A Power Grab or Healing a Wound?

The U.S. government established the Dakota Territory in 1861. It consisted of what’s now South Dakota and North Dakota, as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming. As the population grew, there was a campaign to make the territory a state. That happened in 1889. But there was a wrinkle. In order to give the Republican Party more representation in Congress, the territory was divided into two states.

Today, the 1.6 million residents of North and South Dakota have four senators and two representatives. If Dakota had been made a single state, it would be the fourth largest state by area and have two senators and one representative, just like Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming.

There are 3.2 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, twice as many as live in North and South Dakota, but they have zero senators and zero representatives.

Washington, DC, only has 700,000 residents, but that’s more than Vermont and Wyoming and almost as many as Alaska. Just like Puerto Rico, the Americans who live in Washington, DC, have zero senators and zero representatives. 

From The Guardian:

One of the most powerful prosecutions [at the impeachment trial] came from Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands, the first delegate from an American territory to hold the position of impeachment manager. Yet Plaskett’s status meant that she was unable to vote for impeachment because she has no vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. The US Virgin Islands has no representation at all in the Senate. Its residents cannot even vote for president.

The anomaly illuminates America’s long unaddressed colonial history that leaves five territories floating in constitutional limbo, their residents – most of them people of color – effectively treated as second-class citizens.

But with the impetus of last summer’s protests against racial injustice, and the election of a Democratic president, one of those territories – Puerto Rico – is aiming to become the 51st state of the union. A parallel effort by Washington, District of Columbia, is also closer than ever to its similar goal.

‘It is incredibly important to take a step back and look at who actually has real representation in democracy,” said Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager of 51 for 51, an organization pushing for DC statehood. “If you think about all the players that you mentioned, they all have a common thread: [most] are people of color. Does America have a true democracy if so many people of color are standing outside looking in and are not able to fully participate?”

There are five inhabited US territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Apart from American Samoa, people born in the territories are US citizens and pay federal taxes such as Medicare and social security, though not federal tax on locally sourced income. Each territory sends a delegate to the House who can debate legislation and sit on committees but is not able to actually vote.

Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until 1898 when it fell under US control as part of the terms that ended the Spanish-American war. In 1917 the Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans US citizenship and in 1952 it became a commonwealth of the US – but still without voting rights in American presidential elections.

Over the past half-century Puerto Rico has held six non-binding referendums on its status and last November voted 52%-47% in favor of statehood, a cause boosted by grievance over the federal government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. . . . 

George Laws Garcia, executive director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, said: “You have a bunch of unelected individuals making decisions on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico over the desires and ideas and perspectives of the local elected officials, which I think is basically blatant colonialism.

“We had Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes and now Covid and, in all these instances when Puerto Rico needs federal resources, federal support, federal action, we don’t have the capacity to hold elected officials in Washington accountable for what they do because they don’t ever get any votes from Puerto Rico, and that includes the president as well as members of Congress”. . . .

Almost all of Puerto Rico’s residents are Hispanic while nearly half of DC’s are Black. . . . 
Its 700,000-plus residents pay more per capita in federal income taxes than any state. They gained the right to vote in presidential elections in 1961 but still lack a voting member in the House or a voice in the Senate.

The movement for DC statehood is bigger and better organized than ever before. Last June the House passed a bill that approved it, the first time a chamber of Congress had advanced a DC statehood measure. . . .

Rhodes of 51 for 51 said: “Our most celebrated civil rights leaders were fighting for access to democracy. If you think about John Lewis and Martin Luther King, they were all fighting for access to voting and access to representation and so here in 2021 we’re still fighting in Washington DC for equal representation and a clear chance at participation in democracy” . . .
[After] the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told reporters earlier this month: “If the District of Columbia could operate as a state, [what] any governor can do is to call out the national guard without getting the permission of the federal government. It shouldn’t have to happen that way”. . . .

Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy for the grassroots movement Indivisible, said: “It’s an issue of basic fairness”. . . . 

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said: “At the end of the day, you have states from Utah to Montana to others that have gained statehood early on with less question, with less critique than DC and Puerto Rico. It is a fundamental democratic flaw and it reeks of hypocrisy. The only reason why it is a debate or even a question is because of who makes up the majority of both of those places”. . . .

Donna Brazile, a former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, said: “This is about making America a more perfect union. It’s the oldest constitutional democracy in the world and yet some of its citizens do not have all the full voting rights because of where they reside. If we’re going to end racial injustice in America and talk about a new beginning for the country, we can’t sidestep old issues.”

Unquote.

