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Encouraging Supreme Court news

scales of justiceCourt rulings, for the most part, have as their legal basis court precedent. Where no precedent exists, new precedent is established. It is the role of the court, including the Supreme Court, to interpret those previous rulings and apply them to the particular set of circumstances in today's society and, in the Supreme Court's case especially, ensure that the court's decision is consistent with Constitutional intent. The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, has been rather infamous for not allowing itself to be burdened with the precedent established in previous Supreme Court rulings. In the Heller case in 2006, it ignored substantial precedent regarding gun ownership by individuals. An even more egregious ignoring of precedent came in the Citizens United case in 2010 in which the court ignored much precedent designed to limit spending in political campaigns. The gutting of the Voting Rights Act is another example.

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Actions speak louder than symbols

Confederate soldier pic from Sentinel around 1915The recent controversy regarding the displaying of the Confederate battle flag gave me cause to consider the difference between actions and mere symbols. The argument most given against removal of the battle flag is that it expresses pride in one's heritage and one's strong belief in state's rights and, further, is covered by the first amendment to the Constitution under freedom of speech. Displaying a flag would be considered by the Supreme Court as an expression of speech based on court precedent. However, the court has also used the now famous example of "yelling fire in a crowded movie theater" where there is no fire to indicate that there are exceptions even to the first amendment and freedom of speech. In the case of the displaying of the Confederate battle flag, although it may, indeed, represent one's heritage and a strong belief in state's rights, the state's right that it represents is the right to own another human being and the right to secede from the union if that right is to be taken away. As such, it serves all too often to represent hatred and the associated violence, as in the case of the Charleston shooting, and should be no more protected under the first amendment than the right to yell fire in that crowded movie theater when there is no fire.

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Slithering back from the far right

 

In last week's column, we provided some lessons to be learned for the running for president in 2016.  However, there are also some lessons to be learned that Republican candidates may wish to consider as they try to make their way to the White House.  From the looks of the current Republican crop of candidates, and there are many, there are several important lessons from past campaigns.  The most important lesson is probably that the farther right you go to curry favor with the right wing of the party, the further you have to go to slither your way back to the center during the general election.  If these candidates learned one thing from Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid, it should have been that it is extremely difficult to get back to center after months of moving to the far right and still maintain any semblance of credibility.  Certainly, in the age of cell phone cameras, consistency of message is the only protection against the flip-flopping accusations that haunted the Romney campaign.

Another very important lesson from previous campaigns for Republican candidates to heed may very well be to anticipate and prepare.  We can call this the Sarah Palin rule since she is famous for doing neither.  Could she really not see a question on foreign policy experience coming and could "seeing Russia from my window" really constitute preparation?

Jeb Bush may want to really focus on this lesson since he recently and famously failed to anticipate a question regarding the Iraq war as it related to his brother's presidency.  How could he have missed that one coming and fail to understand the implications of saying he would make the same decision?

Another lesson from previous campaigns that I hope Republicans heed  is to offer thought out solutions in place of the rampant use of buzz words, sound bites, labeling without substance and fear tactics. Remember "death panels"? In just about every announcement of candidacy, each of the Republican candidates made it clear that they would eliminate both the Affordable Care Act and the executive order on immigration reform.  However, I am still waiting to hear how each of them would fill the voids they would be creating in each case.

Rick Perry is now famous for his "Oops" episode during the 2012 Republican presidential debates.  His real problem, however, was not that he forgot the third federal agency to close down; the real problem was that he was not well enough informed about the justification for closing down these agencies so that he would have remembered which ones to close.  Forgetting the name of an agency he had in mind made it all too clear that shutting down federal agencies was just another good sound bite for trimming big government even if he had no clue as to the true impact of each individual action.

