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The Reality Television Presidency

[ Posted Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 – 18:24 PST ]

And so, the metaphor becomes reality. Or reality television, at any rate.

President Donald Trump sat down with incoming Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer yesterday, and he kept the cameras rolling to capture the first time the three had met in over a year's time. What ensued was nothing short of The Apprentice: Oval Office. The only real difference being that Trump is now playing the role of the apprentice, still getting up to speed after two years on the job. Pelosi and Schumer, or as Trump likes to call them, "Chuck and Nancy," spent a little over 15 minutes schooling the president on: the outcome of the midterm elections, how Congress works, the legislative process, border security, and (as a bonus) what is true and what is not. Reality television at its finest!

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the meeting was Pelosi repeatedly making the attempt at convincing Trump that it would be better for all concerned -- but mostly for Trump himself -- if the cameras left, so she wouldn't have to call the president a liar to his face with the whole world watching. Trump refused to do so, sneering at Pelosi that he was merely being "transparent." So Pelosi essentially shrugged her shoulders and smacked him down with the cameras rolling. By doing so in the most effective way possible, she may have cemented her bid to regain the speakership of the House of Representatives. Who can now argue on the left that Pelosi is "too old" or insufficiently feisty when it comes time to confront Trump? That argument is no longer operative, obviously.

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We (Finally) Have A Winner!

[ Posted Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 – 17:37 PST ]

Just a fair warning, up front: this is not a real column. We've got a lot of odds and ends to deal with today, so it's more of a "cleanup on aisle three" type of column today. You have been warned.

One reason I'm slacking off today is that I have been remiss in another area, that of writing thank-you emails to everyone who has so far donated to the cause. As you can see by that thermometer, we're well on our way to achieving our pledge goal very early this year, so kudos to everyone who has helped so far.

Today we've got two areas to cover, and they both involve our commenters and readers. The first is to take care of some very old business, and the second is to ask for year-end nominations.


We (Finally!) Have A Winner!

Our big news is that the longest-running contest in this blog's history is finally almost over. Woo hoo! Way back in August of 2017, when John Kelly was named as Trump's new chief of staff, we opened the field to predictions of how long he'd last. Now that he's officially on his way out the door, we can finally award some prizes.

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Trusting House Democrats To Get It Right

[ Posted Monday, December 10th, 2018 – 18:13 PST ]

I can't decide whether this is just more run-of-the-mill Trumpian-era irony or whether it actually rises to the level of Karl Marx's prediction that "history repeats itself as farce." You be the judge.

House Minority Leader-Elect Kevin McCarthy is helpfully trying to give incoming Democrats some friendly advice. He is warning them that they shouldn't bother to spend too much time investigating Donald Trump and Russia's influence over him, after Democrats take power in January. Just to recap that: a guy with the last name of McCarthy is counselling congressional leaders not to investigate American governmental ties to Russia. "Tail-Gunner Joe" must be having a conniption fit down in Hell, one assumes.

Snarkiness aside, though, even coming from a Republican with a different last name, this would still be pretty farcical. It's impossible to even remember how many investigations the Republican House launched, without any shreds of evidence (other than partisan conspiracy theories), over the past eight years that they've been in control of the House of Representatives. I can't even accurately remember the number of House investigations launched into one single event (Benghazi), to say nothing of all the other political hit-jobs they attempted while in power. And now they're telling Democrats to cool their jets when they take over? That's downright laughable on the face of it, even without the McCarthy name attached to it.

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Friday Talking Points -- Mr. Trump's Wild Ride

[ Posted Friday, December 7th, 2018 – 17:44 PST ]

As is now normal, the past week in politics was a pretty wild ride. The stock market went up, then way down, then a bit back up, then way down again -- and that was in a week with only four trading days (Wednesday was a national day of mourning for George H. W. Bush, so the markets were closed). Trump drove much of this confusion, after meeting with the leader of China last weekend to discuss trade. Adding to the confusion was the arrest of the leader of a giant Chinese corporation on Canadian soil at the request of the American Justice Department, and a weaker-than-expected jobs report today.

What set this wild ride off were the vastly differing stories that Trump and the Chinese told about what was agreed to in that meeting last week. According to Trump and his minions, the Chinese had agreed to pretty much everything the U.S. demanded, while the only thing Trump gave them was a 90-day period where he wouldn't hike tariffs any further. China would soon be buying lots of agricultural products from American farmers again, and the Chinese tariff on American automobiles would be eliminated entirely. According to the Chinese, however, none of what Trump said was true. They didn't even verify the 90-day cooling-off period. And they certainly didn't back up any of Trump's other wild claims.

