New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Keeping Your Post Office Your Post Office

Today, I read an article about a proposal announced by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The Postmaster General has a business plan draft that will be asking Congress to help the Service balance the agency’s books by making significant cuts to employee benefits for its 500,000 workers.

The proposal would trim paid leave, raise workers’ share of pension contributions, and shift new employees into less secure 401(k)-style retirement plans. The changes would amount to a cut in take-home pay for hundreds of thousands of workers while saving an estimated $18 billion on employee compensation over ten-years. 

The proposal would also expand its “non-career workforce” — temporary workers who are not eligible for the same pay and benefits as permanent employees. This would mean a further reduction in job opportunities that have long been steppingstones to the middle class for many Americans. 

The article interested me for a couple of reason. First, I’ve used America’s postal service for a long time. I’ve appreciated their work since the days when I was mailing in cereal box tops for decoder rings and receiving envelopes filled with colorful foreign stamps, for my boyhood collection. I know I’m only speaking from my own experience, but postal workers have always come through for me. I think they earn what they’re paid. 

The other reason I was interested in today’s USPS news item dates back to 1971. That was the year I had the experience of working on an ad campaign introducing the public to the “new” United States Postal Service. Until ‘71, the U.S. Post Office Department had operated purely as a government branch with all the sclerotic bureaucracy you’d expect in a system that originated with Benjamin Franklin.  

The old Postal Department became the new USPS, to be organized and operated like a business. Management responsibilities were tighter. New profit center development was encouraged. Postmaster promotions would no longer be political. If you proved you skills as a postmaster in a small town, you could set your sights on eventually moving up to a larger post office with more responsibilities and higher pay. Your progress up the career ladder would be based on merit.  

Perhaps I was caught up in the hype, but as I visited a variety of postal operations, including Chicago’s gigantic post office spanning Congress Street, I felt I could sense a level of enthusiasm for the changes and modernization being introduced. My assignment lasted less than two years but I came away from it with a respect for how seriously postal workers take their jobs. — That “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow,” slogan rings true for me, much more so than any slogan General Electric or Chase Bank has ever thrown at us. 

Nearly 50 years have gone by since the new USPS was introduced. During that time we’ve seen the arrival of computers in every home, and the Internet, email, electronic documents, cell phones, texting — all alternatives to letter writing. We’ve also seen FedEx and UPS expand their services in profitable areas. Meanwhile, our nation’s Postal Service has been required to deliver your letters and packages for the same rate whether it’s to Kankakee, Illinois or Kaklovik, Alaska. None of this has made operating like a “profitable” business any easier. 

Bur here’s what has really made things tough. In 2006, under the Bush Administration, a new federal law forced the agency to set aside billions annually in advance funding for retirees’ health benefits, a federal agency requirement unique to the Postal Service. (Private sector companies generally fund retiree health care on a pay-as-you-go basis.) In fact, in 2015 the Obama Administration’s Postmaster, Megan Brennan, testified that the majority of the agency’s net losses over the previous years stem from that requirement.  

For 36 years (1970-2006), the USPS paid its current retiree health benefits out of pocket without incident. The 2006 crippling of the Service’s ability to steady their finances was greeted with approval by many Republicans in and beyond congress – especially those who never saw a government privatization plan they didn’t like.  

Today, in researching this subject, I quickly found several treatises saying the USPS was doomed with the only solution being privatization. Not surprisingly, the sources for those opinions included the Cato Institute and Forbes Magazine. Right now, Republicans like Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio are clamoring for a plan that would privatize our U.S. Mail.  

But such an outcome is far from a fait accompli. Even the proposal to slash USPS worker benefits is still being debated. Nevertheless, Republican eagerness to see our government’s Postal Service fade out of existence, replaced by a privatized for-profit postal system, has been around for years and will not go away. Will it ever happen? I hope not. But then, I never imagined we’d see so many American prisons privatized, and you can be sure Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t mind a few thousand more privatized schools. – These folks will never give up on their vision for America. We must keep pushing back with ours.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

The Upside of 23 Candidates for President

Over the past few days I’ve finally gotten the feeling that the Democratic Party’s campaign to unseat Donald Trump in 2020 is seriously underway. We’ve seen the showcasing of a number of Democrats in California. Iowa just hosted presentations from nearly all of our many primary candidates. We’re starting to see our presidential hopefuls differentiate themselves and their ideas from each other while also pointing out the many ways President Trump is harming the long-term interests of everyday Americans. 

