Trump Day

It is very early morning here in Vermont and I have a busy day planned.  I don’t intend to watch the transfer of power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, but will spend time dealing with local school budgets for the Town Finance Committee and having lunch with some women from my mystery book group, Malice on Main. 

I will be well represented by Vermont’s Senators, Sanders and Leahy and by Congressman Welsh, all Democrats, but our Republican Governor is not going.  VTDigger reported

Republican Governor Phil Scott, who distanced himself from President Donald J. Trump early in his gubernatorial bid, will not be attending the president’s inauguration on Friday.

Jason Gibbs, Scott’s chief of staff, says the governor “is focused on Vermont’s priorities, putting the finishing touches on his budget, his legislative agenda and making additional appointments.”

I think Congressman Welsh articulated the reason Vermont’s Congressional delegation is attending very nicely.  His statement, which I also heard on the local news, explains

“I believe the inaugural ceremony is about more than any individual,” Welch said in a statement. “It is about the peaceful transition of power enshrined in our Constitution. I believe it is my job to participate in, and be a witness to, this touchstone of our democracy and powerful symbol to the world. So, while I respect the decision of some of my colleagues to stay home, I will attend, but not celebrate, Friday’s ceremony.”

Trump hasn’t even taken the oath yet and I’m already overloaded on news about how unprepared his cabinet appointees mostly are:  all the potential conflicts of interest, past shady financial dealings, and lack of knowledge.  It seems that no one really vetted them before they were nominated.  And we haven’t even gotten to the policy stuff!

Tomorrow, I will attend the Sister Vigil in a local downtown park, but today is a day for thinking about and doing other things.  And for being sad.

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Improvising.

Cartoon from Tom Toles

Democracy at the local level

Last year I attended the reunion of the Class of 1970 at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.  (That was the class I actually graduated with even though I am technically 1969.)  Our seminar reading was Democracy in America by de Tocqueville.  A lively discussion ensued one topic being whether the de Tocqueville vision of what we in the 1960s called participatory democracy still survives.  I argued that I thought it did survive at least in New England and particularly in Vermont.  For example, Brattleboro where I live, has citizen committees for everything from planning to finance to trees.  And, yes, while there are sometimes problems in finding sufficient people to serve, I believe committees eventually find volunteers.  Some committees are appointed by the elected Selectboard, while others are appointed at Town Meeting.

Every town in Vermont has town meeting on the first Tuesday of March.  Most towns have an open meeting with all town residents.  Budgets are approved and important issues are discussed and voted on.  These are de Tocqueville’s farmers conducting business.  Here is the link to a nice explanation done for middle school students.  Brattleboro is a little different.  On the first Tuesday, which is a holiday, we vote for people who will represent us at town meeting as well as for other local offices like Select Board, School Board, Lister, and Constable.  All the elected representatives meet several weeks later at Brattleboro’s Town meeting.

I decided to run for Town Meeting Representative, got 14 people (you need 10) to sign my nominating petition and got elected with a respectable number of votes.  Town Meeting this year was divided into two meetings.  The first was on a single question of authorizing the Selectboard to take money allocated for renovations at the current police station and, instead, purchase a building in a new location and move the police station.  I voted “no” because I was opposed to moving an essential government service out of downtown, and we lost big.  There is some move to do a town wide referendum on the question, but I don’t know if that will succeed.  My feeling is that my side lost and we just need to get on with it for the sake of the police officers.

The second meeting was yesterday and was a more traditional town meeting.  We arrived at 8:30 and adjourned about 4:30 with an hour for lunch.  (Unlike smaller towns, we have no pot luck, but a high school club sold us stuff for breakfast and lunch to raise money for a trip to Costa Rico.)  There were 30 articles on the agenda beginning with appointment of the Town Clerk (no controversy there) and accepting the audit reports for the Town and for the Town Schools.  We elected people to the Capital Grant Review, Library, and Finance Committees (I got on that one.)  And then a motion was made to raise the compensation of the Selectboard members. They currently get $3,000 a year with the Chair getting $5,000.  Interesting questions were asked during the discussion including whether increasing the compensation would attract people to run who could not afford to volunteer and whether paying the Selectboard more would change the character of the government from volunteer to professional.  The motion that finally passed was to have the Finance Committee study the matter.  I can see what I will be doing this year!  Interestingly we did decide to raise the Town School Board member pay from $2,000 to $3,000 and the chair from $3,000 to $5,000 to make them the same as the Selectboard.

