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Posts published in October 2016

Voting rights guaranteed


We’ve voted at our house. Ballots came in the mail - we filled ‘em out - dropped ‘em off at what passes for our little City Hall - and we’re done.

Why all states don’t do it that way is beyond me. Oregon started it in the late ‘80's with amazing results. The presidential contest was added in 2000 and more than 80% of registered voters cast ballots, That ever happen in your state? More than 80%? Didn’t think so.

Disenfranchising voters in Oregon? You gotta be kidding. When you get a driver’s license here, you’re registered to vote. No lines. No ridiculous polling hours. No legislative games by either party.

A Google search for a history of fraud in our balloting turned up nearly nothing. What I found amounted to a couple of instances of several office workers trying to copy ballots to vote more than once. I could only find three times in all the statewide elections we’ve had since 1988. Even if successful, it’s likely the fake documents would have been rejected by some computer along the line.

As for those who insist they just have to go to a polling place “because it feels good and it’s traditional,” try this. Take your ballot to Walmart. Do your shopping. Go to the check stand and, as the checker does her job, whip out the ballot and mark your choices. Right there. In front of her. You’ll get the same feeling. You could even ask her to say “Mrs. Smith has voted.”

Voting this year was somewhat more troubling than previously. That “top-of-the-ticket” contest, you know. Being a bit more moderate than my left-leaning wife, we thought up a scheme so I wouldn’t have to mark a name I truly couldn’t support. Either of ‘em. She’d do my ballot - I’d do hers. Then we’d keep the choices to ourselves and that would solve the problem. Seriously thought about it.

Other than the personal character - or lack of it - of the candidates to choose from at times, I find no fault with voting by mail. Every race in our state and county was on our ballot. Also, the referendums and other issues. We got a voter guide a couple of weeks before election day. We had time to look up things if needed. Just laid the guide beside the ballot on the dining room table - marked the appropriate places - dropped our ballots in the box. Could have mailed them in using a couple of stamps. Either way, the process was neat, efficient, timely, informative, quick and done.

Every time I hear of a state trying to keep people from their absolute right to vote, I wonder if anyone in those places has ever looked at Oregon’s hugely successful system. Our franchise exercise has been adopted in several other states. But not many. Not nearly enough. Maybe the reason for that is because one group or the other - one party or the other - would lose absolute control of who gets to participate and who doesn’t. Boy, that would be too bad.

No, we aren’t perfect here in our little state acreage by the sea. Not by a long shot. Just look at our university football teams. But when a good idea comes along - regardless of who had it - it just makes sense for others to take a look and give it serious thought.

Unless, of course, your political party wants to tip the scales when gerrymandering isn’t enough. Naw. Who’d do that?

Trump 9: Encouraging violence


You will search in vain for references to presidential candidates who actually encourage violence at their campaign events. Until, of course, Donald Trump.

This should come as no surprise, considering the more recent attention given to his statements to and about women. But when the nation's prospective leader calls on his (unncommonly sheep-like and unquestioning) following to start whomping on anyone who isn't a true believer, you can see where this can head - from coast to coast. This is one of the most important ways dictators keep the people in their country in line: The threat of violence not just from the authorities, but from the guy down the street.

The list of instances of calls to violence (just the opposite, obviously, of what a responsible public official - any public official - should do) runs long and deep. From various rallies and other public events:

"I’d like to punch him in the face."

"I’ll beat the crap out of you ... Part of the problem ... is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore."

He would "love" to fight Vice President Joe Biden, he said: "Some things in life you could really love doing!"

On February 1, "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay? Just knock the hell.”

At a March event in Michigan, Trump observed as a protester was being aggressively taken from the building. Then: "Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court, don't worry about it."

Confronted about these and many other examples, Trump - in pattern with so much else - denied he had ever encouraged violence.

Go to the tape. And shudder. - rs

Trump 10: Propagating racism


Donald Trump has been widely and roundly called a racist. And depending on your definition of the term, maybe he is. Probably he is. He hasn't really gone out of his way to repudiate it, though that may have something to do with not seeming to repudiate part of his base.

And mixed into that idea is something a little more important.

The idea has circulated that Trump has been accused of racism only since he became a candidate for president; that was the subject of a popular social media meme some months back. The fact-checking site Snopes took up the assertion, and concluded easily that no, there was more to the picture.