As of right now there are (I think) 23 Democrats who have officially declared they believe they can defeat Donald Trump next year. (Actually at this point the total number of Democrats who have submitted their names as presidential candidates to the Federal Election Commission is an incredible 254!) 

Unless in the coming months some charismatic game changer emerges from those other 231 presidential hopefuls, the 23 names now considered legitimate challengers will not get any larger. (But never say “never.”) 

Even 23 competitors for the presidency is a large crowd for interested voters to sort out. At the moment, the two Democrats with the largest percentage of national name recognition and support are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden’s percentage is somewhere in the mid-thirties, Sanders’ is a bit less. Candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg each have respectable double-digit support percentages. And beyond those candidates there are a number of other impressive men and women with the potential to rise in popularity. 

However, to put all that in perspective, the Washington Post recently noted that on about this date four years ago Hillary Clinton led the pack of Democratic candidates with a 57% ranking. With 236 days until the Iowa caucuses, there is no Democrat with close to the voter support Clinton had already sewn up in 2015.  

Realistically, I think our much different situation today is a very good thing. Donald Trump controls the “bully pulpit” of the White House. He also has the support of his personal propaganda network, Fox News, as well as conservative AM radio networks. He can spew out endless disinformation and outright lies daily. 

So, the more months that pass with multiple Democratic candidates presenting their messages to American voters, the more Trump’s messaging power is diluted. Month after month, between now and next summer, voters will be exposed to a range of intriguing and hopeful ideas; they will meet a variety articulate, intelligent, caring Democratic candidates serious about helping them. And with each month of such messaging, Trump will be weakened.  

Add to that scenario, months of Democratic candidates pointing out the lies, failures and betrayals Trump has committed against his most avid supporters. (And who knows what revelations about Trump’s corruption may be exposed as a result of future Congressional hearings.) 

Of course, President Trump can always create headlines to take attention away from what our party’s candidates are saying. But even that tactic has its limits. Trump’s recent “Mexican crisis” — solved when he saved the day with an agreement that was actually already in place — is an example of how phony his distractions are becoming. These ploys may continue to impress his most loyal supporters but the general public is getting wise to the game he repeatedly plays.  

If there were just one, or even two or three, Democrats with a serious chance to win the White House next year, Trump’s attack plan would be much simpler. But with so many really sharp Democrats getting press coverage, spreading their messages via every form of media and meeting potential voters face to face in town halls across America, Donald Trump is going to be driven crazier than he already is. — Plus he’s going to have to come up with 23 derogatory nicknames. Being a bully isn’t supposed to be so complicated. Poor Donald.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Congratulations to NTHS Senior Alexandra Gjaja – 2019 Crowley Award Recipient

2019 Crowley Award Winner Alex Gjaja flanked by Dean Maragos and Judy Mandel.

New Trier High School senior Alexandra (Alex) Gjaja of Wilmette received the ninth annual Wilbert F. Crowley Citizenship Award for exemplary community awareness, involvement, leadership and scholarship.  The non-partisan honor is named for retired New Trier Township Democratic Committeeman Wilbert “Bill” Crowley and was presented byDean Maragos. 

Alex Gjaja has among the highest ratings in grade point average, ACT and SAT, is a National Merit Scholar and will attend Princeton University this fall.  She attended New Trier at Oxford to study Shakespeare, traveled to six continents, rowed on the Women’s Crew Team, sang in the school choir and plays piano and guitar.  In addition, she was National Spanish Award Recipient for three years and won the gold medal. 

Because the Crowley Award acknowledges exemplary public service, Dean Maragos cited her involvement with the Wilmette League of Women Voters in interning and being an Emerging Leader, strengthening the chapter, registering students to vote and planning to create other chapters at Princeton and nearby universities.

Advisors, teachers and Crowley Award reviewers were highly impressed with her qualifications and spirit.                                                        

Reflections From The Past Week

Freedom across a river:

In the past week the Democrat controlled Illinois House and Senate passed an abortion rights bill that greatly strengthens the personal rights of women in our state. This welcome action comes at a critically important moment in America as a reactionary minority is doing everything it can to erase those rights. I congratulate our Illinois legislators for taking a stand to protect women within our borders. The bill now awaits Governor Pritzker’s expected signature. 

