Gun deaths and public life

In the midst of election turmoil and craziness, it can be discouraging to pay close attention to what goes on in public life. There is so much self-interest, hypocrisy, and meanness. But then, we need to remember that real issues underlie elections and we can take our lead from those candidates and activists who promote a genuine vision of the public interest.

Among the most noteworthy of these, to me, are individuals fighting to prevent gun violence in this country. After years of carnage, our senses are dulled by so much shooting. Where was that shooting? How many dead in that one? What kind of gun? A relative accidentally shot a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia and someone killed 8 sleeping members of a family in Ohio (Daily Local, April 16 and 23). In a few days, we won’t even remember.

But we all surely remember in 2012 when a deranged 20-year-old killed 20 elementary school students and 6 school staff, after killing his mother (who had enabled his gun habit) and before killing himself. The even worse news is that that one morning of terror accounted for only about one-third of this country’s average of 90 gun deaths a day. (More than half of those are suicides carried out by people who should have treatment, not access to guns.)

Many people in the Sandy Hook community, including parents who had lost children in the massacre, banded together to try to save others from having the same tragic experience. They could have retreated into despair, but some of them formed “Team 26,” the Sandy Hook Bicycle Riders, who every year have bicycled from Connecticut to Washington DC in order to plead for gun violence prevention. Why “Team 26”? To honor the 26 victims in the school.

Remember Sandy Hook 4:10:16You can see details and photos in “Team 26 makes stop in West Chester area” in the Daily Local News, 4/12/16.

On April 10, I was among the 35 or so local residents who welcomed the riders to our area at the Holiday Inn south of West Chester, in an event organized by the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

In a gathering inside, the Sandy Hook Riders and local residents made clear they are united in advocating to improve background checks and gun safety laws.

Tom Buglio, leader of the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, led a wry chant of “There is no safe place” (sadly, not even schools and churches) and introduced Sandy Hook Riders spokesperson Monte Frank.

According to Frank, since the Sandy Hook Riders began 4 years ago, 90,000 Americans have died by gun violence. The NRA said the “Connecticut effect” would fade from public consciousness; but, Frank said, “the Connecticut effect is becoming the US effect.” Parents who have lost children to gun violence were introduced, followed by speakers in political life.

State Representative Madeleine Dean (D-153) spoke of participating with her three children in the Million Mom March, which in 2000 rallied for more effective gun laws in Washington DC. Dean is the chief sponsor of the proposed PA House Bill 1030, which mandates firearms restraining orders in cases such as protection from abuse orders.

Mary Ellen Balchunis, candidate for the 7th PA seat in the US House, recalled at the 2000 march seeing women bearing the banner “Congress – stop taking bribes from NRA.” “Congress clearly has no heart,” she added.

Marty Molloy, candidate in the 9th PA Senate district, said the issue is personal for him, as he has lost students to gun violence. The Riders inspire him, he said, to persevere in the effort to save lives from guns: “we must fight for what we know is right.”

Terry Rumsey and Robin Lasersohn, leaders of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, called on the group to learn the power of sacrifice and to attend a rally in Harrisburg on May 16 backing House Bill 1010 (Background Checks for Long Gun Private Sales).

The Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence has also endorsed 2 current candidates in closely contested races who have taken particularly strong positions to combat gun violence: Joe Sestak (US Senate) and Marty Molloy (PA Senate district 9).

As you can see in CCCPGV’s compilation of current bills promoting background checks and other measures to protect the public, the good news is that some of our state legislators from Chester County have agreed to support remedial action. But given the bottlenecks created by legislative leadership, elected representatives may never get a chance to show, in a recorded vote, where their sentiments lie,

It hardly matters who wins the Pennsylvania primary contests (and in the 9th Senate District, an actual seat) on Tuesday if this country can’t find a path to solve some of the important issues that keep dragging us down.

As long as our national government and many state capitals remain virtually gridlocked, elected officials will be unable to respond to even the most pressing public appeals for change.

Gun violence prevention should be an urgent exception to gridlock. Lives depend on it, every day.