Of course, Congressional Republicans are opposed to statehood for Puerto Rico and DC. The Senate Minority Leader called the idea a “power grab”, simply a way to add Democrats to Congress (see “Dakota Territory, history of”). 

Except it’s not that simple at all. Our fellow Americans deserve representation in Congress. That’s the principal justification for adding two more states to the union. It’s not as clear what to do for the 376,000 Americans who live in Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, but Puerto Rico and DC aren’t difficult cases.

Overcoming right-wing opposition (aka voter suppression) by abolishing or seriously reforming the Senate filibuster in order to give Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, full voting rights would give the voters who live there the same power as the other 330 million Americans. It would fix a longstanding problem. It would heal a constitutional wound. As a side effect, it would also add balance to the US Senate, where fifty Republicans today represent 43% of the population and fifty Democrats represent 57%.

Add the Evil to the Rank Stupidity and It’s Even Worse

Where to begin?

From NPR: In a significant shift, the Trump administration says the entirety of the Affordable Care Act should be struck down in the courts. Previously, the administration had pushed to remove the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions but had not argued in court that the whole law should be struck down.

The change was announced in a two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the ruling made in December by a district court judge in Texas “should be affirmed.” In that case, District Judge Reed O’Connor declared the ACA unconstitutional. He ruled that a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminating the penalty on uninsured people invalidated the entire health care law.

From The Washington Post: At the Casa Ismael clinic for HIV-positive men with severe health complications, the staff used to immediately change patients’ diapers after they were soiled. But last week, [the] clinic administrator … told the nurses that had to stop. To save money, the nonprofit clinic, which relies on its patients’ food-stamp money for funding, will ask patients to sit in diapers in which they have repeatedly urinated, sometimes for hours.

The Casa Ismael clinic is short on funds in part because of cuts in food stamps that hit about 1.3 million residents of Puerto Rico this month — a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017….

A senior administration official with direct knowledge … described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues:

From columnist Greg Sargent: Have we really learned nothing from the first two years of the Trump presidency?

Welcome to the new narrative: President Trump and Republicans are “turning the tables” and going “on offense” against Democrats and the media, who, we are told, should be groveling for forgiveness in the wake of Attorney General William P. Barr’s brief summary of the special counsel’s Russiagate conclusions.

Unfortunately, there are scattered signs that some in those quarters are taking this far too seriously. We’re seeing news accounts suggesting media coverage of the Russia scandal may have overreached; columnists demanding introspection from journalistic colleagues; and analyses that overestimate the degree to which Trump can now claim victory over Democrats. Some accounts hintat angst among Democrats about how aggressive an investigative posture to strike going forward.

It’s amazing this needs to be stated, but here goes. This “new offensive” from Trump and Republicans is saturated with nonsense from top to bottom, and it is designed to get the media to back off of its entirely legitimate scrutiny of Trump, and to get Democrats to retreat from their entirely legitimate efforts to impose oversight and accountability.

Trump has spent the past two years screaming “WITCH HUNT!” and “FAKE NEWS!,” even as he and his congressional allies have absurdly cast the investigations as corrupt based on one fake “scandal” after another. Throughout all this, what’s actually happened is that one revelation after another has emerged detailing startling criminality among those in Trump’s inner circle and extraordinary corruption and abuses of power by Trump himself.

Much of the current discussion and journalistic handwringing has the effect of badly downplaying the significance of what has emerged in the past two years, and the potential for more damaging information to emerge. And it doesn’t adequately reckon with the rot of bad faith at the core of what’s driving this new “turn the tables” offensive — an effort to chill continued efforts to unearth that information, through legitimate scrutiny and oversight. We know this, because we’ve seen it for two years.

Remember: All we know about the Special Counsel’s report is what the president’s hand-picked Attorney General has said about it. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t exonerate the president regarding obstruction of justice. Otherwise, the Attorney General’s letter would have said it did. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t find enough evidence to say the president was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. We need to see the Mueller report now.

But we already know there was collusion between the campaign, various Russians and Wikileaks. That’s because, despite what the president and his defenders would like us to believe, “collusion” means “secret agreement or cooperation, especially for a DECEITFUL OR ILLEGAL purpose”. As the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says, the evidence for collusion (and obstruction of justice) is “in plain sight”:

“There [is] a big difference between whether there was evidence of collusion — and I think that evidence is in plain sight — and whether you can establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy,” he told CNN.

Schiff also questioned whether Attorney General William Barr would be able to come to an unbiased conclusion about special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

“You have [an] attorney general who applied for the job by talking down any potential obstruction conviction or indictment who then went to a Senate confirmation and refused to recuse himself,” Schiff said. “He has now done the job he applied for, which is attempt to exonerate Mr. Trump. That ought to deeply concern people.”