The stock market reacted, first by going up on Trump's rosy picture, and then dropping 800 points on Tuesday. The markets were closed Wednesday, but astonishingly the Trump administration did little-to-nothing to calm investor fears in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Trump took to Twitter to threaten to levy even more tariffs on China. Then, Thursday morning, at the behest of Trump's Justice Department, the head of a giant Chinese telecommunications corporation was arrested in Canada, to be extradited to America to stand trial for breaking sanctions on Iran. The stock market again reacted, and has been fluctuating wildly ever since (mostly in a downward direction). This has wiped out all the gains stocks made for the entire year, it is worth mentioning.

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It's Time For A New Election In North Carolina's Ninth District

[ Posted Thursday, December 6th, 2018 – 18:02 PST ]

In America, elections are almost never nullified. They are contested, they are recounted, they might even be challenged in court, but it's rare indeed for anyone to even propose that an election's entire result to be tossed out so that a new election can be held in its place. It's just not a common occurrence. In fact, it is so rare that I can't even remember when the last "do over" election of this nature even happened.

However, when the results of any individual election simply cannot be trusted with any degree of integrity, then there is no real recourse other than to void the results entirely and start all over again. It's a radical solution, but sometimes desperate times call for such desperate measures. And the situation in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District must now be seen as so damaged that there really can only be one acceptable repair, and that is to start all over.

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We Need A Voters' Bill Of Rights

[ Posted Wednesday, December 5th, 2018 – 17:16 PST ]

As time goes on, America seems to be taking a big step backwards on the long road toward voting equality for all. This election cycle saw a gubernatorial candidate refuse to recuse himself from overseeing the elections process in his current job; what appears to be a blatant effort to throw an election in North Carolina by a shady Republican operative; and the usual GOP bag of tricks when it comes to voter roll purges, long polling lines, and challenging in various ways the outcomes they didn't like. In short, if we're not already there, we're certainly approaching a crisis in confidence over the way Americans vote and the way those votes are counted.

Democrats come rather late to this fight, but that should not stop them from pushing back as hard as possible. And "as hard as possible" in American law should translate to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of every eligible American to cast a vote and for that vote to be properly counted. We need a Voters' Bill Of Rights, plain and simple.

It's a constitutional oddity that while voting and elections are the one subject that has spawned more constitutional amendments since the original Bill of Rights was adopted than any other issue (the right of ex-slaves to vote, the right of women to vote, banishing poll taxes, the right of 18-year-olds to vote, etc.), there is still no explicit right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. There is no plain and simple language that states: "The right of every eligible citizen to cast a vote in a federal election shall not be infringed." That needs to change.

Democrats need to go big on this issue. They need to demand a Voters' Bill Of Rights. So far, House Democrats have taken a small step in this direction, by including in their first bill to be filed next year a number of steps towards reforming the elections process in America. However, some of the tangential issues in the proposed H.R. 1 are somewhat partisan in nature, and many of them don't deal directly with voting (things like changing the redistricting process -- which are important goals, but different from protecting the act of voting). Passing H.R. 1 would go a long way towards solving a number of different problems, but it still wouldn't enshrine the right to vote in the U.S. Constitution.

Democrats need to realize what a powerful issue this could be for them. If handled correctly, the issue should be one that every voter in America can agree with, because it really comes down to fairness. And fairness is an issue that cuts across partisan lines. Or should, at any rate. Who, after all, can argue against ensuring that everyone who is eligible gets to vote and that all their votes are properly counted? The opposing side to that argument is really indefensible.

What should a Voters' Bill Of Rights contain? Well, there are plenty of ideas floating around out there. The crucial test for inclusion should be that any idea has to deal directly with voting and the election system. Good ideas for related subjects should be rejected, no matter how beneficial they may be, because the ultimate goal is to create a document so nonpartisan that everyone can get on board with it. After all, an amendment has to pass the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, so being strictly nonpartisan is going to be a necessity. So things like redistricting or campaign finance reforms should not be allowed in, to keep the focus crystal-clear.

First and foremost, this amendment should state unequivocally that every citizen has the right to vote. As long as you are 18 years or older and not serving time for a crime, your right to cast a ballot should be inviolable. Furthermore, there should be stiff felony penalties including plenty of jail time for anyone who even attempts to disenfranchise any single voter or class of individual voters for any reason. Service in a government job (such as election supervisor) should not exempt anyone from these penalties -- in fact, the penalties for officials engaging in voter disenfranchisement should be stiffer. Purging voters unfairly from the registration lists should definitely be included as a possible violation as well.