Marco Rubio, in announcing his candidacy, emphasized the issue of age as a way of pointing out that Hillary is in her late sixties.  I would point out to Senator Rubio that it is not the age of the candidates that is important, but, rather, the age of their ideas... and his go back to the 50's, sometimes the 1950's and at other times the 1850's - against both same sex marriage and the lifting of Cuban sanctions to name just two outdated positions.  Senator Rubio may, actually,  wish to remember Ronald Reagan's response to Walter Mondale when the latter also chose to point out the age factor regarding Reagan's advanced years.  Reagan, you may recall, advised Senator Mondale that he, Reagan, wouldn't hold his, Mondale's, youth against him.  Unless Senator Rubio can demonstrate that he has real solutions to real problems, his lack of experience should, indeed, be held against him. 

As for Donald Trump, who is the epitome of the old adage "people don't see themselves as others see them", the recommendation is the installation of a filter between what is going on in his mind and what is spewing from his mouth.  It may not help much, but it certainly can't hurt.  His speech announcing his candidacy was wrong on so many levels and insulting to so many.  His claim that he would be the "greatest job creating president" apparently did not factor in the jobs he himself would lose as a result of his insensitive remarks.  Similarly I found his pronouncement about his skill in wall building particularly objectionable not to mention unpatriotic.  A wall built in communist East Germany has no place being built in America: "Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev, I mean, Mr. Trump."

The suggestion to all of the Republican candidates is to stop throwing around the key buzzwords regarding the middle class and income inequality while still favoring voucherization of  Medicare, cutting social security benefits while raising the qualifying age, and preventing the closing of any corporate tax loopholes. With regard to social security, how about simply raising the current $113,000 salary cap at which the payroll tax ceases?  This will solve any long term funding of social security and still provide for retirement of our seniors who no longer can rely on company provided pension programs since they are fairly extinct in today's business model.

Oh, and one last suggestion.  Sixteen or so candidates is a bit unwieldy for a debate, so why not adopt the NCAA format and place the candidates in brackets.  Start with eight pairings leading up to the final two to duke it out on Super "Bull" Sunday. Just a thought.

I truly do hope that each of these candidates come to realize that rallying the base and coming up with real solutions are two separate things and doing one without the other does very little to benefit the country.

I also hope and do believe that the electorate has finally had enough of the irresponsible use of words without substance.  I am hopeful that today's electorate will demand a real discussion of the issues and not tolerate the use of  labeling to avoid discussing ideas and the laying out of a viable vision by each of the candidates, both Democrat and Republican.  

 

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Lessons for Democrats running

president sealCertainly the issue of lessons learned applies to presidential campaigns and none more so than the next presidential election in 2016.  Republicans are already portraying a Hillary Clinton presidency as a "third term of Obama".  The question for Hilary, as well as, to a degree, the other democrat candidates, is whether she will allow herself to be baited into distancing herself from the Obama Administration and, in her case, the Clinton Administration, or will she, rather, embrace them both and, if so, to what degree?

The 2014 mid-term elections were the epitome of candidates distancing themselves from the incumbent president to disastrous results.  One such example was the Kentucky senate race. During that race, democrat Allison Lundergrin-Grimes, you may recall, was asked the simple question of whether she voted for President Obama.  Rather than risk being linked to him and his policies, she chose to evade the question altogether as was her right.  How well did this strategy work for her politically?  Not very! How much more credible would she have come off if she had chosen a response more like this: "Of course I voted for President Obama! Who else could I have voted for? Romney? I may not agree with every position of the president, but certainly he is much more in line with me politically than Romney and his disregard for '47%' of Americans."  Now, this response may have unwillingly tied her too closely to the president for her liking but at least she would have come off as more credible.  Besides, is there anyone who really believes she didn't vote for the president and may have actually voted for Romney?  I think not. Lesson learned: credibility should be at the top of the list for any candidate of any race.  Standing up for what you believe in and not trying to mislead voters should  also be at the top of that list.

Any candidate for president, democrat or republican, must decide how wise it will be to distance themselves from previous administrations.  That strategy certainly did not work very well for either John McCain or Mitt Romney.  Neither was very successful at distancing himself from the previous republican administration under George W. Bush and the failed policies of that administration.  With regard to Hillary, specifically, will she learn from Al Gore's 2000 campaign and, rather than distance herself from the administration that she served in, will she embrace at least some of its achievements?