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An hour with Joe Sestak

A few days ago I attended a fundraiser for US Senate candidate Joe Sestak. Sestak, you will recall, represented the 7th PA district (including part of Chester County) in Congress for 4 years. In 2010 he ran for US Senate, beat former Republican Arlen Specter in the primary, but narrowly lost to Pat Toomey in the year of Tea Party triumph. Now he is running again in a four-way Democratic primary to get another shot at Toomey.

I have been to many events with Sestak over the years, and each one is a new learning experience. He is a confident and gripping speaker who has given countless talks and made endorsement appearances for other candidates in Chester County (he is from Delaware county), and has also taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Dickinson School of Law, and Cheney University, among others.

I didn’t know this, from Wikipedia, but certainly am not surprised:

In 1974, Sestak graduated second in his class of over 900 midshipmen, with a Bachelor of Science degree in American political systems.

This I did know:

Between tours at sea, Sestak earned a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in political economy and government from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1980 and 1984, respectively.

And this I didn’t: Upon being told of Sestak’s planned run for Congress, then Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Rahm Emanuel “told Sestak he was not ready for such an election.” Sestak ran anyhow in 2006 and won, faring better than other candidates whom Emanuel did not choose to support. Good for Sestak! Emanuel, now the unpopular Mayor of Chicago, was already at the bottom of my list as White House Chief of Staff (“Three welcome departures,” 10/2/10).

Sestak globe Lukens 3
from my photo in “Admiral Joe Sestak in Coatesville,” 3/10/15
What the country and voters need in 2016, in my view, is legislators who have integrity, an independent mind, and a deep knowledge of public affairs. Anyone who has heard Sestak can attest that he has those qualities. Here (with my own remarks in parentheses) are some notes from his talk and his answers to audience questions-at times more like a class conducted by the professor who combines real-life experience with academic credentials.

The military (which he knows well as a retired admiral) is a role model of giving equal pay for equal work. The US Navy developed sonar and now the gas extraction industry uses it for fracking. The Pentagon says the greatest cause of conflict will be global warming. Countries will be claiming resources under what is now North Pole ice.

Obamacare started in 1789: every sailor in the new country’s merchant marine was required to have insurance. (This is so interesting that I looked it up: the government deducted 20 cents a month from each seaman’s pay, to “provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen.”) Today, the US still loses $100 billion a year in diminished productivity from the uninsured.

Sestak is supported by many veterans, environmentalists, and women’s rights activists. He had a 100% pro-union vote in Congress, supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (facilitating pay discrimination suits by women, signed by president Obama in Jan. 2009), and favors a moratorium on fracking. He puts a high value on gun violence prevention and is proud to have a F rating from the NRA.

In 2008 he won reelection in a 56% Republican district by almost 20% of the vote; he knows how to work with R’s and helped pass 20 bipartisan bills in Congress. He was inordinately active helping constituents, including those under threat from the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

He favors an immediate rise in the minimum wage to $10.60 an hour (which, inflation-adjusted, is about where it was at its height in the late 1960’s); studies show an increase up to 50% of the average wage does not cost jobs. Money spent on alternative energy creates more than twice as many jobs as the same amount spent on fossil fuels.

He is happy to run on a ticket with either Clinton or Sanders (my question). He thinks he could help Sanders in PA; and he is grateful to Clinton for her help to veterans on Agent Orange issues when he was NSC Director for Defense Policy.

Others of his top issues include education, Social Security, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs, and banning pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug makers to keep their products off the market.

“Leadership is about raising expectations to a higher level.” And “We the People” need to tell government what we expect from it. (His vision is collaborative: if leadership empowers the people to expect what we need, then we will set a higher standard for our leaders.)

That aligns with his favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “It is not enough that we do our best; we must do what is required.” (For sure, the US Congress needs a higher standard and needs to do what is required—especially the US Senate in acting on the current Supreme Court nomination.)

And that’s not all my notes. I’ve never seen a candidate with depth on a broad range of issues. For more, see his site and his 2015 book “Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream,” which is an even more thorough policy statement than the 46-page document “A Fresh Start” that set forth now-Governor Tom Wolf’s platform two years ago.

