POLITICS

Four Legislative Priorities House Democrats Should Push

Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they have a mandate to push for a bold agenda on infrastructure, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.

After months of warnings, the "Blue Wave" finally came to shore. Democrats took back control of the House, gaining 32 seats, a number that could increase to 38 or 39, depending on the results of the uncalled races. With the party back in charge of the lower chamber, much of the discussion around what their priorities should be has revolved around investigating the president and his myriad of financial and political scandals. House Democrats have a clear mandate to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide oversight of the White House, but Democrats also have a mandate to address a number of major legislative issues. Though it's unlikely Democrats that will get any of these priorities pushed before the president and a Republican Senate, it's crucial that they signal to their voters what they want to done should they win the presidency and the Senate in the future.

Infrastructure

As a candidate and in the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump promised to tackle the nation's crumbling infrastructure. That, of course, has gone nowhere and every "Infrastructure Week" ended in some scandal, quickly becoming an ongoing joke. But the state of America's infrastructure is nothing to joke about. Infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority before Trump attempted to co-opt it. Democrats should push that issue once again, proposing a bold infrastructure plan to repair crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transportation systems, expand access to high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, and invest in green energy projects like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

Such an infrastructure plan would signal the party's commitment to investing in neglected communities and funding renewable energy projects such as a broader plan to combat climate change—not to mention open the door to the many economic benefits of infrastructure spending. It would also establish a clear contrast with Trump's previous infrastructure plan that's been criticized as a giveaway to private contractors. The president has said he is willing to work with Democrats, so why not press him to keep his word? Democrats would be wise to pressure the president and his Republican supporters to prioritize infrastructure, or face political consequences.

Healthcare

No other issue played a bigger role in the Democrats' midterm success than healthcare. Their electoral message on healthcare was simple: Protect people with pre-existing conditions, expand coverage and stop proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Now they must deliver on these promises. House Democrats can immediately pass legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, pressuring Trump and other Republicans who have vowed to do the same to keep their word. With a full repeal of the Affordable Care act now temporarily off the table, Democrats should push to expand coverage and address the limitations of the ACA. These can range from introducing incremental policies that get support from more moderate Democrats, like legislation to stabilize insurance markets, to bolder policies that attract the progressive wing of the party, like allowing Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices and proposing a Medicare buy-in for 55 to 64-year-olds.

While the long-term goal for the party should be to push for a Medicare for All system, these are positive steps toward a goal that still has a lot of opposition from within the party. Finally, any budget proposed by House Democrats should reverse any funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have an ideal opportunity to push for a positive vision on healthcare and continue to have the upper hand on the issue heading into 2020.

Immigration

Bitter political battles over immigration, especially over funding for the border wall and the fate of DACA, will be a prominent feature of politics the next two years. Democrats are right to be alarmed over the administration's immigration policies like family separation and ending DACA, but now it's crucial they advocate for an immigration agenda in contrast to the Republican agenda. With the fate of DACA likely in the hands of the Supreme Court, Democrats must push for a long-term legislative solution. The most stable solution is the passage of the Dream Act. It would also be politically beneficial for the Democrats to bring it to the floor cleanly, without a compromise on funding for the wall. Furthermore, Democrats should schedule hearings about the family separation policy and Trump's pre-election decision to bring troops to the southern border in response to the migrant caravan. Democratic voters have become more liberal on immigration, and it's important the party signal to its base that they are willing to find solutions on the issue without compromising its core values.

Voting Rights

Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the effects of voter suppression, notably in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida. These voter suppression efforts have only increased since the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice when enacting any changes in voting laws. In response, states around the country immediately passed strict voter ID laws. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision left the door open for future legislative action. House Democrats can immediately take action and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. They would also be wise to propose legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday, or move Election Day to a Sunday, as it is in most places around the world. While Republicans are busy spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democrats should take the opposite path and make it clear they will fight continuing discrimination in voting. For strategic and moral purposes, the party has an obligation to extend democracy in every way when voting rights are under tremendous pressure.

Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.

WORLD

Threatening "Birthright Citizenship," Trump's Rhetoric Alienates All

Trump has expressed his intention to repeal the 14th amendment.

President Trump's latest attack on immigration targets the children of undocumented persons by threatening to nullify the writ of birthright citizenship, also known as the 14th Amendment. Legislatively, this is nearly impossible and unheard of; but, most damningly, its patent ridiculousness is alienating both sides of the aisle.

While fatuous celebrity rants may err in understanding constitutional law, as was the case of Kanye West's Twitter fodder to "abolish" the 13th Amendment, a United States President's defective understanding of the constitution is as alarming as it is shameful.

