Ladies and Gentlemen, the Shit Has Hit the Fan

Recently, it has come to our attention that the New York Times has revealed that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed a meeting with a Russian government-connected lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya after learning she had information that “that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] … and would be very useful to your father” and that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. has confirmed the meeting took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower (despite initially denying it) which also had his dad’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner in attendance. But he has downplayed the meeting’s significance claiming it was over adoption laws and later that the woman wasn’t a government official who provided anything useful. On Tuesday July 11, 2017, he has disclosed a series of e-mails of him corresponding with a British music publicist named Rob Goldstone at behest of the Agalarov family in order to prevent another NYT scoop. Except he totally didn’t and now that e-mail chain has been retrieved and released for the public and prosecutors to see. Furthermore, the chain basically debunks every lie he’s made, erodes his credibility, and confirms he’s hiding something all along.

For months, Donald Trump and his team have denied and disparaged reports that the Moscow tried to help his candidacy and that there was any collusion between the two. In fact, Trump has publicly claimed he didn’t believe that the Russian government wasn’t behind the hackings and leaks of prominent Democrats’ e-mails, which US intelligence agencies have resoundingly confirmed. Since January of 2017, reports of suspicious behavior between Trump and his team around Russia emerged  though we still lacked outright proof whether there was any behind-the-scenes collaboration between them. Though it remained theoretically possible that there was a multifaceted Russian effort to help Trump win without anyone from the Trump team knowing about it.

However, that is no longer possible since the Trump Jr. e-mail chain provides indisputable proof that people close to Donald Trump such as his son, his son-in-law, and then-campaign chair not only knew about but also encouraged a Russian government effort to help him win the White House. Seriously, Goldstone sent Trump Jr. an e-mail saying his information would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” as if Russia’s support for Lord Cheetohead was an unremarkable fact. Instead of being confused or asking what Goldstone means, Trump Jr. cheerfully answers, “If it’s what you say I love it,” tries to get the details, and forwards the whole thread to Kushner and Manafort. Any other American who knew what Goldstone was getting at would’ve turned him down and notify the candidate and the FBI. Because that is what campaign workers are supposed to do since getting help from a foreign government to win an election goes against federal law. Yet, there’s no way you can read these e-mails and not conclude that the Trump campaign’s top guys knew Russia supported their man but were willing to help. And I’m sure that President Pussygrabber knew about this going on all along.

Why? Well, how can he not? Sure the White House claims that Donald Trump knew about his son’s meeting recently. But he’s complained about the Russia investigation for months and fired his own FBI director in May, possibly to stop information that could expose him or his team to criminal charges from turning up. We should also note that Trump has often seen himself as above the law and has gone to great lengths to avoid responsibility for his actions his whole life. Not to mention, he and his team constantly lie in public about anything that makes him look bad.

What the Trump camp talked about with the Moscow-linked parties that June day at Trump Tower may never be known. But even if that meeting did lead nowhere, it still raises questions of what else Manafort and Kushner and ousted National Security adviser Michael Flynn may have said or done with the Russians. Yet, what’s clear is that we can no longer dispute the investigations into the Trump campaign and that Russian collusion is a serious mater. Robert Mueller must proceed unimpeded in his inquiry while congressional investigators need to work as well. Because the US needs to get to the bottom of this.

But why should we care about Trump’s ties to Russia? Because the Trump team’s habit of publicly lying about its contacts with Russia government emissaries is very problematic on its own terms. But it’s especially troubling since it raises a possibility that blackmail fears can influence American foreign policy. For instance, take the bombshell from US government surveillance that then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak revealed he and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions during the Obama-Trump transition period, which Flynn lied about. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that “the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.” Meaning, that if you lie about meeting a Russian official in public, then the Russian government will know and could threaten to release embarrassing and personally damaging information unless you take positions they like. When the press got a hold of this, Flynn was fired. Still, Russian intelligence knows exactly what went down between their government and the Trump campaign. Their knowledge of the facts along with the Trump team’s relentless dishonesty as well as the high consequences of getting caught, means a potentially large swath of Trump’s inner circle has been (or still may be) exposed to blackmail. This in turn makes it hard for the nation and our allies to trust that American foreign policy toward Russia serves American interests rather than in service of keeping Trump’s people out of legal and political trouble. This might be easy to ignore if Trump’s attitude and policies toward Russia was typical for an American politician. But his contempt for NATO and his unwillingness to punish Moscow for election meddling shows they’re not.

Thus, we should understand while the Donald Trump Jr. scandal is new to us, it’s not to the Russians. Keep in mind that before releasing the e-mail thread pertaining to his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. had publicly denied meeting Russian government representatives for months. And he called allegations that anyone on the Trump team might’ve worked with the Russians as “disgusting” and “phony.” Not to mention, his dad and many of his spokespeople have maintained what Trump Jr. said was true through the entire campaign. His e-mail messages to Goldstone show that it wasn’t. At minimum, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Veselnitskaya under the impression that she’d provide them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” But while revelations and e-mails about the meeting caused a sensation in the States, Veselnitskaya knew it all along. And if she knew it, the Russian government probably did, too. And it’s something they could’ve used to increase the legal and political jeopardy facing both father and son at any moment. Still, information is power. Since Russia has the info about the Trump/Russia contacts and because the Trump team keeps lying about them, the Russia government have a lot of power. And Trump’s team knows that Russia has the goods.

So far in the Trump/Russia contact, we know that members of Trump’s campaign team met with the Russians. We know that then Alabama US Senator Jeff Sessions met Kislyak at least twice during the Trump campaign which he lied about under oath during his confirmation hearing for Attorney General. We know Jared Kushner met with Kislyak on multiple occasions. And that one of these meetings was an effort to set up a secure backchannel for Trump to communicate with the Kremlin using Russian equipment and facilities. Yet, Kushner didn’t list that foreign contact on his clearance form. Then there’s Blackwater founder and Trump backer Eric Prince who made an effort to set up back-channel communications to Russia via a meeting in Seychelles, it’s not clear what came of that. Or take Paul Manafort who was fired months before the election over receiving Russian front money in Ukraine. But he continued to advise the Trump campaign, including on the post-election Russia investigation. Or adviser Carter Page whose meeting with the Russians I know absolutely nothing about. Yet, the Russians have known all of this before the US did and then some.

Then there’s the matter with Donald Trump’s finances. We all know he still hasn’t released his tax returns and probably never will. But we all remember back in January when he erupted over the “Steele Dossier” with its wilder allegations that a secret Russian kompromat is blackmailing him over a tape depicting hookers peeing on him. However, it also contains much more boring allegation that Trump paid bribes in St. Petersburg “very discreetly and only through affiliated companies” while exploring some business deals there. Now paying bribes to Russian officials isn’t particularly shocking, especially for a real estate man like Trump. But paying bribes in pursuit of a business deal is technically illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Trump has called the FCPA a “horrible law” that “this country is absolutely crazy” to have on the books because it puts American businesses at a “huge disadvantage.” His business philosophy has long been a willingness to plow ahead legal gray areas as he had once dispensed with normal FCPA compliance procedures and basically go away with it. He probably did the same thing in St. Petersburg. His new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a longtime FCPA critic. So Trump pretty clearly believes that American businesses should be allowed to bribe foreign officials. Nevertheless, while American authorities have little incentive to heavily scrutinize Trump’s FCPA compliance in Russia, Moscow is well-positioned to know a great deal about this. They’re also in a good position to know if the surge in Trump condo property purchases through anonymous shell companies involves any Russian citizens.

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump’s actual policy toward Russia has remained extremely idiosyncratic and friendly toward Moscow. His former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about meeting with Kislyak along Sessions and Kushner. His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has an extremely unusual resume for a top American diplomat, which featured zero military or diplomatic experience. But he has spent some time lobbying against sanctions on Russia and received the Order of Friendship award from the Russian government. Trump also appears to have explored relaxing Russian sanctions and was strikingly reluctant to affirm America’s commitment to NATO. He’s repeatedly seemed to side with the Russian government over American intelligence agencies over Russian culpability on hacking. He briefly suggested a joint Russia-US cybersecurity initiative. Furthermore, he’s made clear that Russia won’t face any repercussions for its election meddling, something lawmakers of both parties see as a direct assault on American democracy. There are plenty of explanations for his behavior, but it’s reasonable to suspect that Trump wants to keep Vladimir Putin happy so the Russians won’t release embarrassing information.

Nevertheless, a responsible administration would’ve taken Sally Yates seriously in the first place. It would’ve fired Flynn right away or forced him to come clean and apologize at once. And it would’ve learned that despite the awkward political scrutiny on Russia-related matters, lying about it would’ve been even more troubling. But the Trump administration didn’t learn that lesson as Washington remains swamp with new stories and revelations time after time. Each time, their defense consists of “this new undisclosed e-mail or meeting hardly proves wrongdoing.” But Yates points out that under the circumstances, the very lack of disclosure itself was the problem. A reluctance to come clean can reflect blundering, stubbornness, or simply blindness to a problem’s extent. Yet, the Trump crew could be hiding the truth because the truth is very bad. Thus, lying to the public to avoid Russian exposure might be the Trump administration’s best strategy. However, by repeatedly and publicly committing itself to false narratives about Russian government interactions, the Trump administration has put themselves under Russia’s thumb. Under normal circumstances, letting a president have this kind of threat hanging over him would be seen as completely intolerable. But since congressional Republicans control the federal government and do what they want, they’ll probably rationalize the matter. Like they’ve done with tolerating an admitted sexual predator in the White House and accommodating his desire to run his businesses in a way that makes it easy to bribe him. After all, H. R. McMaster and Jim Mattis will be along to babysit him except when Trump leaves them out at key summit meetings, unexpectedly drops text from a major speech, or otherwise needs to respond in real time to a crisis. Nevertheless, this puts our allies in an uncomfortable situation and our foreign policy at a downright catastrophic one. Partly because nobody has any idea about the extent of exposure and what kind of pro-Putin policies Trump might pursue in the future. Even worse, congressional Republicans apparently decided they’d rather not know and treat the Trump-Russia story as an endless series of annoying White House mistakes instead of a potentially crippling national security risk it certainly is. And if you have a former Bush ethics chief say Trump Jr.’s e-mails contain what’s “borderline treason,” then Republicans really need to wake up.

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To the Honorable United States Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

Dear Senator Toomey:

I am writing to you today to strongly urge you to oppose the Better Care Reconciliation Act which will gut the Affordable Care Act, slash Medicaid by $800 billion, leave 22 million uninsured, and roll back protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Drafting of the BCRA was conducted through a highly partisan, secretive, and undemocratic process despite being one of the most consequential pieces of legislation. There is no state where a majority support it. Healthcare is a fundamental right which the federal government should guarantee to all Americans. Legislation to deprive people of healthcare and lower their quality of life is unconscionable. To vote for such an atrocious bill that will only hurt most Pennsylvanians on so many levels. Your unwillingness to even meet with your constituents on the BCRA only highlights your cowardice on this piece of legislation. You can say that recent Medicaid growth is unsustainable (it’s not). You can claim that the ACA is collapsing (contrary to what most experts believe). But even if both were true, to support the BCRA is inherently inexcusable regardless what you believe in.

