooter, whose name I will not use because such sickos crave fame, died after a gunfight with police. We may never know his motivation, but he had posted anti-Republican screeds on social media.

In the aftermath of the attack, many politicians curbed their instinct for the jugular and urged an end to harsh partisan rhetoric. 

“We may have our differences, but we do well to remember that everyone who serves in our nation's capital is here because they love our country," President Donald Trump said.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” said an emotional House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she prays for all members of Congress, regardless of party. 
“There’s too much, I believe, raw discourse that’s pulling people apart,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said.
It would be nice to think we’re seeing the Thaw of 2017, a melting of the polar ice caps on which Democrats and Republicans sit in frosty isolation, but don’t count on it.
Even though some lawmakers may genuinely want to put aside fierce partisanship, neither party seems willing to risk constituent outrage – and primary challenges -- if it compromises on health care and the budget, to say nothing of stricter gun laws.    
Unfortunately, the most likely result of the gunman’s rampage may be an even more locked-down and remote Congress.
House members already are invoking security as a reason to avoid town hall meetings and other uncomfortable encounters with constituents.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Virginia, said members may have to “recalibrate” and rethink events like town halls.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Brat told Roll Call, a newspaper on Capitol Hill. “We should not be doing this.”

Brat was heckled and booed at a town hall in his district in February when he defended Trump’s policies.  
Also in February, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, cited the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in explaining why he won’t hold in-person town halls.
“Threats are nothing new to me, and I have gotten my share as a felony judge,” Gohmert wrote in a letter to constituents.

“However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed – just as happened there,” he wrote.

Giffords was setting up a “Congress on your Corner” event in Tucson in January 2011 when a lone gunman shot her in the head, killed six people and injured 13 others.

Increased congressional security surely is needed in some settings. Of the 22 members of Congress at the ballfield, Scalise alone had a security detail, assigned because he is the third-ranking Republican in the House.

While Capitol Police protect all members of Congress when they’re in the Capitol complex, they provide 24-hour security only to the House and Senate leadership.

“By him (Scalise) being there, he probably saved everybody else’s life, because if you don’t have a leadership person there, there would have been no security there,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, told MSNBC. 

In this era of fiscal belt-tightening, having taxpayers pay for stepped-up security for hundreds of House members and senators outside the Capitol is problematic. 

Lawmakers are exploring other options, such as allowing members to use campaign funds for security outside Washington and of moving district offices to more secure locations.

As we move forward, we would be wise to listen to Giffords, who knows better than anyone the risks of openness. Responding to Gohmert, she wrote in a statement:

“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber -- at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead — held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.


“To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage,” she wrote. “Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”

(C)2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On Stateline: States struggle to keep up with body art trends -- June 14, 2017

