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Election Update

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 15:25

May and June were significant months for elections, both in the United States and Europe.  While the news media tends to overhype some elections and ignore others, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from those elections.

Starting with the United States, the big news has been a series of special elections — focusing mostly on three Congressional seats held by the Republicans.  Neither party can be particularly happy with the results at the Congressional level, but certain things need to be noted.

First, except when caused by death or sudden resignation due to scandal, most vacancies occur in what the parties consider to be “safe” seats.  With the exception of the upcoming special election in Utah, the special elections for the House are all the results of an executive of their own party “promoting” the member of Congress to an executive office.  In California, you have to go back to 2012 to see the last time that a Republican even ran in the 34th district.  The four Republican seats were solid wins for the Republican incumbents in 2016 with the closest margin being 16% in Montana.  All five of these districts were double-digit wins for their party’s candidate in 2012.  The only district that was arguably winnable by the “out” party was Georgia 6 and that is only if you looked solely at the 2016 presidential election.  By the partisan vote index, Georgia 6 is still R+8, meaning that the Democrats would need to get around 58% nationally to win that seat.

Second, while national trends have a significant role to play in Congressional election results (as the number of true swing voters declines), races still involve actual candidates running actual campaigns.  Unlike regular elections, in which the parties have a significant period of time between the last election and the start of filing to recruit solid candidates for winnable seats, special elections require getting candidates to file (or choosing a candidate in some states like Kansas and Montana) in a matter of weeks from the announcement of the election to the close of filing.   The candidates for both parties are the ones who are ready to run, not necessarily the “best” candidate.  (That is especially true in Montana where both parties ran flawed candidates.)

Third, special elections are almost never about which party controls Congress.  While the media focuses on wins and losses (and parties will find consolation/disappointment in the wins and losses), the more significant story is whether the results show anything about swings since the last election.

It is in those trends that any discussion of these elections has to begin and it leads to the bigger question — has Trump yet made the Republican Party his party.  In the 2016 election, Trump exceeded expectations in some rural and blue collar districts but underperformed in certain suburban white collar districts.  A question going forward is whether Trump has driven voters with college degrees who, in the past, have leaned Republican from the Republican party or if these voters merely oppose Trump.  On the other side, the question is whether rural and blue collar voters have been permanently lost to the Democratic Party or if they merely disliked President Obama and Secretary Clinton.  Assuming that the results from the special elections so far has any meaning for 2018, it seems likely that the Democrats are looking at getting a result near the 53-54% national vote needed to win a majority in the House.

Another issue from these elections is that, in each of the races in the Republican districts (except perhaps in South Carolina), the polls showed the Democratic candidate either leading or in a close race shortly before the election.  After those polls showing a closer than expected race, the national Republicans intervened in the races and local Republican activists woke up to the need to work hard to keep the seat.  In all of these seats, the Republicans slightly over-performed these polls to barely keep the seat.  Obviously, the mid-term election will be quite different than these special elections.  With 435 seats up for grabs, there will not be polling for every seat (so people will not necessarily know which seats are at risk of an upset).  Additionally, neither party will be able to pour money into every close race — at least not at the overkill levels seen in Georgia 6 — a race that shows that there is such a thing as too much money.    On the other hand, traditional Republican voters did come home in these seats despite any potential problems that they might have with President Trump.

Of course, there are still more elections to come this year — the regularly scheduled off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia and the special election for Utah 3 are all scheduled for November.

Internationally, the big elections were in the United Kingdom and France.  In the United Kingdom, the election law is supposed to make it difficult to call an early election.  However, the Conservatives called an early election barely two years into a five-year term.   The traditional thought in the United Kingdom — from the days when the election law placed no limits on the ability of the government to call an early election — is that calling an early election (i.e. before the last year of the term) when the government has a working majority is generally viewed as opportunist and the government is punished.  This election followed that general rule.  Despite the early polling showing the Conservatives gaining a significant number of seats, the Conservatives actually lost seats and their majority.

Equally big from the United Kingdom were the continued developments in Northern Ireland.  This election saw the Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour Party lose their last seats in Parliament.  In the old days, when there was still fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, these two parties were the two leading parties in Northern Ireland.  Since the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland, these two centrists parties that pushed for peace have lost votes and seats to the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein — the two parties that represent the extremes of the two communities.  After the last election, the Democratic Unionists held ten seats and Sinn Fein held seven seats with one seat held by an independent who was originally elected as an Ulster Unionist.  (In comparison, before the Good Friday Agreement, the Ulster Unionists and SDLP held thirteen seats.)  Given that the Conservatives fell just short of a majority, the overall election results mean that the Democratic Unionists hold the balance of power.  Given that the DUP is a socially conservative party and the fact that the rest of the UK has managed to stay above the unique regional disputes of Northern Ireland, the DUP being power brokers is not a good thing.

