New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Our “Peculiar Institution”

I’ve been writing these NTD News essays for a number of years and I’m sorry to say that I’ve written about today’s subject far too many times already. Once again, it’s guns. 

It’s been just a few days since the horrific slaughter of human beings in El Paso and Dayton. But in those few days we’ve heard pleas for action from the families of the shooting victims, followed by dozens of opinions from the right and left declaring what needs to happen next. 

The general consensus among those willing to support new gun laws is that universal background checks and “red flag” laws would each make a difference. I’m sure they’re right, and it now seems likely that such reforms have a good chance of being adopted.  

Gun bills passed by the Democrat-controlled House include such modest measures. Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked for months by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his reasoning being President Trump would veto it anyway. However, these two most recent massacres, in states Republicans need to hold in 2020, could revise that position. And the fact is, polls show that a large majority of America’s gun owners favor substantive and sensible steps such as background checks.  

But still, a disgusting number of legislators (mostly Republicans) and the Trump White House remain reluctant to support any approach that might raise the campaign financing hackles of the National Rifle Association. So, this week they’ve come up with diversionary language that cites too many mentally ill Americans and violent video games as two causes of our frequent mass shootings. Both claims are false. 

To be fair, I would guess that even the most cowardly or closed minded Republican (unless he/she is psychologically incapable of empathy) does want to see the probability of future mass shootings reduced. But when it comes to taking a virtuous stand that could prevent future tragedy for hundreds, but might also endanger future reelection, those Republicans seem to be falling back on that legendary prayer: “Please God, make me good, but not just yet” 

It is also interesting that with this most recent pair of American mass murders, one right wing suggestion for combating crowd shooters has pretty much been missing: the idea that good people with guns stop bad people with guns. Although, I actually did hear one Republican politician spout that simplistic solution.  

The realities in both El Paso and Dayton clearly reveal that the above-mentioned politician is an idiot. The El Paso shootings occurred in a state that has some of the most permissive gun carry laws in America (and they are about to get even looser). So the odds are that several people in that Walmart had handguns. All any of them had to do was simply stop, aim and fire their handgun while the shooter sprayed the crowd with his AK 47 style rifle. — Would you? 

And in Dayton the fallacy of guns carriers countering a shooter was made even clearer. Within 30 seconds of the first bullet fired, the Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, was shot dead by off-duty officers — good people with guns. However, during the 30 seconds before Betts was killed, he got off enough shots to end the lives of nine people and wound 27 others.  

Betts had a .223 caliber high capacity military style automatic rifle with a 100 round drum magazine, and he had more magazines with him ready to use. According to the NRA and their gun manufacturer sponsors, this is weaponry that every American with “a clean record” has the right to purchase.  

How is such an insane situation allowed to continue? — The NRA and the people behind them want it that way. 

The NRA was created in the post-Civil War years to improve the marksmanship skills of Americans – especially northerners. They’ve sure come a long way since then. Over the years they successfully built the image that they exist to protect the gun rights of hunters, marksmen, freedom loving Americans. Meanwhile, they’ve become the politically savvy lobbying arm of the manufacturers of guns. 

At the most basic business level, gun manufacturers are no different from makers of bowling balls, bicycles or brassieres. Manufacturers exist to sell their products and gun manufacturers make weapons. They cannot remain viable without new sales and profits every year. Year after year. 

The NRA and their gun-maker overlords do not want to have another national discussion about whether assault weapons or high capacity gun magazines should be banned. If they can keep the range of reforms down to procedural changes and new layers of paperwork, I suspect they can live with it. – Besides, they know that procedures will be handled with different degrees of difficulty in different states. The subject of how many people can be killed in seconds by their products is a discussion they’d like to avoid. 

The NRA and the politicians they control do not want the public and their legislators going directly after the real problem in America — the proliferation of high-powered weaponry in the hands of tens of millions of people.  

In the years before the Civil War, a former South Carolina congressman and U.S. vice president referred to slavery as “The peculiar institution.” Those benign words labeled a terrible aspect of American life.  