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Looking for something good to say about Trump

I think many of us, Republicans included, agree with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain’s vociferous attacks on Donald Trump, whose self-aggrandizement, lack of consideration for other individuals and whole groups of people, and ignorance of public issues and foreign policy are truly shocking.

But politicians are human beings, flawed and self-contradictory like the rest of us. Together with the negatives that are much too long to list, Trump must have some traits that other less successful political figures might learn from. In fact, whatever they may say, a lot of them probably envy his fame, his political success to date, and his ostensible wealth.

Paul Krugman (“Clash of Republican Con Artists,” New York Times, 3/4/16) identifies one positive, though a double-edged one:

…the Trump phenomenon threatens the con the G.O.P. establishment has been playing on its own base. I’m talking about the bait and switch in which white voters are induced to hate big government by dog whistles about Those People, but actual policies are all about rewarding the donor class….

Yes, he’s a con man, but he is also effectively acting as a whistle-blower on other people’s cons. That is, believe it or not, a step forward in these weird, troubled times….

Or as his Times colleague Maureen Dowd more acerbically puts it (“Chickens, Home to Roost,” 3/5/16):

The most enjoyable thing about the Trump phenomenon has been watching him make monkeys out of a lot of people who had it coming.

A lot of us, like all those people investigating life in Canada, don’t think Trump would make an acceptable president. But just for the sake of argument, I’m looking for some other positives as he, along with Bernie Sanders, continues his quest to shake up US political assumptions and establishments. To be precise, most of the following points are non-negatives:

He is not dug into his opinions, since he keeps contradicting himself and says what he thinks on the spur of the moment, so maybe he is capable of learning as time goes on, which is not true of most national political figures.

Despite his demeaning attitude toward women, he also has supported Planned Parenthood and is not obsessed with other people’s abortions.

He supports federal programs that benefit ordinary citizens like Medicaid and Social Security.

He is not a right-wing religious activist, his father is not a fringe evangelical preacher, and he does not look forward to Armageddon as the fulfillment of Biblical prophesies.

He does not proclaim that “Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country,” in the words of one of his rivals.

He does not claim to be an exemplar of “family values” (which are one-size-fits-all anyhow).

He is not Tea Party-approved.

Despite his apparent tolerance for the KKK, he did not grow up looking nostalgically back to the good old days before the first Republican president.

He made several donations to the 2008 campaign of one of his potential Dem opponents.

He has been more effective than the Dems in throwing the R establishment into contortions and anxiety.

Like many of all political persuasions, he has attacked international trade deals and job outsourcing as causes of working class economic decline in this country.

He is not a xenophobe, since he tends to marry (European) immigrants.

Since, even more than most of us, he hates looking bad, he might as he claims be a skilled deal-maker in dealing with foreign countries and with corporate defectors from the US.

With his outsized desire to succeed, he might, as originally claimed, be “neutral” in trying to end Mid East conflicts.

Unlike all his remaining rivals, he has not been on the government payroll.

He said what most Americans think about the lies that got the US into the interminable war in Iraq and dares to remember that 9/11 did not happen when a Democrat was president.

He probably would, as he claims, get along with Vladimir Putin (as a fellow authoritarian, though that’s not quite how he put it).

He is not in thrall to the corporate money and lobbying groups that hold vast power in Washington, not even NRA and AIPAC.

He stimulates many disillusioned Americans into paying attention to politics and voting.

He is a successful entertainer capable of reading an audience’s moods, speaking without teleprompters, and producing viral sound bites.

Like many Americans, he knows what it is to lose money in a financial meltdown and declare bankruptcy (at least for his corporations).

His prominence offers new work opportunities in the health fields. Seriously! See “Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting ‘Trump anxiety’ among clients” (Washington Post, 3/6/16).

He is not Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio—about whom I know nothing good at all to say, except that they are not Donald Trump.

If Trump’s talents and positions on some issues were divided up and spread around to the other R candidates, they would all be better off. (Of course, they could use his money too.)