Another development worthy of note from this election is that the DUP is only in this position because the Conservatives rebounded in Scotland.  Before the election, the Conservatives held only one seat from Scotland with the Scottish Nationalists holding 56 of 59 seats.  The SNP fell to 35 seats with the Conservatives gaining twelve seats (compared to a gain of six by Labour) leaving the Conservatives with a total of thirteen seats.  Given that the Conservatives fell six short of a majority (forcing them to rely on the DUP’s ten votes to survive any motion of no confidence), the gain of twelve in Scotland is the only thing letting them form a minority government that has any chance of surviving more than a couple of months.  (It will also be interesting to see what will happen.  In the past, a minority government would probably call an election within several months in the hopes of winning a working majority.  Now, calling an election would require the support of the opposition parties.)

The stated reason for the Conservatives calling the election was to receive a mandate to pursue a certain strategy in Brexit negotiations.  The attempt to get a mandate for a very Trumpian approach to those negotiations failed “bigly.”  Additionally, the most Trumpian party lost its only seat in parliament.

Across the English Channel in France, the election results show the significance of “personality politics.”  A political party that did not exist in the last general election has now won the presidency and an overwhelming majority in Parliament.  While the new president is not quite the newcomer that he is sometimes portrayed in the media — he served in the last government — the ability to build a movement from scratch is somewhat foreign to U.S. politics.  Other countries make it much easier for parties to get on the ballot leading to more fractured political loyalty and a chance for a new party to accumulate a significant percentage of votes.  In the first round of voting (for both president and the legislature), this new party managed to get in the mid-20s.  Given the number of parties in France, those numbers were enough to make the run-off for president and the run-off in almost all of the legislative seats.  In the U.S. (or even the U.K.) with two major parties and no run-off, those numbers would be an electoral disaster rather than winning numbers.  While the Trumpian party made the presidential run-off, it got crushed and only won eight seats in parliament.

As in the U.S., major international elections are not done for the year.  Even  if there is not a second election in the U.K., German elections are scheduled for late September.  In the beginning of the year, it looked like a far right Trumpian party might win a significant number of seats (polling in double digits).  Now it looks like, they are polling in the single digits.  While currently they are polling over the 5% necessary to qualify for seats (having fallen just short in 2013), they have dropped 3-4% since earlier in the year and may ultimately fall short again.  (The most recent polls have them between 6% and 9% compared to polls showing them near 15% at the start of the year.)  As would be expected, most of the voters that flirted with the far right have returned to the center-right meaning that Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking likely to win another term in office.  While Chancellor Merkel’s party is polling slightly under its result in 2013, its main ally (who failed to get the necessary 5% in the last election) is polling around 8%.  As a result (as compared to a grand coalition after the 2013 election), it looks likely that Chancellor Merkel will be able to form a center-right coalition after this election (like after the 2009 elections).

Of course, the big story from Europe is that the Trump brand of politics is not doing well in European elections.  The far right populism peaked in Europe last year and Trump’s example of poorly run government is turning off European voters.  For the United States, the bigger problem is that Europe’s leaders are getting the message that they are on their own.  The United States has been able to get rather favorable deals internationally (regardless of how domestic opposition mischaracterize them) because the United States was in a leadership role and seen as indispensable to making any arrangement work.  If our traditional allies get used to having to do things for themselves, it may be hard for the U.S. to reclaim that position after Trump is shown the door.

Categories: Political Action

Free Speech Uber Alles

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:48

The late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was famous for a very literal interpretation of the First Amendment — that the language in the Amendment providing that “Congress shall make no law” meant that Congress should make no law.  While the current Supreme Court does not go quite as far as Justice Black, a consistent theme of the Roberts Court has been — with the occasional exception that proves the rule — a very broad interpretation of the First Amendment to strike down any law in which the government either directly (by banning it) or indirectly (by favoring other speech) regulates speech.  Simply put, if there is a free speech component to your case, the expectation has to be that the government will lose if the Supreme Court grants review and the only question is exactly how the justices will line-up in the decision.

This week saw the last two free speech opinions of the term (there is a remaining free exercise case that could incorporate some of the recent free speech cases into that sphere of law) — both issued on Monday.  In both cases, the ultimate decision was unanimous, but there was a liberal-conservative split in the reasoning.