We voted for modest sums to support a variety of local human service non profits and for tax relief for others.  I don’t think any of those votes were unanimous.  And we approved after much discussion, the town budget and school budgets for the next year.  I am more familiar with general government budgets than with school ones, but the town budget is very lean.

Finally we passed two non-binding resolutions:  First, to eliminate fees for activities at the Senior Center and second, to designate the second Monday in October, Indigenous People’s Day.

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All in all a very interesting day.  I heard a lot of concern about poverty in Brattleboro.  I think the number of children who qualify for free lunch – 62% – shocked a lot of people.  (According to the 2010 Census, the median income for a household in the town was $31,997, and the median income for a family was $44,267.)  I can see this becoming more of a topic for discussion at future town meetings.

We heard a plea for civility at the start and other than some mutterings and calls for points of order when one representative in particular spoke, that request was answered.  I think that if he attended any of the town meetings I’ve read about in the local paper for have friends who attended, de Tocqueville would have no trouble recognizing his democracy in America.

Photograph:  Chris Mayes, Brattleboro Reformer.

My Supreme Court Fantasy

One of my friends asked if she would go to hell because she was glad that Antonin Scalia was dead.  I have mixed feelings.  First, I’m very sad for his family as sudden death is always difficult.  On the other hand, I am happy he is no longer a factor on the Supreme Court.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote on the the nicest tributes I’ve seen.  This is from Vox.

So it’s no surprise that of all the tributes to Justice Scalia, who died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 79, Justice Ginsburg’s is uniquely moving. It’s a tribute to Scalia as an interlocutor, a fellow opera lover — including a reference to the opera Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportionswhich debuted in 2015 — and a “best buddy.”

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

So my fantasy is imagining Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined by a Justice Amy Klobuchar.  What a quartet that would be!

Patrick Condon writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is likely to mix it up in the coming political brawl in Washington around replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and not just because her own name has again surfaced as a potential high court nominee.

Klobuchar

Klobuchar sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This can be a plus because she has worked with all the Republican members.

Obama said late Saturday that he intends to try to fill the vacancy “in due time.” It is already shaping up to be an epic battle as Obama has been handed the rare chance to swing the ideological balance of the court, where Scalia served as one of the most reliably conservative voices in the 5-4 majority.

As Republicans who control the U.S. Senate vow to block Obama, the president will look for judiciary committee allies like Klobuchar and Franken. But Klobuchar, an attorney and a former elected prosecutor, may first be considered as a prospect.

“I think there’s a bunch of reasons she makes sense,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress and U.S. politics at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, who was touting Klobuchar’s case on Twitter over the weekend. “I think there’s a substantive argument for her, and a political argument for her.”

Ornstein said by choosing a U.S. senator, Obama could make it a harder for Senate Republicans to block a trusted colleague for the entirety of 2016. And he suggested it might be a good time to reverse the recent presidential trend of only picking judges.

“There was a long tradition of selecting people who had been in public life, gone through elections and served in legislatures or executive office,” Ornstein said.
 Chief Justice Earl Warren and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner are two examples cited.
President Obama may ultimately decide that Klobuchar is too political an appointment and we don’t know if she would even be interested, but I can dream of the Mighty Four on the Supreme Court.
Photograph:  Twitter.com

A proposed new state motto for Vermont

Today, March 4, 1791, Vermont became the 14th state.  It seems appropriate to write about a piece of legislation I hope will pass this year.  One of my state Senators, Jeannette White, wrote a column about it last week in the Brattleboro Reformer.