Oh, and another good thing about Trump: with increasing exposure and public disillusion, he is not likely to beat Clinton or Sanders.

But I don’t think he’ll have a chance to run against either one of them: I’ve been predicting for 2 months that the Republican nominee will be Paul Ryan. And then, won’t we feel nostalgic for the excitement that Trump has been injecting into daily political life (unless, of course, he runs as a third-party candidate)?

Donald Trump Approves 2016
photo “Trump in Manchester, New Hampshire Feb 2016” by Marc Nozell from Wikimedia Commons

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Tracking the trackers: hand-to-hand politics

Jeff Roe, Ted Cruz’s campaign manager responsible for some nasty campaign tactics, was in the news last week when Cruz had to fire his communications director for dirty tricks. Roe “was among the first local operatives to tail opponents with camera-wielding trackers and, a decade ago, to investigate the social media pages of candidates and their children” (Matt Flegenheimer, “Behind Ted Cruz’s Campaign Manager, Scorched Earth and Election Victories,” New York Times, Feb. 23, 2016).

Ah yes, tracking: do you remember the “macaca” incident ten years ago, which propelled Jim Webb into the Senate (a stroke of luck comparable to locations associated with Joe Sestak‘s 2006 CD-07 opponent, incumbent Curt Weldon, being raided by the FBI the month before the election)? In August 2006, the incumbent Republican, George Allen

…singled out S.R. Sidarth, a student working for the Webb campaign who was taping Allen’s appearance. Allen addressed Sidarth, an Indian American and a person of color, as a “macaca”… as in, “Let’s give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” An immediate outcry led to constant Allen apologies, insisting that he was not using a racial slur. His campaign has never been the same since…. (NPR, 9/22/06)

Now I’ve met one of those trackers, right here in West Chester, when John Fetterman, and one of the 4 Democrats who will be on the April 26 ballot for US Senate, gave a talk at West Chester University on January 27. He was a few minutes into telling us how he turned around the former steel town of Braddock, of which he has been mayor for 15 years, when he stopped and said, pretty much:

Oh, there’s John, my tracker from the Koch Brothers. They follow me around because they want to see if they can get me on video taking my pants down or saying something they can use against me. But John’s not a bad guy; I see him all the time. Hey John, how’re you doing today?

Fetterman + LongoA former college football player, Fetterman (photo at a local reception, with Chesco activist Lisa Longo) is not the type of shrinking candidate described in “Campaigns go to great lengths to avoid trackers,” by Daniel Malloy, AJCCom, 10/28/14, which describes a campaign in Nevada that “often is cagey about event details until the last minute in an attempt to avoid trackers, who can film in public places but are typically barred from indoor events on private property.”

At the end of the WCU event, after hearing about Fetterman’s long-standing and active commitment to the working poor, fairness to immigrants, and other issues, I went to the back of the room where a fellow was putting away his hand-held video camera, and I asked him whether he really worked for the Koch Brothers and what their purpose was in tracking Candidate Fetterman. “It’s not my place to comment,” John said, “but you can contact my boss if you want” and he gave me a card with an email. So I wrote:

…Today at his talk at West Chester University, US Senate candidate John Fetterman mentioned that a young man in the audience, John, was his “tracker.” I do find him among candidates featured at as well as his primary opponents Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak.

As the writer of a local political blog,, I plan to write up Mr. Fetterman’s talk, including the tracker mention–something I had not observed before.

John said afterwards “it is not my place to comment” but gave me his boss’s, that is your, email.

I will be grateful for any comment you wish to send about Mr. Fetterman, how you chose to track him, and America Rising’s overall tracking process, which I will print along with this query to you….

I didn’t really expect a reply, but I have to say, that organization was very forthcoming and cooperative, because a few days later I received back, from another staff member:

…I can confirm that America Rising is tracking Mayor Fetterman, and that we are also tracking Joe Sestak and Katie McGinty.

Our objective is to ensure Democrats are held accountable for their words and actions, and we accomplish that in part by cataloguing their every utterance on the campaign trail.