The more “traditional” case was Packingham v. North Carolina.  This case involved a North Carolina statute that barred registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking website if juveniles could also join that site.  (Under the very broad definition used by North Carolina, this site might qualify.)  All eight justices (the case was heard in February before Justice Gorsuch joined the Court) agreed that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored due to the sheer number of sites covered by the statute that were not primarily designed to facilitate the type of one-on-one real world interaction that the Court saw as the legitimate purpose behind the statute.  The main disagreement in the case — between Justice Kennedy writing for the “liberal” majority and Justice Alito writing for the three conservative justices — was how to characterize the internet.  The majority described the internet as the functional equivalent of public streets and parks.  (In free speech law, streets and parks are considered “public forums” and the government’s ability to regulate is very limited — some content-neutral “time, place, and manner” restrictions like requiring parade permits are allowed, but such restrictions are closely examined to determine that they are not being used to prevent speech.)  From a factual point of view, this analysis is partly accurate.  The internet itself is arguably like a street, but the individual websites are more like private homes and offices.  The dissent — borrowing from language in the majority about the need to be cautious in applying existing legal categories to the internet to avoid inhibiting the speed at which the internet is changing — thought that it was not necessary to categorize the internet as a public forum.  (Because both opinions recognize that preventing crime is a legitimate governmental interest potentially supporting restrictions on sex offenders, there are likely to be future cases considering whether other restrictions — whether imposed on sex offenders on a case-by-case basis or statutes that apply to certain categories of sex offenders across the board — are narrowly tailored.)

The other case — Matal v. Tam — involved the Supreme Court’s growing line of “indirect” restrictions on speech.  The issue in this case — as discussed on prior occasions — was the law permitting the patent office to decline to grant trademark recognition if the item for which trademark recognition was sought “disparaged” any person.  In this case, the “Slants” — an Asian-American rock band — sought and had been denied trademark protection for that name.  Again, all eight justices agreed that the law was unconstitutional — rejecting all arguments that the statute did not actually bar or restrict speech but merely governed a governmental benefit that the government choose to give to certain “favored” speakers.  (While trademark recognition makes it easier for the trademark owner to bring an infringement action, it is not absolutely necessary that the government officially recognize and register a trademark for there to be a legally-protected “common law” trademark.)  As in Packingham, the justices split on some of the reasoning.   Seven of the justices (Justice Thomas did not join this part of the opinion) held that, although the statute only expressly barred trademarks that disparaged persons, the patent office correctly interpreted the law as also barring trademarks that disparaged groups of people (such as derogatory names for certain racial groups).  All eight justices agreed that the trademarks was not governmental speech and, because registration did not endorse the content of the trademark, registration was not governmental speech either.  However, the justices disagreed about how to analyze the rest of the case.

Justice Alito (writing on behalf of himself, the other two conservative justices, and Justice Breyer) rejected the claim that trademark registration was a form of subsidy (holding that the subsidy cases only applied to cash subsidies) or a government program.  Treating trademarks as a “limited public forum” (think public comment session at a local government meeting), the “conservative” opinion noted that regulations limiting permissible speech in such forums had to be viewpoint neutral and the bar on disparaging comments is not viewpoint neutral.   Finally, analyzing the regulation under the relatively relaxed standard that applies to commercial speech, the regulation is still not viewpoint neutral and thus fails the intermediate scrutiny because (like the regulation in Packingham) it is not sufficiently narrowly drawn to match any proposed legitimate governmental interest.

Justice Kennedy (writing on behalf of himself and the remaining three liberal justices) would have applied heightened scrutiny to the regulation (requiring a compelling interest and narrow tailoring rather than the substantial interest required by intermediate scrutiny) because it constituted viewpoint discrimination.  As with the four justices who applied intermediate scrutiny, these four justices found that this regulation failed heightened scrutiny.

While none of the opinions address the rest of the registration statute, the statute also bars registration of trademarks that are “immoral,” “deceptive,” or “scandalous.”  While the bar on deceptive trademarks probably would withstand scrutiny, the bars on “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks will probably also be struck down in future cases unless a court very narrowly interprets those terms  (For example, by equating immoral with obscene).