As you will likely recall, Vice President Gore distanced himself from President Bill Clinton during the 2000 presidential campaign so as not to be "soiled" by the Monica Lewinski scandal.  As things turned out, it certainly would have been more strategically prudent for him to have tied himself to the economic successes of the administration without being tied directly to Clinton's  personal improprieties.  True, Gore did still receive a majority of the popular vote and, yes, Ralph Nader took a chunk out of his total number of votes and, yes, no one really believes that Pat Buchanan is so well liked in Florida.  However, if candidate Gore did a better job of linking himself to the successes of the Clinton administration, it is likely that these other factors would have had less of an impact on the election.

Accordingly, my recommendation to any democrat candidate for president is, rather than running away from the name Obama, embrace at least some of the achievements of his administration.  Not everything, but at least some, and there are several.  To begin with, while republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, the reality is quite different.  President Obama inherited an annual deficit of approximately $1.3 trillion from President Bush and has brought it down to about $470 billion.  Likewise, President Clinton inherited an annual deficit of about $290 billion from President George H.W. Bush and left office with a surplus of in excess of $125 billion for the next President Bush to squander on a ten year war paid for on a credit card and tax breaks for the wealthy that did nothing to help the economy or the middle class but, rather, contributed mightily to our current income inequality.

Certainly, there are other positives such as consumer protection for credit card holders, expansion of college aid for needy students, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which had prohibited gays from serving openly in the military, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which strengthened the ability of women to fight for equal pay, preventing the American auto industry from going under, providing health insurance for millions of previously uninsured Americans, phasing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting the unemployment rate to below 6%, and the take out of Osama bin Laden. 

However, this is not to say that any democratic candidate should embrace the entire Obama record without question.  Being judicious should be a presidential requirement.  I, for one, question why the banking industry did not have any of its leaders see jail time for putting greed before country and causing the Great Recession of 2008.  Dealing with the banking industry also applies to the Clinton Administration since it was President Clinton who supported the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which had been enacted after the stock market crash of 1929 to construct a wall between commercial banks and investment banks.  The repeal of Glass-Steagall tore down that wall and opened the door for the risky investments by commercial banks that had ordinarily been reserved for investment banks and which contributed so greatly to the recession. The next president must take a strong stand to replace the regulatory protections lost over the last several years.

I also wonder about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and any agreement that is supported by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner whose actions have never demonstrated any concern for working class America.  The G-7 conferences envisioned, through globalization, wealthy nations helping the economies of third world countries through investment.  It was anticipated that globalization would  see these economies grow and create markets for our goods.  It was never intended that the sole result of globalization for America would be to provide U.S. companies with cheap labor abroad at the expense of jobs at home.  Based on my experience with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement back in the 1990's, I question whether any agreement that is so vehemently supported by big business would actually be beneficial for working America. The question that the presidential candidates must grapple with is the same one that the president is grappling with which is whether we are better off being part of the deal, as good or bad as it is, or being left out altogether and shed more influence to China.  Not an easy question, but one that must be answered regardless of who the candidate is.

So, yes, there may not be total agreement on all issues, but history has shown that running away from the previous administration has not proven to be a successful strategy and one that places the candidate on the defensive rather than the offensive.

In an upcoming column, we will attempt to provide some lessons learned for the republican candidates.

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Racial Lessons from Charleston

 

I recently posted on my Facebook wall my reaction to the horror that just befell Charleston, South Carolina. The responses to that post revealed all too well the challenges we face as a nation as we deal with these tragedies on an all too regular basis. My post was this:
Is there anyone who can still claim racism in this country no longer exists...I mean anyone other than FOX? Oh, and who gave him the gun? And while I'm at it, how sad that the life of an individual who dedicated that life to serving his community and was elected to office at 23 could so easily have been snuffed out by a 21- year- old loser.