From Snopes: "According to the New York Times, one of Trump's first newspaper appearances was in 1973, when the Trump Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice and charged for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968:
'The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color,’ ' The Times reported. 'It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.' Trump was also accused of racism in 1989, when he took out full page ads calling for the return of the death penalty in several New York City newspapers. The ads were published a few weeks after a 28-year-old woman was raped while jogging in Central Park." During subsequent protests, activists specifically called Trump a racist.

Snopes also noted "Former employees of Donald Trump have also accused the real estate mogul of racism. John R. O'Donnell, a former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, wrote in his 1991 book Trumped! that Trump frequently used racial slurs: A book written by one of Donald Trump's former casino executives accuses Trump of calling his biggest gamblers 'slobs,' of making racial slurs against black people and of being largely ignorant about the casino business."

There is of course much, much more on the subject of Trump and his attitudes toward race. (The most famous may be his role in propagating birtherism.) But there's another dimension to this too, hinted at by this line from a Fortune magazine report on Trump and race: "For the long followers of Trump’s career, however, none of these incendiary remarks are especially surprising. Trump has a long record as a provocateur on matters of race and ethnicity."

Note that it says he is not simply a holder of certain attitudes, but that he is a provocateur on "matters of race and ethnicity".

He has been a race provocateur on his campaign, not just on a few occasions but repeatedly. In a long list of these instances, the web site Vox earlier this month noted among other things:

"Trump has been repeatedly slow to condemn white supremacists who endorse him, and he regularly retweets messages from white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He tweeted and later deleted an image that showed Hillary Clinton in front of a pile of money and by a Jewish Star of David that said, "Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!" The tweet had some very obvious anti-Semitic imagery, but Trump insisted that the star was a sheriff’s badge ... At the Republican convention, he officially seized the mantle of the "law and order" candidate — an obvious dog whistle playing to white fears of black crime, even though crime in the US is historically low."

No major political candidate in the United States has so openly encouraged racism, and encouraged racists to act out their bigotry, since at least the days of George Wallace - and possibly earlier than that. Such encouragement creates an environment in this country far worse than the ugly attitudes of any single man. It creates a toxic country that may need decades more for serious detoxification.

The hatred and attacks generated by Trumpism are cropping up in many places, including the circles of anti-Trump conservatives. In the article "The Price I’ve Paid for Opposing Donald Trump," conservative National Review writer David French starts, "I distinctly remember the first time I saw a picture of my then-seven-year-old daughter’s face in a gas chamber. It was the evening of September 17, 2015. I had just posted a short item to the Corner calling out notorious Trump ally Ann Coulter for aping the white-nationalist language and rhetoric of the so-called alt-right. Within minutes, the tweets came flooding in. My youngest daughter is African American, adopted from Ethiopia, and in alt-right circles that’s an unforgivable sin. It’s called 'race-cucking' or 'raising the enemy.'”

You can read on about where the abuse goes from there, but don't do it on an empty stomach.

It's not just that Donald Trump's attitudes and personal actions are so vile; it's that they spread the vilenesss so broadly an so deeply. Trumpism is America's toxic sludge, and we will need the political equivalent of a superfund to clean it up. - rs

Close splits


If Idaho does not vote for Donald Trump in the general election days from now, that would mean the Democratic sweep would be so massive only Oklahoma and West Virginia, maybe, would stay Republican red.

That’s not likely to happen, of course – as this is written a national win by Hillary Clinton for president looks probable but not that sweeping. And yet there is more to say about the Idaho presidential, owing in large part to Evan McMullin.

McMullin, who is on the ballot of only about a dozen states, was hardly known outside his family and co-workers only a few months ago, but now he has upended politics in Utah, and in part – not all – of Idaho. His professional career has run in national security (CIA), financial (he was an investment banker) and to a limited degree political (he was a House Republican staffer) mostly in the Washington, D.C. area. But what’s also critical to know is that he was born in Provo, Utah and has sterling Utah/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint connections. If you liked Mitt Romney, you can listen to Evan McMullin and like what you hear from him too.

In this time of Trump, when many Mormons are appalled by the Republican nominee, McMullin has some real appeal.

