Thursday, October 17, 2019

Can Democrats stop Trump cakewalk in 2020? -- Oct. 17, 2019 column


A national research firm this week had great news for President Donald Trump and awful news for Democrats.

“The 2020 election looks like Trump’s to lose,” said Moody’s Analytics, which has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1980 – except Trump’s victory in 2016.

“If voters were to vote primarily on the basis of their pocketbooks, the president would steamroll the competition,” the report said. 

The report was discouraging to Democrats since most national polls show several candidates would thump Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the putative frontrunner, although Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been gaining ground. 

After missing the unexpected Trump turnout surge, the analysts retooled their economic models. For 2020, they created three models based on state economic data and factors such as stock market performance, unemployment and how people feel about their finances.

Each model projected Trump in 2020 will win at least 289 electoral votes. A candidate who wins 270 captures the White House.

Moody’s concedes the economy can change, though its analysts do not see a recession next year. Even so, there was a shred of hope for Democrats in the gloomy forecast. 

“Democrats can still win if they are able to turn out the vote at record levels,” the report said, adding, “but, under normal turnout conditions, the president is projected to win.” 

Absent a charismatic figure like Barack Obama to juice turnout, the quadrennial problem facing Democratic candidates is how to appeal to the party’s base to win the nomination without alienating independents and disaffected Republican voters in the general election.

Several candidates have staked out ambitious, if aspirational, positions left of center, promising to save the environment, remake health care and redistribute wealth.

“The way you win an election in this time in history is not the same old same old. You have to inspire people. You have to excite people. You’ve got to bring working people and young people and poor people into the political process,” Bernie Sanders said Tuesday at the Democratic debate. 

But Biden, among others, favors a more realistic, incremental approach to change,  promising to work with Republicans. Compromise isn’t exciting, but it’s often necessary to get anything done.

Democrats should be honest and direct with voters – not confuse people and hand Trump fodder for his attacks. 

Warren is inexplicably evasive by refusing to say whether her Medicare-for-all plan will cost taxpayers more. And her intentionally misleading Facebook ad was clever – but baffling to Americans who don’t follow the social media wars. 

She bought an ad that said, “Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election.” Except it wasn’t true, as the ad quickly said. 

Warren’s point was to shame Facebook for allowing political ads that contain false claims. The social media giant had accepted a Trump ad blasting Biden and his son Hunter with a barrage of unsubstantiated and false “facts” about Ukraine. 

The Trump ad, which other news outlets refused to run, was “so misleading as to be inaccurate,” PolitiFact found. But when Biden tried to get it removed, Facebook refused, saying it would not subject political ads to fact-checkers.

Warren charged Zuckerberg has given Trump “free rein to lie on his platform – and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”

At the debate, Sen. Kamala Harris tried to enlist Warren in an effort to shut down Trump’s Twitter feed. Warren wisely declined.

The idea of cutting off Trump’s access to social media plays right into his hands. He relishes the role of victim.

Similarly, Democrats should tread carefully on impeachment. It’s not a game. It’s  a constitutional issue and a way to demonstrate Trump is unfit for office. 

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, should have let the reconstructed transcript of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine speak for itself. Instead, Schiff read his own fictionalized summary of the call to show, he said, “it reads like a classic organized crime shakedown.” 

That episode last month gave Trump the opportunity to launch many a poor-me Tweet and led House Republicans to call for a censure vote of Schiff.

Now more than ever, Democrats need to show they are smart, serious and sincere.  

They need to find ways to preach to the choir but also reach those who aren’t in church.