Senator Toomey, I know your mind is made up and you will more than likely vote for this morally indefensible healthcare bill. After all, you have never been keen on government intervention in providing healthcare for all Americans. I agree the Affordable Care Act does not cover everyone and does not do enough to make healthcare more affordable. But there is no doubt that the ACA has expanded coverage to 20 million more Americans and improved coverage for millions more. It has also saved lives. The BCRA does nothing to fix the ACA’s flaws and even significantly weakens many of the law’s provisions such as essential health benefit requirements, a ban on pre-existing conditions, and barring lifetime or annual caps. Furthermore, the bill would drastically reduce Medicaid funding and other subsidies. All of this will significantly raise premiums, deductibles, and out of pocket costs as well as leave millions of Americans with no access to adequate care. In addition, these provisions will lead to almost a million Americans losing their jobs, medical facility closings, and widespread economic ruin in communities nationwide. Statewide 731,000 Pennsylvanians will lose their insurance while countless more will be left with more expensive but inferior coverage. Without the coverage they have, thousands will die because they couldn’t receive the care they needed including the elderly, children, people with disabilities, the chronically ill, women, veterans, substance abusers, the mentally ill, and the poor. Many of them are Medicaid recipients who may not be able to get coverage through their employer or the individual market. And despite what you think about it, it’s an indispensable program and possibly their only lifeline. Nobody should be denied healthcare regardless of who they are, especially if receiving medical treatment is a matter of life or death. And for many, without healthcare, they may be able to get a job or live an independent life with dignity.

Senator, you were elected to the US Senate to represent the interests of your constituents first and foremost. But your recent cowardly behavior suggests you’re more willing to throw Pennsylvanians under the bus for the good of the party. If you’re willing shut people out of a town hall for fear of your constituents protesting over legislation that will have a damaging impact on their lives, then perhaps you shouldn’t be a US Senator. You have a duty to vote against a wretched healthcare bill that most people in your state don’t want and will certainly ravage the state. People will die. People will lose their jobs. People will get sicker. Hospitals will close down and put communities in economic ruin. Our state’s problem with opioid addiction will exacerbate because more people won’t be able to afford treatment. Vote for the BCRA with your party and I guarantee you will have blood on your hands if it ever becomes law. I sincerely hope your name is dragged through the mud for your advocacy and support for the BCRA which will only provide worse care for Americans or no care at all. And I hope that Pennsylvanians will remember what you did within the next 5 years so they can kick you out of office by the time your term is up.

I absolutely do not care what your or your party’s views on healthcare are. Nor do I care about your negative perception of the ACA as an extension of big government. Because despite what you think, for profit healthcare is an American travesty that discriminates against the poor and must die. There is nothing you can do to convince me that free market healthcare is the best system since I’ve known countless cases where it has failed. And as someone on the autism spectrum, I will cling to my Medicaid coverage so tight that you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands. To support such a system that denies people access to the healthcare they need is inherently morally indefensible and violates Americans’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And all that matters much more to me than any of your free market ideas you prize most highly. Well, your free market praises can go straight to hell for all I care. It deeply horrifies me that politicians like you could ever craft, let alone campaign for legislation that consists of nothing but heartless cruelty to those most vulnerable. And in the least transparent as well as most partisan and undemocratic way possible, I might add. I’d like to think my government representatives would at least have a heart not to play politics with mine or anyone else’s healthcare, especially a sick child’s. But I know full well, it’s certainly not the case. And I know it’s not the case with you which is a shame. However, if you are willing to support legislation that will only lead to pain and suffering, then may that be on your soul for the rest of your days. And may your vote for the BCRA ruin your career and reputation. Because I don’t think you’d deserve nothing less.

The Matter of Gerrymandering

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Every ten years after the census, each state in the US is required to redraw its legislative districts in order to accommodate changes in population. Now redistricting is supposed to be fair and proportional. But since most states in the US have their legislatures control redistricting, this isn’t always the case. As result you have a practice known as gerrymandering. Named after an early 19th century governor of Massachusetts, to gerrymander is to manipulate an electoral district’s boundaries so as to establish a political advantage for a particular party or demographic. The primary goal for this is to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes while minimizing opponents.’ Recently, gerrymandering has become a major problem in the United States mostly due to a dominant political party wanting to retain power in the state. So much so that the US Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear arguments on a partisan gerrymandering case. Nevertheless, though the practice is mostly perceived as bad for democracy through court rulings and anti-discrimination laws, it doesn’t seem to go away any time soon.

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Gerrymandering Tactics:

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Here are common ways states gerrymander districts for representatives. Cracking and packing are the most common. But sweetheart gerrymandering exists, too so incumbents can stay in.

 

Cracking: consists of spreading voters of a particular type among districts in order to deny a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district. For example, a state might split urban area voters among several districts of mostly suburban voters. Such arrangement would be on the presumption that the two groups would vote differently and the suburban voters far more likely getting their way in elections. You can see this in action by looking at Austin, Texas in the state’s congressional map where parts of 5 districts are but not one of them contain a majority of its residents or voters. And it’s very clear the Texas Legislature drew these districts that way to curb Austin’s liberal political influence within the Republican dominated state.

Packing: To concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district in order to reduce their influence in other areas. In some cases, legislatures may do this to obtain representation for a community of common interest (like a majority-minority district), rather than to dilute that interest over several districts to the point of ineffectiveness (and to avoid likely racial discrimination lawsuits if minority groups are involved). You can often see this in congressional districts pertaining to urban communities of color. When the party controlling the districting process has a statewide majority, packing is usually not necessary since the minority party can be “cracked” everywhere. Though it’s often employed by parties to pack voters together into a minimum number of districts and don’t have enough representation in others to win the majority of the House’s seats. Because by forfeiting a few districts packed with the opposition, cracking can be used in shaping the remaining districts.

Hijacking: Redraws 2 districts in such a way as to force 2 incumbents of the same political party to run against each other in one district, ensuring that one of them will be eliminated. Meanwhile, this would leave the other district to be won by someone from a different political party. A good example of this happened in my own congressional district during the early 2000s, when Congressmen John Murtha and Frank Mascara had to compete against each other. And my district ended up with a representative from Johnstown.

Kidnapping: Aims to move areas where a certain elected official has significant support to another district, making it more difficult to win future elections with a new electorate. This is often employed against politicians representing multiple urban areas, removing larger cities in order to make the district more rural.

These tactics are typically combined in some form, creating new “forfeit” seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure more seats and greater voter representation of another type. This results in candidates of one party (usually the one responsible for the gerrymandering) winning by small majorities in most of the districts and another winning by a large majority in only a few.

Gerrymandering Types:

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Prison-based gerrymandering is when they count urban prisoners in their rural corrections facilities as residents despite that they can’t vote or they don’t live there. Here is a map of what states and localities have done to handle the problem. As for those who don’t, well, it’s very clear they benefit from it.

Partisan Gerrymandering– When districts are redrawn in order to increase a political party’s power in legislatures. This is the most general form of gerrymandering that it’s just referred to as “gerrymandering.”

Incumbent or Bipartisan Gerrymandering– When the districts are redrawn in order to protect incumbents in both parties in order to keep the status quo, regardless of what voters want.

Prison-Based Gerrymandering– Counting incarcerated people who aren’t allowed to vote in the district where the prison is located instead of their home district.

Negative Racial Gerrymandering– Drawing districts to prevent racial and ethnic minorities from electing their candidates. White Southern Democrats used this from Reconstruction to the mid-20th century to reduce black people’s voting impact if efforts to effectively disenfranchise them had failed. Prohibited thanks to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent amendments.

Affirmative Racial Gerrymandering– Drawing district lines in order to favor ethnic and racial groups. Though whether it benefits minorities is very hard to say since the practice is controversial that there are several Supreme Court rulings on this. Because this type has been known to both increase and decrease minority representation in federal and state governments. Since the Civil Rights Era, it’s been difficult to determine since most minorities vote Democrat while white conservatives have shifted Republican during the last 4 decades. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has ruled in the North Carolina case that partisan gerrymandering along racial lines is unconstitutional.

Signs of Gerrymandering in Your State:

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One key sign of gerrymandering is that the election outcomes don’t reflect the votes cast. Now while the South is mostly Republican now, there should be more Democratic representatives as you can see. But gerrymandering skews the results so Republicans can send more representatives.

  1. The shapes of the congressional districts makes no logical sense. – This is an easy one to spot but it’s not always a guarantee. Sometimes districts can be drawn in ridiculous ways for a very important reason like adhering to the Voting Rights Act. The VRA ensures that minority voters can’t be unfairly packed or cracked in ways that reduce their chances of electing representatives representing their communities. But the vast majority of the time a contorted looking district is a warning sign of gerrymandering.
  2. Your community has virtually little in common with most of your fellow constituents in the district.– You might feel good about living in a district where your congressman shares your views. But you might think it odd that your fellow supporters don’t even live in the same city or school district. You and your Republican friends have been “packed” together into a conservative echo-chamber. Everyone shares the same ideas and generally agrees with each other. And you start feeling like you don’t need to be involved. Or the communities in the district just don’t simply belong together. For instance, in Pennsylvania, my district, the 18th, is lumped together with most of Washington and Greene Counties along with a good chunks of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties. But the 9th District includes Fayette and Indiana Counties which don’t have much to do with each other at all. Whereas, residents in Westmoreland and Fayette County have known each other for years, especially where I live. Their high school sports teams play against each other. The state government and other organizations usually has them in the same jurisdiction. People even have friends and family living in both counties. And don’t get me started on the 12th District which is just a sliver stretching from Lawrence County through Beaver, Allegheny, Westmoreland, Somerset, and Cambria, which seems to defy all explanation. Meanwhile, the 14th District is basically crammed into a Democratic pocket in Allegheny County.
  3. Election outcomes don’t match votes.- This is the surest sign of gerrymandering. One way to measure this through the efficiency gap, computing the difference in wasted votes from the 2 political parties summed all over the districts in the state divided by the number of votes. When parties win elections in rough proportion to their electoral popularity, the efficiency gap is near zero with both parties having an equal wasted vote distribution. But if the gap exceeded a certain threshold, then you can surmise the party with fewer wasted votes could control the state as long as the district map was valid. They used this measure to determined gerrymandering in Wisconsin. In the 2012 Election, Republicans in that state had 48.6% of the 2 party votes, 61% of its 99 districts in the state legislature. Thus, its efficiency gap was 11.69% to 13%. The Supreme Court is expected to hear a case on Wisconsin’s gerrymandering in the fall of this year. Yet, in 2012, Republicans in state legislators also received a minority of the statewide vote in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and my home state of Pennsylvania, but still ended up controlling the state legislatures. And scholars estimate that gerrymandering has helped congressional Republicans control 10-15 more seats in the House even though Democratic congressional candidates received more votes in 2012.
  4. Your district has been changed and you feel like you can no longer make your voice heard.– Now this has happened to me a couple times in my life since mine was switched from Murtha’s to Murphy’s while I was in college. So let’s say you’re a Democrat who’s voted for Democratic candidates during the last few elections. Then you and other Democrats get “cracked” away from your neighbors and put you into a Republican majority district. That Republican representative in your district doesn’t need to listen to your voice on your concerns because they know all their Republican supporters will re-elect them year after year. Your Democratic voice gets lost in your district’s Republican majority. This might leave you feel hopeless and disenfranchised. Or like you shouldn’t even bother voting because Tim Murphy will always win unopposed.
  5. Your representative skipped a town hall to go golfing with a lobbyist.– As taxpayers and voters, our politicians are supposed to work for us. Having politicians manipulate voting maps to keep themselves in office turns democracy on its head. When your district’s drawn to avoid outside competition and to ensure only one party’s candidate wins, chances are your representative doesn’t need worry about what their constituents think of them. Thus, they could spend more time hanging out with lobbyist friends and cater to their wealthy donors’ needs. Even if you might belong to the advantaged party, you’re still not going to get good representation because our elected official knows that reelection is in the bag, whether they listen to you or not. You see this a lot with Republican representatives voting for the American Healthcare Act which most of their constituents don’t want at all. It’s very clear, the House couldn’t have passed that bill if gerrymandering wasn’t involved.
  6. You feel like you don’t need to vote because the candidate who won the primary will win the election anyway.- When one party has manipulated the system to ensure they hold the majority in specific districts, the election itself becomes a mere formality.
  7. The dominant party’s candidates are more worried about a primary challenger than the opposition candidate.- When elected party officials pay more attention to the primary than the general election, they become more extreme since their focus is scoring points against the other party than solve problems most important to Americans. We should also understand that primaries are held on many different dates, generate less attention, and attract disproportionate shares of hardcore, ideological party activists to the polls. In 2014, only 14.6% of eligible voters participated in congressional primaries which was a record low. This means a tiny fraction of voters who are the most hardened partisans are essentially electing 90% of Congressional members.
  8. Your representatives support policies most constituents in your district oppose.- Despite that political polarization is strong in America, there are still plenty of issues most voters can agree upon. One recent example of this is Republican healthcare plan to replace Obamacare which faces strong opposition from the American public across the political spectrum and in all 50 states. However, that didn’t stop congressional Republicans from passing the American Healthcare Act in May. They were able to pass such egregious legislation because they either didn’t feel they needed to listen to their constituents’ viewpoints and/or knew that voting the way their constituents wanted them to would result in their party or donors throwing their support to a more extreme primary challenger. The fact so many congressional Republicans avoided holding townhalls when the AHCA was up for debate strongly suggest the latter.