With an estimated 393 million guns circulating in our nation of 330 million people, it may be time to start referring to guns as 21st Century America’s “Peculiar institution.” This is definitely not our finest hour.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Debating The Debates

Last night on national television, we heard from ten Democrats who want to be their party’s nominee for our next president. Tonight, we’re going to hear from ten more. To get onstage, these twenty met certain criteria (fundraising and poll numbers). The total number of aspiring candidates is ever higher! 

I won’t attempt to critique last night’s performance of each candidate or the specifics of what they said. That’s beyond my skill set. — If you did miss last night’s event, you can find complete videos or transcripts on the Internet and draw you own conclusions.  

With that said, I did get a couple of general impressions that I’ll share: 

— There is a progressive core of Democrats who believe it’s time for America to renew the energy, ideas and ideals that led our nation to achieve so many positive milestones. Those Democrats were well represented on the stage. (I imagine we will see some of that thinking represented in the debate tonight too.)

— There is also a segment of Democrats who appeared last night who, although progressive on certain issues, are reluctant to challenge the status quo in truly big ways (they claimed they had in the past – maybe so). Such reluctance led them to criticize various Medicare expansion proposals and border “security” positions with words that were close to Republican talking points. (I also recognize that they are from “red” states.) 

It will be interesting to see if that dynamic holds true tonight. Beyond that, it will be interesting to see if the CNN producers and debate narrators handle their chores in a less annoying way.  

Each of this year’s Democratic Party “debates” has been allotted two hours of TV time. However, last night if you subtracted the time spent introducing each candidate as they strolled onto the stage, the narrators’ introductory and interim comments, the breaks for paid commercials, and each candidates opening and closing remarks, viewers were given little more than ninety minutes to hear the ten candidates present specific thoughts on at least a dozen complex and critically important issues.  

The narrators’ rules allowed a one-minute response to each of CNN’s questions. Once the timer reached one minute, the narrator started speaking over the candidate’s comments – often just as their summary point was being made. This really did annoy me. 

I may not possess the keen ear of a TV professional like CNN’s Jake Tapper, but I’ve been in conversations for a lot of years. If I’m actually listening to what’s being said, I know when that person speaking to me is nearing the end of their sentence. Their cadence and wording makes it clear. These debates do have reasons for time rules (commercial breaks if nothing else), but there must be a better way to handle this. 

At our New Trier Dems endorsement sessions, we have a timekeeper with a “30-seconds” sign that is quietly flashed to each speaker. Amazingly, he/she usually wraps up within seconds of their allotted time. Perhaps CNN could budget for a tiny light bulb on each podium. The narrator could click it on when 5 or ten seconds of time remained. The candidate’s words might be rushed, but viewers would at least hear the summary language without someone else’s voice shouting them down. — Or perhaps the CNN narrator could simply say, “ten seconds left” and allow the candidate to finish unmolested. 

The shout-down methods of CNN’s fastidious timekeepers accomplished the opposite of what their event was supposed to produce. Information was lost.  

As the debate went on, I also got a growing feeling that there was something “off” about the questions being asked. At times, they almost felt accusatory. And, for sure, they felt like the narrators were trolling for “gotcha” lines that would keep the polarization pot stirred for future CNN TV discussions.  

Often, the initial question asked about a new subject didn’t call for an “elevator statement” that quickly described the candidate’s position and reasoning. Instead the leadoff question was worded to demand a defensive answer. That’s not all bad. We should see how the candidates handle such confrontation. But those challenging leadoffs happened so often it started to feel like the tone of the entire debate carried a negative vibe. I hope things are different tonight. 

Last month, as I watched the first pair of debates with the glitzy stage setting and the parade of candidates on display, it reminded me a bit of the Miss America Pageant. I thought, “Is this the best procedure we can come up with to determine who we want to be our next president?” 

Thankfully, these debates are only part of the process. The grass roots action starting this fall is when things really take off.  

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Mulling the Mueller Report

Today New Trier enjoyed picture perfect weather. So, how did I spend my day? I watched Robert Mueller responding to House Congressional committees on Capitol Hill. 

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-NY, and the House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif, presided over about seven hours of questioning from both sides of the aisle. Judiciary was in the morning, Intelligence in the afternoon. 

