Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Is Manchin afraid to Destroy our Democracy or Save It?

To many of my progressive friends, Senator Manchin might as well be Republican. In 1968, I was a “radical” who distrusted politicians. Hubert Humphrey ran against Nixon, Republican. Neither promised a quick end to the Vietnam War. They were “part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Then Nixon claimed he had a secret peace plan and won. There was at least one difference between them: Nixon was a liar. 

To progressives, Manchin and Republicans are complicit in supporting fossil fuel companies and obstructing policies to reduce fossil fuel use and transition to low carbon alternatives to slow global warming. His refusal to reform or eliminate the filibuster is support of a corporatist anti-democracy agenda. When he votes with Democrats, as he does unless a vote with Republicans would change the outcome, that does not mollify them.

Manchin wants to protect power the Senate gives him in the Constitution. WV, with a population of under two million gets 2 Senators. CA, with 20 times the population gets only 2 Senators. At our founding, most low population states were southern and interested in protecting slavery. Manchin wrongly conflates this advantage with the filibuster (it’s not a law, but a Senate tradition). The filibuster has changed form since first used in the 1830’s. It allows the minority party to stop bills and presidential appointments from proceeding to a final vote. In other words, it stymies majority rule. 

Republicans created a huge backlog of judges and cabinet members during the Obama administration by threatening filibusters. The mere threat now accomplishes what used to require Senators to speak without break for hours.  To break the backlog, Democrats exempted appointments of federal judges and cabinet appointees from the filibuster in 2013. When Republicans regained the presidency and the Senate in 2016, Republicans changed the filibuster rule to allow Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by simple majority. Without that change, they likely would not have been able to install arch conservatives like Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett. 

Previously, appointments were mostly non-partisan exercises in which presidents were given their picks absent egregious misconduct or radical philosophy. Members of both parties agreed presidents were entitled to their choices with Constitutionally mandated advice and consent of Senators.    

With few exceptions, Senators didn’t filibuster bills simply because they disagreed with them. They voted no if they disagreed with a bill.

The election of an African American president spawned the “Tea Party” movement whose underlying racism was obscured by talk of higher taxes and deficits. Manchin entered the Senate in 2010 as Republicans were perfecting obstruction. While claiming bipartisan intentions, they negotiated for changes in bills, then voted against them or invoked the filibuster to keep President Obama from succeeding in improving the economy and people’s lives.

Manchin fears that if Democrats reform the filibuster, the next time Republicans gain control of Congress and the Presidency, they will abolish it so they can roll back Democrat passed bills—maybe even the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, or Social Security. He believes that would lead to the end of our democracy.

What he has wrong is that bipartisanship has run in only one direction for at least the last 12 years since Obama’s election. Mostly white rural states have been steadily moving into the red column where they have outsized power in the Senate.

Republicans also consolidate power through gerrymandering— drawing Congressional districts to give them advantage in the House of Representatives and state legislatures. They pass state laws to suppress voting among young and non-white Democrats.  In the 2020 election, which the former president has yet to concede, if the more radical elements of the Republican Party had its way, the election would have been awarded to Trump by the electoral college, state legislatures, or even by Congress itself. Overturning a free and fair election as Trump, his lawyers, and the insurrectionists of January 6 tried to do is by definition an attempt to destroy our democracy.

If Senator Manchin is truly concerned about our democracy, he should be willing to do whatever it takes, including reforming the filibuster to insure the passage of the For the People Act, which ends gerrymandering in favor of non-partisan Congressional redistricting and makes voting easier.  The John Lewis Act should be passed immediately. It would allow the Justice Department to intervene in state laws that unConstitutionally affect minority voting rights. 

Manchin is in a tough spot. He could agree to reform the filibuster, but he’s claimed that would destroy our democracy. He hoped that his Republican colleagues would show that they are still capable of bipartisan action. Instead, they are showing us the same playbook they used to stymie President Obama—obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. It’s time for Joe Manchin to do the right thing. Yes, West Virginia’s Trump base and the big money that buys ads will demonize him. They will do that no matter what. It’s time for Joe to prove my progressive friends wrong, help reform the filibuster and clear the way for Congress and President Biden to save our democracy. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This IS Who We Are (at least some of us)



Fellow West Virginians, we have come through four years of a presidency that forced us to take positions that starkly shine light on differences in our beliefs, derived from sets of so-called facts that describe our world in starkly different ways and lead us to see it, each other, and the possibilities for what lies ahead in profoundly different ways. 

High falutin’ language? I must be a Yankee, or a college man, maybe even a lawyer or a Jew. Guilty on 3 counts. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, but I lived in WV—on 17 acres in Roane County— for 18 years until 1992, and in Charleston since then. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here longer than most born and raised here, I am not considered a West Virginian by many. As to Jewishness, yes, by birth, though I do not practice any religion, preferring to live my life following what I consider basic human morality: honesty, helpfulness, loving and forgiving as much as possible.