The stated purpose of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) is to preserve a woman’s control of her reproductive health as a “fundamental right.” It repeals a 1975 Illinois law that included a range of restrictive elements such as requirements for spousal consent and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. The RHA also contains language that treats abortion as a personal matter of health care. 

The contrast between what has just occurred in our state legislature and what recently took place across our southwest border in Missouri is stark. Their legislature has decreed that Missouri women will now have virtually no voice in critical decisions involving their reproductive systems. Basically, the instant an egg is fertilized the state controls the outcome. 

Witnessing such a radical reduction in the freedom of people living just across a river from us reminded me of one of my favorite books, “Huckleberry Finn.” Huck and his slave friend Jim lived in a slave state within sight of a free state. By simply crossing the Mississippi River from Missouri into Illinois a slave could gain the right to be in control of his or her own body. – History sure does take some strange turns. 

Illinois is hemp country:

Another hot topic in Springfield has been the further legalization of hemp production in our state. Illinois already had a 2018 Industrial Hemp Act legalizing its growth. Now the legitimization of hemp production in all of its forms opens up further opportunities for Illinois’ farm incomes. — Hemp loves Illinois’ climate and its soil. 

But what intrigues me the most about this new acceptance of hemp farming is not the cannabis aspect. It is hemp’s potential for producing paper. Many years ago in America, hemp was a major source for our paper needs. In fact, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are printed on hemp paper. Its use faded for a number of reasons, not the least of which was pressures from timber interests. 

Today, the positive long-term impact of hemp paper production on our environment would be tremendous. One acre of good old Illinois hemp could produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle. Hemp stalks take just four months to mature, compared to years for even the softest of trees. Hemp paper also does not require any bleaching, so its production doesn’t poison the water with dioxins or chlorine like tree paper mills do. The reduction of environmental damage connected to logging would be one more plus. 

And here’s a nice side benefit. The Koch Brothers and Wisconsin’s Uline family, two of the biggest conservative names in dark money sourcing, have made billions from paper products made from the thousands of acres of trees they harvest. Wouldn’t it be nice to know your future paper towels came from a farmer’s field in Illinois instead? 

William Happer and Gen Z:

The other day I heard a couple things on NPR that, although not on the same show, had a depressing connection.  

The first item was a profile of William Happer. He’s the scientist who now serves on the National Security Council as President Trump’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies. Mr. Happer is an outspoken critic of anyone who says increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are having an impact on the earth’s climate. (His doctorate is in physics, not climatology.) The coal and oil billionaires love and support this guy, but he is the last person our world needs talking into the ear of Donald Trump. 

The other NPR report covered the varying levels of concern toward climate change held by America’s different generations — Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, etc. As you might expect, the younger generations are the ones expressing a greater sense of urgency as they look forward to an increasingly inhospitable environment. The youngest of these groups is Generation Z (anyone born in the last years of the 20th or first years of the 21st centuries.)  

Gen Zs will be the middle-aged men and women striving to ensure a secure life for their families in the 2040’s and 2050’s. And unless serious action is taken now to slow down or even halt climate change, their world will be, at the least, a miserable place and possibly on the brink of collapse. 

Today, smug self-deluding sellouts like William Happer hold influential positions that push us toward that scenario. Which leads me to this thought: What if labeling our newest generation with the last letter in our alphabet, “Z”, was a prescient act, also labeling it as the last generation to remember the world when it still held hope for its future? 

We must not let that happen.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

So Many Candidates – Too Many Choices?

The other day I got to thinking about the number of Democrats who have declared their candidacy to be our next president. At this point there are 24 names to consider.  

First I wondered: Does this number set some kind of record?  

After a limited amount of research it appears that our field of 24 Democratic candidates is not record breaking, but it is big. Larger numbers of candidates vying for the presidency have appeared periodically. It can happen when no incumbent is running or when the incumbent is vulnerable, and/or when the country is in a particularly high level of turmoil and uncertainty. (Situation sound familiar?) 

For instance in the 1860 election just before the Civil War began, there was a total of 27 candidates representing 6 political parties competing to be nominated by their parties. Eventually there were 4 candidates from 4 parties on the presidential ballot. Lincoln won a plurality of the popular vote (39.8%) and a majority of electoral votes. – Definitely a good outcome. 