The decision in Packingham is the less significant of the two.  When the case was granted, the law looked in trouble and the only question was whether some of the justices might create a “criminal” exception to free speech.  Tam raised more significant questions because it was less clear how to characterize the impact of the regulation and whether it actually restricted speech.  The immediate impact of Tam is that efforts to pressure the Washington Redskins to change their name by denying trademark registration  to that name are gone.  The case also falls into a line of cases that restrict regulations on hate speech unless that speech is associated with a criminal intent (i.e. directed at intimidating or harming a specific individual).   It also represents another link in a line of cases that sees the denial of a governmental benefit based on viewpoint discrimination (except when the viewpoint is closely connected to the purpose of the benefit) as a violation of the applicant’s free speech rights.

Looking at things longer term, while Justice Gorsuch did not participate in either case, the Roberts Court is unlikely to be changing its approach to the First Amendment.  While we still have three April cases left, Justice Gorsuch appears to be lining up with Justice Alito and Justice Thomas more than Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts.  It is unlikely that this Court is going to walk back from Citizens United.  More significantly, just before Justice Scalia died, the Supreme Court heard a case asking the justices to overturn a prior decision requiring public employees in closed shop states to pay fees to unions to cover the expenses of collective bargaining on behalf of those employees.  The decision in that case was 4-4.  Anti-worker activists have several cases in the  pipeline, and the conservative majority is likely to get another case raising that issue to the Supreme Court soon.  Given the gradual shift among unionized workers from those working in the private sector to those working in the public sector, such a decision would cripple the union movement.  And given the role that the union movement plays in supporting progressive candidates, such a decision would leave the Republican Party and the Koch brothers with a monopoly in campaign spending.

Ten years from now, workers and progressives are going to realize that the 2016 election was a missed opportunity to bring the Supreme Court back to the center.  With Justice Gorsuch on the court, conservatives will continue to use the First Amendment as a battering ram to crush any restrictions on the wealthy buying elections.  While, thanks to Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, we might win individual cases on other issues, campaign finance reform is dead for the foreseeable future.

Categories: Political Action

Supreme Court 2016-17-Two Weeks Left

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 18:27

One of the unwritten rules of the Supreme Court is that, come hell or high water, the justices will get all of the opinions issued before the July 4th weekend.  (In the past, some justices actually maintained a summer home outside of D.C. and those justices were very keen on getting out of D.C. as soon as possible.  Even today, justices will spend a good part of the summer elsewhere giving presentations and lectures for various schools and groups.)  That will make for a very packed last two weeks.  It’s not just that the number of remaining opinions is slightly high, but the number is high after a very light term.  For the past decade or so, the Supreme Court has heard between 70 and 86 cases per term.  This year, they have only heard 64 cases.  The last two weeks of the terms have seen the court issuing between 9 and 17 opinions.  This year, we still have 17 cases waiting for opinions.  (The pace of grants of argument for the upcoming term is also a little light with 19 cases granted so far which would only take the Supreme Court through November but there tends to be a decent number of cases granted during the last two weeks of the term when the Justices run out of time to postpone making the decision to grant or deny argument in a case.)

Given the large number of cases, it is more likely than not that there will be multiple opinion dates during these two weeks.  In theory, all of the opinions could be issued on one day in each week — the decision on which opinions are final and ready to issue is made at the weekly conference (June 15 and June 22).  But last second “non-substantive” edits that delays the Court’s printshop from having all of  the opinions printed and the sheer number of opinions tends to result in multiple opinion days during this point of the term.  (In addition to the two regular conferences, there is always a wrap-up conference after the last opinion issues.  In the past, the wrap-up conference typically featured cases that had been “held” because they involved an issue raised in one of the argued cases.  Once the argued case has resolved the issue, the held cases can be sent back to the lower court — if necessary — to apply the ruling in the argued case.  In recent years, the practice of taking at discussing cases at two or more conferences before granting argument means that the wrap-up conference involves a final decision on several pending applications.)

As noted in past years, the Supreme Court has customs regarding the assignment of opinions that makes it somewhat possible to predict what Justice is most likely to have which opinion by this point of the term.  Of course, the number of outstanding opinions does make it a little bit harder this year.  The general rule of thumb is that the Supreme Court tries to keep the workload balanced.  With eight justices for the first six months of the term, that usually means that: 1) in any month with seven or fewer cases, no justice gets two opinions, and some justices do not have any opinions; 2) in any month with eight cases, each justice gets one opinion; and 3) in any month with nine or more cases, each justice gets at least one opinion, but no justice gets more than two opinions.  Additionally, this practice means that a justice who was skipped one month is likely to get two opinions in a following month and a justice who had two opinions in one month is likely to get skipped in a following month.  At this point, we do not know whether Justice Gorsuch will be getting one or two opinions from April (we already have one opinion from Justice Gorsuch).  If Justice Gorsuch only has one opinion, seven of the other justices will eight opinions and one will have seven opinions.  If Justice Gorsuch has two opinions, six of the other justices will have eight opinions and two will have seven opinions.  The two justices most likely to have only seven opinions would be the two junior justices — Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan — but there is always the possibility that the Chief might decide to count a complicated case as a two-fer to spread the burden of opinion-writing around.

