By an odd coincidence I was planning to write on the topic of treason this week. I was in the middle of doing the research when yesterday happened. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say as many are suggesting that like the JFK assassination and 9/11, someday our children and grandchildren will ask us where we were on July 16, 2018.
In case you missed it … after a two-hour, closed-door meeting alone with Putin save for translators, an American president in a live televised press conference standing next to our Russian adversary, dismissed the findings of his own intelligence agencies and parroted virtually verbatim Kremlin talking points.
When people popped their dropped jaws back in to normal position and the dust cleared, the condemnations of what happen began to flow thick and fast, even from some far distant places in the Trump universe that typically remain mum on his transgressions, like Newt Gingrich. The general if weak consensus was the president’s actions were nothing short of a disaster. Naturally in the aftermath of this latest spectacle the word “treason” began to be batted around. Actually, to be accurate the word was surfacing earlier when we learned that Trump intended to meet one on one with Putin without any advisors in the room.
Let’s take a look at what the word actually means and how the Constitution treats it.
A common dictionary definition says this:
1: the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family
2: the betrayal of a trust
The architects of the Constitution didn’t want treason trials to become political weapons, so they defined the act of treason in a very narrow way.
Article III, section 3 reads:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
When we think of treason in the context of American history the name Benedict Arnold is usually the first name that comes to mind. Arnold’s crime was planning to surrender the forts at West Point, NY to the British. After being caught, he fought for the British and later fled to England. He was never tried, because his crime happened well before the Constitution was written.
Another famous case was that of Aaron Burr who was accused of treason for plotting to steal part of the Louisiana Purchase. The case went to trial, but Burr was acquitted, partly because no witnesses came forward as is required in Article III, section 3 of the Constitution.
Charges of treason have been rare in the U.S. There have only been thirty prosecutions since the Constitution was enacted in 1789, and only one person has been indicted for it since 1950.
The key to a charge of treason is that the United States must be in a state of war, which currently, although it may feel like it, we are not. As I said, the Constitution defines treason very narrowly. I for one believe 12 Russian military officers accused of conspiring to interfere with our elections is an act of war. I also believe those indictments coupled with some reporting that those same Russian officials may have played a role in the nerve agent attack in Great Britain, certainly lay the grounds for the invocation of Article V of the NATO treaty, which states an attack against one member nation is an attack against all.
At the end of the day, as in so many cases, consequences for the president’s behavior in Helsinki are really going to depend on what Republicans in Congress are willing to do. Based on their history, that may not be much. They could impose further sanctions on Russia, they could vote to protect the Mueller investigation with legislation, and they could even vote to censure Trump.
One thing Congress should absolutely be doing and should have done prior to the summit is demand the administration give an agenda of what they hoped to accomplish by honoring Putin with a meeting. Going in, the public was never given a clear answer of what the objective was to be. So what came of this summit but questions?
Like I said earlier, in the future our children may ask us about this time period in American history and where we stood. I have a question I’d like to ask the president today, “Which side are you on?”
posted by Amy Levengood
I’m going to give you a list of names. Maybe you have heard of them all, or maybe only a few. In any case read on to see why I chose these people for examples in this blog.
Alexander the Great
These people are not remembered for their kindness and love toward others. That is because we are looking at their names as part of history. Sometimes history has a way of exposing truth, a truth people once refused to see.
Here is a list of traits. Many of these traits are shared by the above- mentioned men. I’m sure after reading them you will think of a few others to add to the list.
This list is from a post on Psychology Today by Joe Navarro, M.A. titled Dangerous Cult Leaders - Dangerous Traits of Cult Leaders
Here are the typical traits of the pathological cult leader (from Dangerous Personalities) you should watch for and which shout caution, get away, run, or avoid if possible:
If you read each of these I’m sure many bells are going off in your head. Now I’m quite sure you have more names to add to my list. In fact, many of these traits do make a certain world leader come to mind. Maybe several.
Okay, you are probably thinking this is nothing new, you have heard these comparisons before. And you would be right. There are many of us who have been making the comparison for a long time. Feels like centuries, doesn’t it?
We are going to return to the subject of history once again. Because I am quite sure I am not the only one who has wondered how the people/victims of these men let it happen?
What analogy can I use to describe it? I think I will use the frog in the frypan. If you were to take a frog and drop him onto a hot frypan he would likely jump and run at the very first sizzle. But if you take the frog and sit him in the cool pan, and very slowly turn on the head, raising the temperature only a little at a time, the frog would likely not even realize he was on the menu before it was too late.
That is how it happened with the people who followed these dangerous leaders. Add to it that in some cases the followers were going through difficult times. In the case of Hitler, the German people were suffering greatly after losing WWI. They desperately needed someone to lift them out of their despair. Hitler may have even been giving speeches where he said, “Let’s make Germany great again.”
For others who have joined cults they were not needy in the ways of the German people, but rather needy for utopia or paradise, a place where they felt part of something special.
These are not weak-minded people. No, in their case like the frog and the frypan, the feeling was good at first, then slowly ever so slowly things changed. Many never realized that their moral code was also slowly changing. And for others still, it wouldn’t have mattered, they couldn’t have gotten out if they tried.
Looking at the situation this way helps explain why the current political climate is so tense. (That’s a mild word for it).
I have had heated discussions on social media over some of the differences in my left/liberal views versus the right/conservative views of others. I have even had to unfriend, actual friends for some of the nasty things they have said. All the while I kept wondering how they could be so taken in.