But on Wednesday Trump once again aimed his tweets directly at his blind spot for facts, underscoring that he's impenetrable to shame. He claimed that "so-called Birthright Citizenship...is very unfair to our citizens. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof."

The tweet was precipitated by an interview with Axios on HBO, which was released on Tuesday. Trump evinced his ignorance on constitutional law by stating, "It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't." Convinced, he added, "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."

No, of course he can't. In brief, the U.S. policy of jus soli dictates that an individual has a right to citizenship in the country he/she is born. This "Citizenship Clause" is codified in the 14th Amendment, which reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Depending on your interpretation of the constitution, no matter if you see it as elastic or fixed, legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1898 has upheld the Citizenship Clause as we know it.

CNN

Trump went on to misattribute the "law of soil" as a singularly American mistake, stating, "We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits." That's incorrect; over 30 other nations recognize birthright citizenship. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end," Trump went on.

Of course, rudimentary awareness of American history reminds us that constitutional amendments are complex pieces of legislation which are subject to checks and balances. If President Trump truly believes he can solely command an amendment change, House Speaker Paul Ryan clarified in a radio interview that he "obviously cannot do that." In fact, Ryan spoke on behalf of all conservatives as fully dissenting from Trump's views.

"You obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn't like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution," Ryan told WVLK radio. "I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment's pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy Constitutional process." Ryan added, "I believe in interpreting the Constitution as its written."

With midterm elections approaching, Trump's turgid misrepresentations of immigration law can only be in hopes of rallying votes from anti-immigration supporters and encouraging strife between republicans and democrats. Dem. Sen. of Virginia, Mark Warner said, "This is simply an attempt for Donald Trump, who wants to do anything possible to bring back fears around immigration, to use that as a political tool in this last week before the election."

He adds, tellingly, "This is again, where a President's words matter. The Constitution is quite clear that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law."

Indeed, the President's stream of inflammatory rhetoric only serves as a distraction from his unfulfilled promises and his administration's failings. For instance, two new studies reported by The New York Times indicate growing anti-Trump sentiments in the top GOP district, suggesting that voters are alienated by "endless lies and hate-mongering." Greg Sargent at The Washington Post adds, "One likely answer is that the story Trump has told about the economy - and the country - just isn't resonating in many of these districts."

That Trump took to Twitter to repudiate Paul Ryan's reality check is par for the course, as was his ad hominem attack questioning Ryan's credentials to comment on birthright citizenship.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

Chinese "Internment Camps" Detain One Million Muslims

China has forced at least 1,000,000 Uighur Muslims to undergo "re-education" training.

Remote buildings fenced in by barbed wire, governmental slogans urging citizens to declare their loyalty, and armed guards preventing entry and exit: history has highlighted these as familiar omens of totalitarian oppression. Now the international community is condemning the Chinese government's "re-education camps," in which approximately one million Uighur Muslims have been detained, as the latest government machination violating human rights.

Under claims of combating religious radicalism," Chinese authorities have revised a law to condone the use of detention centers "to carry out the educational transformation of those affected by extremism." However, witness testimony and government documents have exposed a litany of human rights violations taking place in the camps under the guise of "vocational training" for the Uighur and other Muslim minority populations.

Chinese security in XinjiangThe New York Times

Within the camps, "re-education" programs not only restrict Muslims from practicing their religion, but impose a militant regimen of psychological indoctrination, including studying communist propaganda, reciting hymns to praise the Chinese Communist Party, writing "self-criticism" essays, and ritually giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In what The New York Times calls "the country's most sweeping internment program since the Mao era," detainees are disciplined by thousands of guards armed with police batons, electric cattle prods, and pepper spray.

Camps are located in Xinjiang, an autonomous, arid region in the northwest. It's the largest region of China and noted as the residence of about 10 million Uighur Muslims among China's 1.4 billion population. Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemned the Chinese authorities' treatment of Muslims "as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity." Despite the Chinese government's initial claims that the camps' "students" were treated to amenities from ping-pong and TV to air conditioning and free dining, McDougall makes clear that Xinjiang has become "something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone."

Most concerning are the reports of torture methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and beatings for those who deviate from the program. A former detainee named Omir told the BBC in September, "They have a chair called the 'tiger.' My ankles were shackled, my hands locked to the chair. I couldn't move. They wouldn't let me sleep. They also hung me up for hours, and they beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out your nails."

Abdusalam Muhemet and his 3 children in their Istanbul home.The New York Times

Abdusalam Muhemet, a 41-year-old former restaurant owner, recited a verse from the Quran at a funeral in 2015 and was subsequently detained in a prison cell for seven months before being relocated to a Xinjiang camp. "That was not a place for getting rid of extremism," he recalled to The New York Times. "That was a place that will breed vengeful feelings and erase Uighur identity." Muhemet was released after two months of detainment; he was never charged with a crime.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

Nikki Haley Resigns from Role as US Ambassador to the UN

Trump says he will announce her replacement in two to three weeks' time.

