Thursday, June 27, 2019

Government shouldn't shun our generosity -- June 27, 2019 column


The Independence Day fireworks display on the National Mall will last about 35 minutes this year, twice the length of the typical show.

The bigger and better display is thanks to donations by two private fireworks companies of equipment and personnel worth $750,000 to the National Park Service.

“We wanted to do this as a gift to America,” the president of one of the companies told The Washington Post.

It probably didn’t hurt that President Donald Trump is personally orchestrating 4th of July festivities, and the fireworks industry wants an exemption from the next round of 
Trump tariffs on Chinese goods, which includes fireworks.

Be that as it may, it’s baffling the government can accept donations of fireworks but not of diapers.

As the administration planned the July 4th  extravaganza, we learned hundreds of migrant children were being held in dirty, overcrowded conditions at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas.

“`There Is a Stench'” The New York Times headline read on a June 21 story that detailed how attorneys who visited Clint said babies lacked diapers and children of various ages had inadequate food and water and no access to baths, soap, toothbrushes or toothpaste.

The facility built for about 100 adults temporarily had been stretched to house hundreds more children for weeks.

Then we saw the heart-breaking photo of the young father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande for a better life.  

The administration says it has been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants at the border. The Border Patrol transferred some of the children at Clint out and then back as other facilities became overcrowded.

The White House and Congress couldn’t get their act together to provide humanitarian relief -- so Texans did.  

Last Sunday, Austin Savage and five friends went to a Target in El Paso and spent $340 on diapers, wipes, soap and toys, the Texas Tribune reported. But when they tried to deliver the goods, the detention center lobby was closed and no one would come to the door.

Border Patrol agents in the parking lot saw, but ignored, them, Savage said.

Then the friends realized they weren’t the first to try to help. A plastic bag near the lobby door held toothpaste and soap and a note: “I heard y’all need soap + toothpaste for kids.”

Savage returned on Monday to deliver the items and again was ignored, NPR reported.

State Rep. Terry Canales, a Democrat from South Texas, asked the government for a list of acceptable donations. “They do not accept donations,” he tweeted. “How ridiculous is this?”

Why no donations? One weak, but possible explanation cited is the Antideficiency Act of 1870, which says the government can’t spend beyond the funds Congress appropriates and cannot accept donations of personal services that have not been approved by Congress.

When I took a look at the law, though, I found no references to goods, just to services.

And a 2008 Department of Homeland Security directive says: “DHS may accept gifts to carry out program functions regardless of whether or not appropriated funds are available for that purpose, provided such expenditures are not barred by law or regulation.”

Companies and wealthy individuals have long opened their wallets to help the government. People have donated millions of dollars to the Treasury to help pay down the national debt.

After an earthquake shook the Washington Monument in 2012, billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million to match the federal funds Congress had allocated for repairs.

Rubenstein has also donated $4.5 million to the National Zoo for the giant panda program and $13.5 million to the National Archives, among other projects.

Few can make such grand gifts, but ordinary Americans are generous, too.

The good news is conditions in Clint reportedly have improved. Journalists who visited Wednesday said monitors were watching the kids, and officials say they have enough supplies. They’re studying whether they can legally accept donations.

That our government would have a double standard allowing it to accept donations of fireworks and not of diapers is absurd. Worse, it’s obscene.

The policy must change quickly.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Then there were six -- women hit presidential trail -- June 20, 2019 column


It’s fitting, if long overdue, that in the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage, six women are running for a major party’s presidential nomination.

One hundred years after women got the right to vote, voters in 2020 conceivably could do what they did not in 2016 — deliver the United States its first woman president. 

So far, polls suggest two septuagenarian men — Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump — may duke it out in November 2020. But it’s still very early, and polls are just polls. 

President Trump, who never stopped campaigning, officially launched his re-election campaign Tuesday with a rally in Florida, and Democratic presidential hopefuls will take the stage next week in Florida for the first candidates’ debates. 

Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard will be among the 10 candidates onstage Wednesday night, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Marianne Williamson will be among 10 onstage Thursday night. Both events will last two hours.

Voters will begin making their choices known in a little more than seven months — at the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire primary Feb. 11. Super Tuesday, when 13 states, including Virginia, will hold contests, will be March 3.

Even at this nascent moment, though, the 2020 campaign has accomplished something we’ve not seen before: It has made the idea of women running for president mainstream and almost unexceptional.