After World War I in 1920, there was no incumbent president vying for reelection. So, there were 17 Democrats and 12 Republicans competing for the presidential nomination at their respective party conventions. The president who eventually won the election was Warren G. Harding. His administration was scandal plagued, as was his personal life. He feared impeachment and died in office. – Outcome: not so good. 

In 1968 with the Vietnam War raging, there was a total of 19 Republicans and 23 Democrats who declared themselves for the presidency. The sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, withdrew his name for a second full term and candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated. After the major party conventions ended, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey faced off, along with Governor George Wallace in his third party. When the votes were counted. Nixon won. – You all know how that turned out. 

Today, we have a different dynamic for handling presidential nominations. The big party conventions with various “favorite sons” on the first ballot and political deal making behind closed doors are no more. They’ve been replaced by nationwide primary elections in each state. By the time a convention is held, everyone knows who the presidential candidate is.  

In 2008, after experiencing eight years of George W. Bush, there were 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans running for president. The Democratic Party’s eventual candidate was known two months before the party’s August gathering when Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama. The Republican candidate, John McCain, was recognized even earlier. – Outcome: we got an inspiring president and a skilled secretary of state who eight years later would win the popular vote for president, but lose the electoral vote. 

And the political process isn’t all that has changed. The fundraising capabilities of Internet savvy campaigns now make it possible for lesser-known candidates to quickly rise into the national conversation. Today’s central party organization has less power to anoint their party’s next choice for president. 

2016 saw 6 Democrats, 17 Republicans and 4 figures from lesser-known parties vying to be president. That year, you can bet the Republican Party’s central organization had no desire to see Donald Trump head up their party’s ticket. But it happened. And now we’re learning how big a role the Internet (and Russia) played in the results of that election. Outcome: Terrible! 

So after delving into these bits of history, I’m now asking myself: With so many Democratic contenders and quite likely a contentious primary battle ahead, can we end up with the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump while nominating the best president for our United States? — So far, I don’t know the answer to that. However, I am certain of one thing. Anyone who can remove Trump from the White House will instantly make America a better place to live.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

For a fascinating interactive look at the last 10 presidential primary campaigns, visit this Bloomberg page.

P.S. There’s a news item further down in this newsletter that refers to a political action group I hadn’t heard of. The group is the “Sister District Project.” They are having a fundraiser in a Winnetka home for a Virginia House of Delegates candidate. Since I was unfamiliar with the group I looked them up on the Internet. Their mission recognizes the importance of taking control of state legislatures in as many states as possible before the 2020 census is completed. Whichever party controls their state’s legislature in 2020 will control the post-census congressional district boundaries for the next ten years. Here’s their address. Check them out. In the coming campaign year you may want to give them a hand.

Who Does Your Body Belong To?

As usual, the events of the past week offer plenty of serious subjects for comment. I could choose an upbeat tone and express cautious optimism about the promise of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. Or, I could head in the opposite direction and talk about Donald Trump’s threatened war with Iran or the growing potential for his impeachment.

But instead I’ve decided to write about something that’s a bigger and a much, much older story than any of those hot topics — a woman’s autonomy over her own body. The battle for that control has come into the spotlight in recent days with the passage of outrageously restrictive abortion laws by several conservative-controlled state legislatures.

When you think about the words, “your autonomy over your own body” they really do sound nonsensical…like “your autonomy over your elbow” or “your ankle” — I mean, seriously, your body is your body. Controlling what happens within its “boundaries” is strictly your business. No one else should be able to claim that power.

For some perspective I should note that, with a few historical exceptions, it wasn’t until recent times that women could expect any equitable treatment concerning their bodies. (In some cultures women were little more than chattel or slaves.) 

Even just a few generations ago virtually every American woman’s body was controlled in most ways by a patriarchal society. The life options a woman’s body might have…the level of education it could receive…the smattering of professions it might pursue…who it might marry…the subservient role it must play as a wife and mother…all those facets of that body’s life were usually controlled by someone else.

Sadly, those grim scenarios still describe the lives of millions of women in many parts of the world, but at this moment in the United States the control of a woman’s body is focused on one thing, their reproductive rights.