I have family members who are on the red side of things. We either agree to disagree and continue to act as family, or we part ways.
All the while, I’m still thinking how they could fall for the lies.
Then I realized, those same people may be thinking the very same thing about me.
As I looked deeper into why otherwise loving and kind people could suddenly seem so angry and filled with distrust and even hatred, I began to see a pattern. It was a pattern I understood. One I had seen used before.
It is called Groupthink.
Kendra Cherry in her article titled Understanding Groupthink - How to Recognize and Avoid It, explains groupthink as the following:
"Groupthink is a term first used in 1972 by social psychologist Irving L. Janis that refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.
People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd."
There are many cases in history, including my earlier examples, where groupthink had something to do with why something happened. Upon closer examination of the 1961 Bay of Pigs incident it was determined that the poor decisions made by JFK and his close advisors were due to what is now called groupthink. However, in 1962 groupthink had much to do with a positive conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Groupthink takes only a charismatic leader with a somewhat successful track record, and a message people want to hear. “I love you and will care for you.”; “Want to have the most fun you have ever had in your life?”; “We need to overthrow Fidel Castro!” or “Let’s Make Germany Great Again.”
Groupthink gets easier and easier as the following grows. If that many people believe it, it has to be right. So, I believe it too.
And the heat slowly rises.
In an article written by the Mind Tool Content Group there are proven ways to avoid groupthink.
Tools That Help You Avoid Groupthink
Helps ideas flow freely without criticism.
Modified Borda Count
Allows each group member to contribute individually, so mitigating the risk that stronger and more persuasive group members dominate the decision making process.
Six Thinking Hats
Helps the team look at a problem from many different perspectives, allowing people to play "Devil's Advocate".
The Delphi Technique
Allows team members to contribute individually, with no knowledge of a group view, and with little penalty for disagreement.
While these suggestions work well in smaller groups, it might not have worked in Hitler’s Germany where an entire country was taken in. However, by understanding how the process works one begins to realize they do have the power to disagree and the power to change the results of negative groupthink.
It is in our vote. Until that happens we are doomed.
So, I ask you today, are you waiting for history to decide how our lives end up in the next few years, or are you going to do something to change the direction of things?
posted by Pam Garlick
I don’t remember voting for the Heritage Foundation, do you? Yet by all reports the conservative think tank is behind the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize the entire federal government.
Last week, the White House released a document entitled Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations. Leading the charge is Mick Mulvaney, current director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). One of Mulvaney’s deputies who helped draft the proposal has called it a rallying cry for “small government” and added the boldness of the plan is “why many Americans voted for this president.”
Over the past year, while our attention has been purposely and systematically diverted elsewhere, “a small army of conservatives and think tank veterans … have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the American social welfare system from the inside out.” (Behind Trump’s Plan to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net, New York Times) I hate to quote him, but know thy enemy someone once said: “Our guys have been in there since the start, grinding it out, and basically no one is noticing it except the smart liberals like Rachel Maddow,” said Stephen Bannon, who according to the New York Times, believes the attack on social programs will be one of Trump’s most enduring policy achievements.
As much as I hate to say it, Bannon may be right. That is if the reorganization plan ever comes to pass. But if you are a government worker or rely on SNAP to feed your family, or like to watch Sesame Street, you may not welcome the administration’s plan with as much glee as Bannon.
Here are just a few of the changes included in the plan:
The Department of Education and the Department of Labor would be combined into one agency known as the Department of Education and the Workforce. Ed. Secretary Betsy DeVos has been aggressively seeking to undermine the department she leads from day one. Easing restrictions on for-profit colleges and lack of enforcement of civil rights laws have been just a few of her antics. Reportedly DeVos is close to Mulvaney and supports the proposal to merge the departments, calling the move “bold reform”. She added, “Artificial barriers between education and work force programs have existed for far too long.” This part of the plan is seen as a threat to both departments by Democrats, but there are also critics from the other side of the aisle. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, described the plan as dead on arrival and said the administration is pushing “futile reorganizations of the federal government just to have a new talking point.” Murray told reporters, “Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers—and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves.” What the plan shows when it comes to education is that the administration has a very strict idea of what the purpose of education is-workforce development-period.
Government Workers and Unions
Many see the reorganization plan as an attack on unions and government workers, which is an understandable concern since the plan gives no numbers on how many jobs would be cut due to consolidation. The American Federation of Government Employees called the plan a “scheme to gut federal services,” by targeting domestic programs that have little support from conservatives. “There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public-service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House, and privatize government programs to reward political donors,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.
The Social Safety Net
The government reorganization plan would rearrange social welfare programs in a way that would make them easier to cut or scale back. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which aids 42 million poor and working people would shift from the Agriculture Department to a new “mega agency” that would have the word “welfare” in its title. Knowing how genius the right is at branding, the use of that word was hardly accidental and if used would surely be employed to disparage programs that would fall under its auspices. Philip G. Alston, a New York University professor and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, recently authored a study on endemic poverty in U.S. cities and the rural South. Here is how he described the administration’s program: “There is a contempt for the poor that seems to permeate the president’s inner circle that seems very worrying. It’s done under the banner of providing opportunity and seeking long-term solutions but it all seems designed to increase misery.”