Why Gerrymandering Is Bad:

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In recent years, Republicans have greatly benefited from gerrymandering as seen in this graph. And because of this, many cities aren’t well represented at all.

  1. Undermines the democratic process by putting the majority party at an unfair advantage.– With gerrymandering, your representatives pick the voters most likely to reelect them again and again. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. We the voters should choose our politicians, not the other way around. We deserve fair elections and a transparent process for determining our districts. If not, then elections just become mere formalities.
  2. Takes power away from voters to hold their representatives accountable.-When districts have been drawn to avoid competition and to ensure one party’s candidate wins, our representatives don’t really need to worry about listening to constituents with differing political viewpoints Because they’re virtually guaranteed reelection simply because of their party affiliation and ideology. This can be very frustrating if your representative isn’t in your party and doesn’t support the same views as you do.
  3. Significant vote wastage from the other side which leads to partisan distortion.– The advantaged party will have voters in packed districts whose votes go for naught. And they will have more than 50%+1 in cracked districts to be reasonably sure of winning. 55-45% or a 10 point partisan advantage is often the target but it can be more. And sometimes it may turn out to be less. Wasted votes are almost always expected in elections. But significant vote wastage in several district may result in representatives that may reflect the interests of slightly more than 50% of their district’s voters. This might not seem much, but when you take the votes altogether, it can really add up. But a high amount of wasted votes means that vast swaths of the American electorate aren’t being represented in Congress or state legislatures at all.
  4. Reinforces and increases hyper-partisanship and polarization in government.– Forming districts to ensure high levels of partisanship often result in higher levels of partisanship in legislative bodies. Manipulating and stretching congressional districts also pushes incumbents to extremes of the political spectrum. Mostly because fear of a primary challenger drives incumbents focus on maintaining ideological purity than legislative pragmatism. If a substantial number of districts are designed to be polarized, then their representatives will act in a heavily partisan manner, creating and perpetuating partisan gridlock. Nevertheless, redistricting has become a major front in the permanent campaign between parties. Party members, Congress members, and state legislators find their own interests in reelection and majority status importantly connected to these redistricting efforts. This makes them even more inclined to cooperate with partisan team play that it drains the policy-making process of its capacity to negotiate and compromise. Thus, even well-meaning politicians can’t do their jobs representing spread-out communities with different needs and priorities, effectively maintaining offices across wide geographic areas, or solve problems that affect us all.
  5. Fewer competitive districts and more safe incumbents.– Incumbents are far more likely to be reelected under gerrymandering and are more likely to be of the majority party orchestrating the gerrymander. Thus, incumbents are usually easily renominated in subsequent elections, even if they are in the minority party. California’s 2000 redistricting effort redrew congressional district lines in ways that all but guaranteed incumbent victories. As a result California only saw congressional seat change hands between 2000 and 2010. Not to mention, if districts become increasingly stretched out, candidates must pay increased costs for transportation and campaign advertising. The incumbent’s advantage of securing funds will certainly give them a significant advantage. In many districts, some representatives could run unopposed.
  6. Reduces political power in minority groups.- Gerrymandering may be advocated to improve representation within legislatures among otherwise underrepresented minority groups by packing them into a single district. But the practices is controversial for good reason. First, being confined to a single district may lead minority groups to remain marginalized because candidates outside their district no longer need to represent them to win elections.
  7. Emboldens politicians to enact unpopular policies.– Whenever gerrymandering ensures guaranteed victories to your representative, they will have less incentive to represent their constituents’ interests, even when those interests have majority support across the electorate. And they’re much more beholden to their party establishment and wealthy donors. After all, why go to a town hall while reelection’s already in the bag? As a result, your representative more likely to support bills you won’t like whether they belong in your party or not. The passage of the AHCA by congressional Republicans is a perfect example of this since most of the American public strongly opposed it. And even now, it’s very likely many of Republicans who voted for this morally indefensible bill will be reelected anyway.
  8. Encourages redistricting practices that create inaccurate pictures of community populations.– One practice that exists today is prison-based gerrymandering. Now the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of towns where they’re confined which is used to draw legislative districts. This interferes with equal representation in virtually every state and skews demographics. This phenomenon violates the idea of one person, one vote for 3 reasons. First, these prisoners are disenfranchised in 48 states and can’t vote in local elections anyway. Second, prisons are disproportionately built in rural areas while most incarcerated people call urban areas home. Counting urban prisoners as “residents” of rural districts artificially inflates political representation in rural districts containing large prisons at expense of voters in all other places without them, especially communities bearing the most direct costs of crime. Third, counting large populations of prisoners as local residents leads to misleading conclusions about community size and growth.
  9. Drives down voter turnout.– Since gerrymandering often results in incumbents able to win elections either lopsided or unopposed, many people get disenchanted with the electoral process and not vote. After all, your vote from the opposition will probably be wasted anyway.
  10. Allows outside money and influence control parties’ agendas.– This makes representatives more beholden to party ideology and wealthy donors as well as makes it easier for extremists to gain control of the party. What happened to the GOP during the 2016 Election is a perfect example of this.

How to Detect, Handle, and Prevent Gerrymandering:

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Here’s a rough map on what the United States would look like if the districts were redrawn for compactness. By the way, this is done by a computer.

  1. Calculating the Efficiency Gap to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats.– This is the difference of the wasted votes between political parties summed all over the districts divided by the number of votes expressed by this equation:
  • Efficiency Gap = (Total Democratic Wasted Votes – Total Republican Wasted Votes) ÷ Total Votes

When each party wins a district election in rough proportion to its popularity, the efficiency gap is near zero. But if a district plan is above a certain threshold a gap of 2 or more seats in congressional elections or a gap of 8% or greater for state legislature races, then there’s a constitutional problem.

  1. Ensure that each plan must meet neutral redistricting criteria.- The US Supreme Court has held that if a jurisdiction’s redistricting plan violates the Equal Protection Clause or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, then a federal court must order the jurisdiction to propose a new redistricting plan that remedies the gerrymandering. If that jurisdiction fails to do so, then the court itself must draw a redistricting plan that cures the violation and use its equitable powers to impose the plan on the jurisdiction. At the state level, courts may impose redistricting plans on jurisdictions where legislatures have to follow standards such as partisan fairness.
  2. Establish non-partisan redistricting commissions instead of politicians.– After all, if elected legislators want to increase their own political influence, then state legislatures shouldn’t control redistricting. After all, you wouldn’t let athletes serve as referees during their own games. So far, states like California, Hawaii, Washington, New Jersey, and Arizona have resorted to creating standing committees for redistricting since the 2010 census. These commissions’ new maps don’t have to be approved by state legislatures. Yet, they’re not necessarily non-partisan per se since they all have seats for Democratic and Republican appointees. Yet, some have additional seats reserved for independent and non-partisan figures. Letting computers to redraw districts more fairly based on the recent Census.
  3. Stop counting prisoners as residents like the Census Bureau does for redistricting state and local legislatures.– Counting prisoners as residents leads to prison-based gerrymandering which gives certain communities disproportionate representation. States can correct this by creating a special state-level census collecting home addresses of people in prison and then adjusts the US Census counts prior to redistricting. Legislation in part modeled after how Kansas changes where the US counts students and the military has also been passed in California, Delaware, Maryland, and New York. Another thing states can do is standardize collecting home address information when people are shipped off to the state pen. Over time, this will generate a complete home address information dataset for use in future redistricting or the Census Bureau to use directly. States can also prohibit state, county, and municipal legislative districts from using prison populations as padding. Those at correctional facilities should be declared as living as “addresses unknown” and not included in the redistricting data, except where the home address data exists and a state agency can adjust the Census Bureau’s redistricting data to reflect those counted at home. Such solutions can eliminate electoral harm caused by prison-based gerrymandering and provide a complete solution counting everyone in the correct location by next Census.
  4. Increase transparency regulations in the redistricting process.– When a single political party controls both the legislative houses in a state during redistricting, both Democrats and Republicans have displayed a marked propensity for conducting the process in secrecy with no oversight or standards of fairness. A 2012 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity reviewed every state’s redistricting processes for both transparency and potential for public input, assigning 24 states grades of either D or F. So the need for transparency in redistricting is clear. In response, redistricting legislation has been introduced to Congress a number of times in recent years, including Redistricting Transparency Acts of 2010, 2011, and 2013. The merit on increasing transparency in redistricting is based largely on the idea that lawmakers would be less inclined to draw gerrymandered districts if they had to defend such districts in public.
  5. Outlaw voter profiling.– In recent years, advancements in technology have led to elaborate voter datasets and special districting software has made gerrymandering a more precise science. Using such databases, gerrymandering politicians can predict voting behavior of each potential district with an astonishing degree of precision, leaving little chance for accidentally creating a competitive district. If we want redistricting based on neutral criteria, then this practice should be done away with since it’s basically the representatives choosing the voters.
  6. Experiment with alternative voting systems.– The predominant voting system in the US is a first-past-the-post system requiring single member districts to exist. Various alternative district-based voting systems that minimally rely on redistricting or not at all. These typically involve at-large elections or multimember districts. Examples include the single-transferable vote, cumulative voting, and limited voting. There are also proportional voting systems used in most European countries no districts are present, and the party that gets, for example, 30% of the votes gets roughly 30% of the seats in the legislature. Since the US has a 2 party system, that threshold could be about 45-50%. However, proportional voting systems might break the strong constituency link that’s an American election cornerstone.
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And so I end this post with a rough guide to gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. Still, this is a major problem in American democracy that affect us all. We need to do something about it.