There’s no question that one of the most impactful events in the 20th century was the growing acceptance of equal rights for women. It inspired millions of women worldwide to more clearly recognize their potential and pursue it. At the same time such a shift in societal norms caused tradition-bound men and women to react strongly against such change. I believe the growth of energy we’ve seen within fundamentalist religions — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu — is, to a great extent, a reaction to the growth of women’s rights. 

Today in the United States there are still numbers of men and women with strong feelings against these inevitably changing times. They are voters with a strong incentive to show up at the polls. Appealing to their emotions is a very attractive campaigning tool for politicians, whatever their real agenda might be. 

The extreme anti-choice stance of Republican legislators in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri and among certain Republican members of the U.S. Congress is disturbing. A woman’s demand for the right to control her body’s reproductive system is portrayed by abortion rights advocates as a heartless, quasi-criminal act against the fetus in that woman’s womb — whatever the trimester. Some of the most extreme laws would include a single-cell zygote for legal protection!

I know I’m not the only one who finds it ironic that these anti-choice people and the Republican politicians courting them are so concerned about the sanctity of life in its earliest stages — yet they have no qualms about ending the lives of felons, the bombing of populations or the support of policies that result in the starvation and death of innocent civilians. It seems the moral outrage of such Republicans is quite selective. — If you’re going to talk the talk, you should walk the talk. Protest against capital punishment. Raise your kids to be conscientious objectors. Donate big to NGO’s that feed victims of conflict.

The recognition of the complete personhood of women, not just in America but around the world, has created ripples that have become waves and in some cases tsunamis. 

Conservative forces may tell themselves that their actions to turn back the clock and remove hard-won rights for women are a result of them riding one of those waves. But the reality is their wave is about to be wiped out by a tsunami of inevitable positive change even larger than the one that hit our nation in last November’s election. And when it arrives it will bring a better future for every body in America.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

A Statement On Abatement

Last week I spent a day in Springfield as part of a group gathered from across Illinois. It was composed of mosquito abatement professionals, university and health department scientists, representatives from respected insect control firms and at least one abatement district volunteer-trustee — me. We were in the state capitol to touch base with our respective state representatives and senators about the serious and continuing need to protect Illinois residents from diseases spread by mosquitos and ticks. 

And this week…I’m pretty much doing the same thing for two days in Washington D.C., with a much larger group of abatement advocates from every corner of the United States.

So why am I talking about this in a New Trier Dems newsletter? Well, the other day it struck me that my involvement with progressive politics and my interest in battling insect borne diseases has more in common than I had realized.

The first similarity that I thought of was how often over the years we abatement advocates have had to regularly counter misconceptions and exaggerations about what we are doing. Not too many years ago one of Chicago’s newspapers (you can guess which one) carried several guest editorials about the foolishness of tax dollars being squandered on tiny little mosquitos. — Then Zika came along and the vocal critics apparently gained some perspective. (West Nile should have been their wake up call.)

Misconceptions, exaggerations and downright stupidity have also been an enemy of progressive politics. Remember the “death panel” outcry when Universal Healthcare was proposed years ago? And how about America’s measles epidemic? — One more self-destructive result of conservative willful ignorance. Unfortunately, combatting untruthful accusations from reactionaries is a battle progressives are used to. But, as Stephen Colbert has said, “Facts have a liberal bias.”

A second parallel I’ve now perceived is how my political priorities and my mosquito interests share a number of common concerns. I’ll give you three examples.

Climate change: Mosquito abatement is feeling its impact with the appearance of insect-borne diseases in parts of America that were previously untouched. And climate change is also a political issue screaming for progressive legislation.

Health care: It is, of course, important to mosquito abatement; protecting the public’s health is the entire mission. And politically, having a nationwide public health system that can recognize the arrival of new insect-borne threats should be a progressive goal.

Higher education: Our country’s mosquito abatement efforts are going to require more entomologists expert in the study of vector borne disease. And politically, the efforts of progressives to open up education opportunities for thousands of bright young Americans is the obvious solution.

So as you can see, although I’ve been dividing a lot of my retirement years between thinking politics and thinking mosquitos, it hasn’t been a schizoid endeavor. In fact, I’ve concluded that both have been abatement activities. Sure, the targets were different but I think abatement is part of every progressive Democrat’s agenda.