Right now there is one case still outstanding from December — Jennings involving the federal statute on bonds in deportation cases.  Neither Chief Justice Roberts nor Justice Alito have issued an opinion from December.  Looking at the bigger picture, there were thirty-three cases heard between October and January.  Chief Justice Roberts has four opinions from that time frame (picking up two in one of the nine-case months) and Justice Alito currently only has two.  Given that Justice Breyer has five opinions from that time frame (leaving twenty-eight cases for the remaining justices or four per justice), it seems more likely that Justice Alito has the opinion in Jennings.  Given post-argument orders in this case, my projection is that the detainees will receive some type of bond hearings but not as much as the Ninth Circuit had granted.  There is also a significant possibility that the Supreme Court will order re-argument in light of that supplemental briefing and the addition of Justice Gorsuch since the argument.

There are still three cases outstanding from January.  The biggest of the three is Lee involving whether the First Amendment bars the Patent Office from denying trademarks based on the offensive content of the trademark (here an Asian-American band calling themselves “The Slants,” but in another pending case a group of wealthy, mostly white males, calling their sports team “The Redskins”).  There are also the cases about the vagueness of one of the categories of individuals eligible for deportation (i.e. it is allegedly unclear on which criminal offenses qualify) and a civil rights case about the post 9-11 arrests of Muslims.  The three justices who do not yet have a January opinion (and thus should have these cases) are Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito.  More likely than not Justice Kennedy has the trademark/First Amendment case and Justice Thomas has the immigration case, but they could be flipped.

In February, there are two cases outstanding.  One involves a cross border shooting by the border patrol and the other involves the First Amendment and internet restrictions on a sex offender.  Three justices do not have any opinion from February — Justice Breyer, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Alito.  Given that Breyer already has five opinions from October through November and that all justices should be evened up at five opinions per justice through the February sitting, it is more likely than not that these cases have gone to Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito.  The cross-border shooting may be a four-four tie and be scheduled for re-argument.  If not, my hunch is that Justice Kennedy has the cross-border shooting case and Justice Alito has the First Amendment case.

March and April are the problem months for predicting (eleven cases total outstanding).  Justice Kennedy should have one of the three left in March (my hunch is Lee on the impact of immigration consequences on the validity of a plea).  Justice Alito already has two from March and one from April and — assuming that the projections regarding December through February are accurate — should have no case from either month.  If Justice Sotomayor is one of the (one or two) justices with seven opinions, she has already issued seven opinions.   Of the remaining six Justices (other than Justice Gorsuch), Chief Justice Roberts is likely to have two outstanding opinions with one being from April (my hunch is that one of the two is Trinity Lutheran on the free exercise and whether states have to provide funding to churches for secular purposes).  Besides his March opinion, Justice Kennedy should have an April opinion and an extra opinion in either March or April.  Justice Thomas has already issued six opinions (which would be seven with the expected January opinion) but could have one more opinion from March or April (looking at what’s left, the issue of what qualifies as a material misrepresentation in citizenship applications could be the case assigned to Justice Thomas).   Justice Ginsburg is at seven opinions, but could have one more from either March or April.  Justice Breyer should have two opinions left — at least one from April.  Justice Kagan should have one opinion in April (which would take her to seven opinions for the term and, for the reasons noted above, as the most junior of the justices who sat for the entire term, is most likely to only have seven opinions).

Some of the cases involve poltically-explosive issues like immigration and international relations.  Assuming that Justice Gorsuch does not have any additional opinions, the four Democratic justices are likely to have only five of the cases compared to twelve for the Republican justices.  If Justice Gorsuch does have an additional opinion, that allocation would be four and thirteen.


Categories: Political Action

Birth Citizenship — Supreme Court sends issue back to Congress

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 19:29

There are two ways that a person can be a natural born U.S. citizen.  First, under the Fourteenth Amendment, they can be born in the U.S.  Second, they can be born to U.S. citizens.  For this second category, Congress has established some conditions that must be met related to how long the U.S. citizen parent has resided in the U.S.