He is the center of ferocious arguments among other Republicans, though, recognizing that conservative votes may be split between McMullin and Trump. Recent polls have showed Utah voters almost evenly split between Trump, McMullin and Clinton – raising the astonishing possibility that Clinton could win Utah with no larger share of the vote than she normally would get (which isn’t much).

Pundit Sean Hannity has gone apoplectic (“All this garbage from you Never Trumper jerks out there,” he shouted on one radio show. “November 9th, I have a lot to say about all of you.” And Fox’s Lou Dobbs said in a tweet, “Look Deeper, He’s [McMullin] nothing but a globalist, Romney and Mormon Mafia Tool.” That probably won’t go over very well back in Utah, the one state where McMullin may be on the cusp of winning.

But it could impact Idaho as well. Touring around southern Idaho this week I heard the phrase “the I-15 strategy” in reference to McMullin’s game plan, and it’s understandable and in concert with what he’s been doing so far. Many of the population centers where the LDS population is most concentrated are close by I-15, from St. George in the south to St. Anthony in the north, and McMullin stands to make a splash by working it hard.

Political people I talked to last week thought he probably will not pick up a big percentage in northern Idaho, and no more than sizable chunk from the Magic Valley on west. That means Idaho overall is not likely to tip away from the Trump column.

Polling last week that differentiated between the first congressional district (toward west) and the second (to the east) made exactly the same point, underlining it with this: In the second district, by itself, the vote for president could look a lot like Utah’s – with the possibility that either McMullin or even Clinton could win there. (Only, that is, in the second district, not in the whole state.)

If so, that could mean some important fractures surviving after the election in Republican politics in Idaho, fractures unlike anything the state’s party has seen before.

Trump 11: Abortion imprisonment


Abortion is one of the most intractable of issues: While there are many shades of opinion, people broadly on one side or the other tend to stay there. But one of the areas of general agreement, on the "life" and "choice" sides both, is this: Imprisonment ought not to be a part of the picture.

This is not universal, of course, just a view widely held in this country. The irony is that diminishing abortion services around the country may be generating more cases in which, under current law, women are thrown into prison. There is the Indiana case of Purvi Patel who apparently had a deeply troubled pregnancy and then had either a miscarriage (her version) or a late-term abortion (the version of police) and was charged and convicted of a criminal offense which led to a sentence for her of 20 years in prison.

Much about that case, including many of the key facts, are unclear or in dispute. But, as an MSNBC report noted, "In the contemporary reality of illegal abortion, the woman and the provider are often one and the same. According to public health experts, a hundred thousand women have covertly tried to ended their pregnancies themselves in Texas alone, and legal abortion clinics closing across the country may make matters worse."

Donald Trump has personal history of being pro-choice on the subject of abortion, but that has been thrown overboard during this campaign. (Will the pro-life position be in turn thrown overboard? We'd have to wait and see.)

In March, he said that if abortion is made illegal, “there has to be some form of punishment” for the woman involved. That led to protests from the pro-life side, where the argument was that only "providers" should be prosecuted. And later, Trump revised his stance to say, “The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

But again, in a time when availability of abortion is so contricted across so much of the country, the provider now as often as not will be the mother. So what then? Should an illegal act be rendered legal based on who provides it?

A Trump presidency could lead to some very uncomfortable ideas, and practices, along these lines. - rs

Constitutional convention – not


You hear a lot of talk these days of the need for a “constitutional convention” to take up this-that-or-the-other subject. Often, this is followed by some sort of simplistic statement that such action would be “no big deal” and “the longer we put it off the harder it will be.”

Well, as in most chatter dealing with changing our founding documents, it would be a much bigger deal to get done than most folks think. For two reasons. It’s never been done and no one can agree for what purpose. A single subject? Or many? How many? If once called, would it ever end?

Yes, Article V of our Constitution says either Congress can do it or the states can if two-thirds of them agree on the need. What’s at odds is that single subject issue - or many. And that’s the stickler.

There are two schools of legal thought. First, many scholars argue for the wide-open convention. Suppose you wanted to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget be set by Congress each session. Just that. Only that. Whether called for that purpose by Congress or two-thirds of the states, these legal eagles say delegates could go off on any subject. Suddenly, there are abortion rights, women’s health, immigration or campaign spending and hundreds of delegates pulling in every direction.

The other thinking is all in attendance would be required to stick to the one subject stated in “the call.” Problem is, once the gavel sounds to get things going, who enforces the one issue agenda? Under what authority? There’s been no test resulting in a black-and-white rule, either.