For example, every Democrat I know wants to abate the widening gap between Americans who have no fear for their future and the millions of Americans whose families have lost the sense of security they once enjoyed — America needs Shrinking-Middle-Class Abatement.

And how about abating the stranglehold Mitch McConnell has on our democracy’s throat in 2020. The USA needs MMA! — Mitch McConnell Abatement.

But the best abatement activity of all will be when the role Donald Trump plays in our nation and the world gets reduced to zero. One way or another, I think we’ll see that day and our democracy will be much healthier for it.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

The Pelosi Power Lunch

On Monday, I had the good fortune to attend Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Annual Power Lunch. This year’s gathering was by far the biggest ever, attracting 3000 people to two grand ballrooms in The Hilton Chicago Hotel. But the huge crowd was understandable because this year’s guest of honor was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Two years ago, right after the 2016 Electoral College disaster, I was not alone in expressing frustration with our party’s leadership. Why wasn’t the Democratic Party’s messaging more focused? Why weren’t younger Democrats in Congress given more visibility? But last November’s congressional election successes, tactically influenced by Nancy Pelosi, have produced more young legislators, fresh energy and a momentum that continues to grow.  

So last Monday, personally seeing Speaker Pelosi present her opinions on the state of our democracy and her advice on how we might protect it from Trump’s disastrous reign, left me optimistic about 2020 and more convinced she is the person we need leading our U.S. House at this moment in our history.  

Here is a recap of at least some of what was said at the Lunch. 

The 2018 success:

Congresswoman Schakowsky introduced Speaker Pelosi by calling her “The most powerful woman in the USA.” She then characterized the Speaker’s role in the 2018 mid-term campaigns as: “The general who led the campaign to take back Congress.” She pointed out how Nancy urged all the congressional candidates to not focus on Donald Trump but instead talk about issues that touch people’s lives, like healthcare and climate change. — They did, and they won. 

Speaker Pelosi began her remarks by crediting the 2018 Illinois voters for electing/reelecting a number of exceptional people to the 116th Congress. Our state’s U.S.representatives now hold positions on a number of key House committees. And she had an explanation for why so many impressive new Democratic candidates have entered politics — “The times have found us.” She said that as the Trump presidency revealed its character after 2016, these Americans felt a heightened urgency to protect our democracy. — She then added that their fears and concerns were “not unfounded,” citing the example of our present Attorney General lying under oath to congress.  

The White House vs. Congress:

Congress does have methods to combat the Trump Administration’s lawless behavior. There are six House committees with subpoena power and each has its own “lane.” This description from Speaker Pelosi gave me the impression that each committee has the potential to question the behavior of Trump and his crooked crew from that committee’s specific perspective. – Trump operatives may have a great deal of scrutiny ahead of them. 

Referring to the Mueller Report and the stonewalling being done by the White House, Pelosi said Trump and Barr want to see House Democrats “gagged” by redactions, “That ain’t going to happen!” “They aren’t giving reasons why information is being hidden. They’re just giving excuses.” “What is in the report that Republicans don’t want the public to see?” 

Immigration:

Commenting on the turmoil swirling around immigration Ms. Pelosi stated, “Diversity is our strength, unity is our power.” She then quoted from the last speech President Ronald Reagan gave in office. He said he believed immigration “is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier.” — Ironically, this quote from a iconic Republican president received some of the loudest applause of the afternoon! 

Looking ahead to 2020: 

It was especially interesting to hear Speaker Pelosi’s take on how to win big next year. She said we must aim at “winning 2020 this year, in November.” Mobilization, Messaging, Money and Management are the keys to a successful campaign. If our incumbent Democratic candidates show they have built impressive campaign strength going into 2020, fewer Republicans will be willing to seriously challenge them. 

Then she quoted a startling statistic. Today, one in five American children lives in poverty. She went on to say, in 2020 the “three most important issues” that must have our attention are “our children, our children, our children.” At first I thought she was simply speaking as a mother and grandmother. Then I realized that by distilling our party’s driving priority down to “our children” Nancy Pelosi is presenting a potent strategy for 2020 campaigns. 

Climate change, decent healthcare, education opportunities, the elimination of poverty are all issues that are critically important for our nation’s future — in other words, for our children . These issues, already championed by Democrats, are continually ignored or even opposed by Republicans. (When you look at things that way, you could almost say that many Republican candidates are anti-children! At least, I could.) 