Here are two examples of our tracking footage of Sestak and McGinty:

Let me know if you have any other questions, and feel free to reach out directly anytime….

The first brief clip shows Joe Sestak, who supports President Obama’s now-accomplished deal with Iran, saying (and it’s hardly breaking news) that the videotaper would have to ask Katie McGinty whether she is for it or not. (I haven’t been able to find the answer.)

The second clip shows a minute of banter between McGinty and our friend John, at the end of which she politely changes the subject from his question whether she voted for Sestak or Specter in the 2010 Dem primary for US Senate. (Sort of an intrusive question, really.)

So this all gives us a view of the inside hand-to-hand combat in the political ring. America Rising’s site shows only 13 “Featured Candidates” and 3 of them are vying for the honor of running against the Pat Toomey, so that endangered incumbent must rate very high on the America Rising list. Maybe the tracking program hasn’t adjusted yet to the presence of a 4th candidate, Joseph Vodvarka, who filed enough signatures to also be on the Dem ballot on April 26.

You can bet that Sestak and McGinty have their people checking out what Toomey says–which of course is easier, because when he does his job in Washington (or not, as in not wanting the Senate to consider a new Supreme Court justice for about a year), a lot is conveniently on the record.

Such tracking videos, laboriously compiled by people like John, yield the nuggets that populate those attack ads that we’ll be seeing ad nauseam as November 8 draws near.

America Rising is not exactly the Koch Brothers, though ideologically allied. According to Wikipedia,

America Rising is a Political Action Committee (PAC) that produces opposition research on Democratic Party members. It is located in Alexandria, Virginia. It was founded in March 2013 by Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign manager, Matt Rhoades. Political strategist Tim Miller left the Republican National Committee (RNC) to join the clearinghouse. As of January 2014, between the PAC and the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) run by fellow opposition research veteran Joe Pounder, the organization employed 47 people, full or part-time. CNN reported that America Rising would be split into two entities: a super PAC that aimed to spread negative stories about congressional Democratic incumbents and candidates through digital channels and earned media, and a LLC that would house a video library to be shared with GOP candidates, the RNC and other right-leaning groups. To avoid making illegal in-kind corporate contributions, the LLC would likely need to charge candidates for access to the library. Pounder and Miller estimated it would have a budget of between $10 and $15 million for the 2013-2014 election cycle.

David Weigel, “Every Step You Take, Every Move You Make,, puts it a little more bluntly:

These trackers attempt to shoot video of every single public utterance the candidates’ make, in hopes of catching gaffes and flip-flops and collecting an archive that can be mined for hypocrisy and errors….

…America Rising is the freezer of the Republican party, storing messages and narratives are, that can be taken out at the right moment, microwaved, and served to voters.

As a 2014 New York Times article points out, this is one more ingenious way for candidates and “independent” groups to work together in an run around today’s collapsing campaign finance regulations: America Rising

could sell footage and research to anyone willing to pay. Republican candidates and super PACs, which otherwise might not coordinate with each other, could buy the same research and tracking footage, allowing their advertising to be more cohesive.

America Rising’s own site still features an attack on Katie McGinty—from which we deduce that they would prefer (perhaps wrongly) to see Joe Sestak or possibly John Fetterman run against right-wing pet Pat Toomey. The site primarily hammers away at Hillary Clinton, so we deduce that they think whichever right-winger wins the R nomination will have a better chance against Bernie Sanders (they could be wrong there too).

I think the moral is that, especially in the age of Citizens United, we need to figure out where information is coming from. If the ingenious Cruz team doctors photos of his rivals, that will out. On the other hand, if a candidate says something on video, it’s harder to show it’s a fake.

But then, video too can be doctored, as in the Planned Parenthood case, or snippets can be put together so a quote is out of context. For future self-defense, candidates will need to hire people to video all their own appearances as well as those of their opponents. On the positive side, it’s a welcome boost to the ongoing Obama jobs recovery… and an employment opportunity that can’t be outsourced abroad.