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Confessions of a Southern Boy

carr-currentOr how I learned to stop worrying and fold up the battle flag

 

If you’re an old white guy from the Deep South, it can be hard to explain yourself these days - maybe impossible.
When I was in high school in Memphis, I fell in love with the glamour and glory of the Confederacy. The covers of my school textbooks suddenly sprouted confederate battle flags—which was not hard to do. You could buy rolls of confederate flag stickers at any dime store. Cloth battle flags were as common as pennies; one adorned the cover of my main notebook. I went to a very good but very private school. Our student body was mixed, although the black contingent didn’t begin to match the population breakdown of Memphis. I did have black friends and if any of them were offended by my confederate paraphernalia, no one said anything to me.
If you’d asked me at the time, I would have scoffed at the notion that there was any offense to be taken from the display of those confederate emblems. I considered myself to be free of racial prejudice—a statement that I now realize works very well as a goal but not so much as a declaration of fact, given how deeply engrained racism is in our culture. But to me the flag didn’t mean an attack on anyone, nor was it an attempt to put anyone down. It is possible to love the culture of the Old South while detesting its sins. In fact, it’s possible to venerate the incredible valor of the southern soldier while, at the same time, being glad the Union won the war. (One of the great ironies of southern patriotism is that those waving the Confederate flag often wave the U.S. flag just as vigorously, depending on the context and the issue at hand. I do a lot of driving and don’t recall any region of the country busting out with more U.S. flags after 9/11 than the South.)
I adored the classic storybook heroes of the war, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, after whom my grandfather—and therefore by extension, I—was named. And if, for instance, I had to try to reconcile my affection for the great general with the fact that he was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan—well, I put it out of my mind with the thought that, hey, times were chaotic, and at least he quit when the Klan became crazy violent.
It is amazing to me looking back on it that no one ever challenged me on the flag issue. But now that challenge is in full swing in a general way, starting—the irony is exquisite—with South Carolina, the crucible of the rebellion where the governor now wants to take the confederate battle flag down from state property. Other southern legislatures are taking up the question.
Should we do it? Should we ban the confederate battle flag from official display in public spaces?
One of the things you learn during a career in communications is that when you speak, it does not matter what you mean, it only matters what is perceived. Let me say that again: What you’re trying to say is immaterial. What the receiver hears you say is the only issue. A communications professional knows this and crafts his or her words accordingly. In broadcasting in particular, you get one shot at it. You bring your full set of professional skills to bear to get it right on the first pass. If your message goes awry—is honestly misunderstood or misinterpreted or provokes an adverse reaction you did not intend—usually you can’t blame the recipient.
The sad truth about the confederate battle flag is that whatever supporters would say about why it still needs to fly and why it might be worthy of public admiration, hate groups have stolen it from us. Add this to the long, long list of items for which such groups cannot be forgiven. They’ve hijacked it and the theft is an accomplished fact. When that flag goes on display, a message of racism goes with it—whether that is the intended effect or not. For the recipient, the impact can be as in-your-face aggressive as the sight of a swastika—which hate groups often display alongside it.
The swastika got its poor reputation the same way. It spent 3,000 years being revered by various religions and cultures as a symbol meaning “auspiciousness” among other things. Then the Nazis appropriated it. Display it today and you’ll get only one reaction.
Those who would continue to support the public display of the confederate flag really have two questions to ask themselves. One: Does it make any sense to deny that hate groups have stolen the symbol and made it their own? Or should flag supporters continue the battle to wrest the flag away from hate groups—and in doing so, risk offending a good portion of America?
Looking at race relations as they now stand in this country, to me it’s hard to argue that we should be doing less to salve old wounds and resolve old and current injustices.
Reviewing my high school days, I am confident that those who knew me well were aware that my flag display was not meant as anything racist. But I am left to wonder how many saw it and never bothered to ask. I sure didn’t bother to ask them. For all I know to this day some of those classmates may think of me in a way I would not like to be thought of. My face turns red at the prospect.
It’s now up to southern legislatures to decide what to do with this grand old symbol—which forms the motif for many of the old south’s current state flags as well. As for me, my affection for the old south and my admiration for its fighting spirit remain firm. But I have folded my flags.