As we all know by now, last April’s release of the much-anticipated Mueller Report didn’t have the public impact we Democrats had hoped for. Four hundred pages of legal language, interrupted with blacked out sentences, paragraphs and pages, made it difficult for the public to get their heads around the truly bad behavior committed by Donald Trump and his shady crew. 

And beyond the uninviting bulk of the actual report, the newly appointed Attorney General William Barr had his own affect on the public’s perception of the report. He presented his Trump-friendly 4-page summary to the American people before Mueller’s 400-page report was officially released. He was brief and dismissive in his summation of events that covered several years, before, during and after the President’s capture of the White House. Barr’s approach reminded me of the policeman at the scene of a crime urging curious passersby, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” 

For much of the public, A.G. Barr’s summation became their first (and only) impression of Mueller’s findings. So, even though there was plenty in the full Report that should, at the least, alarm Americans about the activities of President Trump and his operatives, Barr’s language led many to dismiss the report’s importance and move on to “bigger” concerns. 

Before today’s hearings began, I suspect congressional Democrats were hoping to get Mr. Mueller to read some of the most damning report findings in his own voice. Perhaps they envisioned headlines tomorrow like, “Mueller says President Trump took action to obstruct federal investigators!” But throughout the morning nothing like that happened.  

Instead, almost all of Robert Mueller’s morning responses used a minimum of words. The committee member would ask a question based on the report’s language and Mueller would respond with the briefest reply. There was a lot of “That is generally the summary…I rely on the wording of the report… I refer you to the report.” The result was the committee member ended up reading the report’s findings verbatim, with Mueller then agreeing with what he just heard. – This does not lead to blockbuster headlines. 

The Republican Representatives couldn’t have known how Robert Mueller would perform today. So, they had their well-rehearsed outrage ready when it was their turn to “interview” him. Virtually every Republican on each committee appeared to be in lockstep with a single message: Robert Mueller’s investigation was biased against Donald Trump from the start. On the one hand, they praised Mr. Mueller for his service to our country as a Marine war hero and longtime public servant, while simultaneously accusing him and his team of conspiring to “get” President Trump. Sometimes politics is pretty disgusting. 

It’s doubtful that anything the Republicans had to say changed the minds of any Democrats. But it did give those GOP legislators nice sound bites to play on local TV back home. And it did give us a preview of what their party’s official spin will be if revelations of Trump’s multi-pronged connections to Russia or his frantic efforts to obstruct justice, threatens to grow into a national scandal. 

The possibility of that happening increased a small bit during the afternoon House Intelligence Committee session. Mr. Mueller seemed to become more talkative after lunch. His comments concerning the veracity of witnesses from Trump’s circle were more frank. He agreed that some were outright liars. He also testified that some written responses to the questions he sent to President Trump were not completely answered.  

But he was especially vocal when the focus was on the security dangers presented by a foreign power meddling in our democratic processes. 

Mueller referred to “attacks against the United States such as what the Russians did in 2016.” He said he expected the Russians to do it again and said, “in fact, their doing it right now.” He spoke of wanting the public to be diligent against future meddling, saying much more needs to be done to protect against these intrusions…we need to harden our election infrastructure, make sure our voting procedures and methods are strengthened. He urged the congressional committee to use the resources we have to address this threat and stated that the FBI continues to be looking into foreign meddling. 

I believe the hearings underscored this is a real area of vulnerability in Trump’s 2020 campaign. A majority of Americans now accept the fact that Russians meddled in our elections. Even the most conservative voters don’t like that reality and don’t want it to ever happen again. The Russia-Putin-Internet efforts that aided Donald Trump in 2016 should be hung around Trump’s neck like a huge, shiny medal of shame.  

And here’s one last thought. If we hadn’t won the U.S. House in 2018 it’s highly unlikely these hearings would have even been held. Aren’t you glad you helped make that happen?

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Big News! Donald Trump Is An Ignorant Bigot

As usual, the past week was filled with important news items. The lingering deluge of rain in Louisiana and the flooding and misery it caused for thousands was a big story. Scientists again speculated that climate change was behind the storms disastrously slow movement. (But, one more “brief” incident along humanity’s path toward existential disaster wasn’t enough to retain much interest.) 

