Since the 2016 election we have seen women at the forefront of the movement against the authoritarian policies of the Trump administration and the president's hateful rhetoric. It began the day after the inauguration with the historic Women’s March and has continued with women right here in Berks leading organizations like ours. There are also a record number of women who have decided to take matters into their own hands by running for office themselves. According to Bloomberg Tracker 524 women ran in the primaries, both Democratic and Republican, and there are over 300 races where at least one woman is a candidate. They’re here in our own backyard, too. Katie Muth, Linda Fields, Chrissy Houlahan are just a few who come to mind.
We all have our reasons for voting. It could be to stop or reverse a certain policy, to support a pet cause like common sense gun laws, or because we’re excited by a particular candidate. Whatever sends you to the polls next Tuesday; it’s important to keep in mind all those who fought, suffered, and even died so that historically marginalized groups like African Americans and women could have the right to vote.
in front of the White House in 1917. I didn’t discuss the story behind that photo, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say we can draw a direct line from those events in 1917 to the later ratification of the 19th Amendment through the Civil Rights Movement to what is happening today in our country.
Here’s the part of the story of that photo I think you should hear. In early January of 1917, prominent activist Alice Paul led a group from the National Woman’s Party to march on the White House. Later, President Wilson met with representatives from the group who presented him with the following appeal:
“We desire to make known to you, Mr. President, our deep sense of the wrong being inflicted upon women, in making them spend their best health and strength, and forcing them to abandon other work that means fuller self expression, in order to win freedom under a government that professes to believe in democracy. No price is too high to pay for liberty. So long as the lives of women are required, these lives will be given.”
— Written appeal from National Woman’s Party to President Woodrow Wilson, January 1917
Wilson was far from being a fervent backer of the women’s cause, believing that the right to vote should be left to the states not the federal government. After the meeting with the president, a group of women who became known as the “Silent Sentinels” began stationing themselves around the White House as a reminder to Wilson of his lack of support. The women’s literal silent vigil went on for two and half years with many of them harassed and arrested along the way, being charged with “blocking traffic”. Several of the protesters were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where conditions were deplorable. When Wilson pardoned some of the women, they refused because they believed they were innocent and had done nothing for which to be pardoned. Suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns went on hunger strikes in further protest and were force-fed when they refused to give in. Events escalated on the evening of November 14, 1917, which began to be referred to as the “Night of Terror” when the superintendent of the workhouse ordered close to 40 guards to terrorize and beat the women. Lucy Burns was chained to the bars of her cell. Dorothy Day was slammed over an iron bench. Others were dragged, kicked, and choked. Newspapers began carrying the stories of the women, garnering support for their cause from more Americans. By the end of November all the protesters were released, and in January of 1918, Wilson announced his support of the 19th Amendment. You know the rest.
It’s the stories of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and heroes like John Lewis that I bring with me whenever I walk into my polling place to exercise my constitutional right. The beauty of our democracy is that there are many ways to voice our opinions. We can protest quietly like the Silent Sentinels or thanks to those who have gone before us we can voice our opinions by using the power of the vote. How will you make yourself heard on November 6th?
posted by Amy Levengood
Protesting is American as apple pie. Think Freedom Riders, the Occupy Movement, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, the Anti-War demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s, the Women’s March in 2017, or any of the rallies that you may have participated in with Indivisible Berks.
America was born out of protest, beginning with the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Townshend Act in 1767 in which the British Parliament began imposing taxes on items that had to be imported into the colonies, such as glass, paper, and tea. Protests take many forms; some can be as simple as a single constituent like lawyer and Founding Father John Dickinson petitioning the government in writing. In response to the Townshend Act, Dickinson penned his “Letters from a farmer in Pennsylvania”, where he wrote:
If at length it becomes undoubted that an inveterate resolution is formed to annihilate the liberties of the governed, the English history affords frequent examples of resistance by force. What particular circumstances will in any future case justify such resistance can never be ascertained till they happen. Perhaps it may be allowable to say generally, that it never can be justifiable until the people are fully convinced that any further submission will be destructive to their happiness. — Letter III
Read Dickinson’s third letter carefully and one gets a hint of the violence and ultimately Revolution to ensue. Prior to the Revolution though, the most infamous act of resistance was the Boston Tea Party. Outraged colonists dumping barrels of tea into Boston harbor, like Washington’s chopping down of the cherry tree or Paul Revere’s ride has become an ingrained element of the “creation myth” of our nation. The Boston Tea Party was the colonists’ response to the straw that broke the camel’s back, namely the Townshend Act, which they felt was an unfair burden imposed on them by a remote and irresponsive government. In essence it was an act of last resort by a group of aggrieved people.