Looking at this second categories, there are eight possible combinations of three crucial factors — is the mother a U.S. citizen; is the father a U.S. citizen; and are the parents married.  (Actually, there are six, if neither parent is a U.S. citizen, the child can’t inherit citizenship from her parents.)  Having six different combinations in which at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, Congress has enacted different rules based on which parent is a U.S. citizen.  In particular, an unwed U.S. citizen mother has to spend less time in the U.S. than an unwed citizen father or married couples in which one member is a U.S. citizen.  Earlier this week, the Supreme Court issued an opinion on the constitutionality of these rules.

The case involved a man facing deportation.  That man’s father was a U.S. citizen but had left the U.S. twenty days before meeting the statutory requirements for conveying citizenship to his children.  As such, even though the father had returned to the U.S. with his family (including the person seeking citizenship in this case), the man was not entitled to automatic citizenship and — because he had not sought naturalization — could be deported.

Finding that the distinction in the statute was based on gender-characteristics and that the justification for relying on gender characteristics depended on stereotypes about the role of men and women in raising their children, the Supreme Court held that the differences contained in immigration law violated the Equal Protection Clause.  However, because, the shorter period of time for unmarried U.S. citizen mothers was an exception to the rule that applied to married couples and unmarried U.S. citizen fathers, the Supreme Court held that the extended period of residence should be applied to both unmarried citizen fathers and unmarried citizen mothers and that Congress would have to act if it wants to change that period of residence.

So the issue now becomes whether Congress will act on this invitation.  In this day and age, there are a lot of U.S. citizens — whether in the military, working for the government, or working for a private company — who live abroad and would like their children to be citizens.  On the other hand, the demagogue-in-chief has done his best to smear immigrants.    It will be interesting to see if Congress will even hold hearings to examine this part of immigration law.

Categories: Political Action

Keeping the Light of the Paris Agreement Alive

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 17:11

There was a lot of consternation and sadness when #NotMyCheeto pulled the US out of the Paris agreement, thus putting us in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. BUT! Take heart that 30 states, cities and an ever growing number of corporations have said that they will still work towards getting us off fossil fuels and saving the planet as best we can for our children and grandchildren, and those to come after them.  Mike Bloomberg is in for $15 million to help with the effort.

Just because #NotMyCheeto says no does not mean that all the rest of us cannot say yes. And there is a lot that we can do as individuals to help the planet .

  • First, what kind of car do you drive? What kind of mileage does it get? Did you know that close to 30% of all domestic carbon emissions come from transportation? This is almost the amount from electricity production. 24 pounds of emissions per gallon of gas. A little math – if you drive 12,000 miles a year (which is about average) and your vehicle gets 20 miles to the gallon, that’s 14,400 pounds a year. Switch to an efficient car getting 40 miles to the gallon and that drops in half. As an aside, along with your car payment and your car insurance since littler cars are cheaper to buy and own.  Further, make sure your tires are properly inflated, drive the speed limit, and if possible, avoid traffic.
  • If possible, walk, bike or carpool. Since this doesn’t often work in the suburbs, at least plan your errands in a circle so you’re not backtracking in your car.
  • Next, your house – it’s not just swapping out your light bulbs, but setting your thermostat a little higher in summer, and a little lower in winter. Make sure that curtains are closed facing east in the morning and especially facing west in the afternoon to decrease summer heat. Leave curtains open all day in the winter to get the benefit of warming sunshine.  Make sure your house if properly insulated. If you have electric outlets on outside-facing walls, you can get little pre-cut insulation pads for even that small space. If you can afford it, consider solar panels.
  • When you fly, buy carbon offsets. You can do this for a variety of things, but the most common is air travel. Also, as you probably know, for the same reason that public transportation is a better way environmentally to get around, avoid private planes.
  • Don’t forget the carbon impact of food. Local food is always best (especially if it’s from your own garden.) Buy local if you can: the further a food travels, the more carbon involved in transporting it.
  • Eat less beef and dairy. Especially imported beef. Eating lower on the food chain is not only better for the environment, but better for you.
  • When you buy food, seek out less packaging. All that plastic is made from fossil fuels. It’s just not that hard to bring your own tote bags. And those thin plastic bags in the produce aisle for things that need to be bagged, like green beans, peas and cherries? They’re reusable, too.
  • In your garden, seek out native plants. They take less water and are better for the birds and bees.
  • Decrease your trash! Recycle everything you can. And that goes for bigger things, too, not just the packaging from items you purchase. Electronics, appliances, and a whole variety of things can be recycled, or reused by someone else.
  • Learn your carbon footprint. There are a variety of calculators, just Google “What’s my Carbon Footprint” – the best calculator depends on where you live, and what level of detail you want to calculate.