http://bit.ly/2saQ0Yl

Explosion in Tattooing, Piercing Tests State Regulators

  • June 14, 2017
  •  
  • By Marsha Mercer
Eric Dupree
A man gets a U.S. flag tattooed on his hand at Jack Brown’s Tattoo Revival in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As tattoos, piercings and other body art becomes more popular, state regulators are racing to keep up.
© The Associated Press
Anyone who goes into a tattoo parlor in North Carolina can be assured that it has a permit from the state health department and that inspectors have checked the premises for safe and sanitary conditions.
But go for a body piercing in the Tarheel State and there’s no such protection. A state law, approved in the 1990s, regulates tattoos but doesn’t apply to other forms of body art.
“Most people think it’s all regulated,” said state Rep. Kevin Corbin, a Republican. “But we found out there’s no law on the books.”
North Carolina is not alone. State legislators and health officials across the country are trying to keep up with the growing popularity and evolving trends of body art.  
Health officials worry that unregulated body art studios may not follow safe practices, which can lead to scarring, nerve damage and infections, including hepatitis C, the leading cause of liver cancer in the U.S.
“The body art industry is much more nimble than the government,” said Doug Farquhar, who tracks body art legislation in the states as the director of environmental health for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nearly four in 10 people born after 1980 have a tattoo and one in four have a piercing some place other than an earlobe, the Pew Research Center has reported. (The Pew Charitable Trusts funds both the center and Stateline.)
Besides tattoos and pierced navels, today’s self-expression through body art may include branding, scarification (scratching, etching or cutting to produce a design in the skin), or subdermal implants (placing objects under the skin for ornamentation).
Nearly every state has some type of body art law, but laws vary widely. Most states do agree on one thing: age limits. At least 45 states prohibit minors from getting tattoos, and 38 states prohibit body piercing and tattooing minors without parental permission, according to NCSL.
In the last four years, states have considered 167 bills on body art and tattooing, and 33 have become law, Farquhar said.
Oregon, for example, extensively rewrote its tattooing regulations in 2012, updated them last year, and in January clarified that “microblading,” in which a practitioner uses fine needles and pigment to create eyebrow hairs, is tattooing and not an aesthetic, or cosmetic, practice.
Oregon requires practitioners to have hundreds of hours of training and pass written exams before being licensed for specific types of body art. Georgia is among states that do not regulate or certify the body art industry, but most Georgia counties have adopted ordinances.
Maryland does not license body artists, though it requires them to use sterile instruments, wash their hands, wear disposable gloves during procedures, and cleanse customers’ skin. They also must maintain three years of customer records and make them available to health officers if requested.
But some Maryland localities, such as Baltimore, do require licenses. In Nevada, which has no state body art regulations, local ordinances, such as in Las Vegas’ Clark County, prevail.
North Carolina is one of at least six states considering body art legislation this year. Corbin co-sponsored a bill updating the tattoo law to include other types of body art. It passed the state House in April and is under consideration in the Senate.
The sharp increase in hepatitis C cases in the last few years has intensified states’ concern about sterile and sanitized needles and equipment and associated health and safety training.
The number of new hepatitis C infections in the United States tripled between 2010 and 2015, to more than 2,400, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month. The CDC blames the increase on the rise of injection drug use associated with the opioid epidemic and says major research studies have not shown hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities.
“However,” the CDC said, “transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing.”
Corbin was a Macon County commissioner last year and a candidate for the North Carolina state Legislature when he heard from his county health officers about the rising rate of hepatitis C and the gap in state law regulating body art.
Macon County environmental health specialist Jonathan Fouts explained his frustration inspecting a tattoo shop: “Usually beside the tattoo room is the piercing room. I felt like I was only doing half of what I should be doing, since I couldn’t say anything about the piercings and needles.”
Corbin took the problem to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, which made a body art bill a legislative priority. Then the freshman representative took the issue to Raleigh.
“I don’t personally have any piercings and I don’t plan to have any, but if someone wants to have them, more power to them,” Corbin said. “We want them to be safe.”

Tattoos an Old Concern

Health officials have worried about the health risks of tattooing for decades. New York City banned tattooing in 1961, citing concerns about hepatitis, a virus that attacks the liver. Tattooing continued underground, however, and the ban was eventually lifted in 1997.
In 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law requiring tattoo artists to use single-use ink and needles. The body art community protested that the law’s language was overly broad, and Cuomo, a Democrat, rescinded the measure. The state Health Department is developing new rules.
The American Red Cross requires someone who has had a tattoo to wait one year to donate blood if the tattoo was applied in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities — Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. No waiting period is required if the tattoo was applied in a state that requires tattoo shops to use sterile needles and single-use ink.
Another potential health risk is tattoo ink, which is not regulated or tested by the federal government. But no outbreaks of infection from contaminated ink have occurred since 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports.

Craving Regulation

It’s unusual for any industry to want regulation, but body art practitioners say regulations make everyone safer. In the absence of comprehensive government rules, the Association of Professional Piercers adopted its own standards. The association also offers online, industry-specific training in how to minimize the hazards of bloodborne pathogens, such as hepatitis and HIV.
State legislators, recognizing that they aren’t experts in body-art best practices, often call on body art practitioners to help write and enforce laws.
San Francisco body piercer Steve Joyner of the Association of Professional Piercers has helped about two-dozen states write legislation over the last two decades, an experience he describes as eye-opening.
“The downfall of politicians is that they really don’t understand our industry,” he said, adding that many state legislators have never set foot in a tattoo or piercing studio.
Joyner is working with the National Environmental Health Association and the Association of Food and Drug Officials to update the national Body Art Model Code.
The old code was written in the 1990s, when bloodborne pathogens and medical waste disposal didn’t get as much attention as they do today. States and localities will be able to adapt the new code to their needs.
“It’s meant as a guide to best practices for regulators and also for the regulated community,” said Sandra Whitehead, director of program and partnership development for the environmental health association.
The code-writing committee, which includes industry representatives and state and local health workers, has been working a year and a half. The goal is to publish the new code in October. 
“When you have everybody at the table, it takes a little longer,” Whitehead said.
One of the first instances of body art practitioners asking to be regulated was in Florida, where a piercing law was enacted in 1999 with input from the industry. Tattooists soon started lobbying for state regulations too. 
“The tattoo industry wanted to ‘pedigree’ their profession. That’s the word they used,” said Gina Vallone-Hood, environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Environmental Health.
The Florida Legislature passed a tattoo law in 2010, and the Department of Health started licensing tattoo artists in 2012. Currently 450 piercing shops and 6,000 tattooists are licensed in Florida.
Michael Crea, a piercer for 20 years who owns a shop in Sarasota, is president of the Florida Environmental Health Association. Crea also runs the state’s body piercing certification class that is required for piercers.
“You really don’t want people working out of their house,” he said. “We do deal with blood and body fluids. We break the skin. You can be spreading hepatitis, MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] or AIDS, and you don’t want that.”
But Crea and other body art practitioners say that even when regulations are on the books, enforcement can be weak. Health inspectors often are responsible for checking out a wide range of potential hazards — from septic tanks to swimming pools — and can’t be expert in everything.
That’s why the environmental health association will feature a live tattooing demonstration at its annual conference in July in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It will be a safe space for health inspectors to ask questions,” said Christl Tate of the environmental health group. “Our mutual goal is protecting the public health.” 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Melania to the rescue? -- June 8, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