Forrest Carr is a confessed novelist, blogger, land snark, and former TV news director and talk radio host. who has worked all across the country.
You can find his works and his blog at: http: //thebashfulbloviator.blogspot.com/

 

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Barve seeks a step up to Congress

KumarPortraits 270The field of candidates for the soon to be vacant Congressional seat of Congressman Chris Van Hollen has been taking shape over the last several months. One such candidate is Delegate Kumar Barve, a former Maryland House Majority Leader and currently the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

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The quest for affordable housing

house genericEvery community needs affordable housing whether they recognize it or not. The current requirement is that 12.5 percent of any new construction in Montgomery County must be set aside for moderately priced housing, but is that enough?

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A conversation with David Axelrod

axelrodI recently had the opportunity to listen to David Axelrod, long time advisor to President Obama and key strategist for both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, speak about his new book "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics". The event was sponsored by the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County and was quite enlightening.

Of particular interest to me was the issue of dealing with the rampant partisan politics within the beltway. In his book, Mr. Axelrod had indicated that one of the motivating factors convincing President Obama to run for the presidency was his sincere belief that he, as someone new to the "beltway", could have a significant impact on cutting through the partisan politics that so stymies the ability of the federal government to get anything accomplished. Regrettably, the reality that is all too apparent to anyone following President Obama's time in office is that this president has faced more blatant obstructionism than any other president in history, certainly any president in my own lifetime which goes back to the Truman Administration.

The election of the first minority candidate for president, rather than serve to indicate how far we have come as a nation, served all too often to awaken in too many the desire to take us backwards to where we once were...30, 50, 100 or even 200 years ago in areas such as race relations and how we react to the differences that exist among all of the various members of our society.

My question to Mr. Axelrod was simple: Knowing what we now know, how would you have advised President Obama differently in the early stages of his administration in dealing with the blatant partisan obstructionism intended to undermine any attempts by the president to move this country forward? I made it clear that this was not a trick question, Jeb Bush notwithstanding. His response was both extremely honest and, in my opinion, quite appropriate. His answer was "I don't know" and he didn't know, he went on to say, because there really is no surefire way to deal with an opposition that "won't take YES for an answer".

If I could find one positive thing to say about the intentions of the opposition it is that at least they didn't try to hide them. They were quite upfront with their plan from the beginning which was to win back the White House by blocking everything the President attempted to accomplish. As Mr. Axelrod indicated, Mitch McConnell made that strategy quite clear when he declared that his goal was to "make this President a one-term president". Regrettably, this strategy is still being adhered to in a second term.

So how do we break through the obstructionism that plagues today's "beltway politics" and all too often places party before the best interest of citizens? Mr. Axelrod did offer a solution, be it one that requires time and dedication. His solution is "bottom up" politics. Looking at local elections, whether for school board, City Council, and the like and working and voting for candidates who represent the best interests of citizens. It is local and state legislatures that serve as the breeding ground for the senators and representatives in the Congress of the future and it is an investment well worth taking.

Mr. Axelrod also referred to the strategy used by Ronald Reagan to curry favor with what is now known as the "Reagan Democrats" of the southern belt through social issues. He did so not to win back that specific voting bloc as much as to use as an example of rallying a group around a specific set of issues. As the middle class continues to shrink as a result of the policies of the current Congress, the rallying point for those of us who consider ourselves still part of the middle class must be, according to Mr. Axelrod, around economic issues.

These, of course, would include the earned benefits we worked for such as social security and Medicare but they should also include recognizing the need for investment in education and infrastructure. It should also include a tax structure that rewards hard work over making money off of the money others earn. That tax structure should also reward investment in creating jobs in America while penalizing those companies who ship jobs overseas. Supporting candidates who understand and support these middle class issues when they are running for office at the lower echelons of the political spectrum is the most effective way to ensure that they make their way to the upper echelons of the political spectrum down the road.

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