The Republicans’ War on Obamacare Must End Once and for All

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As Donald Trump’s Russian investigation circus dominates the headlines and airwaves, Senate Republicans are secretly working on their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. So far on what we heard, it’s said to be quite similar to the dreaded American Healthcare Act that passed in the US House of Representatives back in early May save for a seven-year Medicaid expansion phase out. But it’s possible that the US Senate can vote on this bill before the 4th of July recess. Though we may not know what’s in the GOP Senate bill, we need to understand that the Republicans’ vision on healthcare is fundamentally unpopular and has more to do with implementing a massive tax cut for their rich donors and their free market ideology into federal policy. They GOP establishment doesn’t think it’s the government’s job to make sure everyone has healthcare and that publicly funded healthcare expands government power. And they’re keeping their bill a secret in order to keep their healthcare vision pure. But whatever their healthcare bill is, it’s clear it would likely lead to fewer Americans having health insurance and billions being cut from Medicaid. Should the Senate GOP come to a vote in the coming weeks, then resisting such travesty can’t be more important than now. And it’s paramount that Americans speak up against the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare before it’s too late since healthcare touches all our lives.

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As a Catholic and a liberal, I’ve always believed that for-profit health insurance is inherently wrong since it makes money on people’s misery and discriminates against the old, sick, disabled, and poor. Nobody should be denied healthcare for any reason. I passionately believe that healthcare is a fundamental right that nobody can take away. As someone on the autism spectrum who’s on Medicaid, I consider such service a godsend and liberating. I’m not ashamed for relying on Medicaid since it government medical assistance has greatly helped me throughout my life. And I’m perfectly fine with my tax dollars paying for other people’s medical treatments, especially if they’re much more disadvantaged than me. Though finding a decent dentist who takes my plan is a pain in the ass, it at least provides the healthcare access I need so finding a job with health benefits isn’t a matter of life and death. If my job doesn’t provide health benefits, then I can purchase a subsidized plan on the individual market thanks to the Obamacare exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. And thanks to Obamacare, I won’t have to worry about lifetime caps or my autism being a preexisting condition. Still, while I don’t think Obamacare goes far enough and would prefer a single payer US healthcare policy, I strongly think that it’s a step in the right direction and improves healthcare access drastically. To repeal and replace it with a healthcare plan that takes healthcare away from people who benefit from Obamacare like myself is malicious and cruel. To me healthcare isn’t about government, money, or whether we should pay for other people’s treatment. It’s an issue of human dignity as well as a matter life and death. The idea of the GOP healthcare becoming law scares the hell out of me. And I’m very afraid I’ll lose my Medicaid and may never be able to get health insurance that’s just as good, or at all. I shouldn’t have to lose my healthcare just so some rich guy can have a massive tax cut he doesn’t even need. Nor should anyone else. I strongly wish the Republicans give up trying to repeal Obamacare once and for all because politicians, corporations, and employers shouldn’t decide who should have access to healthcare. If someone gets sick or injured, they should receive the best care they need without breaking the bank. And I don’t care who that person is, whether they can afford it or who has to pay for their treatment. Because if their life depends on receiving care, then nothing else should matter. And I think it’s an appalling shame that too many people in this country don’t agree with me on that.

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Here is a list of reasons why we need to stop the Republicans from repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a cruel substitute that nobody wants.

 

  1. The Republican Healthcare Plan to Repeal and Replace Obamacare is being comprised in secret and is being rushed to passage violates legislative due process.– Regardless of what you think about Obamacare, the process to pass the Affordable Care Act was lengthy, thorough, and transparent. In the House the ACA, received 79 hearings with 181 witnesses and 121 amendments as well as took over a year to pass. By contrast, Trumpcare has been rushed as well as negotiated in backrooms without input from experts, stakeholders, or the public. In the House, the AHCA received literally no hearings, no witnesses, and no substantive amendments and the Republicans passed it less than 2 months after revealing it. As of now, a group of 13 GOP Senators are deciding the future of the American healthcare system without following formal processes or seeking public input. Republican senators are now cutting deals on Trumpcare through informal working groups aimed at getting support for their healthcare plan from any holdouts. These working groups don’t include a single female Senator-Republican or Democrat. The Senate hasn’t held any public hearings or listening sessions on Trumpcare. Nor have they asked for feedback from any of the key stakeholders such as the public, children’s or disability rights groups providers, nor small business owners. Nevertheless, on such a major piece of legislation like Trumpcare, public debate is essential since it promotes accountability by leaving a public record of how a law came to be. And hearings give lawmakers the chance to hear from experts on what the bill would do. These GOP procedural shortcuts are the height of hypocrisy and set a dangerous precedent.
  2. The Republican Healthcare Plan to Repeal and Replace Obamacare is highly favorable to conservative free market ideology.– One of the main reasons for all the secrecy for the GOP drafting their healthcare legislation in secret is that Republicans want their plan to be as conservative ideologically pure as possible. Sure they want to scrap Obamacare but not because it doesn’t cover enough people and rising premiums. But they want to do so because they don’t believe the government should have to provide healthcare or regulate the healthcare industry. Nor do they believe that taxpayers should pay for other people’s healthcare. The GOP isn’t interested in the opinions of families or healthcare providers who will live out the consequences of their decisions every day. What most Americans want more government intervention in healthcare as well as expand coverage and access. The AHCA does the opposite of that which is what the Republicans want, which at its core is to redirect money spent to buy insurance for the poor to $600 billion tax cuts for the rich.
  3. The Republican Healthcare Plan to Repeal and Replace Obamacare is an unacceptable moral travesty.– Knowing what’s in the American Healthcare Act, it’s very clear that the GOP Senate’s healthcare plan would be no different from this one. A healthcare policy that denies health insurance to millions of Americans isn’t just horrifically unpopular and unsustainable, it’s also inherently cruel. Healthcare is a right that should never be denied to anyone in need of it. A bill that takes away healthcare from millions of people is unacceptable. Denying a poor person lifesaving medical care is not only a death sentence, but also undermines their humanity by reducing them to a financial risk. It also deprives them of a right to live or that their life doesn’t matter. Unfortunately this is the norm in the US healthcare system even with Obamacare though at a smaller scale. And if Trumpcare becomes law, expect such atrocities to happen more often. If we value human life and dignity, then we should make sure that nobody has the right to people’s access to healthcare. Whether this means more government intervention or a taxpayer funded healthcare system shouldn’t even matter.
  4. The Republican Healthcare Plan to Repeal and Replace Obamacare is wildly unpopular.– There is not a majority supporting the GOP healthcare plan in a single US state. Not one. Less than 20% of Americans Trumpcare. Most American healthcare establishment has condemned it. The reason why GOP Senators are now crafting healthcare legislation in secret is because they know the public doesn’t want it. And they know voting for such a plan could politically cost them big time come 2018. But at the same time, they don’t want to alienate their base and donors who want Obamacare repealed as soon as possible. Though it would be better for Republicans politically as well as the nation, if they just give up trying to repeal Obamacare and leave it alone.
  5. The Republican Healthcare Plan to Repeal and Replace Obamacare threatens health security for every American.– Unless you’re young, rich, and/or relatively healthy, Trumpcare could determine whether millions of Americans will have health coverage. The healthcare system touches all our lives and a GOP plan to repeal Obamacare could leave millions of Americans uninsured, which can be a matter of life or death to thousands of them. Not to mention, it’s greatly apparent that most of the American public and the healthcare industry don’t want the GOP’s healthcare plan. That doesn’t even get to the fact that the House passed the American Healthcare Act with no input from experts, stakeholders, or the public. Nor did the AHCA received any hearings, witnesses, or substantive amendments to the actual legislation accepted in committee. They tried to pass it 17 days after revealing it and were able to do so in less than 2 months. Surely any major piece of legislation that threatens at least your healthcare security shouldn’t be rushed through a very undemocratic process.
  6. The American Healthcare Act takes away healthcare from 23 million Americans.-According to nonpartisan estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This will result in 24,000-44,000 more Americans dying every year from lack of insurance along with medical bankruptcies, lost wages, untreated illnesses, and others.
  7. The American Healthcare Act hikes deductibles by $1500 on average.– Trumpcare pushes Americans into low quality, high cost-sharing health insurance by providing meager tax credits compared to the Affordable Care Act. This is the opposite of what Trump promised in his campaign. This will have particular negative impact for those least able to pay them.
  8. The American Healthcare Act ends federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions.– TrumpCare incentivizes states to drop consumer protections, meaning insurance companies will be able to charge people with pre-existing conditions more. 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition. Insurers in states that adopt opt-out waivers on ACA protections could charge people with pre-existing conditions 10 to 20 times more than others. And the CBO estimates that 1 in 6 people in the country would live in such a state. People could face premiums well over $100,000. Though Republicans are trying to make the case that high-risk pools will protect people with pre-existing conditions, they’ve been tried before and don’t work. And they usually have significantly higher premiums, lifetime limits, enrollment caps, waiting lists, and lock-out periods.
  9. The American Healthcare Act allows insurance companies to charge older Americans significantly more their healthcare.– A single, 64-year-old adult making 26,500 a year would have to pay between $13,600 and $16,100 in annual premiums, depending on whether they live in a state that sought a waiver from consumer protections. Compare this to the $1,700 the same person would have to pay under the current law, that’s a 950% increase.
  10. The American Healthcare Act cuts $834 billion from Medicaid, a program that more than 70 million Americans, half of which are children, rely on.– Medicaid is the largest health insurance provider in the United States and is funded by the government. Trumpcare cuts federal funding for the program which will result in states having to ration care and cut the quality of services. This could be devastating for the elderly, people with disabilities, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, addicts, children, and low income families. And many of these people would end up uninsured and unable to get health insurance anywhere else, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or if their employer doesn’t provide it. Under Trumpcare, Medicaid for kids, elderly, and the disabled is radically transformed into a system where states get fixed funding, regardless of their healthcare needs and unexpected disasters like Zika or opioid addiction spikes that drive up the cost of services. It’s estimated that under Trumpcare, 14 million will lose their Medicaid coverage.
  11. The American Healthcare Act puts lifetime and annual benefit caps on the table for even those with employer coverage.– This means a baby with a serious medical condition could use up its lifetime limits in the first month of life under Trumpcare.
  12. The American Healthcare Act makes women pay more for health insurance than men.– Because insurance companies could charge more for pre-existing conditions like breast cancer or assault survival and because pregnancy care no longer would be a required benefit, women would once again pay more for healthcare than men. The CBO estimates that woman wanting maternity care will have to add $1000 a month to her premiums.
  13. The American Healthcare Act defunds Planned Parenthood.– Nearly 3 million Americans, especially women and families receive affordable healthcare services annually at Planned Parenthood facilities. Trumpcare prohibits funding from going to these clinics.
  14. The American Healthcare Act harms children with special needs by cutting Special Education funds for schools.– Medicaid funds a large portion of education for students with a variety of disabilities. Buried in this bill is a provision that no longer recognizes schools as required Medicaid providers, on top of massive cuts to the program.
  15. Under the American Healthcare Act, health insurance companies can cover fewer essential health benefits even under employer plans.– Under Obamacare, insurance companies are required to cover a list of 10 essential health benefits including doctors’ services, inpatient and outpatient care, prescription drug coverage, pregnancy and childbirth, mental health services, and more as well as limits out of pocket costs. States under Trumpcare allows states to opt out of essential benefit requirements which will mean higher premiums and more out of pocket costs.
  16. The American Healthcare Act eliminates the employer mandate for large companies which will result in 7 million American workers losing employer coverage.– Under Obamacare, businesses with at least 50 employees are required to offer health insurance to their full time workers. Trumpcare eliminates this mandate which will result in large businesses dumping people off their employee-sponsored insurance. This will be particularly devastating to low income workers who may be able to afford purchasing healthcare on the individual market, especially if they have pre-existing conditions and higher premiums. And many will certainly not have the Medicaid expansion to fall back on.
  17. And the American Healthcare Act does all this to pay for $600 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.– Providing a massive tax cut to the rich and corporations is no justification for denying millions of people healthcare. I don’t care what your political beliefs are. Still, if you want to finance healthcare access to people who can’t afford it, other people have to pay for it. And for rich people and corporations, that price is relatively small compared to what most Americans have to put up with if they don’t pay the bill.
  18. The American Healthcare Act will result in more abortions as well as maternal and infant deaths.– Because that’s what happens when you defund Planned Parenthood, cut $834 billion from Medicaid, no longer have pregnancy care as a required benefit, designate pregnancy and disabilities as pre-existing conditions, and cut access to healthcare entirely for millions of women. Lack of access to healthcare is a major reason why a lot of women terminate their pregnancies and why maternal deaths in the US are so high right now. Because when a pregnant woman doesn’t have healthcare access, having an abortion isn’t much of a choice. Because Texas refused to expand Medicaid and has taken great lengths to close its abortion clinics, it now has the highest maternal mortality rate in the entire developed world. Many of these women who die from pregnancy-related complications are poor and uninsured. Not to mention, before Obamacare, it’s widely noted that that insurance companies forced women to abort if their unborn babies had birth defects. A bill funding abortions on demand upholds the sanctity of human life far more than Trumpcare ever could, especially if a poor woman’s alternative is death. If we’re a society who values life and wants to save unborn babies, then ensuring that their mothers have access to healthcare is absolutely vital.
  19. The American Healthcare Act will exacerbate the opioid crisis.– Under the ACA, substance abuse treatment is considered an essential health benefit health insurance companies are required to cover. Many Americans also depend on Medicaid to pay for their substance abuse treatment as well. While the opioid crisis is devastating at epic proportions, it had existed long before Obamacare was made into law. Yet, if it wasn’t for Obamacare, the opioid crisis would’ve been much worse since many addicts would’ve not had access to treatment. This is especially the case for low income Americans who’ve suffered the most. Trumpcare could deny these people the very treatment they need to get their lives back on track which will result in more overdose deaths, family tragedies, and ravaged communities. Furthermore, under Trumpcare, insurance companies can deny or limit care to opioid addicts since substance abuse has often been seen as a pre-existing condition.
  20. The American Healthcare Act will result in more lives more deaths and disabilities from gun violence.– Another major public health crisis in the US is gun violence which kills nearly as many people as opioid addiction and costs American taxpayers $229 billion or over $700 per American annually. The total cost of gun violence amounts to more than the total cost of obesity and almost as much as the annual price tag for the entire Medicaid program. This includes at least $8.6 billion in direct expenses such as for emergency and medical care, which can include follow-ups, readmissions, disability, home medications, extended treatments like physical therapy, mental health services, and loss of work. From 2006-2014, the annual cost for initial hospitalizations for firearms injuries averaged $734.6 million per year. Medicaid paid about 1/3 of the costs, the largest proportion while insured patients accounted for over a quarter since most gun victims are young men from low income areas. For every one person who dies from a gunshot, there are 3 or 4 who usually survive. Individuals hospitalized for firearm injury were 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another gun injury and 11 times more likely to die from gun violence within the next 5 years. A gunshot wound can wreck a person’s whole life if they don’t seek proper medical treatment as soon as possible. Many poor people either die or become permanently disabled from gunshot wounds, because they can’t afford the emergency room bill which amount to thousands of dollars. Yet, many suffer with long term physical, mental, and financial problems. And gunshot wounds often drive up US medical costs. Should Trumpcare become law, expect more gun victims leaving hospitals without adequate medical care and more uninsured victims. Not to mention, higher medical costs for the rest of us.
  21. The American Healthcare Act will result in more preventable deaths.– Despite what one Republican Idaho congressman might tell you, people have died because they were uninsured. Before the American Healthcare Act was passed, a 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that lack of health insurance was associated with 45,000 deaths per year. The study’s author reported that lack of healthcare access contributed to one person dying every 12 minutes. If Trumpcare becomes law, it’s estimated that 22,000 – 44,000 will die a year due to lack of health insurance.
  22. The American Healthcare Act will hurt the US economy.– The Commonwealth Fund estimates that Trumpcare can cost over 1.8 million jobs. Not to mention, since it will certainly result in higher healthcare costs, expect job loss and hospital closings in the healthcare industry, especially in poor and rural areas. We should remember the healthcare industry accounts for 1/6 of the US economy, employs 19 million people. Also, high premiums, healthcare costs, and lack of affordable options might lead many people to reconsider quitting their jobs to start their own business, a concept known as “job lock.”
  23. The American Healthcare Act will hurt communities.– Since Trumpcare will make healthcare less affordable, this will leave many hospitals and medical facilities vulnerable to closing, particularly in rural and impoverished areas. Hospitals provide a critical function in local communities. A hospital closing not only costs jobs and revenue, but also cuts healthcare access to the people who live there, forcing them to seek medical care farther away. This can be especially devastating in impoverished and rural areas.
  24. The American Healthcare Act will hurt Americans’ quality of life.– While Obamacare has its faults, it at least provided millions of Americans with adequate healthcare coverage and options to meet many people’s needs and don’t break the bank. Thanks to the ACA, more people are covered and are more willing to visit a doctor. Not to mention, more people are able to depend less on employee-sponsored health benefits and are able to leave their job to start a business, raise a child, or retire early. And if you can’t find a job or lost one for reasons beyond one’s control, then it’s not the end of the world if your state has the Medicaid expansion. Trumpcare can have devastating implications on people’s lives, especially if they’re unable to get treatment for chronic pre-existing conditions. Many already employed may be forced to return to the workforce and to jobs they despise. Those who can’t find a job would be under increased pressure to find one while those who’ve lost theirs can lose their benefits. But both would be unable to find an affordable healthcare plan on the individual market, especially if they have a pre-existing condition. Same goes for those who lose their healthcare due to divorce or death of a spouse. People in abusive relationships could end up staying with their abusive partners. Those struggling with addiction and mental illness may not be able to seek treatment. Those who can’t work due to illness may end up unable to afford coverage and be forced to postpone treatment, which can make them even sicker. And it increases the possibility for people’s medical treatments driving them to bankruptcy.
  25. The American Healthcare Act is fundamentally Un-American.– If patriotism should mean anything to us, then it means sacrificing for the common good. Under the ACA, healthier and wealthier Americans pay a little more so sicker and poorer Americans don’t die. A for-profit healthcare system where people are seen to deserve the best deal they can get for themselves just doesn’t deliver that promise. Most Americans know that very well and are perfectly willing to subsidize poorer and sicker people under Obamacare, especially if it means better coverage for them. The Republican passage of the American Healthcare Act in May is a major betrayal to American values. In addition, it’s undemocratic to fast-track a major piece of legislation that would affect people’s lives every day without even consulting them, especially if it’s a policy the public doesn’t want at all.