It’s no state secret that Donald Trump isn’t a student of history. If he were, he wouldn’t be trying to take away one of our most sacred rights-the right to peaceably assemble. But that’s exactly what he’s doing. Trump and his followers have long been questioning the legitimacy of protesters by alleging they are paid by people like George Soros. More recently Trump has begun to refer to demonstrations against Kavanaugh as “mob rule” and has continued this type of rhetoric on the campaign trail to gin up his base.
Now he’s turning that rhetoric into real policy. The administration is seeking to significantly limit demonstrations in front of the White House and on the National Mall. Trump’s proposal would close 80% of the sidewalk space near the White House, put limits on spontaneous demonstrations, and start charging fees for staging protests. As the ACLU reports, “Fee requirements could make mass protests like Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington and its ‘I have a dream’ speech too expensive to happen.”
The Trump administration’s clamp down is not exactly original. Similar constraints were proposed during the Vietnam War era. Back then the ACLU sued, citing infringement on First Amendment rights. This led to the National Park Service (NPS), which administers areas around the Mall and the White House, to issue a set of regulations that allowed “large demonstrations, guaranteeing quick action on applications for permits, and accommodating spontaneous protests as much as possible.” The administration’s plans include narrowing the area in front of the White House to a 5 foot strip along Pennsylvania Avenue. As the ACLU points out, “This is perhaps the most iconic public forum in America, allowing ‘We the People’ to express our views directly to the chief executive, going back at least to the women’s suffrage movement 100 years ago.”
In the 1967 ACLU lawsuit the judge ruled that limiting the space and numbers of people allowed to gather was “invalid and void as an unconstitutional infringement of plaintiffs’ rights…” He also wrote, “Timeliness is essential to effective dissent. Delay may stifle protest as effectively as outright censorship.” Currently the NPS requires 48 hour notice for a demonstration permit, but that can be waived in urgent situations. That would be changed to say the 48 hours could be waived ONLY if the NPS has the needed resources and personnel on hand. Other regulations include 48 hour notice for approval of small stages and sound systems. As for charging fees-don’t we as taxpayers already fund the NPS?
Protesting is enshrined in our history and in our Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from abridging the freedom to petition for a redress of grievances and from abridging the freedom of speech. As one of our members, Tammy Harkness says, “Public demonstrations at our government seats of power are critical to this right to free speech.”
In other words, no one should be allowed take away your slice of the pie.
2016 Independent Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin's tweets about the issue.
* If you follow Indivisible Berks on Facebook, you may have seen several posts directing people to a link where the public can leave comments on the NPS’s proposed actions. The deadline to do so was yesterday. Hopefully you had a chance to have your say.
posted by Amy Levengood
NextGen volunteers including Troy Turner (standing,center) photo courtesy of Troy Turner
So what’s motivating this flurry of activity? The best way to answer that question is to go directly to the source. Here’s what Casey Parent, a student and NextGen field organizer told a reporter:
“Our mission is to empower young people to be political change makers in local and national elections so that our lawmakers stand up for us in Washington. Basically I’m working to build a network of young volunteers, register hundreds of students to vote, and educate these new young voters about issues and candidates that are on the ballot come November. Young people are the largest eligible voting bloc in the country. We have the power to make major changes to the outcomes of our local and national elections, which would massively change who represents us and the decisions they make about our future. Unfortunately, young people turn out in notoriously low rates. It’s important for young people to realize the power of their voice, we have the power to save the world, but we have to take an active role in the voting process.”
Ms. Parent points out a common complaint we often hear about Millennials-that they don't show up at the polls. Look at the numbers from the 2014 midterms where various age groups are compared:
from Reaching Young Voters, NextGen Youth Research 2018
from Reaching Young Voters, NextGen Youth Research 2018
Are the efforts of people like Casey having an impact? According to TargetSmart, a political data gathering firm, more young Americans voted in the 2018 primaries and the youth voter registration rate is increasing at a sustained rate. TargetSmart reports that in Pennsylvania 3 out of 5 new voters are between the ages of 18 to 29.
