Monday, March 25, 2019

First Take on Mueller Report

So now at least Attorney General William Barr's summary of the Mueller Report is before us. It was far-fetched to think Trump himself actually was on Putin's email list sending instructions to Vladimir's Moscow troll farm. That's the bar Trump set and from which he declares total vindication. I never expected that to be discovered, and I'm sure you didn't either. Numerous other obstruction events took place, though perhaps in Mueller's view not necessarily rising to the level of prosecutable--though not necessarily not, either, according to Barr's summary. He is neither indicted nor exonerated on those, according to Barr's summary of Mueller's report. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of probity, but it's not immediately getting cuffed, either.

So Trump can declare victory, and of course, he has. Hopefully now the Democratic investigations in the House can proceed with a tinge less breathless publicity, which is just how we and Speaker Nancy Pelosi want it. If they find damning evidence of a character serious enough to impress 20 Republican senators (the number that would need to vote for conviction were Trump to be impeached by the House and tried in the Senate) then all well and good. If not then let the 2020 election proceed on the lines of the issues, and let us get out our base and the moderate suburbanites whom Trump disgusts and the educated folks who are appalled, and women, along with an effective enough appeal to working class whites to get a few of them back (health care, social security, medicare, education, job training, some cultural sensitivity) and win the election on its merits. Trump hasn't actually accomplished much of anything that doesn't primarily help the wealthy and corporations.

If Reagan was the "Teflon President" Trump is the "Houdini President" for his escapes from conduct and predicaments that would have sunk any other politician.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why Authoritarianism Is On the Rise

Historian Robert Kagan has put his finger on the resurgence of authoritarianism in the US and around the world with a brilliant article, "The Strongmen Strike Back." Kagan's explanation of why we are where we are makes clear that authoritarianism represents the great challenge to the liberal democratic order. By liberal democratic order we mean a society organized along the lines laid out in the Declaration of Independence, where individual rights and citizen participation in governance are the paramount values.

What Kagan points out is that this construct doesn't specifically deal with a range of security impulses common to humans, impulses that are traditionally met by such institutions as tribe, culture and ethnicity, among others.

His argument is the best I've seen. The article is rather lengthy but you will get the gist in the first few pages. After that it rings with tremendous insights throughout. Unless these issues can be addressed human freedom, already in retreat in many quarters of the globe, may face an increasingly uphill fight  in the years ahead.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Dems Unusually United for 2020 Campaign

A very interesting Monmouth poll has come out. Monmouth has a good reputation for accuracy.

Pertinent facts:

1. Democratic voters substantially prefer someone who can beat Trump to someone who shares their ideological perspectives, and by a much larger margin than usual. Dems are apparently united in focusing on beating Trump and more likely to coalesce strongly around the eventual nominee than in the average election year. 

2. Trump is wildly unpopular. He would lose an election today by 19 points. 


The election is still more than 19 months away. Only the ignorant would make firm predictions this far out. Still, the upcoming election is eminently winnable. These indicators are a lot more promising than if Democrats were rock-hard in their insistence to have their ideological mirror be the nominee or else, and if Trump were already ahead by 19 points. 

Certainly, many new events will transpire and we can count on Trump to make use of his full bag of tricks. The Democrats or their nominee's campaign could seriously bungle things. But so could the GOP. For example, Trump's introduction of a budget that slashes Medicare and Social Security plays right into the hands of the Democrats; it's the principal issue they rode to gaining forty seats in the House just four months ago. This is already scheduled to play prominently in their 2020 ads. 

So we'll see what happens, and anything still could. But the terrain is promising at this point. Check out the poll here:

Saturday, March 9, 2019

House Passes Historic Voting Rights Extension

The Democratic-majority House of Representatives has just passed what would be the greatest extension of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Every Democrat voted for it and every Republican voted against it. The For the People Act will not become law this year, because Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not even bring it up for a vote in his chamber. What it does show is what the Democrats would do if they win the Senate and Presidency in 2020 and retain their majority in the House. Everything in the bill would make voting easier and redistricting fairer. It includes automatic voter registration, an Election Day holiday for federal workers, paper ballots so that election results can be verified, and would end gerrymandering by establishing nonpartisan redistricting commissions, among many other things. The piece below, including a thorough synopsis of the Bill's provisions, is reprinted from the Daily Kos Voting Rights Roundup.