Face it, there’s a lot we can do as individuals. And of course – make sure to vote out the idiots that got us here. There is an election this year, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, as there has been every year since 1791. Go support a candidate running locally over the summer and commit to getting 10 friends to vote for your candidate in November.


Categories: Political Action

A June to Remember/Fear?

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 16:42

There are times when, through the normal cycle, and discretionary decisions, events start to come in rapid procession.  June is shaping up to be one of those month between elections (both in the U.S. and abroad), the end of the Supreme Court term, and the matters currently on the plate of Congress.  We have already had the first major event of June — the decision by the Trump Administration to make America weaker by playing to his misinformed base on climate change and withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  It’s almost impossible to count the reasons why this decision is wrong,  here are a few:  1) the agreement was non-binding; 2) being a signator gave us a seat at the table in future discussions; 3) withdrawing makes China and the European Union more powerful; 4) state laws requiring an increasing percent of energy to come from renewal sources are still in effect and will contribute to the U.S. meeting its pledge anyway; 5) the federal courts have held that greenhouse gases are a pollutant requiring federal action under the Clean Air Act (even though the precise terms of the regulations to reduce greenhouse gases are not yet final) which means that we may have to meet or exceed the pledge anyway.

Moving to the Supreme Court, June is looking like immigration month.  May ended with a decision in the first of four immigration cases heard this term.  The case involved what types of sexual offenses against a child trigger deportation hearings for authorized immigrants (e.g., permanent residents).  The Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the statute, meaning that — for some sexual offenses (those that can be committed against a 16 or 17-year old — the first offense will not trigger deportation.  Two of the other three also directly or indirectly concern deportation.  In addition, with the lower courts having barred enforcement of the travel ban, the Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to stay those injunctions.  (The real issue is the enforcement of the restrictions on visas and entry.  It is likely that the Supreme Court will grant relief to some overbroad language in those bars that could be read as suggesting that the Trump Administration can’t begin work on revisions to the vetting process.)  There are 22 other cases to be decided this month, so immigration will not be the only big news this month.  And, even aside from the decisions in cases already argued, the Supreme Court will be deciding what cases to take next term and there are some potentially major issues that could be on the agenda for 2017-18.

Moving to U.S. elections, there are still three special elections — all of which will occur this month.  Two — in Georgia and South Carolina — involve vacancies created by the Trump cabinet appointment.  The other — California — arose from a vacancy created by filling the vacancy in the California Attorney General position created when the former AG won the U.S. Senate election last fall.  Because California uses a “jungle primary” (i.e.  one in which all candidates from all parties run in one primary with the top two advancing to the general election), we already know that the Democrats will keep this seat and the only question on Tuesday is which Democrat will be elected.  For the most part, both parties in choosing members of Congress to fill vacancies have followed the rule of only choosing people from “safe” seats.  As such, while the Democrats have so far — in the first round in California and in Montana and Kansas — run around 10% ahead of 2018, this success has not changed the winner of any seat.

The run-off in Georgia is the best chance for Democrats to actually win a Republican seat.  This district went solidly for the Republicans in 2012 with Romney winning by 13 percent.  On the other hand, Trump won by 2 percent (while the Republican member of Congress by 23 percent).  That leaves this seat as roughly an R+8 seat (meaning that Democrats would expect to win this seat if the Democrat’s national vote is around 58 percent).  This seat is the 165th most Republican seat — based on the 2012 and the 2016 results — so it is not necessarily one that the Democrats would expect to win, but if Trump is shuffling the deck on traditional party divisions, this suburban seat is the type of seat that a youth + white collar + minorities Democratic Party could win.   The race in South Carolina involves a district that is only slightly more Republican, but it is a mostly rural district which was even more Republican in 2016 than it was in 2012.  The bottom line is that — if predicting in advance — the fact that Republicans have had to fight hard in all four seats is a good sign for the Democrats, but it would be nice to get a pick up.  Both of these special elections are scheduled for June 20.

Besides these special elections,  New Jersey and Virginia will hold primary elections.  In New Jersey, the big question is which Democrat will be replacing Chris Christie after the November election.  There are six Democrats and five Republicans running.  (The primary is this Tuesday.)  Virginia (holding its primary on June 13) will be  closer general election.  The Virginia Democratic Primary looks like a close race between the state government Democratic establishment (supporting the current lieutenant governor) and the Washington D.C. Democratic establishing (supporting a former Congressman).  This fight represents the unique geographic position of Virginia, with northern Virginia dominated by the federal government and central Virginia dominated by the state government.  In November, regardless of which candidate wins, the Democratic nominee will need to do well in both the D.C. suburbs and in the Richmond area in order to carry the state.