In 2008 and 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton was a trailblazer. She naturally played up her historic role last time as the first woman to become a major party’s presidential nominee.

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina made a brief run for her party’s nomination in 2016. After she left the race in March, Ted Cruz named her his running mate in April but then quit the race a week later. 

And perennial candidate Jill Stein was the Green Party’s presidential nominee in 2012 and 2016. 

An all-time high of 84 percent of Americans say women are just as suited emotionally for politics as men — up 6 percent since 2016 and 14 points since Clinton lost to Barrack Obama in the 2008 primaries, the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago reported in March after their analysis of 2018 General Social Survey data.

Today’s pundits seem obsessed by how many Democrats are running for president — 23! 

Yes, it’s the most ever, but is it mind-blowing in a country of 327 million people, and after what happened in 2016, that a couple dozen people might have the guts to run for president? Or, if we’re being uncharitable, that some just want the publicity? Many people still believe publicity — not the White House — was Trump’s goal last time.

Come to think of it — only six women in a field of about two dozen candidates is a paltry showing. 

And if one of the qualified women does become the front-runner, she likely will have to endure thinly veiled — if veiled at all — sexist jibes about her looks, her clothes, her hormones and her background.

Until Trump’s pollsters told him Biden was beating him in key states, Trump liked to insult Elizabeth Warren. Then he switched to insulting Biden. 

The centennial of women’s suffrage gives the next election an historical reference point. 

Congress passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote on June 4, 1919, and sent it to the states for ratification. Tennessee put the measure over the top Aug. 24, 1920. 

All women then had the right to vote, but Virginia was among nine Southern states that dragged their feet on the amendment. The Virginia General Assembly finally ratified the 19th Amendment in 1952. That’s not a typo. 1952.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton made history by winning nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, before losing in the Electoral College. In Virginia, Clinton beat Trump 49.8 percent to 44.4 percent or by 212,030 votes.

Democrats may not nominate a woman for president this year, but it’s no longer just wishful thinking that they could. And it’s no longer just wishful thinking that a woman could win. 

(C)2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Americana: Seeing Winslow Homer's inspiration -- June 13, 2019 column

Winslow Homer Studio -- Portland Museum of Art


Long before people over-shared their lives online, practically begging for fame, one of America’s greatest artists walked alone on the rocky Atlantic coast.

Winslow Homer lived from 1836 to 1910 and spent most of the last quarter-century of his life in a rustic studio on Prouts Neck, a point that juts into the ocean in southern Maine.

There, with the tempestuous ocean as his muse, he created some of his most dramatic seascapes.

We can see his paintings in museums around the world, but, thanks to the Portland Museum of Art, we can see his inspiration at Prouts Neck.

The museum bought Homer’s studio in 2006 and did a major renovation, restoring it in 2012 to the way it looked when Homer lived there in the 1890s.

On a private road with spacious old vacation homes, the Homer Studio is open to the public only through small-group tours from the museum, about 12 miles away. I’d wanted to see the studio for years and last week finally did.  

The spectacular vistas alone are worth the trip, but the studio also shows how genius can thrive with solitude, a little space and few amenities.

Homer’s studio was a former stable of about 1,500 square feet he had moved closer to the water and remodeled. It has two simple, pine-paneled rooms downstairs, one with a large fireplace for cooking, and a loft above with a long porch balcony overlooking the sea. The little house had neither electricity nor central heat.

The story has it Homer would stay until his water bucket froze solid, then reluctantly move to warmer climes until spring.

A guide displays laminated prints of “Weatherbeaten,” “Cannon Rock” and several other Homer seacoast paintings and shows photos of the locations before leading visitors on the Cliff Walk to see the views that inspired the magnificent art. This being the 21st century, visitors must sign a form releasing the museum from responsibility in case of a mishap.

You walk the narrow, rocky path, avoiding the poison ivy, and watch waves crash white against the rocks and clouds hang in a crystal blue sky – just as Homer did, with his dog Sam. The light and air are invigorating.

“The sun will not rise, or set, without my notice, and thanks,” he once wrote about this place. How many of us can say that about where we live and work?

Homer never married, stayed close to his family – and desperately sought privacy. Villagers in the fishing community left him alone, but people who “summered” in the small hotels then in the area wanted to meet the famous artist.

He cultivated a reputation as “the hermit of Prouts Neck,” building a tall wood fence around his property and putting up signs that read, “Mr. Homer is not at home” and “SNAKES SNAKES MICE!”

