America honors a brilliant woman

No other Supreme Court Justice has ever captured the heart of America the way Ruth Bader Ginsburg has. Several–Hugo Black, William Douglas, Thurgood Marshall–are remembered, but Ginsburg is the one whose image has found its way into millions of homes not only in book covers but in t-shirts, earrings, socks, action figures, and, yes, even tattoos.   

Elegant praise followed Ginsburg’s death on Thursday. She was a “a giant in heart and spirit,” “an icon of women’s rights,” “a warrior for gender equality.” 

RBG’s 87 years spanned the transformation between women being ‘protected’ by laws that considered them incapable of carrying heavy packages or serving on juries to women becoming CEOs, generals, and judges. 

Ginsburg was among the first women to attend Harvard Law School, the first to be part of the Harvard Law Review, and the first to become a tenured faculty member at Columbia School of Law. 

As Cindy Jenks, president of the National Federation of Democratic Women wrote, “Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer and a monumental jurist that will likely never be matched in comparison to her work ethic, her wit and her dedication to fairness and justice for all persons.”

Saturday I learned that an Idahoan was the plaintiff in the first brief Ginsburg wrote for the Supreme Court. When Sally Reed’s son died, both she and her former husband sought to administer his estate. Idaho law at the time stated that “males must be preferred to females” in appointing administrators.  Negating that law was a first step in a long fight for gender equity. 

Another early victory got a father social security benefits after his wife died. 

Working for the  American Civil Liberty Union, Ginsburg took part in 34 Supreme Court cases and won five of the six major cases she argued before the Court. 

Ginsburg had served 13 years on the D.C. Appellate Court when President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. She was approved by a vote of 97-3–an amazing show of unity.  

A friend wrote that she wanted to grieve and celebrate RBG’s life, but the emotion she felt was fear. 

University of Miami Professor Robyn Walsh reacted similarly to RBG’s death by writing, “It says a lot about us that the loss of one voice leaves women and their allies feeling so helpless. I am grateful for RBG, her advocacy, and her strength. I’m enraged that we find ourselves here.”

And women aren’t the only ones feeling fear and anger. As a justice, Ginsburg championed equal rights for all, including LGBTQ individuals, persons of color, immigrants, minorities, the poor, and the ill. 

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an argument to abolish the Affordable Care Act on November 10. Even with over 40,000 new Covid-19 cases per day and 7 million unemployed, a number of Republican-led states continue their efforts to destroy health care exchanges and shrink Medicaid. 

Ginsburg’s voice will be missed.

President Trump is not worried about angering voters by ignoring RGB’s dying wish to have the appointment delayed until after the inauguration or by the hypocrisy of senators who claimed President Obama couldn’t appoint a nominee because the 2016 election was only 9 months away. 

But he should worry about voters’ reaction if he fails to name a worthy candidate. Another Brett Kavanaugh would be the ultimate insult to RBG’s memory.  

Those events will unfold in time. Now is a time to enjoy basking in being part of an America that loved a brilliant woman–one admired for “her work ethic, her wit and her dedication to fairness and justice for all persons.”  

Hot topics now top the news

Okay, readers, step up and vote for the hottest topic of the week–confession, coronavirus, corruption, or conflagration. 

If you read the news, chances are you are up-to-date on all those topics. The chief problem is deciding which category events like a taped confession of lying about coronavirus counts in. I offer this guide based for your use.  

  Confession is totally dominated by revelations promoting Bob Woodward’s new book Rage that’s being released today. It could be dismissed as just another hit on the President if Woodward didn’t have tapes of 18 interviews with Trump. Anyone with the Internet can listen to the President himself saying how deadly coronavirus is shortly before he assured people that everything is going well and ridiculed precautions by hosting six massive, indoor campaign rallies within a month.  

Also on tape, Trump dismissed Saudi Arabia’s assassination of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi as no big deal–”Iran is killing 36 people a day”–and bragged about stopping Congress from cutting financial support and arms sales to the country.  

Coronavirus is dominated by the United States continuing to see about 33,000 new cases and 700 new deaths every day.  The U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, has 22% of the known cases and deaths. 

We also have a nation of parents distressed because their children are either not learning much while facing a computer screen or are being exposed to a deadly virus daily. About 35% of American households report having used all or nearly all of their savings already. And nearly 14 million are out of work while both Trump’s emergency stipends and many state unemployment accounts are running out of funds.    

Corruption’s poster girl for this week is Seema Verma, administration of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  A 17-month investigation revealed that Verma used nearly $6 million dollars of taxpayer money to polish her image, e.g. arrange for interviews, feature articles, and a ‘girls’ night out.” 

And authorities in Georgia are threatening criminal action against 1,000 voters they claim voted both in person and by mail during the state’s June primary or August runoff elections. Someone’s corrupt.  But it wasn’t until August that a judge ruled that ballots postmarked, but not received, by election day should be counted. That means 1,000 voters could have mailed absentee ballots on or right before June 9, heard that the state would not count them, and hurried out to vote in person. 