Every voter should have the right to cast a paper ballot, so that recounts are possible and meaningful. No electronic-only systems should be allowed, ever again. Period. Each voter should have the right to cast a provisional ballot if there is any question about their registration. Absentee ballots should be universally available upon request -- no reason should be necessary other than: "I feel like voting absentee this year."

Election Day should either become a federal holiday or be moved to one that already exists (Veterans' Day would be the closest). Or possibly even moved to a weekend date. We need to make it easier for everyone -- workers included -- to cast a ballot. Furthermore, equality of elections resources should become a federal right. No more insanely-long lines at the polling places in inner-city or minority precincts, while suburbanites have dozens of empty machines to choose from. This should be made a violation of federal law, period. Polling resources should be allocated according to population density, and enough resources provided to make voting a smooth and timely process for all. No excuses.

Elections should be run at both the state and local level by independent, nonpartisan officials. The running of elections should be taken out of the hands of partisans and be made a purely bureaucratic duty. No longer should a candidate for high office be allowed to oversee the election they are running in.

It should also be a federal mandate that the states must implement automatic voter registration. Whenever any citizen interacts with any state government office, they should simultaneously be registered to vote unless they specifically opt out. Every time anyone renews their driver's license, their voter registration should be automatically updated, for instance. Also, anyone who has served their time for any felony (including parole and probation periods) should be automatically registered to vote. Unless "lifetime disenfranchisement" is specifically part of the sentence for any individual crime, when you have paid your debt to society then you should automatically be allowed to vote once again.

These are just a few of the ideas floating around out there. There are certainly others worthy of discussion as well (such as mandating a certain number of early voting days, for instance) -- what is outlined here should in no way be seen as a definitive list. But you'll note that in each and every case, the idea is purely about fairness and not about partisan politics at all. If Democrats have any hope of successfully amending the Constitution, this has to apply to anything included in the final draft. Everything needs to be fundamentally about the right to vote and the right to have those votes correctly counted. All Americans should have equal access to the ballot box, and no partisan official or state legislature should be able to stand in the way of that right.

Of course, this will become a partisan fight. But that certainly shouldn't stop Democrats from making the attempt. Amending the Constitution -- by design -- is not an easy or quick procedure. The effort may well take a decade or longer, but that daunting prospect should not dissuade Democrats from making the attempt. This is worth doing, even if it is going to be a very long road.

Politically, waging such a battle can only help Democrats. Republicans have, in the past, proposed constitutional amendments just to score political points and put Democrats in a bind. They've boosted their own voter turnout by whipping up a frenzy of concern over such issues as burning the flag (a relatively rare occurrence, but that didn't stop Republicans from trying to ban it with a constitutional amendment). Voting rights can be used as a similar political weapon against Republicans, because what could be more patriotic than fighting for everyone's right to vote? That is fighting for not just the American flag, but for what that flag is supposed to stand for, after all.

Republicans will attempt to make the claim that a Voters' Bill Of Rights is unnecessary. Democrats can counter this quite effectively by saying: "It might not always have been necessary, but Republicans have now made it necessary, by their own actions, in state after state."

America deserves this debate. America deserves a better election system, period. Every American voter deserves to have their right to vote respected by the officials in their own state. Nobody deserves to wait seven hours in a line to vote -- at least not without an immediate and massive federal court case to correct such abuses.

Democrats, as I mentioned, are rather late to this battle. Republicans have been coming up with all kinds of creative ways to diminish turnout from groups of people they don't want to see vote -- for decades, now. A Voters' Bill Of Rights would, ideally, address each and every one of these underhanded attempts at disenfranchisement, ensuring that they'll never happen again. Republicans will be forced to try to justify what they've been doing, and they'll be forced to fight against guaranteeing every voter the right to cast their ballot. That's a rather untenable position to be in, politically. Which is why this would be such a powerful issue for Democrats to champion.

It is time for Democrats to enter this fight in a big way. It is time for a Voters' Bill Of Rights to be added to the United States Constitution. Or else what happened in Georgia and North Carolina this year is just going to keep right on happening, over and over again.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Discovery (A Musical Interlude)

[ Posted Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 – 19:21 PST ]

Maybe it's the holiday season, but for whatever reason, today while reading the news I had one of those moments of synchronicity, where a song just pops into your head unbidden, grabs ahold of your psyche and refuses to let go. So I thought I'd share it with everyone.