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Groucho Marx and the primary season of our discontent

Here are some thoughts for the season, as we all try to make sense of the American way of choosing finalists in our quadrennial elections sweepstakes. And of course, 50 states and 8 territories have their own rules.

1) The other day I saw a quote from Groucho Marx’s role in “A Night at the Opera”: “You big bully, why are you hitting that little bully?”

Groucho_MarxOn the whole, Americans don’t like bullies. We tend to prefer interacting with people who are modest and respectful. But then there’s political life. The Groucho quote seems a good test in the current rough-and-tumble Republican primary struggle. Will the biggest bully win? A small-to-moderate one? Someone too nice to be a bully? Did one big bully, C., as his last act in the play yard, take down a littler one named M. in order to give himself a better chance at being someone else’s vice-presidential pick?

The next few weeks may give answers, but in any case let’s keep our eyes on the bully/insult/aggressiveness theme. And I think Groucho would find a lot more laughs in our “system.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Ralph F. Stitt, Rivoli Theatre

2) “Before Donald Trump, There Was Jan Brewer” by Josh Marro, New York Times, 2/10/16, quotes the former Republican Arizona governor as saying

“Voters want somebody that can solve the problems and can do it effectively and do it right…. They just don’t want somebody that says ‘no, no, no.’ ”

Could that be good advice for the many present and now former candidates who speak against immigrants, Social Security, Medicare, Latinos, Muslims, the economically deprived, women’s rights, gun violence prevention, climate change mitigation, diplomacy, foreign countries, the President of the United States, the Pope, and a lot more?

3) Open primaries—in which voters who are not registered in a party can vote in that state’s primary—have never made sense to me.

Pennsylvania has closed primaries: Democrats choose their candidates and Republicans choose theirs. Independents, who do’t wish to participate in a party, wait till November for their turn.

It’s true, PA voters can switch parties up to 30 days before an election if they really want to help or oppose a candidate of a party they don’t really belong to, but although that does happen (it is said Ed Rendell won the Dem primary for Governor thanks to Republican switch-overs) it is probably not common. And when it does happen, the shift may be long-term, as in early 2008 many Chesco R’s who couldn’t deal with Sarah Palin became D’s to vote in the Obama v. Clinton D primary and remained D’s (that was the last notable change in relative party strength in Chesco).

Iowa’s caucuses are also closed, but the New Hampshire primary is “mixed,” meaning that Independents can vote in either the D or R primary but D’s and R’s cannot vote in the other party’s primary. I got a laugh from the Wikipedia article: the 4th-place finisher in the NH primary was Vermin Supreme, whose platform includes requiring Americans to brush their teeth. Is that big government or what?

In further proof of American political ingenuity, South Carolina “does not have registration by party. Voters may vote in either party’s primary, but not both” ( I’m trying to get my mind around that: how would those of us who regularly canvass “our” D or R voters operate if there are no registered D’s and R’s? How would we see if our own party registration is gaining or shrinking? It would be a whole different dialogue. And who receives all those robocalls imploring us to vote for the candidates of our own party? Hmm, perhaps there is something to be said for the SC model.

Thus, in the SC primary, voters who regard themselves as Independents could choose the D or R winner and voters who think of themselves as D’s or R’s could choose the other party’s winner, and no one will ever know how many of each did the voting.

And here’s another twist: the SC primaries are on 2 different dates: Republican on February 20, Democratic on February 27 (both Saturdays, a good idea for people with long workdays). So if I am not feeling well on the day of the first primary or there is a big storm, I just go vote in the second. R, D, what ever, at least I can put on a “I Voted Today” sticker. It’s hard to imagine in our very party-oriented PA! And party activists have to go out and try to influence primary voters at the polls twice. Twice as much work for them… and twice as expensive for the county to pay the poll workers!

In non-closed primary states like NH and SC, I suggest that we should speak not of the D and R primary, but of “state-level general election rehearsals.”

4) Should states’ influence on a party’s presidential choice vary by more than population?

We know that PA is usually very competitive in statewide (ungerrymandered) races. But in some states we can say a R or D has virtually zero chance of winning in November; should R’s or D’s in those states influence their own party’s choice of a candidate who will have to suit voters elsewhere?