Asked Schiff tonight if he would drop his probe after Mueller didn’t find a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and he said: “Our investigation has always focused on counterintelligence issues, that is, is the president or anyone around him compromised in some way. That work has to go on.”

Of course it does, and it will, despite the president’s absurd claim that he’s won a race that isn’t over.

American Carnage

The carnage in Las Vegas is shocking, but it’s what we should expect when powerful weapons are easy to acquire and we live in a gun-crazy country.

We stand alone in civilian ownership of guns.

guns_per_capita

Compared to other rich countries, we commit more murders with guns (we also commit more suicides with guns — they’re very efficient for that purpose). 

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As any rational person would predict, the more guns in your state, the more gun deaths you’ll have.

gun_ownership_states

At the same time, it’s off the front pages temporarily, but the carnage continues in Puerto Rico. Our government’s response has been lacking because of who lives there.

This country accepts an incredible amount of gun violence and still has colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. America is truly exceptional.

The Grand Old Party Today

Once again, the bastards failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A few Republican senators refused to go along with the herd. No doubt they’ll keep trying to kill it, no matter how many people suffer as a result.  

Until this latest repeal effort took precedence, Sen. Alexander, a Republican, and Sen. Murray, a Democrat, were working on a bipartisan set of improvements to the ACA. They were making progress, but the Republican leadership ordered Sen. Alexander to end the discussions. When the repeal effort quickly fizzled, the Democratic leadership called for Alexander and Murray to resume their work. Here’s what the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, said:

Senate Ds have 2 thoughts on how to fix #Obamacare 1. Do nothing 2. A fully gov-run system that would take away even more of their decisions 4:45 PM – 25 Sep 2017

McConnell stopped Alexander and Murray from working together on a set of mutually agreeable fixes to the ACA. Then he claimed the Democrats weren’t willing to work with the Republicans. He knew this was totally false, but said it anyway.

Now the Republicans have pivoted to what they’re calling “tax reform”. As usual, the changes they have in mind are skewed to benefit the rich:

The tax plan that the Trump administration outlined on Wednesday is a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. It would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.

The administration and its congressional allies are proposing to sharply reduce taxation of business income, primarily benefiting the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of corporate equity….

The plan would also benefit Mr. Trump and other affluent Americans by eliminating the estate tax, which affects just a few thousand uber-wealthy families each year, and the alternative minimum tax, a safety net designed to prevent tax avoidance [by people with high incomes].

The precise impact on Mr. Trump cannot be ascertained because the president refuses to release his tax returns, but the few snippets of returns that have become public show one thing clearly: The alternative minimum tax has been unkind to Mr. Trump. In 2005, it forced him to pay $31 million in additional taxes. [The New York Times]

In addition, the Republicans want to cut taxes for “pass-through” businesses from as high as 39% down to 25%. The Trump Organization just happens to be a pass-through business.

So there are at least three big changes that would almost certainly benefit the president and his family, assuming any of them pay income tax. Yet last night he had the nerve to deny it:

President Trump unveiled his long-awaited tax plan Wednesday during a speech in Indiana. He asserted without qualification that the proposal — still only roughly outlined — would be good for middle-class Americans and not the wealthy.

“Our framework includes our explicit commitment that tax reform will protect low-income and middle-income households,” Trump said. “Not the wealthy and well-connected. They can call me all they want; I’m doing the right thing.”

He then added: “And it’s not good for me, believe me.” [The Washington Post]

Meanwhile, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in a horrible situation, having been subjected to two major hurricanes, but the Republicans who control the government aren’t responding to the crisis as urgently as they did when Texas and Florida suffered similar but less serious problems. And the Midwest and Northeast have been experiencing an unprecedented heatwave — “Late-September heat wave leaves climate experts stunned. ‘Never been a heat wave of this duration and magnitude this late in the season’ reports NOAA” [ThinkProgress] — while the Republicans deny that global warming is real and are running yet another religious fanatic (who doesn’t believe in evolution and thinks homosexuality should be a crime) for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Years ago, Republicans weren’t as bad as they are now. Back then, I wondered whether they were mostly selfish or mostly ignorant. Those are still factors, but what’s still known as the Grand Old Party has deteriorated to the point where mere selfishness and ignorance aren’t enough to explain its awfulness. The fundamental problem is that Republicans are immoral. They don’t observe norms of human behavior that the modern world requires: caring about the lives of strangers; intellectual honesty; respect for scientific inquiry; the willingness to cooperate for the common good; long-term thinking; promoting equality of opportunity.

There is no excuse for being a Republican today. The Grand Old Party has become evil and deserves to die.