State flag of Vermont

State flag of Vermont

Vermont, like most states, has the state tree (sugar maple), bird (hermit thrush), and motto  “Freedom and Unity”, but unlike many other states, has no motto in Latin.  I’ll let Senator White explain

…[the] Senate Government Operations Committee, which I chair, has broad enough authority that it can address many of these [smaller] issues. One of them was a proposal to adopt a state Latin motto. This began last session when an 8th-grade Latin student, Angela Kubicke, discovered we are one of a few states that do not have one. It was late in the session and there simply wasn’t time to take it up. So the Government Operations Committee gave her some advice and suggested she come back at the beginning of this session. She did her homework and it paid off. She organized Latin students around the state, developed a motto that made sense for Vermont, got a bill sponsor, brought it to us and on Feb. 11 our Committee heard the testimony before a room full of about 70 Latin students from around the state, their teachers, three classics professors from UVM [University of Vermont], and other interested people.

I love the fact that the young woman didn’t get discourage and give up.  Instead she organized.

The motto is Stella quarta decima fulgeat — May the 14th star shine brightly. The number 14 has some significance in Vermont: there are 14 counties and we were an independent republic for 14 years. But even more important was that, during those 14 years as a republic, Vermonters worked very hard to become the 14th state — the 14th star on the flag. And during those years as a republic, there was a mint in Ruppert that minted Vermont coins. On the back was this motto.

At least twenty other states have Latin mottos and the proposed “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” would not replace “Freedom and Unity”.  So what happened when word got out that an additional Latin motto was being considered by the Vermont legislature?

WCAX did a small story about it that immediately riled bloggers. The comments ranged from “Stop wasting time on this” to “Latin motto? They should learn to read English” to “If we have a Latin motto it will open the flood gates for illegal aliens coming over the Mexican border (in case this is lost on anyone — apparently many Vermonters feel that Latinos speak Latin)” to “Send Joe Benning (sponsor of the bill) and Obama back to Mexico.”

I have to say, however that all the comments I saw on the WCAX  page were not negative and I think several comments were posted by some college students – who do do not go to school in Vermont – as an attempt at humor.  But some, like the ones quoted by Senator White, were just nasty and ignorant.

This being my first Vermont legislative session I hope I have this right.  We are having town meeting week and the legislature is not meeting. But Angela Kubicke’s bill is going to the House when they reconvene.  Hope it passes.  Stella quarta decima fulgeat.

Dean Smith and Carolina basketball

My mother, Marii Hasegawa, loved Atlantic Coast Basketball, but she really loved the Tar Heels the best.  Even after my sister got her Masters degree from Duke, my mother refused to root for them when they played North Carolina.  I have only been to one Final Four, but it was in 1982 and I got to see North Carolina win it all.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

My mother was happy; my aunt who favored Georgetown, was not.

Richard Goldstein writing the obituary in the New York Times points out that while Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach he should be remembered for a great deal more.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college men’s basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father [a high school basketball coach] put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

I remember hearing a lot of players say they made decisions well into adulthood only after consulting with Coach Smith.  I remember when Michael Jordan wanted to leave UNC early some of the announcers saying that Jordan was leaving only after promising his mother and Coach Smith he would get his degree.  He did.

The Charlotte Observer has this anecdote.

Smith the innovator also was Smith the motivator. But he didn’t give rah-rah pep talks. He typically explained what they needed to do to win and the significance of the moment.

Once at Maryland, however, he did promise to sing “Amen” – the Terps’ late-game theme song – if the Tar Heels beat Lefty Driesell’s club. Carolina won and Smith fulfilled his vocal promise, but according to reports, he would not have won the “American Idol” title.

“He was not much as a singer,’’ recalled guard Ged Doughton.

Many will write about Dean Smith’s contributions to the game of basketball.  For example, his “Four Corners” offense made the shot clock necessary.  But I want to remember him for his views off the court also.  In an article from 2013, Barry Jacobs wrote

Smith was periodically approached about running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina as a Democrat. But the publicity-shy coach disdained the glad-handing involved in soliciting votes and raising money. Besides, he said, “I’d never get elected if people in North Carolina realized how liberal I am.”

He was probably right. Over the years Smith spoke in favor of a nuclear freeze and for gay rights. He opposed capital punishment. He joined a Chapel Hill street protest against the war in Vietnam. When President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 1991, Smith asked: “Why can’t the United States band together for some other good thing like (fighting) poverty? If you want to kill somebody, then everybody’s for it.”

 My mother loved Carolina basketball and she admired Dean Smith.  If they had ever met I think they would have had a lot to say to each other.