The White House is about to get more crowded.

First lady Melania Trump and son Barron reportedly will move to Washington June 14. If so, the move would be a birthday present for the president, who turns 71 that day.

No more will Trump be home alone late at night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with just his TV, his Twitter account and the Lincoln portrait to keep him company.   

Trump’s critics and many of his fans hope the presence of the first lady will tame the president’s restless urge to unburden himself of early-morning thoughts. His family’s move “is expected to lend some degree of normalcy to a presidency defined by its abnormality in substance and style,” Politico reported.

What? No more covfefe? No one will soon forget Trump’s May 31 tweet: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” – an unfinished thought. Covfefe, a nonword, instantly became a punchline and a synonym for the president’s stream of consciousness rants. 

White House staffers and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill have tried to discourage his tweeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ruefully admits his advice to stop tweeting so much has gone unheeded.

Trump loves his unfettered access to 32 million followers on Twitter, where he presents his own version of reality. Many of his fans never see the reports of fact-checkers.

Whether Melania will try to change her husband’s habits, or even can, is doubtful. She says her main role is taking care of Barron.

Trump’s in-laws, who live with the family in Trump Tower and often travel on weekends with Melania and Barron, also will be spending time at the White House. 

Melania’s parents, Victor and Amalija Knavs, reportedly will not relocate full time, as Michelle Obama’s mother and Hillary Clinton’s mother did, however.

After a long line of first daughters in the White House, Barron, 11, will be the first son since John F. Kennedy Jr., known then as John-John.

Barron, who invited his entire fifth grade class in New York to visit the White House last month, will attend the private St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., this fall. The private, coed school has 580 students and a 7-to-1 student-teacher ratio, according to its website.

Although the Trumps were married in an Episcopal Church, Trump has indicated he is a Presbyterian, and his wife, who was born in Slovenia, which is largely Catholic, said after meeting the Pope that she is a Catholic.

Barron, who decorated his room in Trump Tower, will also be able to decorate his room in the first family’s living quarters, a privilege other first kids have also enjoyed, according to the White House Historical Association.

Melania Trump said during the campaign she would focus on cyberbullying as her project in the White House, but there’s speculation she could change her mind.

She has kept former first lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden. Obama started her “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity the year after her husband became president.

The first lady has not had the political experience of either Obama or Karen Pence. The wife of Vice President Mike Pence is often at his side and is known to be an adviser.

Pence has installed a beehive with 15,000 to 20,000 honeybees at the vice president’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Pence also had a beehive at the Indiana governor’s mansion when her husband was governor.

The hive is intended to draw attention to what people can do to help bee colonies, which have been in decline. Bees are needed to pollinate about 90 crops, including nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Whatever Melania Trump, a former model, decides in the way of a project, her wardrobe will be scrutinized closely. She made news on her husband’s first foreign trip when she wore a floral silk coat from Dolce & Gabbana that retails for $51,500.

A first lady’s role is not mentioned in the Constitution, but her influence on the world of fashion and culture, if not policy, has been undeniable since the days of Jackie Kennedy.

We can all hope she has a positive influence on her husband and perhaps can get him to think before he tweets.

(C)2017 Marsha Mercer. All Rights reserved

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Democrats begin long climb to relevance -- June 1, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

After seven months of post-election hibernation, the old bears in the Democratic Party are stirring.   

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday formed American Possibilities, a political action committee that could be his launching pad for a presidential bid.

Biden, who chose not to run last time, is probably right that he would have been a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, but time marches on. He’ll turn 78 in November 2020.