Much of the policy in the reorganization plan has been engineered early on by operatives from The Heritage Foundation, The Federalist Society, and the Koch brothers, with The Heritage Foundation seeming to have the greatest influence. In fact, Rich Dearborn, a former Heritage employee and Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, brought over about 70 Heritage-linked “experts” and put them in cabinet and policy-making positions. According to the New York Times, “Benjamin Hobbs, a former employee of Heritage and the Charles Koch Foundation, who received a top policy job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was a driving force behind a proposal to raise rents on some of the poorest residents of subsidized housing by as much as 44 percent, according to two administration officials. In a recent meeting, Mr. Hobbs raised eyebrows by claiming the increases were intended, in part, to persuade unmarried couples to move in with each other to pool rent payments, according to two people in attendance.”
Steve Bannon also tapped one of Heritage’s founders, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., soon after the inauguration to help create a list of action items on scaling back social welfare programs. The plan unveiled by Mulvaney last week was actually based on a template create by The Heritage Foundation, which was given a multi-million dollar gift from Rebekah Mercer for the express purpose of creating the government overhaul plan. By early 2017, Heritage drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, half of which were aimed at domestic programs for the poor and Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.
We have already seen that Trump’s prescription for people who rely on our social safety net is to impose work requirements even though many of the individuals receiving help are already working. Director of the Domestic Policy Council Andrew Bremberg says, “Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency.” But as MLK said in a sermon he delivered on poverty just four days before he was assassinated, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Advocates for the poor say the administration’s real aim is to remove assistance for the most vulnerable in order to give tax cuts to the rich. “It’s a war on the poor, pure and simple,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The pace of the Trump administration’s attacks on our social safety net has picked up in the past year, possibly because conservatives are trying to push as much through as they can prior to the midterms. In the last two weeks alone, Trump tried to pass a $15 million bill that would reduce domestic spending, Mulvaney has fired the 25 member board of the CFPB, and administration lawyers have challenged an Obama-era anti-discrimination rule that provided greater funding for projects in minority neighborhoods.
Other items on the chopping block
The plan would eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Mulvaney now heads, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Import-Export Bank, which provides loans and insurances to aid the export of American goods and services. Mulvaney also wants to privatize the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Some of the changes outlined in the plan can be done under OMB or through presidential orders, but most have to pass Congress. While we may find the reorganization plan alarming, it will all have to pass Congress (and even many Republicans are not on board) making it all the more imperative to get out to the polls in November.
posted by Amy Levengood
Last Tuesday was a whirlwind day for the Tuesdays with Toomey gang. We joined up with SEIU, PA Together, Why Courts Matter, and other groups to make lobbying visits to our state legislators. That day our focus was “Right to Work” and the fight for collective bargaining. But we never want to pass up an opportunity, so we did double duty by also dropping off Indivisible Berks’ statement on SB 22-the gerrymandering bill.
The State House with its marble halls, Mercer tiles, and Victoria Oakley murals is a sight to behold, but much like the bureaucratic hoops we have to jump through to reach our senators and representatives, the layout of the building leaves a lot (and I mean a lot!) to be desired. No matter how many times we’ve traversed the rabbit warren that is our Capitol, it never fails that we have to consult our maps, backtrack, and finally submit to the utter humiliation of asking someone at the information desk. You’d think as the dedicated activists we are and after almost 80 weeks of Tuesdays with Toomey, we’d have it down pat, but maybe geography isn’t our strong suit. Visiting the State House in Harrisburg is always an experience, but visiting it with Jane Palmer is like riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at a carnival. First of all, she knows everybody-from other activists to staffers to the many legislators with whom she’s on a first name basis. Sometimes we don’t even knock on their office doors! Hey-it is our house after all. The best part is that with having those connections, you’re sure to be on top of the latest comings and goings at the Capitol. Such was the case on Tuesday. We were barely through the metal detectors when we found out that Senator Lisa Baker’s legislation SB 1189 that would render the fracking ban in the Delaware River Basin an act of eminent domain had passed 9-3 in committee. Then we ran into Rep Mark Rozzi who was gearing up for a big press conference on his fight for the victims of childhood sex abuse. Jane just so happened to have her "Smash the Patriarchy" sign, so how could we resist joining Mark and other survivors on the steps in the main rotunda?
The history of SB 22, the PA Senate redistricting bill, is an equally wild ride. The twists and turns in the progression of SB 22 are enough to give a person whiplash. Amendments to amendments and the on-again, off-again backing from various advocacy groups have made the issue confusing to navigate. Initially groups like ours joined Fair Districts PA and other strong proponents of redistricting reform in support of the legislation to create an independent citizen’s commission to redraw PA’s Congressional district lines. But as things often happen in the Capitol, a last minute amendment proposed by Senator Folmer made the bill unpalatable, and IB and many other groups withdrew support. This was the message we delivered to Berks legislators last Tuesday.
Let’s step off the ride for a second and review what SB 22 was at its introduction in February 2017. SB 22 as originally written would have established a citizens’ redistricting commission made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and three Independent/minority members randomly selected from a pool of eligible applicants. The bill sat in the State Government Committee led by, as one reporter from the Morning Call refers to him, “the troglodytic House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe”, and was subsequently “mutilated”. Metcalfe’s tinkering with the bill would have kept mapmaking in the hands of the politicians. Of some note, on June 4th 2018 Speaker of the House Mike Turzai moved the bill out of what the same reporter calls “the black hole of Metcalfe’s State Government Committee” to Appropriations. Enter Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon). Folmer introduced an amendment that would require the commission members to be appointed by politicians. The majority and minority leaders of the State Senate and House would each select two members from their respective political parties. The Governor would then appoint three independent or 3d-party citizens, making a total of eleven. The entire commission would then have to be approved by two-thirds of the State Legislature, thus putting politics back into the mix. With the addition of the Folmer Amendment, support of SB 22 began to fracture. Fair Districts was still backing it, arguing it was a step in the right direction, but other groups like Indivisible Berks, Make the Road PA, and the NAACP came out in opposition.