The story I read which caused this to happen was an update on one of the many federal court cases proceeding against President Donald Trump. It was filed by the attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia, and it charges Trump and Trump's D.C. hotel (which he has not divested himself of financially) with violating the "emoluments clause" of the Constitution. The update reported that the judge in the case has ruled that the discovery phase will now begin, which will give the attorneys general the power to issue subpoenas to everyone involved, up to and including departments of the federal government.

This is where the earworm attacked. The song is, appropriately, named "Discovery," by Mike Oldfield. It's a rather angry little pop song, which is a bit unusual because Oldfield was not previously known for writing angry little pop songs in the past (if anything, Oldfield was better known for lavish orchestral numbers, the most prominent of which became truly famous as the music for the closing credits of The Exorcist -- but I digress...). In any case, it's actually a pretty decent rock song which covers some favorite teenage themes: angst, frustration, and relationship problems. You can listen to it on YouTube or just follow along with the lyrics:

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Welcome To Our Annual Holiday Pledge Drive!

[ Posted Monday, December 3rd, 2018 – 20:59 PST ]

As we come to the end of yet another exhausting year in the world of politics, we have to say our outlook for the future is one heck of a lot rosier than it was at this time last year. Last year truly brought the winter of our discontent, and we wondered whether we should even bother to keep writing this blog. This year, however, we're still surfing the rise in energy brought about by the blue wave in the midterm elections, and are now truly looking forward to seeing a new year dawn -- most especially in the House of Representatives. In other words, our crisis in confidence is over, and we're rarin' to go for 2019.

But, as always, we have to ask our readers' help in raising the necessary money to keep the site up and running all year long. We truly want to remain dedicated to running this site ad-free, but to do that we're going to need your help. To make this small sacrifice easier on you, we will be lulling you into a state of saccharine sweetness in the usual way -- with kittens!

Waiting for Santa


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Friday Talking Points -- Walking And Chewing Gum

[ Posted Friday, November 30th, 2018 – 17:42 PST ]

Welcome back to Friday Talking Points, after our one-week Thanksgiving break! Hope everyone had a great holiday and didn't eat too much turkey.

This, of course, could lead to a fun segue into talking about politics ("Speaking of turkeys...") but we're going to refrain from such sophomoric pleasures, for once. Because this week we're going to focus almost exclusively on looking ahead, to January. Once the new Congress is sworn in, Democrats will be in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in many years. This will provide a crucial check and balance both on President Donald Trump and on all the Republicans who have been busy enabling him. But let's note that that stock phrase has two parts: a check and a balance.

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D.N.C. Needs To Have The "Debate Debate" Sooner Rather Than Later

[ Posted Thursday, November 29th, 2018 – 17:52 PST ]

Up until this point, I have refrained from speculating much about the 2020 election, for the very good reason that the 2018 election hadn't even happened yet. But now that the midterms are over and done with, it becomes time to look ahead to the future. Today I'm going to dip my toe in the 2020 presidential waters, but not plunge in fully. In other words, this is going to be a neutral article about the process for the next primary election cycle. Consider yourselves duly warned.

The Democratic National Committee has already made some rather large changes to the 2020 nominating process. The biggest of which was successfully (and rather elegantly) stripping all decision-making power from the superdelegates. They can still show up at the nominating convention, and they can still (eventually) cast a vote for the guy or gal who has already won, but that's it -- they no longer will be able to put their collective thumb on the scale. Other big changes have already been made as well, including several states changing from holding caucuses to holding primary elections instead. Caucuses are fun and quaint and all of that, but they just incredibly inconvenient for far too many people. Plus, there's the whole "no secret ballot -- everyone gets to see who you vote for" thing as well. Multiple states have now done away with caucuses and will hold Democratic primary elections instead. This could change the dynamic of the whole race, considering how well Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders did in the caucus states in the old system. Whether this will be a change for the better or not remains to be seen, in other words.

But there's another sticking point that arose in the 2016 election cycle that is going to be incredibly important in the 2020 race, and that is how the candidate debates will be conducted. The last time around, the system was gamed by one particular candidate, which absolutely should not be allowed to happen next time. Democrats should hold as many debates as they think the public will pay attention to, for starters. Limiting the number of debates to favor a particular candidate should be a thing of the past, period.

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