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%.

In the Aftermath of January 6th, a Terrible Story

From The Washington Post:

District of Columbia police officer Jeffrey Smith sent his wife a text that spoke to the futility and fears of his mission.

“London has fallen,” the 35-year-old tapped on his phone at 2:38 p.m. on Jan. 6, knowing his wife would understand he was referencing a movie by that name about a plan to assassinate world leaders attending a funeral in Britain.

The text confirmed the frightening images Erin Smith was watching on live stream from the couple’s home in Virginia: The Capitol had been overrun.

Six minutes after Smith sent that text, a Capitol Police officer inside the building shot and killed a woman as she climbed through a smashed window next to the House chamber.

Smith, also inside the Capitol, didn’t hear the gunshot, but he did hear the frantic “shots fired” call over his police radio. He later told Erin he panicked, afraid rioters had opened fire on police, and wondered whether he would die.

Around 5:35 p.m., Smith was still fighting to defend the building when a metal pole thrown by rioters struck his helmet and face shield. After working into the night, he visited the police medical clinic, was put on sick leave and, according to his wife, was sent home with pain medication.

In the days that followed, Erin said, her husband seemed in constant pain, unable to turn his head. He did not leave the house, even to walk their dog. He refused to talk to other people or watch television. She sometimes woke during the night to find him sitting up in bed or pacing.

“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the sixth. . . . I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him,” she said. “I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”

Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions. After a sleepless night, he set off the next afternoon for an overnight shift, taking the ham-and-turkey sandwiches, trail mix and cookies Erin had packed.

On his way to the District, Smith shot himself in the head.

Police found him in his Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River.

He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life. . . . 

Newly released audio from D.C. police at the riot shows how police were overwhelmed. “Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries,” one officer screamed over his radio. Later an officer shouted, “We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole.” And an officer pleaded for help: “We lost the line. We’ve lost the line. All MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], pull back to the upper deck, ASAP” . . . 

Hours after the siege at the Capitol had ended, Smith later told his wife, he found himself with other officers outside a hotel where insurgents were believed to be staying. Their orders were to arrest any who came outside, at that point breaking a citywide curfew imposed by the mayor to restore order.

At 9 p.m., he told two supervisors he was in pain from being hit by the pole, and he was sent to the Police & Fire Clinic in Northeast Washington, run by a contractor and the first step for nearly every officer injured on the job.

He checked in at the clinic at 10:15 p.m., according to records shared by his family.

On his police injury form, he wrote: “Hit with flying object in face shield and helmet.” He added that he “began feeling pain in my neck and face.”

He checked out 1:31 a.m. on Jan. 7, his status listed as “sick,” though no diagnosis is noted. Erin does not know if he told the staff about any emotional issues.

“He told me it was chaos,” she said of the clinic. “There were so many people there.”

Erin has questions about her husband’s care at the Police & Fire Clinic. She said he told her he was seen for only about 10 minutes when he returned Jan. 14 and was approved to return to work the following day.

She wonders whether there were indications of a serious head injury or signs of emotional distress, and she is seeking his complete medical file. Police officials would not comment on specifics of Smith’s visit, citing privacy laws. Representatives for PFC Associates, which runs the clinic, did not respond to an interview request.

Smith didn’t talk much about the details of what he experienced during his hours at the Capitol, Erin said. She didn’t press, but even from the little she learned, she thinks the images she saw on live stream did not fully capture what police experienced. Before the riot, the family’s lawyer said, Smith had not been diagnosed with or exhibited signs of depression.

Erin is convinced the trauma of Jan. 6 made the thought of returning to policing unbearable for him. . . . 

Experts caution suicide is not typically due to a singular event, even a traumatic one, and precise reasons are generally rooted in a wide variety of factors that are often never fully understood. . . . 

Smith’s family attorney said the officer did not attend any counseling sessions while he was on sick leave. He also said no one from the department reached out to Smith about attending. . . . 

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel?

Those are the words Samuel Johnson uttered on April 7, 1775, according to James Boswell:

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. 

But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. 

On the National Mall tonight, thousands of flags represent those of us who won’t be able to attend the new president’s inauguration because of the pandemic. Fifty-six pillars of light represent the fifty states and six territories.

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A Selection of Stuff You’d Rather Not Read About

Four articles that made an impression this week, from least to most depressing, that didn’t even mention Jerusalem, Puerto Rico, healthcare or starving polar bears.

One hundred and eighty-seven people are facing felony charges for participating in a demonstration in Washington D.C. that turned violent. The demonstration was on the day Trump was inaugurated. A trial is now underway. The depressing aspect of this story is that none of the six defendants are accused of doing anything aside from being there:

What jurors haven’t heard, and prosecutors don’t intend to offer, is evidence that any of the six individuals currently on trial … actually engaged in any property damage or violence. Under the government’s theory of the case, in which anyone arrested in the group is part of a conspiracy and is responsible for any actions taken by others, the lack of individualized wrongdoing doesn’t matter.

Maybe the jury will have the sense to acquit everyone and convince the government to stop these prosecutions.

Elsewhere in Washington, Republicans from the House and Senate are trying to reconcile the terrible tax bills they’ve recently passed. Could any of them read this article from The New York Times and say they were proud of their efforts so far?

… for the first time since the United States adopted an income tax, a higher rate would be applied to employee wages and salaries than to income earned by proprietors, partnerships and closely held corporations….

“We’ve never had a tax system where wage earners were substantially penalized” relative to other types of income earners, said … a former Treasury Department official….

Indeed, economists and tax experts across the political spectrum warn that the proposed system would invite tax avoidance. The more the tax code distinguishes among types of earnings, personal characteristics or economic activities, the greater the incentive to label income artificially, restructure or switch categories in a hunt for lower rates….

“The more you look at any of the major rules, the more ambiguities, glitches, clearly unintended consequences and tax planning opportunities you see,” said Michael L. Schler, a lawyer in the tax department of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He has written a 50-page summary of the more glaring problems …

From Georgia Southern University, a professor named Jared Yates Sexton, who grew up in the South, writes about the fascism that runs in his family.

Eventually I left for college and found my own people who didn’t express such fascist and ignorant beliefs. I visited for the occasional holiday, kept in decent enough touch, but I felt confident knowing that people like my family would never be in charge of the country they understood so poorly….

They hoard weapons, supplies, and daydream about the day the government will fall and they’ll be free to remake the country as they see fit.

I cannot say they are fascists, but I can definitely say they hold fascist ideas. This is why they hardly blink when Donald Trump quickly erodes the normal order of the government, why they’re not concerned when he undermines the Freedom of the Press or cozies up to authoritarian leaders. They love it when he tells policemen to be rough on suspects. They want someone who plays nuclear chicken with a despot while the lives of hundreds of million innocent people lie in the balance.

Finally, speaking of nuclear chicken, Jeffrey Lewis, a “scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies”, shares some really scary thoughts in The Washington Post. He imagines how a confrontation between North and South Korea might escalate, helped along by a morning tweet from the president, into nuclear war.

And so, facing what he believed was a massive American military invasion, Kim gave the order. The thread of history winds along on twists of fate, like Archduke Ferdinand’s driver missing a turn…

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency would later say this was a sign that the system had worked well, downing about a third of the missiles — although experts would argue that the low intercept rate resulted from problems that the Los Angeles Times had reported in 2017…. It seemed more likely, the experts said, that five of the missiles had simply broken up as they reentered the earth’s atmosphere.

The remaining seven nuclear warheads landed in the United States. These missiles were no more accurate than the others — but with 200-kiloton warheads, 10 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, close was enough to count in most cases.

I told you so.