He refused interviews and instructed his two brothers to knock in certain ways, so he knew who was at the door.

And that brings us to his family – whose support was noteworthy.

His mother was an accomplished watercolorist, and young Winslow liked to draw, so his parents bought him art supplies and books of sketches from Europe, biographers tell us.

When Winslow wouldn’t consider college, his father arranged an apprenticeship with a lithographer, where Winslow learned to copy and draw. His independent spirit rebelled, though, and when his apprenticeship ended, he vowed at 21 never to work for anyone again.

He became a freelance illustrator and Civil War artist-correspondent for Harper’s Weekly and didn’t start painting seriously until he was about 27.

Two of his first oil paintings were based on his Civil War experience. He placed them in an exhibition and wrote his older brother Charles: If they don’t sell, I’ll give up painting and take a steady job.

The paintings did sell, Homer kept painting and became successful.

Only several years later, when he visited Charles’s home and saw one of the pictures, did Winslow realize his brother had secretly bought them. Furious, Winslow wouldn’t speak to Charles for weeks.

One hates to think what would have become of Winslow had Charles not bought those paintings.

We can be grateful and walk where Homer did at Prouts Neck, where he found his inspiration and we might find our own.    

© 2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Impeachment -- a bad idea for Democrats -- June 6, 2019 column

Here's my column of June 6, 2019. Posting belatedly as I was out of town.


California Democrats at a state party convention Saturday chanted “Impeach! Impeach!” while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was making a speech. 

“We will go where the facts lead us,” Pelosi said, trying to reassure the crowd. “President Trump will be held accountable for his actions – in the Congress, in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.”

But when?

“We can’t wait,” a coalition of progressive groups declared Tuesday. The groups wrote Pelosi to express “deep disappointment and concern” she hasn’t gotten on with impeachment.

In the very near future, the Trump era will be one that evokes the question – what did you do? We urge you to use your power to lead and to stop asking us to wait,” the letter from CREDO Action and about two dozen other groups said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 did not exonerate Trump, as he and his allies claim.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said last month in his only public remarks on the report.

But Mueller’s team also did not recommend the Justice Department make a case against Trump.

“Under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office . . . Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller explained.

To many Democrats, it seemed Mueller was inviting Congress to hold Trump accountable.

The Constitution says the president may be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” but leaves what constitutes an impeachable offense to the House.

Impeachment starts in the House, but removing a president from office then requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. That, as Pelosi has said, will require a compelling case -- with facts.

It’s a heavy lift. No president has ever been removed from office.

For his part, Trump calls impeachment “dirty, filthy, disgusting” and is stonewalling House requests for testimony or documents by White House aides.

Meanwhile, 11 of the more than 20 Democratic presidential candidates have expressed “full-throated support” for immediate impeachment proceedings, according to HuffPost, which keeps a running list.

Joe Biden has not jumped on the impeachment bandwagon, but after Mueller spoke, 
Biden’s campaign said impeachment “may be unavoidable.”

Nearly 60 House Democrats from true-blue districts support opening an impeachment inquiry.

But even 60 members are less than one quarter of the 235 Democrats in the House. 
Many centrist Democratic representatives from swing districts either haven’t decided or won’t say whether they support impeachment.   

They and Pelosi recognize something many on the left ignore: Democrats could impeach Trump and make liberals feel good – and the Republican-controlled Senate likely would leave Trump in office.

Were he to remain in office, as Bill Clinton did after his impeachment, Trump likely would emerge stronger for 2020, his followers more motivated to re-elect him.

A stickier problem for Democrats is most Americans oppose Trump’s impeachment and removal, according to polls.

Among registered voters overall, 54 percent oppose while only 41 percent favor impeachment and removal, the latest CNN poll reported Sunday.

While 76 percent Democrats say yes, only 35 percent of independents and 6 percent of Republicans want to see Trump impeached and removed.   

House Democratic leaders may be moving too slowly for the party’s liberal base, but they risk alienating the 65 percent of voters who say Trump already has faced more investigations than any previous president.

On Monday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, will open a series of hearings into the Mueller report. These are not impeachment hearings but could lead to them.

So far, only one Republican supports impeachment -- Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a libertarian.

We don’t know what facts Democratic investigations may turn up that could change minds. But here are two more numbers from the CNN poll to keep in mind: While 93 percent of Republicans oppose Trump’s impeachment and removal, so do 59 percent of independents.

Without the latter on board, impeachment and removal don’t stand a chance.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.