We Will Gain Nothing from This

We open the month of June to Donald Trump in the Rose Garden announcing his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Though it comes as no surprise from a man who believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, it a deeply selfish and unpopular gamble that will hurt everyone and benefit no one. No matter who you are, where you are, and what you believe in, this egregious decision will have very negative impact on you and children. At a time we can’t afford to ignore a global crisis of our own making, Trump has gambled away our futures, our health, our prosperity, and our lives. Furthermore, he has severely damaged America’s image and credibility at home and abroad. Trump’s reckless decision to pull out is a moral outrage and insult to future generations. And it poses a catastrophe for our planet, economy, and reputation around the globe.

Despite what the right-wing skeptics may claim, the threat of global warming is very real, is caused by humans, and poses devastating consequences for the planet and possibly all life on earth as we know it. Although there are some aspects of climate change we don’t understand, 97% of all climate scientists acknowledge its existence and there is overwhelming evidence that carbon emissions are changing the earth’s climate for the worse. Climate change has already unleashed disruption on the world’s ecosystems and human communities. Effects consist of rising sea levels, excessive droughts, desertification, frequent flooding, stronger storms, unpredictable weather, disease outbreaks, famines, ocean acidification, melting ice caps, extreme weather, mass extinction, habitat destruction, and other devastation. For many parts of the world, climate change can result in scarce resources, more widespread poverty, displacement, economic instability, and full out wars. Island nations are in critical danger of being totally underwater. And it will be the world’s poorest who suffer the most. There’s never been a more imminent time to act before it’s too late. Yet, we must acknowledge that the damage is already done in some places of the world. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord doesn’t excuse our responsibility for the planet. Nor does it relieve us from global warming’s catastrophic consequences. Climate change isn’t a political issue catering to special interests. It’s a moral issue and a matter of life or death.

The Paris Climate Accord is a 31-page nonbinding agreement that was hammered out over weeks of tense negotiations in a December 2015. Its purpose is to create a culture of accountability to get countries take unspecified steps in fighting climate change. The backbone of this agreement is keeping global average temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Beyond 2 degrees, we risk dramatic higher seas, changes in weather patterns, food and water crises, and an overall more hostile world. Though critics argue that the 2-degree mark is arbitrary, or even too low to make a difference, the goal is a starting point that before Paris, the world was on track to wildly miss. To accomplish this, the accord states that countries should strive to reach “peak emissions” as soon as possible. The agreement doesn’t detail exactly how these countries should do so. But it does provide a framework for getting momentum going on greenhouse gas reduction with some oversight and accountability. Another precept is that richer countries would send $100 billion in aid to poorer countries by 2020 with the amount increasing over time. Nevertheless, it’s an agreement with near-universal support from around the world.

Donald Trump’s decision to for US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord spells absolute catastrophe for the planet. He may have claimed that the agreement was unfair to the United States. He may have stated it was to protect America and its citizens. And I’m sure he probably cited such an agreement made us look weak, takes jobs away, and whatever else. However, for the US to leave the Paris Climate Accord carries nothing but disastrous implications for everyone. As the world’s largest economy and second-largest CO2 emitter, US cooperation with Paris is vital to convincing other countries to make a serious effort to meet their targets. The Obama administration understood this for they played a major role in writing the Paris agreement’s original text and shaping it such that its terms were acceptable for American interests. To pull out suggests that the US doesn’t care about climate change anymore or about the potential catastrophic consequences for the planet. Yet, it also sends a broader signal that the US considers its obligations as optional and that US leadership can no longer be trusted to honor agreements on issues of vital concern for other countries. Even when it helps set the terms for the agreement itself. America’s global strategy depends on other countries trusting the US to abide closely enough to its on-paper agreements so it won’t pose a threat to them. And for better or worse, this strategy has been in force since World War II. The US has made major commitments to other countries to agree on a certain set of rules tackling the shared crisis of climate change. But the Trump administration has decided to quit those rules and simply do whatever it wants. What’s to say that the US won’t do the same thing again on something else like abandon a NATO ally or ignore an unfavorable WTO ruling? Not to mention, what if the other countries see that the US isn’t trying? Will they abandon their commitments, too? Because the Paris Accord can’t be effective without US participation.