©2019 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 11, 2019

On Stateline: More states say goodbye to Columbus

More States Say Goodbye to Columbus Day

Growing up on the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico state Rep. Derrick J. Lente learned the same Christopher Columbus stories in school that his parents and grandparents had learned.
“I was taught he discovered my ancestors, essentially, no matter how far removed we are from the ocean,” said Lente, 40. Sandia people have cultivated land near Albuquerque since 1300 A.D. and trace their lineage to the Aztec civilization.
“Christopher Columbus didn’t find us,” he said. “We have our own creation stories, our own language, our own history.”
Lente later learned the Italian explorer, who set out to find a trade route to Asia, landed in the Bahamas in October 1492 and never set foot on what would become the United States. He concluded that Columbus “led genocide, rape, pillage and death, and he tried to extinguish a large Native American population.”
This year, Lente, a second-term Democrat — in a state where more than a tenth of residents are American Indian — successfully sponsored a bill ditching Columbus Day, fighting back attempts to rename the holiday New Mexico Day or Friendship Day.
Instead, the new Indigenous Peoples’ Day state holiday will be celebrated with Native American dancers, speakers, arts and food at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
But to New Mexico state Sen. William E. Sharer, a Republican who opposed the change, the new holiday is a “slap at Americans. All Americans.”
He has no problem with creating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a state with 23 tribes and pueblos, but scrapping Columbus? “There’s no reason to turn it into an anti-American holiday,” Sharer said.
“Columbus was the first step to creating the American idea,” Sharer said. “The way it’s brought up, Columbus was evil, a rapist and a murderer who enslaved people, and everything that comes after should be destroyed.”
The debate over the holiday has split more statehouses this year, growing heated as it touches on immigration, race and equality at a time when those issues increasingly divide the country.
Maine and Vermont also will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time this year after they passed similar bills. (States vary on whether and where to put the apostrophe in "Peoples.")
But efforts to rename Columbus Day ran aground in several legislatures this year, including in Colorado — the first state to adopt the holiday, in 1907 — Kansas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Montana. And Columbus Day, celebrated the second Monday in October, remains a federal holiday.
Since the 1970s, critics have charged Columbus’ brutality toward native peoples in the New World — including slavery and forced conversion to Catholicism — made a holiday in his honor inappropriate at best.
Advocates for and against Columbus take strong positions. For example, historian David E. Stannard, author of “American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World,” published in 1992, argues that wherever Europeans and whites went, native people were subject to imported plagues and atrocities, resulting in the annihilation of 95% of their populations.
On the other side, opponents of renaming the day argue the change denigrates the role of Italian Americans and all immigrants in creating American society.
“Columbus is an Italian icon. We’ve adopted him as our hero,” said Robert Ferrito, president of Sons of Italy’s Commission for Social Justice and past president of the group’s New York Grand Lodge.
“It’s a shame what’s happening — demonizing Columbus,” Ferrito said. “This is part of the politically correct movement.”
Attitudes seem split by generation. College students are 70% in favor of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to a new poll from College Pulse, a polling company focused on college students.
But a 2017 Rasmussen Reports poll found 58% of adults in the general population supported keeping Columbus Day.
Columbus did take natives back to Spain as slaves and intended to Christianize all those he met, said Kris Lane, a professor of colonial Latin American history at Tulane University.
“There’s no positive legacy of Columbus when it comes to native folks,” Lane said. But at the same time, the historical record does not support the idea Columbus tried to exterminate the native population, he added.
“If you look at the indigenous side and the Italian American side, they both attach extraordinary emotional weight and significance to this individual, Columbus,” said Lane, who supports abolishing the holiday. “It’s genuine emotion, not to be taken lightly.”