Keep your seatbelts on, there’s more. In response to the Folmer Amendment, Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice introduced their own amendment that would strengthen the role of the minority party and the governor in choosing members of the commission. If the commission would become deadlocked, the plans it submits must have support of the minority and majority parties and independent members of the commission. This would have ensured independence in the process. Unfortunately Senator Hughes’ amendment failed along a party-line vote. Folmer’s amendment passed on the Senate floor on Tuesday with only one dissenting vote, that of Senator Hughes.
We were just about to leave the rotunda last week when we learned that the bill would again be modified with what people were describing as the “poison pill” amendment. Senate Republican Ryan Aument of Lancaster added a new and unrelated change that would ask PA voters if state appellate judges should be elected from regional districts instead of statewide as they are now. The Aument amendment would split the PA StateSupreme Court into seven districts. Some are saying it’s revenge for the way the PA Supreme Court ruled in the gerrymandering case. The amendment would most likely lead to more GOP judges, since they would be chosen from areas outside of the population centers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
With the addition of the Aument amendment to the bill, Fair Districts PA revoked its support for SB 22 on Tuesday afternoon. Chairwoman Carol Kuniholm said, "It is with a heavy heart that Fair Districts PA is withdrawing its support for Senate Bill 22. ... Yesterday's maneuver underscores Senate leaders' deep disregard for advocates who are eager for bipartisan redistricting reform — including thousands of their own constituents," she wrote. "We are outraged, but not defeated. We will take our case to the House, and from there, to the polls, where every single representative faces re-election in the fall." The Aument amendment ended up passing with Berks’ Senators Rafferty and Schwank voting against it. SB 22 went on to be passed in the Senate on Wednesday with no Democratic votes in favor.
As I write-told you it was a wild ride-the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Wisconsin and Maryland gerrymandering claims-saying discrimination cannot be based on partisan affiliation. The high court basically kicked it back to the lower courts. The ruling or lack thereof is a setback in the battle against partisan gerrymandering, but rest assured the fight will go on.
posted by Amy Levengood
As promised in my last blog post about fracking vs biofuel, I am going to enlighten you about why we have so many gas wells in PA and can’t seem to get stricter laws on gun control in this country.
If you are old enough to remember the old children’s song, “Pop Goes the Weasel,” you might remember the second verse, “A penny for a spool of thread. A penny for a needle. That’s the way the money goes - pop goes the weasel.”
Well with inflation a spool of thread and a needle go for a lot more today. But it seems money is going to the weasels. And in the case of fracking, “Pop Goes the Environment.”
Now down to business. You may be seeing a lot of politicians saying they are not accepting any PAC money in their campaign. This is a good thing. However, maybe some of you don’t know what PAC money is; so I’ll give you a glossary of a few interesting terms when it comes to political campaign contributions - or what I like to call how to buy a vote.
According to OpenSecrets.org here are the definitions:
Political Action Committee (PAC) — A popular term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor or ideological interests. PACs can give $5,000 to a candidate committee per election (primary, general or special). They can also give up to $15,000 annually to any national party committee, and $5,000 annually to any other PAC. PACs may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party committee per calendar year.
Ah, but a PAC is only one of the definitions you need to know about. Again from the same source there is a Super PAC:
Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit.
If you want to see Super PAC money in action you need only turn on your TV. These are the sources of much of the money used for paid advertising. This is also why when an ad crosses the line, a candidate will cry they had nothing to do with the advertising.
Next we have Dark Money. Sound sinister? Maybe, but at the very least if is money that proves difficult to trace.
Dark Money refers to political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown. Depending upon the circumstances, Dark Money can refer to funds spent by a political nonprofit or a super PAC. Here’s how:
Political nonprofits are under no legal obligation to disclose their donors. When they choose not to, they are considered Dark Money groups.
Super PACs can also be considered Dark Money groups in certain situations. While these organizations are legally required to disclose their donors, they can accept unlimited contributions from political nonprofits and “shell” corporations who may not have disclosed their donors, in these cases they are considered Dark Money groups.
So it seems even if a candidate refuses to accept PAC money, they can still accept Super PAC money if you want to get technical. Now, supposing the candidate is totally honest, they may include Super PAC money in their statement.
That still leaves the political nonprofits. While PAC and Super PACs must be more upfront with their funds and report to the Federal Election Committee, political nonprofits are not required to do so. However, they are limited in the amount they may give to any one candidate.
They receive their money from undisclosed donors often using shell corporations. You know about shell corporations if you watch a lot of crime TV. Detectives hate them, but they always have an expert computer wiz who will track down where the money’s real source.
How they get around to it is they can grant money to other nonprofits. who will use it to also make donations. The system really works quite well at getting the money where they want it to go. If only trickle down economics worked so well.
When you go to the Open Secrets web site you can get a lot of valuable information about campaign finance.
The bottom line is most of these groups have an agenda. If the agenda is more fracking they are going to give to the candidates most likely to vote for legislation that favors their business; or vice versa. It’s just business. Why would they give to someone who votes against what they want?