In foreign elections, first up is the British elections this Thursday.  The continuing fallout from last year’s narrow decision to leave the European Union led to these early elections.  At the time that the Conservative government called these elections, polls suggested that they would win comfortably and substantially increase their current narrow majority.  Since then, the polls have tightened.   As with the U.S. election, the final national vote count is not what will determine the winner.  What will determine the winner will be the results in each of the 650 constituencies.  In theory, it takes 326 seats to win.  However, one of the parties running (Sinn Fein — the political wing of the Irish Republican Army) refuses to sit in Parliament (members of Parliament most take an oath of loyalty to the Queen before taking office and Sinn Fein members will not take this oath).   As such, depending on how many seats Sinn Fein wins (four in the last election), it actually takes around 323 or 324 to have a majority of the sitting members.   There are two additional complicating factors:  1) each of the four “nations” of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have very distinct politics; and 2) third parties will win a significant share of seats.  In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the leading party in Scotland and the “unionist” parties are simply hoping to win back some seats.  In Wales, Plaid Cymru will win some seats (but they are not anywhere near as strong as the SNP).  In Northern Ireland,  the parties likely to win seats are only loosely affiliated at best with the British parties.  In England, the Liberal Democrats have pockets of strength — particular in the South — where they will win some seats and the United Kingdom Independence Party may win a seat or two in “Trumpian” parts of England.  Polls in England close around 10 p.m. their time and — depending on the seat — can take between 1-4 hours to count; so we should have some idea of the results during prime time in the U.S.

After the British vote, France will have two rounds of voting in its parliamentary election.  The first round will take place next Sunday (June 11) with a second round on June 18.   If any candidate gets an absolute majority of those voting and more than 25% of those registered to vote, they can win the seat on June 11.  If no candidate meets that threshold, the top two candidates and any candidate who gets more than 12.5% of the registered vote will advance to the run-off.  In 2012, approximately 58% of registered voters participated in the first round.  Assuming the “average district,” any candidate who got an absolute majority would also meet the 25% of registered vote requirement.  It would take 22% of the vote in such a district to qualify for the run-off.  Thus most districts with run-offs would involve 2-3 candidates with a very tiny number having a fourth candidate.  (A candidate who advances to the run-off does have the option to withdraw which can avoid a district in which two candidates from the same side of the political spectrum “split” the vote and allow a candidate from the other side to win the run-off with 40% of the vote.)  In France, there are four major left-wing parties/alliances, the centrist party of the new President (running for the first time), a center-right (Gaullist) party/alliance, and two extreme right parties.  Current polling suggests that the presidential party will get about one-third of the vote in the first round and will probably end up with a slim, but working, majority after the second round of the vote.

Besides election and court cases,  June will also feature the continued business of government.  The two big issues here will be continued Congressional hearings related to Russia and the Trump Administration (including whatever pressure the President may have put on James Comey to stop the investigation).  Meanwhile Senate Republicans will continue to try to negotiate behind closed doors on a health care bill.  And at the same time, House and Senate Republicans will be looking at tax reform and infrastructure spending.  On all of these bills, there are three main problems:  1) passing any bill requires both moderates and conservatives to agree unless the Republicans want to negotiate with Democrats; 2) passing any bill requires both the Senate and the House to agree (and may require some Democrats in the Senate); and 3) the clock is ticking.  Recent years have shown that the Freedom Caucus/Koch Brothers/Tea Party is willing to primary Republicans who do follow their version of Republican purity.  That means that House and Senate Republicans will soon need to start worry about a potential primary opponent and switch from governing mode to election mode sometime this fall.  After about mid-July, the focus will shift from substantive legislation to passing a debt ceiling bill (which needs to be done before the end of July).  After that, the House will be in recess for most of August, and September will be focused on trying to finish appropriations (or at least passing some continuing appropriation to buy more time).  If we are going to see any movement on any of the big three issues on the Trump/Republican agenda, it has to come soon.

In short, there are four things to look for in June:  1) Will the Supreme Court be as hostile as the lower courts were to Trump’s immigration agenda; 2) what special elections and primaries say about the 2018 cycle; 3) do foreign elections have any impact on the U.S. agenda abroad; and 4) is there any sign that the Republicans can actually do anything legislatively with their control of both houses and the presidency.

Categories: Political Action