Clinton has reappeared after long walks in the woods near Chappaqua to blame her defeat on former FBI Director Jim Comey, the Russians, the Democratic National Committee, the news media and even the perception that she couldn’t lose.

“I was a victim of a very broad assumption that I was going to win,” she said Wednesday at a tech conference in California.

Whatever you think of her, Clinton insists she’s not running for office again. She does want a role in Democratic politics.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

Her new political group – Onward Together – aims to organize against President Donald Trump’s policies and help people enter politics. Its slogan: “Resist, insist, persist and enlist.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raises hope that Democrats can regain control of the House next year with a renewed emphasis on creating jobs. She also wisely discourages loose, exuberant talk about impeaching Trump.

“If you are talking about impeachment, you are talking about, `What are the facts?’ Not that `I don’t like him’ and `I don’t like his hair’ and – what are the facts?” Pelosi said May 15 on CNN.

Pelosi wants the Speaker’s gavel back. But she is 77, and her lieutenants, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, are 77 and 76.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who still makes progressive hearts beat fast, is 75.

Age matters in all these cases because Democrats need to let go of the past while they cultivate a new generation of leaders. Democrats know what they don’t like – all things Trump – but they still struggle with what President George H.W. Bush derided long ago as “the vision thing.”

In a sign they have no intention of fading into life in Chicago, the Obamas just plunked down $8.1 million for the house they’ve been renting in Washington.

The former president, 55, likely has decades ahead to motivate young people to get involved and run for office.

Meanwhile, one member of the younger Democratic set, Chelsea Clinton, is on the talk circuit promoting her new children’s book, “She Persisted: 13 American Women who Changed the World.”

“I don’t have any plans to” run for office, says the former first daughter. That’s a maybe.  

At 37, she has nearly 1.7 million Twitter followers, but Clinton’s chief qualifications – and her chief liabilities -- are her name and extraordinary ability to rake in cash as a speaker.

She was inspired to write the book after the Senate silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during the debate over the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. 
  
When Warren attempted to read a letter by Coretta Scott King opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship decades ago, she basically was told to sit down and shut up.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, turning “She Persisted” into a rallying cry for Democrats.

Warren, nearly 68, is up for re-election next year and hasn’t said if she’ll run for president in 2020. Republicans reportedly plan to attack her hard during the Senate campaign in hopes of spoiling her presidential chances.

“Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible,” Clinton writes. “Don’t listen to them. These 13 American women certainly did not take no for an answer. They persisted.”

Large protests against Trump’s policies enliven Democrats, but it will take more than marches to win elections.

Trump’s voters aren’t yet having the buyers’ remorse critics expect. Hillary Clinton would again lose – even the popular vote -- if the election were rerun, a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported April 23.

For their long climb back to relevancy, Democrats will need fresh faces, an agenda that connects with ordinary Americans -- and persistence.


 ©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Remembering all the fallen on Memorial Day -- May 25, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

For most of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, a long weekend of cookouts, beach trips and sales. It didn’t start out this way.

On Decoration Day, as the holiday was first called, sorrow was still achingly fresh. We were a country of 31 million people in 1860 -- 22 million in the North and 9 million in the South, including 4 million slaves. Estimates of the lives lost in the Civil War range from 620,000 to 850,000.  

In the wake of the devastation, women in the South and in the North flocked to local cemeteries to decorate soldiers’ graves with spring flowers. Commerce ceased on Decoration Day as people took time to think and grieve. And yet the hard nub of bitterness persisted.

Arlington National Cemetery was founded in 1864 to bury Union dead on 200 acres at Robert E. Lee’s plantation on a hill overlooking Washington D.C. Although 

Confederate soldiers were also buried there, family members of the Confederates were not allowed to decorate their loved ones’ graves and sometimes even were denied entrance, according to the cemetery’s website.

Then, in 1901 in an attempt at reconciliation, hundreds more Confederate soldiers were reburied in a special section of the cemetery. Their headstones had an unusual pointed top to distinguish them from the rounded Union headstones. Southerners said the point would “keep Yankees from sitting on them.” 

A Confederate Monument was authorized, paid for by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and built by a prominent sculptor and Confederate veteran, Moses Ezekiel.

President Woodrow Wilson, first Southern president elected since the war, spoke at the dedication ceremony on June 4, 1914, a day after the 106th anniversary of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

“My privilege is this, ladies and gentlemen: To declare this chapter in the history of the United States closed and ended, and I bid you turn with me with your faces to the future, quickened by the memories of the past, but with nothing to do with the contests of the past, knowing, as we have shed our blood upon opposite sides, we now face and admire one another,” Wilson said.