This not just being done by Republican candidates, if is being done across all parties. The only difference is the agenda.
You can go on the Open Secrets site and learn who gives money to which candidate, except Dark Money as stated above, and then you can look up that candidates voting record. I am sure you’ll find there is a direct correlation between where the money comes from and how the candidate votes.
Like I said, it’s just business.
It’s also why I said a politician’s votes may be bought and paid for.
To stay on top of all this you will need to do a bit of research, but in the end like clean eating, you will be able to see which candidate will offer a clean vote, untainted by any outside influence.
Just remember, the way it works, you probably have a personal agenda, and if you look, you will find a group who shares that agenda and is right now buying some votes. You may want to back the candidate who sold those votes.
Last, I want to say that until someone comes up with a way to change this, it is what it is. Do the research and vote accordingly. And know that without the large sums of money donated to various campaigns those candidates will be looking for money elsewhere. Elsewhere may be in your pocketbook.
Campaigns are not cheap to run. If a candidate is not taking PAC money you may likely be hearing from them again and again until the November election. You can’t blame them.
posted by Pam Garlick
I’ve heard there are three topics never to be discussed among friends: politics, sex, and religion. So before I begin and lose a bunch of friends- a caveat-the following blog is not meant to disparage Christianity. Rather, it describes how a certain element on the right are using (some would say distorting) their faith to further political agendas.
It never fails to amaze me as each new salacious scandal involving Trump erupts, that the choir of the religious right raises its voice even louder in his defense. Franklin Graham is one who comes to mind. I shouldn’t be surprised. Trump got the support of 81% of evangelical Christians during the 2016 election and his favorability ratings among that group remain high. The reasons behind this could fill pages, but to me it seems the overarching theme is a “fear of the other” and a desire to keep our country from evolving away from a predominantly white, Judeo-Christian nation.
One term for this paradigm of society is “Christian nationalism”. Sociologist Andrew Whitehead defines Christian nationalism as “an Old Testament-based worldview fusing Christian and American identities”. But when we’re talking politics, this viewpoint can’t simply be described as Christian nationalism but also as “dominionist”, meaning that a particular sectarian view of God should control all aspects of life and human institutions.
Again when we’re talking politics, there’s a particular element that aren’t just being hypocritical-they’re putting their money where their mouth is. Welcome to “Project Blitz”. The term “Project Blitz” is no accident. It’s intended to invoke war connotations, because this is a religious war in the minds of the people fighting it. Project Blitz is no joke. It’s a major legislative initiative with the goal of passing a package of Christian-right bills at the state level across the country. Its main organizers are groups like Wallbuilders, the National Legal Foundation, and the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, which is the principal “bill mill”. On the surface the bills seem to be unrelated and vary widely in content, but the underlying agenda is the same.
So far this year 71 bills have been introduced nationwide, and this only counts the bills being tracked by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Some examples are the National Motto Display Act, the Bible Literacy Act, and the Clergy Protection Act. The strategy is to follow the approach of pro-corporate ALEC. (See my August 2017 blog, “You Don’t Know ALEC!”)
Project Blitz has a 116 page playbook. Bills are organized in 3 tiers “according to the degree of opposition they anticipate”.
Tier 1: Legislation Regarding Our Country’s Religious Heritage (Let’s stop right there. 1. The title says it all-it assumes we have one religious heritage. 2. Many historians argue that the notion America at its founding was intended to be a Christian nation is a fallacy. It’s a distorted view and historically inaccurate that America is a Christian nation-just because most Americans have been Christian. The founding fathers wanted a nation where all faiths were defended according to historian John Fea. You can’t argue religious liberty but only Christian religious liberty.)
The strategy with Tier 1 bills is to go for soft targets and begin with “small victories”. These focus on less controversial issues with the intent of getting legislators comfortable with the concept. The initial bills will be built upon later. One example is “The Motto Bill” that has been passed in some states and requires the motto “In God We Trust” to be placed in public schools.
At the launch of Project Blitz on February 16, 2016, pseudo-historian and mastermind behind the strategy, David Barton, explained to state legislators that the bills in Category 1 are, “kinda like whack-a-mole for the other side. It’ll drive them crazy that they will have to divide their resources out in opposing this… they won’t know what to do with this and it’ll be great!”
Tier 2: Resolutions and Proclamations Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom. This seeks to make government a partner in the Christianizing of America. One example is the Proclamation Recognizing Religious Freedom Day or the Establishment of a Whitehouse Faith and Opportunity Initiative that Trump signed on Thursday. Barton said the bills in Category 2 ought to be “probably pretty easy to pass,” although “[the opposition is] gonna be a lot more virulent in their attacks. A lot more mean in their attacks. They’ll talk about theocracies and Christian nation and whatever.” According to the Project Blitz playbook legislators should worry much, because these arguments usually aren’t harmful in general elections.
Tier 3: Religious Liberty Protection Legislation. Tier 3 has 3 subcategories: public policy resolutions and two dealing with protections for religious practices. These types of issues are being framed as protecting the rights of the right. Examples include anti-gay adoption bills and exemptions for professional licensing. How that works is that pharmacists, mental health professionals, and other medical personnel could cite religious reasons for not providing care to LGBTQ persons, dispensing contraceptives, or performing abortions. According to the playbook, the model bills in Category 3 may “have the greatest immediate impact on protecting religious liberties.” However, “some of them also are the most hotly contested,” and opposition “will often be well-organized and well-financed, and the arguments made are more dangerous because they will often play the same inside and outside the statehouse.”