Trump often describes his foreign policy as “America First” and had warned against “the false song of globalism” in his most comprehensive campaign speech on the matter. Sure the Paris Climate Accord is certainly globalism but climate change is a global crisis of epic proportions. But at the same time, an international commitment to fight climate change is perfectly within US interests. Now Trump is actively hostile to the international political order and every little thing he does to signal lack of interest matters. He has repeatedly questioned NATO and refused to commit defending these allies at the organization’s recent summit. He also declared the WTO as a “disaster” and his advisers prepared a report proposing to simply ignore its unfavorable rulings. By quitting an international agreement on a serious global problem, Trump has further and severely undermined global trust in US leadership and its standing on negotiating a wide range of issues. And it doesn’t help that German Chancellor Angela Merkel specifically cited that her chats with Trump on climate change as a reason that Germany couldn’t rely on the US anymore. Nevertheless, consequences of recklessly disregarding allied opinion and international institutions may not be felt tomorrow. But in the long-term, Trump’s decisions can permanently undermine American power’s core foundations. Eventually, other countries may put less faith in US-led institutions as well as seek structures and alliances that don’t depend on US cooperation. This would by necessity limit US influence over the world’s major powers as professor Paul Musgrave calls it, “hegemonic suicide.” Thus, any further actions Trump does like quitting the Paris agreement, the weaker the US gets in the long run.

Yet, quitting the Paris Climate Accord isn’t putting “America First” either. The effects of climate change may be more catastrophic in Third World countries. But the United States has also experienced it firsthand. Today, few years go by when average global temperatures aren’t the highest on record. Coastal areas of the nation have been ravaged by stronger and more devastating hurricanes. In the west, and wildfires in Texas, California, and a few other states have scorched homes to a cinder during the summer. California and the Southwest have also endured droughts which dried up major waterways. Heavy rains can bring upon terrible floods along the Mississippi River during the spring. The Midwest and the Northeast have also experienced serious snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures during the winter thanks to the Polar Vortex. Melting Arctic ice caps and rising temperatures have disrupted Alaskan wildlife and communities. Hawaii is ever more prone to rising sea levels that could put it underwater while Florida can also suffer the same fate. And in the heartland, Americans are especially prone to more destructive tornadoes plowing through their towns. That’s not even counting all the disease outbreaks, wildlife devastation, and the like. Even in the United States, there is overwhelming evidence of climate change at work and its negative impact. There is no wonder that a majority of Americans now believe that climate change is real and that the federal government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Major corporations including fossil fuel companies begged Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Accord. Not to mention, there was no majority of Americans who supported pulling out of Paris in any part of the country.

Of course, Trump isn’t alone to blame in quitting the Paris Climate Accord. Though some press coverage portrays his decision driven by either Steve Bannon’s policy agenda or his own idiosyncrasies, it misses the big picture almost entirely. For years, the Republican Party has adopted a rock-solid, widespread consensus opposing any serious action aimed at the United States reducing carbon emissions, which has become the bedrock of belief in the modern GOP. And in practice their influence has indefinitely crippled much effective action on combating the problem. According to a 2016 Pew Research study, only 23% of Republican voters believed that humans were responsible for global warming. Though we can’t know if any other Republican president elected in 2016 would’ve withdrawn from Paris, many institutional actors within the GOP and conservative movement strongly support this move and have urged Trump to make it. These include members of Congress (including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), think tanks, activist groups, media outlets, and conservative donors (including many with fossil fuel wealth). Even leading Republicans who might’ve supported sticking to the deal, would’ve also backed weakening environmental regulations and taken little if any action aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Nonetheless, while talking points differ, today’s GOP simply doesn’t believe climate change is a serious problem. Some may the very idea is a liberal hoax or that humans are causing the planet to warm at all. Some may acknowledge that the science is real, but argue that even if it’s accurate the consequences may not be so bad or that action is simply too costly. But beyond a few notable exceptions, most Republicans agree that addressing climate change shouldn’t be anywhere near the top in their political agenda. And those Republican politicians who conclude that the scientific consensus on climate change is accurate and tries to work with Democrats on the issue gets slammed by passionate and well-organized conservative groups and can face serious pressure from the right. We must acknowledge the reality that one of the US’s 2 major political parties is institutionally committed at nearly every level to the same basic agenda of environmental deregulation and inaction on carbon emissions. Thus, Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris deal isn’t an odd outlier but rests on that anti-environmental foundation. As long as the Republican Party embraces anti-environmental ideas like denying climate change, inaction will only continue.

As our human civilization taxes the planet, we have a shared responsibility to take care of it. This may mean we’ll have to adapt to new technologies to ensure a sustainable future. But if we don’t act now, future generations will live with the consequences. Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement is as unwise as it is immoral as well as sends a cruel signal to the world that America doesn’t care about environmental values. Furthermore, undermines years of research and activism that made it possible. Failure to act will not only prove catastrophic for the environment, but to make us more prone to economic devastation and civil unrest. Ecosystems could be wiped out. New diseases can wreak havoc on communities. Island nations can disappear beneath the sea. Wars can break out between factions. People can be displaced due to famine, drought, or starvation. Severe storms can destroy entire communities and economies overnight. Those who oppose environmental protection often state that it cost jobs, contributes to big government, or undermines economic prosperity. Yet, whether we like it or not, we all depend on the Earth’s resources to survive and thrive. And pulling out of the Paris deal won’t bring any coal or manufacturing jobs back. Nor will it benefit the United States in anyway. Besides, there are more important things in this world than economic gain. Our planet’s health and well-being should be one of them. And as far as we know, Earth is the only planet that can support life to our liking. Not to mention, Corporate America increasingly sees climate change as a serious threat, so why shouldn’t Trump and the Republican Party? Today to deny climate change as the global crisis for our time for whatever reason can only mean further inaction, especially if conservatives remain stuck in their anti-environmental ways. Inaction only exacerbates the problem which will lead to widespread destruction. To deny climate change even if you’re a Republican is utterly inexcusable. Now more than ever we need to stand together and fight against Trump administration’s climate change skepticism and anti-environmental policies. Because combating global warming isn’t a mere political issue embraced by liberals but a moral imperative that future generations depend on. If we want to secure a bright future for our children, then the time to act is now. The United States and the world have absolutely nothing to gain from withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord but everyone in the world has practically everything to lose.

The Political Backlash Against Public Protest

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Now that we’ve embarked on the winter of our discontent, millions of Americans find their civil liberties, health, and personal safety either severely compromised or under constant threat. Since January, the Trump administration and Republican Party’s actions have repeatedly illustrated that it has no respect for America’s democratic values or its people. Regardless of what Trump supporters believe in, these are not normal times. Supporting such an unrespectable man is inherently unacceptable. Not because I’m a liberal Democrat who doesn’t respect other people’s values or opinions I don’t agree with. Though that may be true to some extent, especially if their beliefs can be translated into policies undermining mine or anyone else’s quality of life, fundamental rights as human beings, and affordable access to basic needs and opportunities. And I am deeply convinced that Trump’s presidency as well as Republican politicians in the federal and state governments champion policies that do nothing but screw Americans’ lives in more ways than one. For many including myself, resistance to Trump and the GOP isn’t strictly due to politics nor is it in any way optional. Yet, though I have turned to blogging the occasional diatribe several times, many have staged protests such as taking to the streets numerous times. Over the past year, a historical level of protest and activism has spilled out into the nation’s parks, streets, and sidewalks. The Women’s March anchored in Washington D.C. with echoes across the nation, was perhaps the single largest day of protest in American history.

Nevertheless, since the end of 2016, a Republican lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced wave of anti-protest bills in state legislatures. These pieces of legislation attempt to criminalize and penalize protesting in various ways such as increasing fines and jail sentences for protestors obstructing justice, tampering with or trespassing on infrastructure such as railways and pipelines, picketing, wearing masks, or refusing to leave an “unlawful protest.” Anti-protest bills in North Dakota, Tennessee, and Florida remove liability from drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protestors. A bill in Indiana initially instructed police to clear protestors from highways by “any means necessary.” Proposed legislation in Washington and North Carolina label protests, “economic terrorism.” A bill in Minnesota charges policing costs to protestors. Bills in Michigan and North Carolina allows businesses to sue individuals protesting them. A bill in Arizona uses anti-racketeering laws to seize protestors’ assets. And a bill in Oregon would require public community colleges to expel students convicted of participating in a “violent riot.” As the ACLU’s Vera Eidelman said, “The proposed bills have been especially pervasive in states where protests flourished recently. This flood of bills represents an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century. And many of these bills attack the right to speak out precisely where the Supreme Court has historically held it to be the most robust: in public parks, streets and sidewalks.” The United Nations has also decried the trend as “incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law” and that they represent “a worrying trend that could result in a detrimental impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country.”

Despite that some media articles portray the recent increase in legislation targeting protesting due to large and almost daily demonstrations since Trump’s inauguration, this troubling trend actually began before he took office. Anti-protest bills in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and North Dakota were among the earliest introduced as a direct response to the labor movement lobbying to raise the minimum wage, Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupting following police killings, and resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock. Still, due to Trump’s 3 executive orders on policing, Republican domination of most state legislatures, the Trump administration’s pro-policing and pro-business attitude, and the rise of constant and spontaneous anti-Trump protests, you get an atmosphere where many powerful interests have stake in suppressing mass dissent. Of course, journalists, civil liberties experts, lawyers, and Democratic lawmakers have addressed that these bills criminalize peaceful protests and chill dissent. They note that penalties for these actions already exist. For instance, there isn’t a single city or county in the US that can’t already prosecute people for intentionally obstructing cars or pedestrians or for trespassing on private property. When a protest in Baton Rouge grew so large it spilled into the streets, the problem wasn’t that law enforcement couldn’t arrest anyone engaged in wrongdoing. In fact, quite the contrary since the police relied on existing trespass or obstruction laws to dramatically and unconstitutionally overcharge peaceful protestors. Not to mention, many existing laws always attempt to balance between the right to protest and the ability to drive. Also, anti-protest legislation is obviously unconstitutional since it violates the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech. Several of these bills have already been rejected such as those in Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona. But many still remain under consideration so anyone with an interest in protecting dissent must still remain vigilant and vigorously opposing those still on the table.

Yet, there are disturbing trends behind introducing such flagrantly unconstitutional legislation are false assumptions about protesting. For instance, Arizona’s anti-protest bill was explicitly based on the claim that protestors are paid to be in the streets. The “paid protestor myth has long existed as well as been codified in police training manual and Trump’s rhetoric. However, while seasoned activists mostly dismiss the paid protestor idea as a joke, the politicians introducing these anti-protest bills are deadly serious. And it’s mostly believed that liberal billionaire George Soros who usually distributes the protesting paychecks that don’t really exist. Despite his Open Society Foundation offering grants to those working on specific projects like civil liberties and criminal justice reform, there’s absolutely no evidence he’s paid people to be in the streets. Yet, that didn’t stop Washington State Senator Doug Eriksen specifically naming him and the Sierra Club as intended targets while introducing anti-protest legislation in his state. Another protest myth is behind a measure in Georgia’s pro-policing bill package which creates a new felony for protestors throwing “human or animal excreta” at police during demonstrations. Yet, though throwing literal shit at cops has often been cited in police manuals, there’s no evidence such incidents actually happened.