Another story that briefly grabbed our attention was the continuing revelations about conditions at immigrant detention facilities on our southern border. Depending on your media source, it’s either “just fine thank you,” or a national disgrace. — Fair and balanced. You decide. 

But then something really big occurred that steered our attention away from everything else. 

I agree, the event was certainly newsworthy, although what we learned from the story could hardly be called “news.”  President Trump tweeted a message to the nation that was untruthful, bigoted and, in its context, pretty clearly racist. And, he used language that many of us thought had been abandoned for its ignorance several generations ago.  

How shocking! Donald Trump was capable of saying something with a racist perspective and an ignorance of our nation’s most treasured values. — This is not really news to most of us. 

Republican politicians and commentators quickly recognized that Trump’s tweet was, at the least, controversial and could be problematic for some Republican office holders and candidates. So, they immediately began spinning their interpretations of what Trump had said, what he was defending, why he was correct. The congresswomen the president referred to were “radicals, socialists, communists; they hated America and, if given the chance, would destroy it.” 

Democrats, on the other hand, saw Trump’s foolish twitter rant as a “gotcha” moment. Here was Trump using language that many Americans knew was identical to words used against their own families in past (or in some cases present) times. 

Our USA has families with Irish or Italian or German roots, who know stories passed down from earlier generations about hearing, “Go back where you came from,” when they emigrated to America. There are Catholics and Jews and Muslims who know their families have heard those words. There are African American and Mexican American families whose roots go back to our nation’s beginnings and yet still hear that hostile epithet.  

“Go back where you came from!” has been yelled at Americans by Americans throughout our U.S. history. It is truly a stupid thing to say. And coming from the mouth of the President of the United States makes it doubly stupid. 

So, I’d like to think that the offensiveness of President Trump’s most blatantly dumb tweets will begin to have a damaging effect on his chance for reelection. Maybe they will. 

However, seeing so many headlines and editorials, so much TV and radio attention, so much Internet activity exclusively devoted to President Trump has me wondering who is benefiting the most? Trump may be gaining more than he’s losing. 

His outrageous behavior may be giving the man just what he wants: — He’s reinforcing his pugnacious appeal to the core of his supporters.– He’s laying the groundwork for 2020 by establishing his credentials as the defender of “real Americans.” — He’s memorably branding some of the most progressive members of Congress as “people who hate America.”– He’s drawing attention away from embarrassing news stories – like his old friendship with accused sex trafficker of children, Jeffrey Epstein. 

I may be giving Donald Trump too much credit. He may not be a clever strategist, but merely a guy who learned how to succeed by doing and saying outrageous things without putting much thought into it.  

So I will end with this: One of the things I love most about our United States is when I spot a storefront sign or an advertisement for a business with multi-national names. You know, like the law firm of Shapiro, O’Reilly and Wong, or the design firm, Olson, Ramirez, Schmidt and Patel. — I made those names up but I’ll bet you can find similarly diverse real world examples. What’s so cool about this is that there are only a few nations where you might see such a wonderful mix of backgrounds, people with origins that represent every corner of our world, now working together as Americans free to pursue their ambitions and dreams. 

As House Speaker Pelosi recently said, “Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power.”

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Trump, the Historian?

So last week, America was treated to the pageantry of President Trump’s Independence Day celebration, a “Salute to America” as interpreted and produced by the only person capable of handling such a tremendous job — Donald Trump.  

His original vision was to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as he reviewed a passing parade featuring America’s military might. His inspiration was a parade he witnessed on the Champs Elysees in Paris for Bastille Day. (I bet he would have really been envious of those parades Stalin used to throw.)  

Unfortunately for the president’s plans, the projected costs, logistics and potential street damage forced him to settle for marching men, military bands and aircraft flyovers. A few stationary tanks were, however, delivered on flatbed trucks to the podium location – not exactly creating the drama Trump had in mind. 