Speaker Pelosi reported that Senate Majority Leader McConnell has said this year he will be “the grim reaper” of all bills coming from the Democratic House. She then quoted Abraham Lincoln who said, “Public sentiment is everything.” She is certain that if we stand strong on key issues, the public will come our way and “Republicans in the senate will have a price to pay.” 

Then she added an intriguing thought: The terrible damage Trump is doing to our country right now could bring even more progressive new voices into Congress next year. “Donald Trump could someday be remembered as the president who swept in the most progressive period in America’s history.” — And wouldn’t that be something!

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Tic Tac Diplomacy

So yesterday we witnessed a startling political event: A cordial meeting between President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In fact it was so cordial that reportedly President Trump offered Speaker Pelosi a Tic Tac — and she accepted! 

Does this mean we are entering a new era of bi-partisan cooperation where what’s good for our country comes first? I wouldn’t count on it. The narrowly partisan priorities of Mitch McConnell will likely torpedo any outcome that could reflect even slightly well on Democrats. And who knows where President Trump will stand on all this if he starts feeling too much heat from future investigations. 

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s Tic Tac detente could mean that some groundwork is being laid to create greater public awareness of a critically important issue. It’s an issue that, unlike desperate refugee families at our border, truly is a serious national emergency. — America’s infrastructure is in dangerous disrepair and harmfully outdated. 

On Tuesday the President, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer arrived at a general agreement to direct two trillion dollars toward updating America’s infrastructure. Their openly worded accord was possible because the three of them know this is an issue that crosses party lines. 

Across America there’s not a state, “red” or “blue”, that doesn’t need major infrastructure repairs. It’s been more than half a century since most of our interstate highway system was built and many more decades since our railroad system was at its best. Our highway and railroad bridges are really starting to show their age. (The U.S. rail system has over 100,000 bridges.) We’ve seen several highway- and rail-bridge disasters. The next one is just a matter of time. 

The water delivery systems in many of our communities need modernization. It’s a matter of health safety. 

And our nation’s electric grid is also a big part of this scenario. It is in need of huge upgrades. A few years ago the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the entire energy infrastructure a barely passing grade of D+. With that in mind we should not only face the fact that we need a power grid that is not just more efficient, but much safer from foreign meddling. – After 2016 I don’t think anyone could say such concerns are unfounded. 

Modernizing the electric grid will also be needed to modernize our rail system. Sooner or later climate change pressures for cleaner air will force the switching of much of America’s nearly 100% diesel fueled rail system to electric power. And sooner would be better. (Among EU nations the average percentage of railway lines using electricity is over 53%. In some European countries it’s much higher.) 

And of course, upgrading our electric grid could and should include raising the percentage of electricity drawn from wind and solar sources. I’m sure this will incite a battle from the carbon lobby but this should be part of the infrastructure package.  

Back in President Obama’s first term, in response to the Great Recession, the President proposed rebuilding 150,000 miles of road, laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail track, restoring 150 miles of runways and advancing a next-generation air-traffic control system. A Republican controlled Congress blocked Obama’s initiative, and I don’t know how much if any of those improvements were ever begun. Now, perhaps some of those promising plans could be pushed in today’s Democratically controlled House. 

It is true that the trajectory of economic improvement President Obama initiated has put us in much better shape than we were in 2008. But for a large number of Americans, including, I imagine, virtually every member of Congress, an infrastructure initiative today promises lots of potential jobs. Jobs for people who feel the growing economy has passed them by. If it’s done right, infrastructure revitalization can lead to the re-industrialization of formerly productive areas of our country. 

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? But success of this initiative faces steep odds. I’d like to think that both the Republican and Democratic Party leaders do want to see a big infrastructure program begun. Sadly, I’m also pretty sure both sides are calculating how this discussion and the disagreements it generates can benefit their candidates in 2020, whether or not anything is enacted.  

There is an overabundance of cynicism ruling our national politics these days. (It’s hard to avoid in this Trump era.) But this endeavor should be taken as a serious proposal, worthy of an honest effort. If we do nothing, in the coming years the United States’ position as a world leader will be unnecessarily weakened. Bringing America’s infrastructure up to speed with the rest of the modern world is in our nation’s best interests.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Mueller Report Fatigue

The Mueller Report. It’s hard to believe but it’s only been 6 days (April 18) since a redacted version of the Mueller Report was released to the public. We’ve been hearing so much about it for so many months that many people have come to think of it as “old news.”  