Additionally, another alarming trend besides punishing people with significant imprisonment and fines based on claims with no supporting evidence, anti-protest bills also attempt to redefine what a “riot” means so more actions can fall under this category and to link protesting to terrorism. Arizona’s proposal would’ve expanded the state’s anti-racketeering laws to designate rioting under organized crime. It also would’ve redefined rioting to include vandalism. Washington’s bill went a bit further to recharacterize protests as acts of “economic terrorism” like a non-violent demonstration hurting a company’s bottom line is being re-classified as a serious threat deserving severe punishment.

Of course, the recent anti-protest legislation surge isn’t the first time state legislatures tried to clamp down on effective demonstrations. In 2006, Congress passed The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act which allegedly protects animal enterprises by defining “eco-terrorists” as animal and environmental activists who successfully pose a threat from businesses profiting from critters. This legislation tied protesting to “terrorism” that animal rights activists were imprisoned despite doing nothing more than running a website. After AETA, the conservative bill mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) produced model legislation for the state level, expanding on AETA to further erode Constitutional rights and heavily punish animal rights and environmental activists. Hopefully, none of the proposed bills were passed by any state legislature.

However, we should really keep in mind that Republican lawmakers didn’t stop there. Instead, they used an incremental approach of inserting these failed bills’ key provisions into other legislation. Some of these can include using specific language like ecological terrorism or including the same penalties for a more limited number of offenses than the original legislation. So keep that lesson in mind when it comes to this round of unconstitutional and punitive legislation.

Fortunately, many of these current anti-protest bills are so obviously unconstitutional and based on outright lies that they’re unlikely to past. Already many have failed while others have been sent back to committees for revisions to make them more acceptable to lawmakers and the general public. And we should expect to see some parts of these bills introduced elsewhere should they fail in their current form. Even so, the fact so many of these anti-protest bills that have been introduced will likely have a chilling effect on dissent as well as create a climate of confusion and fear. Few people would be as willing to protest if they thought they could easily get arrested, fined, jailed, or even killed. The lack of clarity over where these bills stand in the legislative process, the low likelihood they’ll bass in their current forms, and the actual consequences if they do is enough to cast doubt among any would be protester.

Civil liberties advocates are now questioning which individuals or interest groups are behind this legislation wave targeting mass protest and the right to dissent. ALEC is most likely involved due to its anti-worker and anti-environmental platform which many of these protests are at odds with. Yet, ALEC’s model legislation strategy is commonplace and well-absorbed so it doesn’t need formal organization from above. Lawmakers could simply copy or adapt legislation from other states. Another possible organizing force behind anti-protest legislation are police unions and their coordinated efforts of law enforcement. Thanks to the Trump administration’s pro-policing stance, it’s not much of a surprise for law enforcement organizations prioritizing criminalizing protest activity.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with protesting. On one hand, it’s disruptive to normal activity as it’s supposed to be. But on the other hand, it’s an American tradition that’s helped to advance considerable progress on civil rights and improved living conditions. Many of what the US has accomplished to create a more perfect union was made possible thanks to public protests. Of course, not all of them have been peaceful such as the labor protests during the Gilded Age. Nevertheless, even without that, it’s possible I may not be able to attend college or write this blog today. Nevertheless, to criminalize peaceful protests is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition. Criminalizing peaceful protest isn’t only unconstitutional, it’s un-American and unacceptable. In a representative democracy, when people come together to voice their dissent, they help create change. Today, state representatives should be celebrating that their constituents are getting out into the streets and making their voices heard. Yet, tragically, thanks to corporate campaign donors, state reps call their efforts “garbage” and are proposing bills that would criminalize protests or even put protestors’ lives in danger. Sure they won’t admit to it when promoting these bills. But that’s the ultimate aim. Legislators in states with significant protest activity should listen to those voices speaking out, especially in moments of disagreement. Not silence them.

Why We Need to Stop Likening Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson

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As president, Donald Trump has often been linked to Andrew Jackson in both good qualities and bad. Trump has braced the comparison since he chose to grace the Oval Office with Jackson’s portrait as well as laid a wreath at his grave at the Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee to honor his 250th birthday. Though he doesn’t try to claim that he shares the policies and attitudes Jackson embraced, he’s proposed to be in the 21st what the seventh president was during the 19th. After all, what made Jackson so fondly remembered by some was his connection to ordinary people as well as his embodiment of populist politics. Meanwhile, detractors often note how Jackson was an unapologetic racist and slave owner whose harsh treatment of Indian tribes eventually led to the Trail of Tears. And they often remark compare it to how Trump used racism to win over the support of working class whites as a political outsider taking on the establishment and riding into Washington to return power to the people. However, though understand Americans’ need to make historical comparisons, I find the idea of likening Trump to Old Hickory deeply insulting to Andrew Jackson and his memory.

Now I understand that Andrew Jackson wouldn’t rank among many Americans’ favorite presidents for very justifiable reasons. Sure he was an unapologetic racist who defended slavery without question and his policy on Indian removal in the Southeast resulted in tragic consequences such as the Trail of Tears, destruction of tribal culture, and genocide. In addition, Jackson’s dismantling of the Bank of the United States led to the Panic of 1837 as well as decades of frequent bank failures and economic instability until the creation of the Federal Reserve. Jackson’s practice of appointing personal associates, wealthy friends, and party loyalists to federal offices as a reward for victory generated what would later be called the spoils system which led to a lot of government corruption for decades and eventually the assassination of a US president. And yes, I understand that like Trump, Jackson could be especially harsh on his enemies, violated political norms and constitutional concepts he didn’t like, had some anti-intellectual tendencies, was obsessed with the media, occasionally had little regard for the law and institutions, and was seen by his detractors as an unstable demagogue and a would-be dictator.

However, besides inspiring distrust in certain elements of political elites in their day along with some other qualities, Trump and Jackson have little in common. In fact, Andrew Jackson would’ve despised Trump and liken his sham populism to an image of William Henry Harrison drinking hard cider in front of a log cabin. Jackson certainly would’ve been greatly insulted of Trump citing him as his hero and a reflection of himself. Such notion that a draft-dodging elitist and opportunist who’d apply to his high-born privilege in order to skirt the consequences for his legion of despicable business practices and did nothing to demonstrate a commitment to public service could resemble Old Hickory basically desecrates almost everything about him and what he stood for. Whenever you see Jackson’s portrait in Trump’s Oval Office, don’t see it as being enshrined in a place of honor regardless of what you think of him. Rather think of Jackson’s presence in the Oval Office as one of great misfortune of having to see a man like Trump exploit him as nothing more than a mere prop to shamelessly project his faux populist image in order to deceive his constituents with no second thought. Only to betray his lowly supporters by using his presidential power to enrich himself along with his elitist friends, backers, allies, as well as the GOP and corporate establishment at the common people’s expense. All Jackson can do is hopelessly watch by, unable to tell the world what he was all about in his defense while Trump distorts his image and legacy for his own benefit. Jackson may not have been an exemplary role model, but he was certainly no Donald Trump. And we should see Trump’s honoring him as nothing short of disgraceful to a man who’s currently turning in his grave.

By all accounts, Andrew Jackson was a complex and fascinating man who remains one of the most studied and controversial Americans in the 19th century. Whether you love him or hate him, there are plenty of qualities about the man you have to respect as well as the impact he made. And despite all the awful stuff he did, there’s a reason why historians rate his presidency so highly. Generations of parents named their sons after Jackson, often placing both his names before their surname. Jackson’s election to the presidency comes off as a vindication of American ideals and affirms American greatness. Jackson’s unapologetic defense of slavery and infamous policy regarding Indian removal have marred his complicated legacy and for very good reason. The fact he made his fortune speculating Indian lands as well as owning (and possibly trading) slaves doesn’t help his reputation. Yet, he was a staunch believer in popular democracy (at least among white men) and believed in the sanctity of the American Union with almost religious conviction. But despite his lasting reputation as an aggressive, no nonsense, I’ll-do-things-my-way kind of guy, Jackson was far more than the one dimensional caricature he’s often depicted as. He was self-raised, self-educated, and well-read in current events (with a subscription to 17 newspapers). He conducted himself as a quintessential Southern gentleman with exquisite manners and a rather gallant attitude towards women. Though nasty and spiteful to enemies, he was generous, considerate, and loyal to his friends and a devoted husband to his wife Rachel. Though strong in his convictions and an intense partisan, he was not without moments of compromise and indecision. And he wasn’t above appointing cabinet members who disagreed with him like his closest advisor Martin Van Buren as well as Edward Livingston and Louis McLane. Nor did he always hold grudges for he welcomed Thomas Hart Benton back into the fold despite being a longtime foe. Furthermore, he considered his word his bond as well as strived to exhibit fidelity, honor, and integrity.

We need to understand that what attracted ordinary people to support Jackson was totally different than what attracted people to Trump. Though 19th century political campaigns often involved nasty mudslinging, Jackson’s appeal to the common people had much more to do with the great positive sentiment Jackson evoked in the average Americans at the time. What ordinary Americans loved most about him was that he really was one of them. His father died before he was born while his mother died in his teens. Everything Jackson achieved in life came through his own efforts. What Jackson projected is the belief that any kid can grow up to be president. If a poor kid from the Carolinas can reach the White House, then it must be the case that talent, grit, and honor could make up for the humblest beginnings. His modest background as a self-made man on the frontier who championed those of his former station cast him as an outsider from the aristocracy of Washington’s political elite. The people loved him for it and voted for him out of affinity and pride. His 1829 inauguration saw one of the largest crowds by that point as he took the oath of office at the US Capitol’s East Portico. After the ceremony, Jackson invited the public to the White House for a reception where thousands of his supporters held a raucous party, inflicting a degree of damage to the fixtures and furnishings

And Andrew Jackson had done plenty in his lifetime of public service to earn his supporters’ admiration that they were glad to cast their vote for him. He served as a courier to a local colonial militia during the American Revolution and at the Battle of Hanging Rock during his early teens. At 14, he was taken captured by the British, where he braved small pox, starvation, and being slashed by a British officer for refusing to clean his boots. When he moved to Tennessee as an adult, he spent much of that time in the service of his adopted state and the US. He helped write the state’s constitution and served as a circuit judge. He represented Tennessee in the House and the Senate. He was governor of Florida while it was a federal territory. Most famously, Jackson commanded Tennessee militia and later US Army troops during the War of 1812, earning the name “Old Hickory” for his resilience in combat and willingness to endure the same hardships as his men. He fought a war against the Creek Indians with an arm in his sling from a shoulder wound. His victory at the Battle of New Orleans was the signal triumph of the American armed forces between the Revolution and the Civil War. During that time, Jackson was broadly acclaimed as second only to George Washington among the pantheon of American military heroes. Because despite the War of 1812 being virtually over for 2 weeks thanks to the Treaty of Ghent, the British had still viewed the Louisiana Purchase as illegitimate. Had the Brits seized on New Orleans, they were prepared, treaty or no treaty, to declare the Louisiana Purchase a dead letter and redraw the political map of North America. Jackson’s victory ensured that the British wouldn’t renegotiate peace terms ending the war. Though some people questioned Jackson’s politics, nobody questioned his courage and patriotism.