Of course the highlight of President Trump’s patriotic presentation was going to be his speech. And as it turned out, his 45 minute address, read from a teleprompter, was relatively uneventful. Unlike his usual style, the president didn’t use any of his time at the microphone to talk about himself, attack perceived enemies or spread outrageous lies. Quite refreshing. 

However, at one point his words did conclusively reveal that our nation has the weirdest (or at least most confused) leader in the western world. It was when President Trump spoke of how General George Washington and his brave Revolutionary Army crossed the Delaware “and seized victory from ‘Cornwallis of Yorktown,’ as our army manned the air(space?), it ‘ranned’ the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort ‘McKendry’ (wrong war, wrong name) under the rockets’ red glare it had nothing but victory.” 

At that moment, anyone paying attention to the words the president was saying might have been alarmed that he was having a stroke. For Donald Trump to speak of George Washington’s Revolutionary War army taking over Cornwallis’ airports in 1775, more than one hundred years before airplanes existed, is disturbing. Is he that ignorant? Or does he even hear the words that come out of his mouth? – And does he care? 

Later Trump brushed the whole incident off as a problem with the teleprompter. Seriously, if you were reading aloud from a book about the Civil War and you thought you saw words that said, “General Grant pursued General Lee in his Jeep,” would you pause before uttering those words. Or if the type was illegible, would you ad-lib with the word, “Jeep?” I don’t think so. 

I’ve since read one analysis of what happened, written by a teacher who has worked with kids that have a severe reading disability. She wasn’t speaking of dyslexia. It was more problematic. The words on a page don’t even register in the reader’s brain. She opined that this might be why President Trump reads from a teleprompter slowly, one word at a time. And why he refuses to be burdened with reading reports of any length from his staff, who now know to severely limit the size of any reports they put in front of him. — He literally can’t read them.  

I know that is all conjecture. There may be another explanation for Trump’s disinterest in written information. Perhaps it’s simply that Donald Trump is an extremely lazy man. Or he has a tiny attention span. Or his narcissism finds little value in words that aren’t about him or his interests. 

But I’m betting the schoolteacher’s explanation is closest to the truth. I believe Donald Trump has never mastered the ability to read. And someone so poorly equipped to study and understand the written word, shouldn’t be sitting in the Oval Office. It’s actually quite dangerous. 

So on that gloomy note, what can we do right now to make the future of our United States a bit brighter? I guess the first thing to do is not give up hope for better things ahead.  

We should view last November’s election successes as just the beginning for turning the page. — We should continue to show strong support for all the Democrats from our region that we’ve sent to congress. And as our state goes through some substantive changes, we must stay firmly behind our Democratic state legislators too. The excellent people we’ve elected locally to our state legislature should give us cause for optimism. This also applies to some of the County officials we’ve helped elect. Reform is in the air for every level of government. 

The point is to stay engaged. So, I’ll end this with three pleasant suggestions for engagement that actually don’t require any effort beyond eating, drinking and talking. (I suppose two of the suggestions also could also include some bargain shopping.) 

Check out the events listed just below this essay: The Winnetka Sidewalk Sale on Friday, July 19 and the Wilmette Summerfest & Sidewalk Sale on Saturday, July 20 are two opportunities for political conversations at the New Trier Dems’ table. There will also be information there from Democrats we’ve helped elect. (Some may stop by at any time.) 

And mark your calendar now for Monday, July 22. The New Trier Democrats’ Annual Meet & Greet will once again be held at Avli Restaurant in Winnetka. There won’t be any political speeches, but there will be lots of candid conversations with a number of our Democratic office holders. The drinks are good. The food is delicious. And the discussions should be inspiring.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Our Impeachment Imperative

Article II, section 4 of our U.S. Constitution:The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United states, shall be removed from Office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

“The Framers wisely intended the phrase ‘or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ to include undermining the Constitution and similar, ‘great offenses against the federal government (like abuse of power) even if they are not necessarily crimes.’”Professors Ronald Rotunda and John Nowak, a 1986 treatise on constitutional law.

“A president should be impeached for conduct that so taints or corrupts the presidency, he or she must be removed to preserve the integrity of American government.”Peter Brandon Bayer, Associate Professor of Law at UNLV.