The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.
• Congress: On Friday, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, the most far-reaching voting rights legislation to strengthen democracy since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This groundbreaking bill, which was given the symbolically important designation of "HR 1," aims to preserve and expand the right to vote, reform campaign finance laws to deter corruption, and change the way the election system works by banning gerrymandering at the federal level.
The bill passed exactly along party lines, demonstrating just how hostile national Republicans are to the idea of protecting the right to vote in free and fair elections. That's why it doesn't stand a chance of becoming law so long as Mitch McConnell is in charge of the Senate, since he has vowed not to even bring it up for a vote. However, the legislation's passage underscores how serious Democrats are about protecting our democratic institutions, and it could become law if Democrats gain control of the Senate and presidency in 2020.
As we explained when the bill was introduced, the proposal takes a four-pronged approach to protecting free and fair elections by (1) removing barriers to expand access to voting; (2) securing the integrity of the vote by mandating paper ballots; (3) establishing public financing in House elections to level the playing field; and (4) banning congressional gerrymandering by requiring that every state create a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
Below we list each of the bill's major provisions and a few of its smaller but still important requirements, including measures that were included as amendments to the original bill:
  • Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies
  • Same-day voter registration
  • Online voter registration
  • Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they'll be on the rolls when they turn 18
  • Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies
  • Banning states from purging eligible voters' registration simply for infrequent voting
  • An Election Day holiday for federal workers
  • Two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours
  • Standardized hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races
  • Prepaid postage on mail ballots
  • Allowing voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose
  • Requiring states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting
  • Ending prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they're incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting
  • Ending felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and requiring such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored
  • Expressing support for D.C. statehood (which is the subject of a separate bill)
  • Public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate
  • Expanded campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United
  • Banning corporations from spending on campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders
  • Making it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting
One proposal that did not make it into the bill also merits attention even though lawmakers voted it down: lowering the voting age to 16 for federal elections. Though it was rejected by a vote of 305-126, that tally nevertheless means that a majority of Democrats supported this proposal(as did a lone Republican). No state or major city has yet moved to implement this policy locally, but given how much support House Democrats just showed for the idea, it's possible that things could begin to change over the coming years in blue states and cities.
Lastly, Democrats are also planning one other key voting rights measure as a separate bill, which would restore a critical part of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck it down in 2013. Democrats must first compile a lengthy factual record in support of that bill to help avoid a similar fate before the Supreme Court.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Advice for Teaching Middle School

One of my former COS students just got a job teaching middle school History, the very job I started with at the age of 27 for my first full-time teaching position. He asked if I had any advice, and here is what I sent him.

Ah yes, 7-8 History. I did that for 17 years, starting at age 27 years, 11 months. Is that about the same for you or are you a little younger?  At any rate, I do have some advice for middle school teaching. You have to have standard procedures for everything: how they come into class, leave class, pass out and pass in papers. Remember how I had COS classes pass in their papers in perfect order? If your seating chart is alphabetical it makes it easy to enter grades and easy to pass oars back expeditiously. Every instance of undirected down time is an opportunity for chaos to break out. You have to train them on your procedures. 

When you show videos have worksheets for them to do so they pay attention and don't fool around as much. Your discipline code has to be clearly understood and rigorously enforced. So don't make a rule unless you intend to enforce it. Remember that 29 or 30 out of every class of 32 kids are pretty neat people, but It's the nature of their age that the other 2 or three can make your life miserable. So have a seating chart and let them know you reserve the right to move people if you consider it necessary. Separate the difficult kids away from each other. Starting alphabetically and/or boy-girl are fine. 

I had them clean things up and have their desks straight and didn't dismiss rows until they were all in good shape. That brings peer pressure to bear, which can be your great ally. I would have competitions between classes on passing papers in and out the fastest with Jolly Ranchers (cheap and popular) for the class that had the best time. (Add one second for each paper out of order and one second for each time somebody talks.)

But even with all this rule and discipline stuff, crucial as it is in middle school, let it show that you love teaching and love history, and that though you may be kind of tough you care about them each as individuals and will make every effort to help them as much as you can!