President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, announced this morning that she will be resigning at the end of the year.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, was appointed as ambassador in 2016 shortly after Trump's election. She was an outspoken critic of Trump prior to his election, so when he named her the envoy to the world body the appointment was seen as a peacekeeping move.

However, it appears any previously existing tension between them has been resolved, as the two continually emphasized their admiration for each other in an oval office press conference this morning. Trump said he believes Haley has helped make the position of UN ambassador "more glamorous" and "more important," and said that "many people" want the job. He went on to say that, "She's done a fantastic job, and we've done a fantastic job together," adding that Haley has been, "very special to me." Trump says he will announce the name of the new ambassador in two to three weeks.

Associated Press

Trump claimed that Haley informed him of her plan to resign several months ago, but The Hill reports that Haley's staff and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, were supposedly "blindsided" by the news. President Trump said regarding Pompeo, "I can speak for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He thinks the world of Nikki." Pompeo has yet to comment on Haley's resignation.

Despite the abrupt nature of her departure, Haley was considered by many to have been a stabilizing force within the Trump administration. The New York Times describes her as, "someone whom foreign diplomats looked to for guidance from an administration known for haphazard and inconsistent policy positions."

Peter Yeo, a U.N. Foundation official, told the Washington Post that Haley, "was critical in ushering in U.N. reforms in partnership with the secretary general, and she took a thoughtful approach to peacekeeping and national security issues." He went on to say, "There certainly were great areas of contention between the United States and the U.N. But she played a very important and constructive role."

Haley was the first cabinet United Nations ambassador for a Republican administration since the end of the Cold War. There has been some past speculation that Haley saw the position as a way to climb to a higher political post, which Trump may have resented. But Haley put any rumors of a 2020 presidential run to rest this morning, saying, "For all of you that are going to ask about 2020, no, I'm not running for 2020," Haley said. "I can promise you what I'll be doing is campaigning for this one. So I look forward to supporting the president in the next election."

Haley described her job as US ambassador to the United Nations as the "honor of a lifetime."

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson

Kavanaugh Nomination Advances, Flake Calls for Delay and Investigation

Kavanaugh's supreme court nomination will now head to the senate floor.


Amidst controversy and drama, Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination has been approved and now heads to the full senate for approval.

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ISSUES

Nine Things You Didn't Know About the Supreme Court

There's a lot of history behind those robes.

You probably know who Ruth Bader Ginsburg is. Her likeness has been splashed all over trendy t-shirts and art and her workouts have become a national obsession. But did you know that before she was appointed there were only bathrooms on site at the Court––for men? After she joined, they added a women's bathroom so she and her female comrade Sandra Day O'Connor no longer had to hoof it back to their chambers. This nugget is just one of the many intriguing trivia about the Supreme Court most people don't know. Want to learn more? Read on.

Make it rain


Dollah bills y'all

While neither bill is in circulation today, the $500 and $10,000 bill both sported an image of a previous chief justice. John Marshall and Salmon P. Chase were both memorialized forever on these federal notes. Sadly, the $500 and $10,000 bill went out of circulation in 1880 and 1878, respectively, but there's still hope for future Supreme Court justices: with inflation perhaps we'll see the return of higher denomination bills.

Diversity isn't their strong suit

Out of the 112 justices that have served throughout the Supreme Court's 229-year history, only four have been women. Sonia Sotomayor (who is also the first Latino justice), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan are the only females to have served on the Court. To date, there have only been two African-Americans and one Latino. Their educational credentials are almost exclusively Ivy League to boot. Looks like they could stand to shake things up a bit.

It's the RGB as you can see

Career dedication

Once appointed, justices of the Supreme Court serve for life. That said, fewer than half of them have died while serving. (Judge Antonin Scalia is the most recent judge to have passed while still appointed; most of them retire long before they shuffle off this mortal coil.) Right now the average retirement age is almost 80 years old. Some critics of this lifelong employment policy argue that there should be a maximum age at which mandated retirement kicks in. They posit that due to age-related mental decline, septuagenarian and octogenarian justices cannot be relied upon to issue the rulings that require a sharp mind. Tell that to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the current oldest justice. At 85 years young, she's still sharp as a tack and not considering retirement any time soon.

Lucky number nine

While nine justices sit on the bench today, it has not always been this way. George Washington appointed just six justices for the first incarnation. Even so, only three made the journey to the Royal Exchange in New York when they first convened in 1790. In 1807 they upped the tally to seven; thirty years later it grew to nine. By 1863 there were ten sitting justices, and while Congress unsuccessfully lobbied to go back to seven members, they eventually settled for nine in 1869.