State Actions

South Dakota was the first state to rename Columbus Day, in 1990, electing to go with Native Americans’ Day. Alaska was second, in 2017, enacting Indigenous Peoples Day. Three other states — New Mexico, Maine, Vermont — followed suit this year. And Washington, D.C., this week renamed the holiday, pending congressional approval.
Beyond legislation, some governors have at least temporarily changed the name. Wisconsin this week ditched Columbus when Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, signed an executive order. Former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, in 2016 also signed an executive order. And Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed one last year. Governors' proclamations must be renewed each year.
In Michigan, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, introduced similar legislation this week.
And Oregon, which does not recognize Columbus Day, began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in 2017.
More than a hundred cities and counties, as well as many universities, have also renamed the holiday, according to The New York Times.
Hawaii in 1988 passed a law to observe Discoverers’ Day on the second Monday in October in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands.
In April, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt — a Republican and the only sitting governor enrolled in a Native American tribe, the Cherokee Nation — signed a bill into law moving Native American Day from November to the second Monday in October, combining it with Columbus Day. Last year, then-Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican, vetoed a similar bill.
Fallin said in her veto message that combining the holidays “could be viewed as an intentional attempt to diminish” Native American Heritage Month in November, but her veto upset many Native Americans, who felt she was insensitive, the Associated Press reported.
Maine this year also became the first state to ban Native American mascots in public schools and colleges. State Rep. Ben Collings, a Democrat, sponsored that measure and the Columbus Day one.
“Let’s be honest about it,” he said. “If we can’t respect the First People, how can we respect anyone else?”
Before the Maine legislature considered renaming Columbus Day, Collings and Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation in Maine, visited local community meetings. Dana had worked with about 10 towns in Maine that had already dropped Columbus from their calendar.
“When we celebrate Columbus Day, he’s the symbolic figure of attempted genocide,” Dana said, “and you send a message to Indians: ‘You don’t matter. We wish we’d wiped you out.’”
“We can very much relate to the Italian Americans who worry their history will be erased,” she said. “Why not have a day to recognize their accomplishments and contributions and not tie it to Columbus Day?”
But Maine state Sen. Paul Davis, a Republican who opposed the holiday change, said, “I’m not for rewriting history.
“Columbus wasn’t a good man, but he did discover America. It’s like tearing down the Confederate memorials. I’m not at all for what [the South] did, but it’s history.”

Italian Americans Split

Some Italian American groups, including the National Italian American Foundation and Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, have battled the changes, defending Columbus as an iconic figure who changed the course of human history.
These groups say they welcome adding a holiday for indigenous people, just not at theexpense of Columbus.
By opening the Western Hemisphere to Europe, Columbus symbolizes immigration and starting a new life, his supporters say.
“The horrific things that occurred were wrong,” said John F. Calvelli, vice chairman international of the National Italian American Foundation, “but it’s also wrong to use 21st century norms to judge a 15th century explorer.”
After a 2017 white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a review of “symbols of hate” in New York City focused on whether to remove the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle, among others. Italian Americans rallied around Columbus, and the statue stayed put.
But some Italian Americans support changing the holiday.
More than 50 scholars of Italian and Italian American culture formed a “NoColumbusDay” group in 2017 and petitioned the federal government to abolish the holiday. They argue Columbus could not discover a land inhabited for centuries and that he enslaved natives and brutalized indigenous people.
“These symbols have become deep emotional touchstones for people,” said Joseph Sciorra, director of the Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College, City University of New York, a founder of the NoColumbusDay group.
Sciorra, 64, said he’s of a generation that grew up thinking of Columbus and others as heroic explorers — “not as colonists and slave traders.” But he said the move reflects a shift in cultural consciousness.

Making of the Holiday

Born in Genoa, now part of Italy, in 1451, Columbus persuaded Spain’s King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella to sponsor his expedition to Asia sailing west on uncharted waters. Reaching the Caribbean islands, he mistakenly thought he had reached the East Indies and called the people Indians. He made three more voyages from Europe to the New World.
Myth-making about Columbus can be traced to author Washington Irving glorifying Columbus in 1828 with his best-selling, multi-volume, largely fictional biography, “A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.”
Columbus Day has its roots in efforts to destigmatize Italian Americans when they were discriminated against as an immigrant group. Anti-Italian sentiment reached a fever pitch in 1891, when 11 Sicilians were lynched in New Orleans. President Benjamin Harrison called the lynching “deplorable.”
The next year, Harrison signed the first official proclamation recognizing Columbus Day, saying the day should celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America and calling Columbus “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.”
By the time Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1968, 45 states already recognized it, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report. (Already in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated it a national holiday.)
By making it a federal holiday, the report said, “Congress believed that the nation would be honoring the courage and determination which enabled generations of immigrants frommany nations to find freedom and opportunity in America.”
But James W. Loewen, author of the 1995 bestseller, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong,” and several other books debunking myths in American history, argues Columbus Day has outlived its usefulness.
“Pick another outstanding Italian American to honor,” he said.
For Lente in New Mexico, renaming the holiday is “monumental.”
“Now for my children and unknown grandchildren, it’s in the books,” he said.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A stonewall looks like obstruction -- Oct. 10, 2019 column


Echoes of Watergate -- now he’s building a stonewall.