You may have noticed that many of the bills being promoted by Project Blitz are geared toward denigrating the LGBTQ community and advancing the right to discriminate. The playbook says that they seek “not to let those who want to run roughshod over religious liberty dictate the terms of the discussion, but to be ready to engage them with facts and figures and research that challenge their assumptions.” Project Blitz proponents claim that “their model public policy resolutions ‘rely heavily on the research that demonstrates the deleterious physical and mental health effects of same-sex intercourse and gender identity ‘transformation’.” And they don’t try to hide their agenda. The goal is to “define public policies of the state in favor of biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality.” Project Blitz offers “data” they suggest shows “that LGBTQ people tend to be diseased, dysfunctional or both—and that they pose a threat to children and to society. “
What happens in Washington gets all the attention, but much of the time when we’re looking over there the worst damage is being done at the state level. Under this administration and without a change in the balance of power at all levels of government, Project Blitz is on course to be a modern day Crusade. Science, reason, the right to choose, the right to love whom you want, and ironically enough, real Christian values will be the casualties of this war.
posted by Amy Levengood
Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
“Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!” Those were the chants of the crowd at a rally Trump held in Michigan on Saturday evening. While a formal ending to the Korean War and achieving peace on the peninsula may be a prize-worthy achievement, you will forgive me if I meet the prospect with a horse-size dose of skepticism. Putting aside the pesky little fact that a man who at the same event threatened to “shut down the country” if he doesn’t get his border wall, Trump is hardly a person who deserves a little gold star let alone the globe’s most prestigious award.
The question arises- if he’s so hell-bent on kumbayaing with Kim Jong Un, why is the Commander in Chief assembling the most hawkish cabinet since Andrew Jackson? We should have known when during the campaign, he flippantly discussed nukes like they were water balloons. Back in February Politico reported that the administration called for the development of two new types of nuclear weapons. In its Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon said that nuclear weapons could be used to respond in “extreme circumstances” including non-nuclear attacks. Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said “that nuclear weapons could be used to respond to a severe non-nuclear attack is “stabilizing” -the old “peace through strength” argument.
The newly assembled cabinet, which Trump claims is “almost the cabinet he wants” (Isn’t he in charge of the nominees?) is a virtual off-Broadway production of War and Peace-minus the peace.
In the role of National Security Advisor- exit stage left H.R. McMaster, enter stage right-John Bolton, the mustachioed champion of right-wing think tanks and advocate for regime change. Just take a Google at some of the groups with which he’s affiliated, such as Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG) , The Gatestone Institute, oh and don’t forget the NRA. There wasn’t much we as citizens could do on this front. National Security Advisor is an appointed position, and as such didn’t require confirmation hearings.
In the role of Secretary of State- exit stage left Rex Tillerson, enter stage right-Mike Pompeo. We fought hard on this one. But we can’t just blame Rand Paul, whose turn around on this nominee was bouncier than the curls on top of his head. Six Democrats and one Independent decided to go along for the ride:
✔️Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN) ✔️Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND) ✔️Sen. Doug Jones (AL) ✔️Sen. Angus King (ME) ✔️Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) ✔️Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) ✔️Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)
We could spend an entire blog dissecting the reasons why these senators jumped the party line, but it mainly boils down to being Blue in a Red state -except for the usually sensible Angus King of Maine. I’m not sure what happened there. Chalk it up to a funky lobster roll.
Let’s face it. Denying Pompeo the position at State was an uphill battle given that he had already been through the confirmation process successfully for CIA Director. Now –downstage Pompeo, upstage-Gina Haspel as CIA director. Here’s a case of what we know about Haspel being so bad that it’s scary to even think about what we don’t know. What we do know is that during the 2nd Bush administration Haspel was personally in charge of “Cat’s Eye”, a secret prison in Thailand known as a CIA “black site”. Men held there were kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured. Alberto Mora, former chief counsel of the Navy under Bush 43 once wrote regarding Haspel, “...she can be presumed to have felt the piercing cold, experienced the bleak darkness and heard the deafening, ceaseless music; she directed and then oversaw the application of pain—the blows, the hanging from shackles, the confinement in coffin- or suitcase-size boxes, the suffocation when water was inhaled time and again; and she heard the cries and groans and saw the bruises, the loss of consciousness, and the blood. And all of this not for a moment, but ceaselessly for weeks on end.” As if committing war crimes weren’t enough, Haspel then ordered the destruction of all video evidence of the crimes and wanted the site in Thailand to be burned down after its closure.
Haspel’s nomination has not been well-received. On April 23, 109 retired generals and admirals sent a letter to the Senate saying they were “deeply troubled” at the thought of Haspel as CIA director given her links to torture programs. At least two Republican Senators, John McCain and Rand Paul, have balked at her nomination. (We’ll see which side Paul lands on this time.) A sign that Haspel’s nomination may be in jeopardy is that there have been no reports of push-back or pressure from the White House in support of their nominee.
Confirmation hearings for Haspel are scheduled for May 9th. Along with the retired generals and admirals who expressed their misgivings, 40 national advocacy and civil liberties groups have also sent a letter to all 100 Senators urging them to oppose the nomination.