To date NextGen alone has almost 6,300 volunteers working in 11 states across the country and has registered hundreds of thousands of new voters. Here’s a look at their PA stats:
from Reaching Young Voters, NextGen Youth Research 2018
Millennials don’t just possess tremendous focus and energy. Groups like NextGen and Rock the Vote have a clear and driving mission that is light-years beyond most of us. Their goal is to act politically to prevent climate disasters, promote prosperity, advocate for immigrants’ rights, healthcare, and equality. And they’re not afraid to fight for what they believe. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I think it’s safe to say the kids are all right!
posted by Amy Levengood
I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to a lot of things, especially what I write about. If I set out to do a story, article or blog, as I have been doing for Indivisible Berks, I usually stick to it no matter how difficult the research may be. Yes, occasionally my research goes nowhere and rather than write a personal opinion piece, I scrap the idea. Then there is this blog, which was going to be about the increase in hate since 2016.
Condensed, the blog would have included the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, has several articles about the increase in hate in recent years. If you want to know more click here. You might also find the SPLC’s hate map very informative. For that click here.
I learned there were once, and may still be, organizations involved with programs like “No Place for Hate,” or “Unity Walks.” I tried to contact representatives from some of the organizations that had been involved in these, and had no luck hearing back from anyone. You might think they’ve all disbanded because their work was done. But is it? I mean, look at the hate map again. In fact, zero in on Pennsylvania, which was in sixth place when this map was last updated. I mean Texas is first, which is understandable when you consider . . . how big the state is. I bet you thought I was going to say something inappropriate like Texas has more rednecks. Come on now, isn’t that Pennsylvania?Georgia is higher up than PA. What do you make of that? White supremacists love peaches. Or, could it be that there are supposed to be people there who are still fighting the Civil War. Come on folks, pick up a history book and learn that the Civil War is over! California has more, though I can’t think of anything that might signify why hate groups thrive there. Is it the weather? New York has more, but I think many of those groups think they are in PA. Those northern regions all look pretty much alike. And the KKK or Arian Nation does have a problem distinguishing one from another. Then there is Florida. Who’d of thought. Watch out for those white headed senior citizens. Maybe they get the ones from PA and NY because they can’t stand the cold anymore. By the way, I can say that since I’m both white headed and a senior citizen.
I believe I may have gotten a little off track. Probably because I’m telling you what I am not going to write about. Let’s see. I was talking about my inability to get anyone from the “No Place for Hate,” or the “Unity Walk,” to talk to me. The numbers I found were old. And even their web sites are down, so no sense me giving you their links. I only wish we could say they aren’t needed anymore. But they are. You can forge your own path starting with the PA Hate Map.
If I were to write the blog about hate increasing, I would tell you that my research also led me to some of the web sites of various hate groups. And the articles that talk about how they recruit members.
Would you want spend a fun day at a family friendly picnic and some kind of fun looking festival? If you search you will find one near you. (Shrug) Well, maybe near you. When you go there you find some really nice people who seem to share your values. They talk a lot about values and about family. Seems like that is a high priority to them. Same as you. You learn they have meetings and other events you might be interested in. If you are a person who feels the longing to belong, and enjoy the company of like-minded people, you might just join their group.
Have we talked about the Frog in the Frying Pan? That is one of the ways they get members. You are the frog. They are the heat. One minute you’re just lying back in lukewarm water relaxing; then the next you’re on the menu. Frog legs anyone?
These groups obviously know how to recruit. They are thriving. So what do we do? It looks almost hopeless.
Well, after I stopped crying because this blog had hit a dead end, I looked at some other things that might still be ways to keep the love alive. Yes, love alive. It sounds much better than “Kill the Hate!”
Unless they are gone, which seems to happen a lot lately, the US Department of Justice has been providing training for people about hate crime prevention. You can find out more - unless you have my luck - by clicking here. You can also look into an organization called “Not in Our Town,” for information on how others communities have gotten hate groups to leave. Click Here.
If you like social media - or even if you don’t - you might want to take a look at this Facebook Page. More in Common The page is the result of the TV stories with the same name. It shows that we can learn to work together toward harmony. That harmony can be learning to live with the people who are members of hate groups.