You’d think the border wall with Mexico would be wall enough for President Donald Trump, whose promises to build it helped him get elected.

But now Trump has erected a metaphorical wall against impeachment which, perversely, may help him get re-elected. Trumpian defiance plays well with his base, if not with most Americans.

Even a Fox News poll reported Wednesday support for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office has reached a new high of 51 percent of voters.

“One of the main things Americans are now considering is the fact that the White House is trying to stonewall and not provide adequate information,” former President Jimmy Carter, still sharp at 95, said Tuesday on MSNBC.

The New York Times summed the situation Wednesday: “The White House intends to formally stonewall Congress, setting up a constitutional clash.”

Carter and the newspaper were referring to the political screed in the form of a letter the top White House lawyer sent Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three Democratic committee chairmen. 

The White House will not cooperate with the congressional impeachment inquiry, the letter said, claiming it’s an attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

Trump refuses to comply with subpoenas from Congress for documents and testimony from government officials about the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine.

That’s stonewalling -- “a policy based on resistance to revelation” – a word popularized during the Watergate investigation, according to “Safire’s New Political Dictionary.”

“As transcribed from the Nixon tapes, White House counsel John Dean assured the president on Feb. 28, 1973: `We are stonewalling totally,’” William Safire writes.

A few weeks later, President Nixon directed: “I want you to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else . . . ”

Thus Trump has latched onto a tactic that worked so well for Nixon that he was forced to resign to avoid the shame of impeachment. One of the three articles of impeachment the House Judiciary Committee had drawn involved stonewalling Congress.  

Safire traces the word’s roots to the First Battle of Bull Run War when Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson held his position, and a Southern officer was said to have cried, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall . . .”

Hurling verbal grenades and threatening his adversaries are classic Trumpian business tactics, but he’s not calling the shots from Trump Tower anymore.

The president doesn’t get to decide if he will be impeached. The Constitution gives Congress impeachment power.

”Despite the White House’s stonewalling, we see a growing body of evidence that shows President Trump abused his office and violated his oath to `preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution,” Pelosi said in a statement responding to the letter.

And, in case Trump didn’t get it, Pelosi warned: “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

Democrats continued pushing for documents and testimony in their evidence-gathering phase. If Trump continues his defiance, it could lead to an article of impeachment charging Trump with obstructing Congress.

Chinks appeared in Trump’s stonewall almost immediately. Just a day after the letter, Trump said he would cooperate under certain conditions, including the full House taking a vote on beginning the impeachment inquiry and allowing his legal team access to documents and the ability to call and cross examine witnesses.

It’s worth remembering no vote is required under the Constitution. Trump wants a vote so Republicans can use Democrats’ votes for the inquiry against them in their campaigns for re-election.

Unlike the impeachment inquiries for Nixon and President Bill Clinton, the current hearings are behind closed doors so that classified material could be discussed.

Nixon’s stonewalling ended in July 1974 with the Supreme Court’s 8-0 ruling to  turn over the White House audio tapes. Three were Nixon’s nominees to the court -- Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Justice Harry Blackmun and Justice Lewis Powell. Justice William Rehnquist recused himself.

One wonders whether Trump nominees Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would rule similarly and how Trump would react.  

But we can be sure even if the House accedes to Trump’s current demands, he will make others. No one expects Trump to live up to his word. Nor, to his peril, is he likely to listen to sage advice from a former president.

Jimmy Carter advised Trump: “Tell the truth . . . for a change.”