Actually, the parties have thought of that. It is so complicated that you’ll have to read a separate post soon to find the details. But here’s an exemplary bottom line: Wyoming (dominated by R’s) has 11 times the per-capita influence of Republicans in California (where R’s seldom win anything) on the choice of their party’s presidential candidate. I can understand that: why should presumably more moderate CA voters hold the R party back from choosing a right-winger? But what I can’t understand is why Wyoming has twice California’s per capita influence on the D nomination. It seems to me a ratio around 0.5 would be more appropriate

5) PA can learn something from South Carolina in accommodating voters with physical difficulties who do not wish to vote absentee (from the download “Access for All Voters in South Carolina“):

“Voters who are unable to access the polling place or stand in line to vote due to a disability or being age 65 or older may vote in their vehicle. Curbside voting does not require a disability parking placard. Poll managers monitor the curbside voting area at a minimum of 15 minute intervals.”

More soon on the primary season, the media’s favorite source of excitement.

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Supreme Court by attrition?

I had to look this up right away: the Texas ranch where the late Justice Scalia died after quail hunting is not the same Texas ranch where former Vice President Dick Cheney shot a lawyer while quail hunting almost exactly 10 years ago.

Mitch McConnell and the Republicans seem to be saying they will not confirm a new justice as long as Obama is president, which basically means the Court will have no more than 8 members for at least the next year.

Then if Bernie or Hillary wins in November, the R’s still won’t want to confirm a new justice, and if the Donald or Ted wins, the D’s won’t want to either.

So there’s a strategy: just wait it out as the number of justices slowly diminishes. That is already happening for many other federal district and circuit court judgeships and several other leadership roles in Washington; for example, there has been no confirmed IRS Commissioner since May, 2013.

Here are the remaining justices of the Supreme Court in order of birth:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born 1933, appointed by Clinton)
Anthony Kennedy (born 1936, appointed by Reagan)
Stephen Breyer (born 1938, appointed by Clinton)
Clarence Thomas (born 1948, appointed by Bush 41)
Samuel Alito (born 1950, appointed by Bush 43)
Sonia Sotomayor (born 1954, appointed by Obama)
John Roberts (born 1955, appointed by Bush 43)
Elena Kagan (born 1960, appointed by Obama)

Let’s just assume they all get the best health care (and no, they are not on Obamacare) and will be able to stay in office until about age 85, which seems where Ginsburg is headed (and by that standard, Sandra Day O’Connor, a true swing vote, would just be leaving the Court and Samuel Alito would not have been appointed as her successor in 2006). Scalia didn’t quite make it to 85, but then, he smoked cigarettes and pipes… and went quail hunting in Texas.

As we see from the appointing presidents, the party dominance would switch back and forth over the years. When there are 5 (it reads like an Agatha Christie mystery, doesn’t it?) the 3 Bush appointees would outvote the 2 Obama appointees. But when we get down to the current 3 youngest, in 20 years or so, it will be Sotomayor and Kagan vs. Roberts, a clear 2-1 majority for the Dems.

So there’s a strategy for our leaders in Washington to resolve the gridlock… eventually.

Or, they could seek out appointees who are genuinely non-partisan, who respect legal precedent, who understand that law evolves with society, and who don’t claim to know more about what the Founders thought than the founders put in writing.

Let’s not hold our breath, however.

Supreme Court 2036?
The 3 Immortals: US Supreme Court, 2036?

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The voice of northern winter

Sometimes nature takes precedence over public life and — except for the valiant few such as public works employees, mail carriers, and power company technicians who venture out to restore electrical lines — most of us do our best to huddle in warm and windless places.

Here, in honor of the cold and wind, is a 4-line rhymed poem I wrote long ago in Massachusetts:

In around the spruce and hemlocks, snow blows;
with the voice of northern winter, wind whines;
as the sun gives ground to shadow, cold grows;
from the church-white houses’ chimneys, smoke twines.

Winter inside, outside

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