The young'un Joseph Story

Age ain't nothing but a number

The average age of the current sitting justices is around 68. Due to the extensive experience needed to perform the job, justices are frequently past middle age when appointed. That said, the youngest one was Joseph Story, who joined the Supreme Court at the ripe age of 32. This happened in 1812, however, when 32 was considered middle age. The oldest appointed justice of the Supreme Court, Charles Evans, was 67, and he went on to serve 11 years.

Taking a shot for justicePhoto: David Schott/Flickr

Hoop dreams

Their current address in Washington, DC is home to two courts: legal and basketball. Informally referred to as "the highest court in the land," this sports arena is where justices, clerks, police, and cafeteria workers come to relieve stress and shoot some hoops. If you're dying to play HORSE with Sonya Sotomayor, you're out of luck – it's only open to previously mentioned select federal employees. And as a reward for their workouts, justices can always stop by the frozen yogurt machine in their cafeteria!

What can I say? We get along greathttp://www.chicagonow.com/between-us-parents/2016/...

Behind the robes

While as a group the Supreme Justices can appear staid and impassive, when not on the bench they are free to express their livelier sides. Antonin Scalia was well known for his gregarious nature, handing out candy on Halloween at the court and often mingling with high-flyers at White House Correspondents' Association dinners and the famed Alfalfa Club. Sonia Sotomayor is another social butterfly. She's known for being outgoing and friendly and was considering turning down the Supreme Court position because she was concerned how it would impact her social life. Even Clarence Thomas, the least loquacious of the current justices, has a reputation for being friendly and open to his colleagues and coworkers. He allegedly knows every staffer's name and is the "favorite" justice in the Supreme Court building.

On occasion, you'll find some or all of the justices out in public together, most frequently at a cultural event. The Shakespeare Theatre Company puts on an annual production, which puts classic plays on trial. It is here that you're most likely to see all of them out in one place. Some are even friends outside of work. Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg shared a passionate love of opera, and despite their opposed political ideologies, vacationed together for years.

And you thought the federal government didn't pay well

Supreme Court justices make almost $250,000 per year, more than the vice president. The chief justice receives almost $260,000. Due In part to this generous salary, many of the current justices are relatively rich, with six out of the nine estimated to be worth over $1 million. Steven Breyer is the wealthiest, with an estimated net worth of over $6 million. Ginsberg and Chief Justice Roberts are close behind, both estimated to be worth around $4 million.

Home sweet home

Congress established the Supreme Court in 1789, but it wasn't always located on First Street NE in Washington, DC. It first convened in New York City, but after a few ill-attended sessions, moved to Philadelphia, the country's capital at the time. During its Philadelphia tenure, the beleaguered justices often traveled the country hearing cases at circuit courts, which meant that court cases were often postponed due to travel delays or illness. In 1800 the Court moved to Washington, DC, but still had no official home. The current location only became permanent in 1935; from 1800-1935, court was often held in various rooms in the Capitol, or even in taverns and private homes.

The Supreme Court has a rich and storied history. When the founding fathers created it as the third crucial part of a fledgling government, they bestowed the appointed individuals with great power. Happily, today the justices continue to treat the position with the reverent respect that it deserves. It will be celebrating its 230th year in 2019, so we can all look forward to new, quirky, truths about the legendary Supreme Court.

POLITICS

Getting to Know You: The Third Amendment Explained

Why the only amendment never brought before the supreme court may be more important than you think

You'd be hard pressed to find someone living in the U.S.A. (and, perhaps in Russia) who could not tell you that the Second Amendment involved the right to bear arms. And, most people understand that something in the Bill of Rights protects them against unlawful search and seizure, even if they don't know that it's the Fourth Amendment that does so. But sandwiched in between these two celebrity amendments is the all-but-forgotten Third Amendment. Since its inclusion in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the constitution), the Third Amendment has been the subject of a small handful of cases, and not one of them has gone before the Supreme Court. Here it is:

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WORLD

What you need to know about voting systems around the world

How the voting systems around the world differ from country to country

There are many different voting systems in the world that vary in large or small ways from one another. Here are some of the most popular, explained. These three systems make up the majority of the world's election processes and can be used for larger and smaller elections.

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ISSUES

Is Affordable Health Care and Education Even possible?

Affordable health care and education is beginning to feel more and more like an unattainable luxury.

It is still a struggle for Americans to access affordable health care and education. Unfortunately, this is largely because companies are looking to profit rather than have tax money benefit the actual taxpayer.

There is no denying that business owners work hard for the money that they make. However, as more money is funneled into the pockets of the 1%, it means there is less available for health care and education assistance. Rather than improving the country by ensuring accessible health care and education for all, business owners are purchasing boats, second (or third) homes and luxury cars.

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