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When geniuses walked the Earth -- now! -- Oct. 3, 2019 column


Imagine you receive $625,000 out of the blue with no strings attached.

What would you do? Quit your job, pack your bags and take an extended vacation?

Ah, that’s what separates most of us from MacArthur fellows. The winners of what are commonly known as “genius grants” choose to keep working. For that, we can be grateful.  

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation yearly awards fellowships to residents or citizens of the United States who exhibit extraordinary creativity. Each receives $625,000 in quarterly installments over five years.  

With the bitter fight over presidential impeachment dominating the news 24/7, it was easy to miss the foundation’s Sept. 25 quiet and purely positive announcement.

The diverse group of 26 fellows ranges in age from 30 to 67, and includes scientists, historians, professors, writers and artists.

The foundation takes a wide view of artistic and intellectual creativity, theoretical and practical. The grants give promising thinkers and doers the freedom and flexibility to pursue their work wherever it leads.

In several ways, the genius grants seem distinctly not of our time, when outrageous remarks and behavior command far more attention than being smart and working hard.

The foundation doesn’t even use the word genius. A reporter called the first fellowships genius grants in 1981, and the term stuck.

Ours is an age of relentless self-promotion, but no one can apply for a grant. You must be nominated by authorities in your field, and the selection process is private. Anyone who holds elective office or an advanced government post is automatically ineligible.

Recipients are called with the good news and allowed to tell only one person until the big announcement a couple of weeks later.

Most grantees have never gone viral and, thus, are largely unknown to the public. The 2019 class includes several fellows tackling seemingly intractable scientific and social problems.

Four are working on climate change and its effects. Three are scientists: Andrea Dutton, 46, at the University of Wisconsin, who studies melting ice sheets; Stacy Jupiter, 43, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who works in Fiji on conservation efforts, and Jerry Mitrovica, 58, of Harvard University, who studies rising sea levels. Artist Mel Chin, 67, lives in Egypt, N.C.

Jenny Tung, 37, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke, studies how social experiences affect rates of disease and longevity in baboons in Kenya, work that could apply to humans.

Attorney Sujartha Baliga, 48, practices restorative justice, survivor-centered alternatives to the traditional legal system. Legal scholar Danielle Citron, 50, studies the effects of cyber harassment and hate crimes. Lisa Daugaard, 53, director of the Public Defender Association in Washington state, is a criminal justice reformer.

Urban designer Emmanuel Pratt, 42, revitalizes abandoned buildings and communities on Chicago’s South Side with agriculture and new construction.

Literary scholar Jeffrey Alan Miller, 35, discovered the earliest known draft of the King James Bible. Classicist Emily Wilson, 47, was the first woman to translate “The Odyssey” into English.

Ocean Vuong, 30, who came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam at the age of 2, is a poet and fiction writer. Lynda Barry, 63, is a graphic novelist, Mary Halvorson, 38, a guitarist and composer, and Sarah Michelson, 55, a choreographer.

No one looks over fellows’ shoulders or reports on how they use the money. 

“If every fellow hit only home runs, we would worry that we were not taking enough risks or that we’d chosen the wrong people,” Cecilia A. Conrad, the program’s director, wrote in a 2013 op-ed in The Washington Post.

Among fellows who have hit home runs: surgeon and writer Atul Gawande and writers Cormac McCarthy and Te-Nehisi Coates.

Even today, most of the 1,040 MacArthur grantees aren’t famous, even if they have made significant contributions to a better world.

Few know the name Joel Schwartz, the first government worker to win a genius grant. But, as a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator once said, we should think of Schwartz every time we fill up our car with gas.

An epidemiologist toiling at EPA in the 1980s, Schwartz did the research into the health effects of lead exposure that resulted in the phaseout of lead in gasoline. 

Schwartz won in 1991, when the grant was $275,000. He continues his research at Harvard.

These dark and turbulent times in Washington challenge our sense of optimism about the American future. To stay positive, we’ll need to focus on what’s going right in the country.

The MacArthur genius grants give us hope.   

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.