Photograph:  Pete Leabo/Associated Press

 

Looking at President Obama

The annual Gallup poll of the most admired man has just picked President Obama.  Even among Republicans he tied with Pope Francis.  But to hear some Republican elected officials and pundits, Barack Obama is the devil incarnate.  If he says the sky is a little cloudy, they will say it is clear.  So what is going on?  Are people finally catching on to what he has accomplished?  Are people starting to look beyond the media’s short attention span?  I don’t have any answers, but I know that the President has managed more than one could ever imagine given the Tea Party and solid Republican opposition to everything he proposes. Even people like Paul Krugman, who one would think would be a supporter, was not.  But Krugman has changed his mind and in October wrote a widely circulated defense.

When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

I certainly haven’t agreed with everything Obama has proposed or done, but no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time.  And there have been some scary moments.  Remember the “Grand Bargain”?  But we can list as accomplishments the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank financial reform (despite the reluctance of Congress to fund the Consumer Protection Bureau and the recent gutting of the prohibitions on banks and derivatives.), the steady improvement of the economy (the only one in the world not on the verge of tanking again) and the ending of our combat roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I just don’t understand the continuous bashing by everyone.  Plus, I firmly believe that the mid-term elections would not have been quite so bad if the Democrats had had the guts to run on the President’s record.

Krugman writes

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

I think one of the problems the President has is that he is a canvas on which each person paints the picture of what they want him to be.  Michelle Bachmann sees him as a non-Christian, non-American.  Cornel West thinks he is a ‘counterfeit progressive”, meaning, I guess a conservative in progressive clothing.  The problem is people do not look at facts.  And they certainly don’t understand the character of the man.  I found this description of him on the golf course very apt.

One of the golfers who played with Mr. Obama said the way the president carried himself on the course provided significant insight into his character.

“If you came down from Mars and saw his disposition on the golf course, you would think he would be a pretty good president,” the golfer said. “He’s honest, he keeps his composure through terrible adversity, he’s unruffled, he smiles, and he doesn’t quit.”

Obama

This is why after the mid-term elections, President Obama was able to have what Kevin Drum writing in Mother Jones magazine was able to call “a Hellava month”.  Drum lists his accomplishments during November and December.  Here are a few from his list.

  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week.

  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.

  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.

  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba.

Plus a number of judicial and other nominees were approved by the Senate before they went home for the holidays. Jennifer Bendery explains in the Huffington Post.

If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.

In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.

It may be that, in the end, his biggest effect on the judiciary isn’t sheer numbers as much as the diversity of his judges. Forty-two percent of Obama’s confirmed judges are women, 19 percent are black and 11 percent are Hispanic, according to data provided by the White House. Eleven of his confirmed judges are openly gay or lesbian.

Even the 12 nominees confirmed Tuesday night will make a mark: Robert Pitman will be the first openly gay judge to serve in the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Loretta Biggs will be the first black woman to serve as a district judge in North Carolina.

The most interesting part of the nominee confirmation story is that the last were made possible by Senator Ted Cruz who probably had no idea what he was doing.

Democrats spent the final days of the lame duck thanking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for inadvertently helping to expedite votes on Obama’s nominees. On Friday, Cruz derailed a plan by party leaders to leave for the weekend and come back Monday in an effort to force a show vote on Obama’s immigration executive action. The stunt kept senators in session all day Saturday, with hours to kill. So, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used the time to tee up votes for the 12 district court nominees still on the calendar.

With two years to go, I don’t think any of us should write President Obama off as a “lame duck”.  He seems to be freed by not having to run for office again.  We all need to stay tuned to see what he does next.

Photograph:  Uncredited from Mother Jones.

 

 

Some cartoonists view the 2014 mid-term election

There are some great cartoons this Sunday on the President and the mid-terms.  Here are a few.

First from Signe Wilkinson

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Another view of the President and Congress from Nick Anderson.

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And my favorite from Stuart Carlson.

 

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I have to think that President Obama is expecting the Republican Congress to erect roadblocks and force him to veto some of their legislation (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), but I’m not sure there are many Republicans left who understand that their job is to actually govern.  We shall see.