The stream of indictments of Trump associates, the steady rumors, the news show discussions, the preemptive denials of wrongdoing virtually every day by Trump and his protectors, have us feeling like this has been going on forever.  

And this Mueller Report fatigue is what Republican leaders have been hoping for. For example, last week I heard a seasoned ABC news correspondent say she found all this turmoil  “exhausting.” – It is. — But when you’re battling to keep a democracy healthy while others are expending so much energy to weaken it, feeling exhausted is a small price to pay. 

Even with the Report’s release, we still don’t know all the details of what was uncovered — nor, all of the implications. There are many redactions that need to be further investigated. And the months of preemptive denials, verbal games and outright lying from the Trump camp have further muddied the public’s perceptions. 

The Report’s conclusion pretty much wrapped things up by saying, “to be continued.” But, not continued by Robert Mueller. He left it up to the constitutional powers vested in our U.S. Congress to follow up on the information his report provided. – He may, however, play a future role in in all this if he testifies before the U.S. House. 

Soon after Mueller’s Report was released, a newsperson on ABC faulted Democrats for being “obsessed” with Donald Trump when we should be dealing with important legislative work that needs attention. It is true that the unprecedented dance that has been going on between President Trump and Vladimir Putin’s regime has drawn a huge amount of interest from us Democrats. (And it should have received a lot more from Republicans.)  

The Mueller Report did not find a direct connection between Donald Trump and Russian meddling in our elections. But it did clearly state that there was contact made between the Russians and close Trump associates, and that leading up to the elections the Russians did meddle. A foreign power communicating with our voters to affect the outcome of our elections is tantamount to a foreign invasion! – If that doesn’t justify some level of obsessiveness I don’t know what should. 

Impeachment. Those thoughts bring me to another subject that has been getting a lot of headlines: The continuing debate about the impeachment of President Donald Trump. 

In the March issue of The Atlantic Magazine the word “Impeach” emblazoned its cover. Inside was a long and thoughtful essay on why the U.S. House should begin impeachment proceedings. And in today’s Sun Times , columnist, Phil Kadner presented reasons he strongly believes: “Now is the time for impeachment.” 

The Atlantic discussed the increasingly troubling behavior of our 45th president, our nation’s impeachment history, how the process works, and most importantly why such drastic steps should be taken by our Congress rather than waiting for the electorate to remove Trump from office in 2020. In the author’s opinion, it is the duty of Congress to do this unpleasant (and politically risky) job. To avoid starting a justifiable impeachment will give Trump (and any future terrible president) a pass on all sorts of reckless behavior in our nation’s highest office .  

Phil Kadner’s reasoning for encouraging Donald Trump’s impeachment was pretty specific. He rightfully observed that Trump has shown us what he is capable of doing to hold the support of his loyal followers. At this point we know he has no moral compass and no limits when he feels threatened. For us to trust that in the coming 18 months leading up to the 2020 election, President Trump and his increasingly shady circle of advisors will not resort to whatever it takes to win, is naïve. Keeping Trump in office is a dangerous gamble. 

Unfortunately, Mueller’s report conclusion pretty much dumped this dilemma in House Speaker Pelosi’s lap. I have great admiration for her political skills but I don’t envy the complex situation she’s facing. Mueller’s conclusions found no prosecutable evidence linking Russia and President Trump, but didn’t say there was no questionable (even impeachable) behavior. Mueller more or less said he was trusting Congress to further look into this mess.  

Speaker Pelosi is saying it is too early to discuss the subject of impeachment. It looks to me like she’s not ready to pull that trigger until there is more evidence that more of the public is open to such an action. Perhaps that situation will never be reached. — However, today in Iowa, a Republican legislator, after 40 years in office, has crossed over to the Democratic Party. His reason was the far right swing of Republicans and Donald Trump as that party’s leader. 

So, who knows? As the present army of Democratic presidential candidates crisscrosses America presenting their positions, perhaps Donald Trump’s false promises will become more apparent to still unhappy supporters. The tide could begin to turn.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973