However, if members of those groups burn one cross, or put a swastika on a place of worship, or ever try to preach hate to your children. . . Well, running them out of town will be what you and your community will have in common. Just remember, it can be done peacefully. I especially suggest this because some members of hate groups carry much bigger weapons.
I wish I could have written that blog. I think it would have been great. However, most of all, I hope you took some of my comments with a little tongue in cheek. I meant no offense to anyone.
posted by Pam Garlick
Even before the first primaries for the 2018 midterm elections were held back in March, pundits began speculating on whether we’d see a “blue wave” or a “red tide” in November. For either eventuality we first need voters to go to the polls. It’s no secret that voter apathy is a common affliction in the U.S. Only 58% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. Think that’s bad? Only 18% showed up across the state of Pennsylvania for the 2018 May primaries. In fact, if “Did Not Vote” were a candidate in 2016, it would have won by a landslide.
It’s typical to have 40% of people not voting in presidential election years and 60% in midterms, which means a small percentage of voters are determining who our elected officials will be. That doesn’t sit well with me and should be of concern for everyone. Naturally, it prompts one to ask what’s behind these disheartening statistics. It turns out there are a number of factors. If you ask people directly they’ll say it’s because they don’t trust the outcomes of elections, don’t like the candidates, or don’t think their votes make a difference.
During a recent broadcast of The Takeaway entitled, “Why Don’t More Americans Vote?” Barry Burden, professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and director of the Elections Research Center, took a more scientific approach. Burden believes that one of the best predictors of whether a person will vote is their age. He says the likelihood of a person voting goes up about one percentage point each year. For example, 30% of 30 year olds and 60% of 60 year olds would be likely to vote in a presidential election year. Burden also noted other dynamics that increase the chances a person will vote, such as being a regular voter to begin with, having established a habit of voting, and being rooted to a community and place.
But all of those factors are something that takes the will and the effort of the individual. What else can we do as a society to get more people involved in the democratic process? One thing that many countries around the world have put in place is compulsory voting and enforcing that mandate with fines. Australia, for example, has compulsory voting and one of the most successful voter turnout rates in the world, sometimes as high as 95%. Unfortunately compulsory voting probably wouldn’t fly in the U.S. As a culture, most Americans don’t like being told what to do by government, but more importantly such legislation would likely be unconstitutional.
That’s not to say that government can’t or shouldn’t play a role in helping to increase the number of people casting votes. Burden points out several actions that have proven to do just that. He says the one thing that consistently gets more people out is election day registration, where people are allowed to register and vote on the spot. It’s particularly helpful for people who have changed their names or address and for young people who tend to move more frequently. Election day registration increases overall turnout by a few points, but in young people it creates a double-digit increase, according to Burden.
Another way to boost turnout, which states like Oregon and Washington and most developed nations across the globe have already put in place, is automatic registration. This puts government in charge of putting people on the roles. In the U.S., states already have much of the needed data from state DMV’s. In Washington and Oregon, when you get a license you have to opt out of being registered. You are later mailed a card with which you can choose a party affiliation.
Breaking down barriers to voting is a common thread in the success of the measures mentioned above. One formidable obstacle can simply be the norms of the social environment in which a person grows up. If voting isn’t something that’s been done in an individual’s family or peer group, that person is less likely to vote themselves. The good news is that peer pressure can work and when people are mobilized, voting can be contagious. David Nickerson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University, conducted an experiment involving canvassing voters. He found that when knocking doors and contact is made with a resident, the increase in turnout was 8 to 10 points higher in people who had some interaction with a canvasser. Interestingly the effect seems to transfer to others in the household with whom the canvasser doesn’t speak. Nickerson found turnout was 6 points higher in that group. Nickerson says there is evidence that this works in other social networks like Facebook or Twitter. The trick, he says, is to apply the pressure on people within your own social network.
“Voting is not an individual act. It is a communal act,” says Esther de Rothschild. de Rothschild is one of the founders of The Love Vote, a site where people who can’t vote due to youth or immigration status gather pledges to vote from people who can. After you promise to vote, you can choose to receive text messages and reminders. On the site the disenfranchised share their stories and explain what the right to vote means to them. The stories are very emotional and motivating. As de Rothschild says, “If we realize someone is counting on us, we’ll show up.”
Let’s make sure our friends and neighbors know we’re counting on them.
posted by Amy Levengood
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