Throughout American history we’ve had many second chances at righting the ship of democracy. The Civil War, the civil rights struggles, and fights for LGBTQ equality come to mind. We’re imperfect and thus a nation of second chances. Gina Haspel has told Senators in private meetings that she would never restart the CIA’s enhanced interrogation and detention program. But I’d like to remind members of Congress and the Nobel committee, for that matter, the words of the late Dr. Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
posted by Amy Levengood
Following in the footsteps of the Keystone 8, Midstate female state representatives sworn into office in 2015 : from left Rep. Sue Helm, R-Susquehanna Twp.; Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-Jacobus; Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks County; Rep. Patty Kim, D-Harrisburg; Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Cleona; Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Lower Allen Twp.; Rep. Mindy Fee, R-Manheim; Rep. Lynda Schlegal Culver, R-Sunbury; and Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County.
Dan Gleiter | firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Gleiter | dgleiter@pennlive.)
In honor of National Women's History Month I wanted to share with you the stories of eight women in Pennsylvania politics, the first women to win elected offices in the PA House of Representatives. Before I do, however, it would be neglectful for me to not give you some background.
The battle for equal rights for women was, and still, is a slow fought tangle of disappointments for many women. Just when it seems that women take one step forward many others take two steps back. One might wonder how that can be?
I have no answer for that, except to say the battle against women moving upward is a hellish one. None but the strongest survive, because to be honest, moving into foreign territory can be a dangerous move. At the least, when permitted through the doors into the man’s world, there is a whole new set of rules of which to live. At worst, it can be like an urban gang turf war. Happily, at best women are cheerfully accepted. The majority lies somewhere in between.
Only the strong survive. But when they do, they pave the way for others: our sisters, our daughters and other young women of our future.
In the case of the eight women known as the Keystone Eight, it opened the door to women in PA to serve their fellow Pennsylvanians with dedication and a zest for better lives for everyone.
In 1920 women had finally won the right to vote, too late for any to run for office that year. However, on November 22, 1922 there were 38 candidates who would run for office. Of those, the winners were the Keystone Eight:
Rosa Stein de Young was not only one of the first eight women elected to the PA House, but she was also the first woman who was Jewish. Though she only served in the house for a short while, deYoung made good use of her time following her term in office.
In 1936 de Young was appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Wilson to serve as chair of the Philadelphia Theater Control Board. She also served on the boards of the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood and the Child Study Association.
Sarah Gertrude MacKinney, was from Butler County, who beat her four male counterparts by a landslide of 300 votes. She was a teacher in four counties: Crawford, Butler, Allegheny and Mercer before becoming a librarian at Grove City College. She later entered in the manufacturing business.
Also well known for her efforts in the Women’s Suffrage Movement MacKinney founded the League of Women Voters in Butler County and served as Vice President of the 14 County District of the Federation of Pennsylvania Women.
Though these were the first women elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, one woman, Flora Vare, was also elected to the state senate in the same election. Unfortunately, I was unable to find information on Vare.
It should be said that many women have served in Pennsylvania politics since these first women paved the way. However, it is sad to say that today there are no Pennsylvania women holding federal seats.
posted by Pam Garlick
Information for this article was obtained from the History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives 1923 to 2005, written by Jeanne H. Schmedlen for the PA House of Representatives.
If a psychologist were to analyze the Democratic Party, she may conclude that it suffers from self-defeating personality disorder. Whether it be trampling all over their own message, not having a concise message in the first place, or when they do not coming together to defend it to the death, Democrats are notorious for sinking their own ship. Take for example the 2016 election. Many in the party believed and rightly so that it was theirs to lose. With a fairly robust economy, plenty of money in the campaign coffers, and an opponent so outrageous that no sentient being would possibly cast a vote for him, they would simply ride the coattails of a popular president, Barak Obama, straight into the White House. Then things began to unravel. As the party schlogged through a contentious primary, enter the Republicans and Russian trolls and hackers who exploited the rift between the so-called Bernie wing and the more centrist Clinton faction, a rift which almost derailed the convention and continues in some circles to this day. I contend that the post-mortem jury is still out on 2016, (We don’t know the full scope of Russian interference.) but what lingers is a party which doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be when it grows up. In other words, the Democrats on so many occasions are their own worst enemy.
In my nostalgia for simpler times, you remember those- back when America equaled good and Russia bad, when a president playing footsy with brutal dictators was an anathema, and the mere suggestion of holding the executive office for life would have been grounds for impeachment- I came across a column by the late Molly Ivins. With her biting wit and well-honed folksy Texas style, she lays out the reasons why she wouldn’t be supporting a Hillary Clinton run for president in 2008. Ivins argued that the party’s fear of supporting positions the majority of Americans favored would ultimately hurt them, and that Clinton would be the candidate of compromise that the Democrats couldn’t afford to promote. Down to the very issues, Ivins’ message sounds eerily familiar. For example:
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority(66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.
Ivins wrote that in 2006, and between then and now something funny has happened with an affiliate of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) whose function is to elect democrats in the House. That something funny happened right here in Pennsylvania, but there are reports of similar occurrences elsewhere in the country. Just ask Mark Pinsley. Mark is a business owner and a progressive activist running for PA Senate in the Lehigh Valley’s 16th district. He’s also an active member of Indivisible Berks. In a March 4th article in the DailyKos, Mark writes:
On Friday, I was in Harrisburg preparing to submit my petitions to become the Democratic nominee for the Pennsylvania Senate’s 16th District. At the same time, news of an underhanded plot broke in the Washington Post about the DCCC’s attempt to push a fellow progressive into the primary race against me. They swooped into the area and tried to convince Greg Edwards, the most outspoken progressive, and only candidate of color, to drop out of the PA 7th Congressional race. In an attempt to induce him to meekly surrender to the establishment, they offered him support in the state senate race against me.