We should also understand that there was much more about Andrew Jackson than this image of a wild backwoodsman initially suggests. When a young woman from South Carolina named Julia Ann Conner visited his Hermitage in 1827, she found him to be nothing like she expected. Rather she wrote him to be a “venerable, dignified, fine-looking man, perfectly easy in manner.” She noted how Jackson kept articles he received from the Washington’s family on his mantelpiece as “preserved with almost sacred veneration.” Conner even joined him in a game of chess and referred Jackson as an “excellent player” as he “frequently directed my moves—apparently much interested in the fate of the game … there were no traces of the ‘military chieftain’ as he is called!” This is a very different portrait of Jackson than what many Americans are used to. But it nonetheless explains much of his character. Though he may come off as reckless, he more often played games in politics and war with skill and patience. His enemies and much of posterity never quite understood that what was the most fundamental fact about Jackson wasn’t a problem with his temper, but more often than not, his ability to control it and harness that energy in ways that would’ve driven other politicians to ruin such as intimidating his foes or advancing his agenda. Sure he was prone to fits of rage and for getting into duels and brawls, especially as a young man. But he was self-aware enough to understand his weaknesses and took care to compensate for them. With that came a kind of self-restraint, which worked so well his closest advisor, Martin Van Buren marveled how Jackson could turn anger on and off at will. But as Conner noted, he was as at home with his chessboard as he was with charging blindly forward. Though he certainly was a powerful personality, Jackson’s rise from his humble beginnings could never be possible without his shrewdness, resourcefulness, as well as his capacity to cultivate himself while retaining an image as a fearsome and violent man of action he used to his advantage. Yet, seeing Jackson this way makes the idea of him being a reflection of Trump astoundingly laughable.

Andrew Jackson’s distrust for elites and the Washington establishment was also very different from Trump’s. A political centrist and believer in Jeffersonian principles, Jackson believed that monied and business interests would corrupt Republican values. While his defeat of the Second Bank of the United States and his opposition to federal public works projects hurt ordinary Americans, his rationale behind both reflects that sentiment. Back in the 19th century, legislatures often granted corporations charters to build infrastructure which gave them valuable privileges. State governments often shared corporate ownership with private investors. Jackson feared that public investments offered unearned advantages to insiders that would surely lead to corruption and as he put it, “destroy the purity of our government.” Nevertheless, despite vetoing the Marysville Road project, Jackson’s administration saw more federal funding on infrastructure than all his predecessors combined. And Jackson’s Marysville Road veto had more to do with it connecting two towns in Kentucky, which he viewed as nothing more than a pork barrel project for Henry Clay’s home state.

As for the Second Bank of the United States, well, it was a public-private corporation partly funded by taxpayers but controlled by private investors, some of whom were European. Despite its hold on the nation’s currency gave it immense economic powers such as destroying state banks by calling in their loans, it faced no democratic oversight. And its capital was twice the federal government’s expenditures. The Panic of 1819 was particularly devastating for ordinary Americans thanks excessive land speculation, unsecured loans, misrepresentation, and the unrestrained use of paper money. The Bank did little to relieve since it was deeply enmeshed in these inflationary practices. Jackson opposed the Bank because he considered it a privileged, monopolistic, and undemocratic corporation. He was sure the Bank made dubious loans and campaign contributions to influence politicians and editors as well as to even buy elections. When the bill to renew the charter reached his desk, Jackson vetoed it bristled with populist attacks ringing eerily familiar. He charged that “The rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” They sought special favors “to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful,” rightly leading “the humbler members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers … to complain of the injustice of their government.” In his farewell address, Jackson warned that the people, “have little or no share in the direction of the great moneyed corporations,” and were always “in danger of losing their fair influence in the government.” Today, you’d find many of these anti-big business sentiments in a Bernie Sanders speech against the Citizens United ruling, a Supreme Court decision that Jackson would’ve certainly not enforced. Trump, on the other hand, clearly sees absolutely no problem with corporate influence on government as illustrated by his donations to various political entities including Citizens United, receiving generous campaign contributions, and appointing billionaire CEOs to cabinet positions.

Nevertheless, what’s the most outrageous about the Trump-Jackson analogy is the most basic. Regardless what you think about him, Andrew Jackson was the president who more than any other, secured the future of American democracy. For the quarter-century before Jackson, presidents were essentially aristocrats who essentially appointed their own successors with the Election of 1800 being the only exception. When he was elected to the presidency in 1828, he won with 56% of the popular vote which was 12 points more than his opponent, John Quincy Adams. By frustrating Adams’s bid for reelection, Jackson broke the mold and became president at a time when states had started abandoning their property and residency voting requirements, which he both encouraged and benefitted from. Sure Jacksonian democracy fell short of today’s model since most women and blacks couldn’t vote. But by enfranchising all white males other than property owners, it represented a huge step forward from the unabashed elitism characterizing the 18th century. That elitism was part of why many in the political establishment in Jackson’s time likened him to a dangerous demagogue as well as an unstable, would-be dictator. We should note that the Founding Fathers came up with the Electoral College and election of senators through the state legislatures because they harbored a lot of distrust toward the common people and likened democracy to mob rule. Jackson knew this and as president, had repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to abolish it for reasons we don’t have to get into after 2016. And it was certainly why then Speaker Henry Clay encouraged the House of Representatives to choose John Quincy Adams over Jackson in 1824, which resulted in his appointment as Secretary of State. Furious Jackson supporters would call this a “corrupt bargain” because their candidate won at least 42% of the popular vote. Yet, because no candidate received a clear majority of electoral votes (due to the race consisting of 4 different guys), the decision fell to the House. Still, had Jackson succeeded in eliminating the Electoral College, Trump would’ve never become president since he lost the popular vote by the largest historical margin of anyone who’s ever won the presidency.

Moreover, Andrew Jackson’s character and worldview reflected a genuine conviction in the people’s ultimate wisdom. He came to that populism through his experience and his own humble beginnings. As a self-made man, he saw his political mission to remove what he believed to be corrupting influences such as the Second Bank of the United States, entrenched federal appointees, and money speculators. That so ordinary Americans which he called “the planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer” could rise to prosperity. In other words, Jackson believed the federal government should benefit the interests of all Americans and that political participation should be a right. And he expanded the role of the presidency from mere executive to active representative of the people. Another one of Jackson’s most central beliefs was the inviolability of the federal Union and that concepts like secession and nullification were unacceptable. The fact he was willing to go to war with South Carolina when it threatened to secede during the Nullification Crisis illustrate this. Jackson believed that popular democracy spoke most clearly when the nation spoke as the nation. Not as separate polities in individual states. And that the union must be preserved above all else. His ideas in popular democracy and devotion to the Union above all else have left an indelible mark in the American consciousness, both of which he considered as inseparable. Generations after him have built on them and expanded on and in ways even he wouldn’t have imagined. Yes, his idea of popular democracy only included all white men. But it nevertheless provided a foundation for women and minorities to campaign for their voting rights as well as inspired almost every liberal and progressive movement and policy ever since. Jacksonian democracy became a touchstone of American politics that every presidential candidate since had to possess a common touch or effectively fake it. His idea of the president being the people’s representative has helped shaped the modern American presidency as we know it. And the Jacksonian concept that the union must be saved above all else strongly influenced the Union cause during the Civil War. Jackson’s policy during the Nullification Crisis set a precedent for Abraham Lincoln to follow through by sending military force against the Confederacy.

Andrew Jackson may have done plenty of terrible things that have hurt a lot people during his lifetime as well as led to plenty of negative repercussions even after he left office. He could sometimes be woefully wrong on what he thought was best for the American people. He may have stood on the wrong side of history in regards to defending slavery and removing Native Americans from their land so his friends could build plantations. Yes, he personally profited from stealing land from the Indians during the Indian wars. Yes, he brought a new coalition to elites into power such New York politicians, Pennsylvanian businessmen, and Southern slaveholders. And yes, he tended to their special interests as any typical politician. Still, Jackson was no opportunist and didn’t use populism as a political device. He didn’t use his image as a temperamental man for mere theatrics. He wanted to accomplish things. He never ever threw his friends under the bus even it was expedient to do so. He never embarrassed foreign dignitaries nor handled diplomatic disputes with anything other than moderation and skill. Nor did he try to profit from the presidency since he asked a friend to settle his business affairs after he won the election so he could focus on being president. But regardless of how we view Jackson today, he was a military hero who served his country in combat and a politician who generally placed the nation’s interests above his own. He symbolized the democratic struggle among the great majority against unearned power and special privilege. Furthermore, he was a firm believer in American democratic values as he once said, “As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience, and of the press, it will be worth defending.”

As Thomas Hart Benton said of the Jackson presidency, “Great is the confidence which he has always reposed in the discernment and equity of the American people. I have been accustomed to see him for many years, and under many discouraging trials; but never saw him doubt, for an instant, the ultimate support of the people … He always said the people would stand by those who stand by them.” Andrew Jackson was a very flawed man whose life and legacy reflected the best and the worst of America in his time and all time. Yet, even the ugliest parts of his life and legacy don’t dismiss him as any less than a man who tried to be worthy of the American people’s support. After all, despite that America has viewed itself as a beacon of liberty, democracy, and prosperity, it was also built on slavery and Native American displacement and genocide. And Jackson’s attitudes and actions regarding slavery and Native Americans are so glaring that they can’t be ignored. Nor should they be. Though his grave sins keep us from viewing him as an icon of reverence, Jackson’s life should teach us that even heroic men like him are seldom pillars of perfection. Jackson knew this for though he may have been critical of the founding generation, he nonetheless appreciated those responsible for crafting and refining the systems of checks and balances on which the nation was based. Even though he didn’t always observe them as president. Not to mention, a lot of Jackson’s own supporters didn’t always agree with him including close friends and advisers. Still, if Jackson and his fellow Democrats can get things so badly wrong, then we’re forever vulnerable as well. History may well remind us that we’re always at risk of falling short in the unending search for a more perfect Union.

Nevertheless, while Jackson shouldn’t be idolized on a pedestal, he doesn’t deserve outright vilification either even if he deserves being called out for his sins. Nor should he ever be reduced to a one-dimensional caricature since there’s nothing simple about him. Such approaches do a disservice to him as the complex and fascinating man he was and how he should be remembered as. Nor should he be embraced by a president who knows nothing about him, shares none of the causes he championed, and praises him so he can depict him in his own image. Donald Trump is no Andrew Jackson nor does he even come remotely close. Unlike the 7th president, this unrespectable man has repeatedly demonstrated that he cares more about himself than the American people and what is best for this nation’s future. His praises of dictators show he has more affinity for a culture common in authoritarian systems where ruling regimes have a monopoly on truth. Though he has promoted himself as a successful businessman, he’s very much a product of inherited wealth and unearned privilege which have gotten him where he is today. And he often used his status to avoid military service, federal taxes, and taking responsibility for his despicable business practices. Nor was his success the result of his hard work and natural ability. It’s very clear that Trump’s populism is a sham. Then there’s the fact Trump has promoted his real-estate investments during his presidential campaign as well as acknowledges that he “might have” discussed his global business interests in his talks with foreign leaders since his election. Even as president Trump hasn’t separated himself from his business, which puts him in clear violation of the Emoluments Clause. It’s very clear he’s profited from both his campaign and his presidency. His business interests abroad might have an impact on American foreign policy. To equate Jackson with Trump normalizes the latter in ways that should offend us in 2017. Jackson for all his faults doesn’t deserve to be equated to this unrespectable man, regardless of his sins. Jackson may not have been a great hero to many people’s eyes for very good reasons. But what Trump embodies basically goes against almost everything that Jackson stood for as well as exemplify why Americans still admire him today.