The last federal convention was in 1787 when Congress set up this whole idea. Founding fathers had required all 13 states agree on a single issue. Good thought. Impossible to achieve. Delegates argued over lots of ways to fix things but finally settled on Congress convening a convention unilaterally or at the behest of two-thirds of the states. Period.

But the issue of scope for such gatherings was never put to bed. Suppose two-thirds want a convention. That meets the legal requirement. But what if, in those requests, there’s more than one subject? Two-thirds agree on the need for the convention but not on what business is to be done. Does Congress act or wait until 34 states settle on a single subject?

Other legal voices think the two-thirds threshold is fine but subject matter would have to be confined to a single topic. Good theory. Never tested.

Fact is, an Article V convention requested by the states has never been called for these very reasons. The current Constitution says Congress “shall” call them when the required number of states petition, but it does not say for what purpose or how many purposes.

There have been two fairly recent efforts to use the Constitution’s “Necessary and Proper” clause to deal with the issue. Twice in the 1970's, the Senate unanimously approved the idea. Both times, it died in the House. How little times have changed.

So, the subject of convening a Constitutional Convention is a lot murkier than most folks believe. And the thought of a “runaway convention” with dozens of subjects, hundreds of delegates and thousands of votes terrifies the best constitutional scholars. Not to mention a few nervous politicians.

Further, if such a free-wheeling event did end, whatever actions were taken would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the states. Any bets on that?

All 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been done by Congress. States have held their own conventions to deal with their own documents more than 600 times with relatively little fuss.

So, if you’re worried about the 1st, 2nd, 4th or 15th or any other amendment to the federal Constitution being changed while you sleep, forget it. Only in your dreams.

Trump 12: Bias toward dictators


Then there's Trump's own and heavily recorded personal bias in favor of dictators.

The more authoritarian they are, in fact, the more he likes them. Of leaders in relatively democratic societies, he prefers those who rule with a relatively heavy hand.

The world, he told CNN on October 25 (last year), would be "100 percent better" if Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were still in power. Even most people who disapproved of the U.S. military actions in Iraq and Libya should have a hard time getting behind that one. (Trump, remember, once tried to set up a personal investment partnership with Qaddafi.)

The examples go on and on, most visibly probably in his bromance with Vladimir Putin.

But pause on a comment in Andrew Sullivan's old blog, that "It’s worth recalling that iconic photograph of the lone protestor facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square. Trump, remember, was on the side of the tank."

Toxic mixture: Religion, politics


Of all the downright stupid “shoot-himself-in-the-foot” statements Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made this campaign season which alienate different voter groups - and there have been many - one of the more incomprehensible was the charge he made at the Al Smith charity fund-raising dinner in New York City.

The tradition is that the dinner is a chance for the candidates to put partisanship aside, engage in some light-hearted humor and recognize that their opponent is not the devil incarnate.

Trump, however, despite initially looking and sounding almost presidential, blew it all by accusing Mrs. Clinton of being insincere even by being there because she allegedly hates Catholics.

Really, Donald? The Clintons are many different things to many different people, but no one has ever accused them of being stupid.

Catholics constitute the largest religious group in America with an estimated 82 million people, or about 25% of the population which translates into one fourth of all eligible voters. A key constituency supporting Mrs. Clinton is the Hispanic vote which is heavily Catholic and a rapidly increasing demographic group.

The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is Pope Francis I, one of the world’s and this nation’s most admired individuals.

Nonetheless, in a futile and ham-handed effort Trump was attempting to develop a wedge between socially conservative, blue collar, working class Catholics who are on their way to voting for Mrs. Clinton despite this constituency having opted largely for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

It was classless and clueless, especially when put in the larger context of his effort to keep Evangelicals, many of whom are deserting him in droves, in his coalition of base supporters. If anyone on the dais at the Al Smith Dinner could be charged with hating Catholics it is the Donald himself.

In doing so Trump is trying to tap into a dying almost dormant tradition of anti-Catholicism in America. The Al Smith honored in name at the dinner was the first Catholic to carry a major party’s nomination for the presidency. John Kennedy was the first Catholic elected president.