I attended WVSU (College, then) and Marshall University (COGS, then) as a young working parent, completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in elementary education. I taught at Clendenin Elementary school for 7 years and Ruffner Elementary in Charleston for 18 years. I was a founding member and first president of FOOTMAD, the Friends of Old Time Music and Dance, and have played traditional WV string band music and other styles in bands all over the East and Midwest, and many years ago in Greece and Turkey on a U.S.O. tour where I remember meeting a young soldier on an island off the coast of Greece at a satellite communications site who grew up a couple miles from where my wife and I were raising a baby and growing vegetables. 

When we meet on the street, we say howdy, talk about the weather, our families, our health, and the state of the roads. But if we veer into politics or the news, it’s not long before our conversation may become suspicious or angry. Each person makes statements about the facts that they believe and the sources where they get them. The facts don’t agree, and my sources, which are usually called the “mainstream media,” are called fake news by the other, while his or her sources are usually a website, a friend, neighbor, or family neighbor they know, or one of a few cable news networks they trust.

That is the end of the conversation for me. At that point, I say, “It’s been great seeing you and I’m glad you told me what you think, but if we can’t agree on what sources can provide trusted facts, then there’s really no way we can have a productive discussion.”

I have learned this lesson online. I often post what I consider articles from trusted sources to counter what I consider falsehoods or articles that make unlikely or wrong conclusions based on known facts. I do that even though I know I won’t change the mind of people making false claims. I hope someone who isn’t so steeped in alt-beliefs will be exposed to another view.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, among others including Joe Biden, has described the 1/6/21 attack on the Capitol as “not who we are.” While I’m glad Capito is willing to call out violence against the Capitol where she was briefly in danger, that IS who some of us are. Despite our mostly white, rural demographic, West Virginians include a multitude of kinds of people who believe in multiple things. I think that Shelley would agree that many, if not all, of those who entered the Capitol acted deplorably. Many wore or carried symbols associating them with far right groups, including Proud Boys, KKK, Nazis, the Confederacy. The group included racists, women haters, terrorists, and people who want to destroy United States government and remake it in their own image. Only a few West Virginians may behave that deplorably, though we elected a state representative who was among them and a president who incited them.

So it’s time to acknowledge who we are and talk about who we want us to be. How can we educate, or “deprogram” or change minds of those who have deplorable beliefs if we just tell people they are not us—they are “Other?” Accepting who they are does not mean we don’t ask them to change. When an evangelical Christian meets a non believer who they believe will go to hell, they presumably don’t call for them to be locked up or banished. They invite them in, offer food, companionship, love, and song, hoping to persuade them their way is better. They acknowledge they’re not perfect, “We are all sinners,” they say. Well, maybe it’s time to take a page from them.

In West Virginia, almost 70% voted for Donald Trump this year. Who are they? They are us.

But they have been told by media they consume and their political leadership, repeated by friends and family, many of the following lies:

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are Socialists or Communists 

Most Democrats accept some ideas that Socialists have, such as government sponsored health care, Democrats don’t want government to take over factories and ban private ownership.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to defund the police.

 Few Democrats use this phrase. Most who do mean that they believe police are expected to solve too many problems they’re not suited for, like mental health problems and homelessness—programs that need better funding, and some of the funding could come from police departments relieved of those burdens.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to take away our guns 

Many Democrats support laws to improve gun safety such as requiring background checks, doing away with loopholes, banning large clips and/or assault weapons only useful for killing people.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to take away our health care or force us to use government health care 

Millions of people have gained insurance and affordable health care under Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the Affordable Care Act-Obamacare. Republicans have fought these programs and tried to destroy them. Their philosophy is that people are responsible for their own health, and should spend their own money on their health when they get sick.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are anti-coal. 

Democrats believe that all workers deserve safe working environments and pay that can support a family. They support coal miners in forming unions to fight for safety and good pay. Coal companies must be held liable for the damage that coal mining and coal burning do to our environment. If Coal companies cannot produce and use coal safely and cleanly compared to other forms of energy, they will go out of business. We must insist they pay to clean up their messes. We must help workers losing jobs in coal industries to learn and find good paying jobs to replace those lost to cleaner, more affordable energy.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats kill babies. They are pro-abortion

Almost no one is "pro-abortion". Democrats acknowledge that not every pregnancy is viable, safe, or healthy. Many pregnancies result in unavoidable miscarriages, which is often painful and disappointing to the woman, and perhaps her partner. Some pregnancies must be forced to be miscarried--aborted--to protect the life or health of the woman. Some pregnancies, especially those caused by rape or incest, or perpetrated on underage girls as young as nine or ten are dangerous to the mental state of women forced to carry a fetus to term. A "pro-life" position should consider these issues and "pro-choice" proponents believe women should make these decisions in consultation with their doctor. 

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are evil pedophiles: 

The Q-anon conspiracy is a dangerous fantasy. People sometimes believe literally any whacky idea made up and promoted on the Internet. Like an addiction to drugs, sex, gambling, or membership in gangs, militias, or cults, belief in conspiracy theories like this give people a high and creates a community that supports each other’s ideas. 

I’m doing the easy work of defining problems. We need people to solve problems. Howard Swint (who contributes op-eds to the WV Gazette-Mail), recently reached out to me to suggest we form a diverse group of West Virginians to travel around talking to people who have not met many people different than themselves to talk and get to know one another. I told him that after I got my vaccination, I would consider doing that.