The Virginia-born president’s words were more an aspiration than an accurate account.
The ornate monument extols a romanticized version of the Old South with 32 life-size figures, urns, shields, Biblical symbols and a Latin inscription – “Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni.”

The phrase from the poet Lucan translates as “The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods, but the losing side (or cause) pleases Cato,” roughly equating Lincoln with the tyrant Julius Caesar and the Confederacy with Cato who fought Caesar valiantly but lost.   

Americans are still struggling with how to remember the Civil War. New Orleans has taken the lead by removing four Confederate monuments. First to go was the most appalling – an obelisk to the Battle of Liberty Place, honoring a white supremacist group that killed members of the city’s integrated police force and state militia in 1874. 

Three other monuments -- honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis – were also removed until suitable locations can be found.

“There is a difference between the remembrance of history and reverence of it,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

That distinction – that we can and should remember the past without idolizing it – is important as we try again as a country to move forward.  

One way may be to shift our focus from the famous figures on pedestals to the forgotten fallen, those whose names are inscribed on crumbling monuments on courthouse greens across the country.

On Memorial Day – a federal holiday since 1971 and the Vietnam War -- we honor all Americans who died in military service. Just as in the Vietnam era, during the Civil War a draft swept many into service. In the 1860s, those who could afford it could hire a substitute.   

This isn’t to say we overlook, or give a pass to, the Cult of the Lost Cause, the concerted attempt after the Civil War “to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity,” as Landrieu said. Not at all.

Communities need to decide which statues should be moved and where they should go. But cemeteries are a proper place for grandiose monuments to dead people and dead ideas. 

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trump budget cometh -- May 18, 2017 column

By MARSHA MERCER

In a time of nonstop surprises in Washington, we’re about to experience a reassuringly familiar ritual.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration will deliver to Congress the president’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018 – and it will land with a thud.

“Dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in March.

Graham was reacting to Trump’s preliminary, so-called “skinny budget,” with massive hikes in defense and deep cuts in foreign aid and the State Department, along with other domestic programs.

Declaring the president’s budget dead is part of the familiar scenario on Capitol Hill.  

“We generally – no matter who the president is – we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the president’s budget,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Bloomberg News Tuesday.

The president’s budget does serve a purpose. As a blueprint of where he wants to bulk up or starve programs, it’s worth more than a thousand impulsive tweets about his values.

As a political document, it lets him say he has delivered on campaign promises – and blame Congress if his proposals go nowhere.

Trump’s first four months in the White House have been a brag, bumble and blame festival. His “America first” campaign has devolved into a “Trump first” presidency that has left in its wake disappointment, if not yet disillusionment, among long-suffering supporters.

“They are in a downward spiral right now,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of the White House.

In Trump’s self-centered world, though, he’s always the victim.
     
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” he told the graduating class at the Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, “especially by the media. No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon want to “deconstruct” Washington. To that end, the budget reportedly will call for $800 billion in entitlement cuts over 10 years, including to Medicaid, envision fantastic economic growth of 3 percent a year, and result in a balanced budget in 10 years.  

But it’s a starting point, not a road map.

“We share some of his priorities,” McConnell said. He and other Republicans favor spending more on defense, but they insist tax cuts must be paid for.

Tax cuts “will have to be revenue-neutral,” McConnell said.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan proposed higher defense spending, tax cuts and reductions in dozens of domestic programs aimed at shrinking the size of the federal government. Congress went along with about 60 percent of the proposed spending cuts, but the national debt still soared.

There already is push back on Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, public education, the arts, and safety net programs.

For example, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of NIH funding, said at a hearing Wednesday he was “very proud” Congress approved a $2 billion increase, to $34.1 billion, in NIH funding in 2017. Trump had sought a $1 billion cut.

Cole and other lawmakers plan to fight Trump’s proposed $5.8 billion cut in NIH funding for fiscal 2018 as well.

With crises du jour from the White House dominating the news and Congress, Trump’s agenda seems to be slipping away.

His much-promised tax cut is somewhere over the rainbow, along with the $1 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. A GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare finally passed the House, but the Senate is proceeding slowly.

McConnell pointedly said he’d like less drama from the White House, although that seems unlikely, given the personality of the man in the Oval Office.

Still, the Justice Department’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the investigation into the Russian involvement in the election may tamp down the chaos.

In another ritual of Washington, Republican leaders will be working against the clock to wrap up budget negotiations and avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

That’s a heavy lift, especially with the government running up against the debt ceiling this fall as well.

So watch for Republicans to ignore most of Trump’s budget proposals. He’ll win a few victories – and blame others for his defeats.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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