The ideal in America is complete separation between Church and State. The reality is that so many issues today have a moral and religious context to them, that inevitable intermingling occurs. Life issues in particular are fertile grounds for such. The Catholic Church is and always will be inalterably opposed to abortion on demand and physician assisted suicide.

Gray areas become obvious when Catholic hospitals are the recipients of federal funds, but will refuse to allow abortions to be performed on site and will not give privileges to doctors who perform abortions.

While appreciating the importance of life issues (I chaired the campaign in Washingtton state in 2008 against Initiative 1000 which sanctioned physician assisted suicide) I don’t appreciate being lectured from the pulpit by a conservative priest who feels compelled to spell out in a not too subtle manner why those in the pews should oppose Mrs. Clinton.

Such occurred a couple of Sundays ago when I was attending Mass at St. Rita’s in Kellogg. The former (for 11 years) pastoral priest, Father Tom Loucks, was substituting. Imagine my surprise when he started in on how much anti-Catholicism still exists. He even claimed Idaho’s Constitution still contains anti-Catholic language (He must be reading a different copy than I have), but made no mention of the extensive anti-Mormon language that was stripped out in the early 70’s.

He even sang the praises of Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput who makes a point of saying he will deny Holy Communion and the Host to any Catholic politician who may privately abhor abortion but recognizes the woman’s right to choose.

The vast majority of bishops in the United States take the position that they cannot judge the heart of a person seeking communion and their role is to administer, not deny.

Father Loucks should know that the days of “pray, pay and obey” Catholicism are long gone. Both he and Donald Trump should show more respect for the separation of Church and State, that the mixing of the two can become a toxic mixture that poisons whomever imbibes.

Trump 13: Wanting a dictator


I'd never heard of the movie Gabriel Over the White House until a few days ago, when a friend (who also had just recently learned of it) screened it for me. If you're in a mood to be frightened, this one will do the job.

It was set for release early in 1933, within days of Frank Roosevelt's swearing-in, and at a peak (or depth) of the Great Depression. The film, technically advanced for the time, was set in that time and place, and focused on Judson Hammond (played by Walter Huston), the newly-elected president of the United States. At first he seems ineffectual, until an accident leave him in a coma. He revives from it, apparently with the help of the angel Gabriel, and becomes decisive - extremely decisive. He dissolves Congress and the Supreme Court, wipes out any remaining opposition within the country (the army is employed), then imposes his will on leaders of other countries - and miraculously saves the country. Whereupon, he dies.

The picture was pulled from general distribution after producers and others observed what was happening at the time in Germany. But it has a strong and eerie resonance now.

But for the last plot bit, Gabriel seems to be what a large portion of Trump supporters seem to want. Trump's statements have all the earmarks of a dictator-in-the-making, but he has never applied that term to himself. (Yet.) Some of hs followers have, though, and enthusiastically.

Huffington Post on July 29 reported how “Hundreds of posts in Reddit’s The_Donald forum ― where Donald Trump this week participated in a Q&A session ― refer to the Republican presidential nominee as “God Emperor.” The practice of using this name for Trump apparently caught on last spring. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman wrote in May about the deluge of anti-Semitic hate he’d received from self-identified Trump supporters, including “Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hooknosed Jew” from a user called “Trump God Emperor.” Among Trump’s active online supporters, using the nickname is now commonplace. The post announcing Trump’s participation in the Q&A heralded “our God Emperor,” and a search of the phrase returned over 200 posts in the day after Trump’s appearance."

I don't mean to overstate here: "Some forum members say “God Emperor” is simply a tongue-in-cheek attempt to rile up Trump opponents who fear he would be a strongman as president. The term is attributed variously to God Emperor characters in the science fiction series Dune and a tabletop game called 'Warhammer 40,000'. 'We know he can’t literally be one,' wrote member NewJersey908, but the phrase whips people 'into a frenzy saying that we literally want a dictator.'”

I've learned to be wary - and often dismiss - followup statements from this crowd saying something to the effect of, "We were only kidding." When eyes look away, that's often followed by statements that more clearly say, "No, we weren't."

The idea of We the People as the big boss of this country, of democracy as our form of government now and always, is so ingrained that many of us have a hard time imagining anything else - or that any significant number of Americans do think in any other way.

But there's no mistaking it. Quite a few Americans do think otherwise, and that's one of the scariest realizations of electiono 2016: That a lot of Americans really would prefer it be the last. - rs