As I mentioned earlier, the DCCC’s odd behavior is not limited to Pennsylvania. In Texas in the Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District, the DCCC launched what some are calling a “scorched earth” campaign against progressive candidate, Laura Moser. The DCCC went as far as publishing an opposition research memo against Moser on their website. In the Texas case, the DCCC’s meddling backfired and actually propelled Moser into a run-off with primary challenger, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. DNC Chairman Tom Perez reacted to the DCCC’s moves saying, “I wouldn’t have done it. We’re at our best as Democrats when we talk about the issues. … I don’t believe we should be anointing candidates. The people in Texas are the people who should be making the choices in Texas.”
Today Democratic primaries are being held in Illinois. In the state’s 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Dan Lipinski is running against first-time candidate Marie Newman. The race is tight. Lipinski’s father, William, held the seat before him, and combined the two have held the district for 35 years. Lipinski is an odd duck in the Democratic Party. He voted against the Affordable Care Act, the DREAM Act, and legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. He opposes abortion and voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Lipinski told the New York Times, “The Democratic Party is endangering its future by moving too far to the left. This is part of the reason Donald Trump won. Democrats have chased people out of the party.” Newman’s campaign manager has said, “Lipinski is a Democrat in name only. “He likes to say he’s a centrist, he’s not. He is a Republican,” Newman herself said. “There is not a division in the Democratic Party — he just is a dinosaur.” But the DCCC and party elders like Nancy Pelosi have stepped in to back Lipinski, even though their chosen candidate seems out of touch with the views of voters in the district, 2/3rds of which identify as pro-choice.
None of this indicates that every nominee must toe the party line à la the Tea Party, or that far left candidates are right for every seat. Nor do I think that Democrats have the luxury at this point in time to subject each candidate to a purity test. Look what happened just last week in western PA. Conor Lamb, while rejecting Republican attacks on healthcare and excoriating them for their embrace of tax cuts for the wealthy, was not exactly displaying progressive bona fides on issues like guns and tariffs. Many will argue he caved to the old guard of the party, others will say he ran in a way that reflected the red-leaning district. But the most important lesson to be learned from the special election in PA 18 is that the winning candidate captured the attention of those he was running to represent and tapped in to the grassroots energy rather than tamping it down.
Which brings me back to Molly Ivins. Her article I referenced was specifically meant to send a message to the people running the Democratic Party and was really a call for leadership. She wrote:
The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.
Mark Pinsley couldn’t be more right when he says in his article, “This is the fight for the soul of our party and one we cannot afford to lose.” But will it be an ideological struggle or a battle between the establishment and the will of the people? As they say in Texas, " That's two different buckets of possums."
Click here to read Mark Pinsley's full article: The Frontline in the Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party
posted by Amy Levengood
The name of our organization Indivisible Berk implies that we cannot be divided. Also implied by our country’s name, is that we are made up of “United States.” Yet, as is often the case as elections approach, we are divided. Mostly in two directions - Democrat or Republican - but also in other directions like Independents, Libertarians, Green and more.
Today, I want to concentrate on the two larger groups Democrats, often referred to as liberal or blue and Republicans, known as conservatives or red. I chose to do this because they create the color that is part of the analogy I hope to form in this blog.
As I stated, Indivisible and united are in many ways synonymous, though a closer examination of the words gives more accurate meanings.
According to TheFreeDictionary.com:
Looking at the dictionary definition of these words you find that they are very different. And that is where we find ourselves when heading toward an election. Although we may want to stay united, our differences too often cause us to be divided. The worst example of this would be the Civil War.
There are likely few who want to see the divide created by our differences lead to another civil war, however, the divide currently taking place in our country is deepening. One might wonder if there is any chance of narrowing it again.
Could it be as simple as creating the color purple? As we learned as children the color purple is the result of combining the colors blue and red. Can we do it as simply with our personal beliefs?
The answer is yes and no. It can be done, but not simply. It takes people willing to listen to one another in an effort to better understand the other.
Better Angels holds workshops in locations throughout the United States where people learn to work in harmony in spite of their differences. In fact, it is said that many of the people who attend start out enemies and end as friends.
That doesn’t say they have changed their perspectives and political views, but it does say they have built respect for one another and an ability to work harmoniously when possible. You will find more information on Better Angels here.
I conducted my own informal survey on Facebook and although I did not have many respondents, I did see common ground. For one thing, everyone was in agreement, there needs to be a multi-party system for electing our leaders. With multiple parties there are going to be differences, but differences can be good. As one person stated, if we had a one party system we’d be a dictatorship. Frightening thought. Right?
The people I surveyed also stated they believe that although we may not be acting like it, they feel we still have some common ground, that to many people the most important things are that they and their families can live safe and prosperous lives.
The task of creating purple is not an easy one, as can be seen in a segment on 60 Minutes where Oprah Winfrey hosts a discussion group in Michigan similar to the ones conducted by Better Angels. Click to view video. In just the few seconds of this short preview it is obvious there was much to overcome before reaching a level of respect where the participants could actually communicate effectively.
Could this work here in Berks County? That remains to be seen as we approach another election, but one thing for certain, if blue and red do not find common ground, there is a good chance we will no longer be “indivisible.”
posted by Pam Garlick