Until recently, I was unsure about whether or not action by our U.S. House of Representatives to develop articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump was a good idea. With the 2020 presidential race now underway, a lot of people, including me, have been concerned that weekly news stories about the Democrat-controlled House “going after” the sitting Republican president would give President Trump an ongoing campaign issue that could lead to his reelection. 

Certainly it would fire up Trump’s most zealous supporters, although probably not add more people of equal zeal to their numbers. The fact is, Trump’s approval ratings have steadily declined since his inauguration. Do we want to risk doing something that might help him regain public sympathy? 

Also, a drawn out impeachment crisis would no doubt overshadow any other congressional activity, no matter how impressive it might be. As long as impeachment was dominating the news, critically important issues like climate change, the infrastructure and poverty would receive less public attention and discussion. 

Of at least equal concern, impeachment hearings might give Republican candidates in “swing” congressional districts recently won by Democrats a campaign issue to help them win back seats and potentially regain control of the U.S. House next year. Might Lauren Underwood, Cheri Bustos and others be put in danger? 

Some Democratic Party strategists also point to what happened in 1998 following President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the U.S. House. He was acquitted by the Senate and went on to see his voter approval rating soar to as high as 73%! He left office with a record setting 66% positive rating. — The prospect that an impeachment attack on Trump could lead to a similar result isn’t out of the question, although it does seem unlikely.  

The charges against Clinton stemmed from his lying to federal authorities concerning an extramarital sexual relationship; his lies then obstructing judicial procedures. A lot of the American public, Democrats and Republicans, viewed Clinton’s reckless behavior as irresponsible, stupid, and sleazy. However, grounds for impeachment? Not really. The zeal of his congressional attackers was transparently political (and for more than a few of them wildly hypocritical).  

On the other hand, the case for the impeachment of President Donald Trump feels much more legitimate. In 2016 a foreign government invaded the election process of our United States. This is a fact no longer disputed (except occasionally by President Trump). The investigation that followed this shocking event was long and in depth. Robert Mueller’s 400-page report, though highly redacted, contained enough unredacted information to strongly suggest efforts by President Donald Trump to obstruct this federal investigation did occur.  

Here are ten potential offenses: Trump — asked the FBI Director to shut down the investigation into National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russia; he admitted he fired FBI Director Comey because of the Russia investigation; he ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller; he attempted to curtail the Special Counsel investigation; he prevented the public disclosure of evidence; he urged Attorney General Sessions to un-recuse from the Russia investigation; he directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to create false documents that covered up the truth from investigators; he tried to discourage Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn from cooperating with the Mueller investigation; he encouraged his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie about Trump Tower Moscow; he tried to get Michael Cohen not to cooperate with the investigation. 

The nearly 600 words you’ve just read pretty much sum up the debate that’s gone on in my head concerning a Trump impeachment. 

So far, House Speaker Pelosi has remained noncommittal toward opening such action. Some believe she’s waiting until the weight of information against Donald Trump is so overwhelming that the majority of the American public and even some congressional Republicans will agree that impeachment must begin.

A few days ago a Fox survey showed that 43% of registered voters now favor the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump, another 7% favor impeachment but not removal. These numbers have steadily been rising over the past year. The percentage of voters who believe the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia has now reached 50%. — I’m sure Speaker Pelosi is aware of these numbers.

James Madison urged that impeachment is appropriate for “loss of capacity, or corruption [that] might be fatal to the republic.” (Does obstructing an investigation into a foreign invasion of our political process qualify?) 

Our 9th District Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky has now publicly stated she supports starting impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump. So has our neighboring Congressman Sean Casten. Others may eventually follow. 

And where have I landed on this? Despite the plausible reasons against it, I’ve concluded impeachment should begin. However, my reasoning isn’t based on political pros and cons. I’ve simply asked myself, “Why even have language in our nation’s constitution if it is going to be completely ignored?” If there ever was an American president who’s actions meet our constitution’s criteria for impeachment, we have one right now. If we let Donald Trump completely get away with “conduct that so taints and corrupts the presidency” what will stop him or some other president from even more pernicious behavior in the future?

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

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