Why didn’t Georgia check names on late-arriving absentee ballots and just not open duplicates? Hey, this is a state that provided so few scanners in some urban neighborhoods that voters at one polling place were still waiting in line after midnight.

 Conflagrations, i.e. wildfires, dominated the news this weekend. Thursday National Fire News reported that “102 fires have burned 4.4 million acres in 12 states.” Idaho accounted for about a dozen of those fires with the largest surpassing 40,000 acres Saturday.    

In California 25 wildfires have set a record for acres burned–2.2 million–and the fire season could stretch for another month or more. Oregon has lost 230,00 acres; eight fires are considered unstoppable until winter rains hit. Washington has lost over 300,000 acres. Eighty percent of the buildings in one small town are now ashes.    

Tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes; and 33 have died since mid-August. 

People are blaming underbrush, trees killed by insects, and heat. Areas of California endured 110 degree temperatures before the fires started.  

Which is the hottest topic?  I guess it depends on your definition of  ‘heat.’

Remember in November: Fight to expand Medicaid

For seven years the Idaho Legislature refused to expand Medicaid. 

It was predictable. After all, Idaho was one of the states that fought in court to do away with the Federal mandate for Medicaid expansion. This good Republican state wasn’t about to accept medical insurance for people a fraction above the poverty line, even when it was 100% paid for by the Federal government. 

Voter demand grew strong enough, however, that a Senate committee did hold a hearing in 2016. Hundreds of supporters showed up to testify about problems for people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little for subsidies on the insurance exchange–those that Medicaid expansion was meant to cover..    

The chief results of the hearing were an angry scolding for Dr. Kenneth Krell for saying that the Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid had caused 10,000 deaths, and a pompous statement by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador that made national news, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”  

In November 2018 over 365,000 Idaho voters–60%–voted for an initiative to expand Medicaid. But the fight was far from over.  

There was a bright moment when newly-elected Governor Brad Little, previously opposed to expansion, accepted that the people had spoken and included funding in his budget request. 

But the Legislature wasn’t nearly as gracious. 

The 2019 legislative session limited expansion every way it could, passing rules that were only minutely different than ones already rejected by the courts.

And, adding insult to injury, legislators lectured voters.  

Initiatives should include their own funding. Yes, there was money for expansion–tobacco settlement funds, medical emergency funds that Medicaid Expansion would replace, and various savings. But initiatives should have to request a tax increase.   

Healthcare should not be cheap. People will overuse it and make the current physician shortage more serious. It will reward people for not working. (That was a particularly galling argument since people were in the gap because they made too much to be covered by traditional Medicaid.)  

Then, Sen. C. Scott Grow called for a fight against the entire initiative process. “Running a state government by voter initiative,” he claimed, “defeats the basic fundamental premise of the Constitution. We elect representatives and trust them with responsibility.”

Grow was apparently referring to the national Constitution, for Idaho’s says differently. “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”  (Only 24 states grant citizens the power to initiate laws.)

And legislators leaped to join in the attack.    

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After voters passed the term limits initiative, legislators increased the number of signatures needed to get a proposition on the ballot. After voters rescinded the Luna Laws, legislators increased the number of legislative districts that had to reach the required percent.  

Now legislators set out to make initiatives and referendums more difficult in three ways: cutting the time limit from 18 to six months; requiring signatures from 10% rather than 6% of the registered voters; and requiring that 32, rather than 18, of Idaho’s 35 districts reach the 10% goal.  

The bill passed the Senate, 18-17, and the House, 40-30. 

Gov. Little vetoed it.

Unsure how your legislators voted? 

You can find their names at https://legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/whosmylegislator. Then visit https://https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/, 2019 session, and look up bills HO249a and SO1159.   

No Internet?  Call your local library. They provide some great services.  

Imagine just how much more suffering this year’s pandemic would have caused if 80,000 more Idahoans couldn’t have afforded health care.   

Too many support right wing violence

I hope no one missed the irony in the Republican Convention kicking off its message that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America” within hours of right-wing protestors disrupting Idaho’s special legislative session. No one in Boise was seriously injured as the Capitol police and the Speaker of the House Scott Bedke worked to de-escalate the conflict–just as Trump warned that Biden would do.   

That night the Republican Convention featured a video of riots and looting that occurred (mostly) in Donald Trump’s America as a warning of what might happen in Joe Biden’s America. (That big fire, however, occurred in Barcelona, Spain.) 

For many, the message was that Trump has increased the intensity of conflicts in America to the point that only someone willing to call in his own militia–and teargas a mayor–can restore order. 

I’ve talked to Democrats deeply disturbed by the violence and looting accompanying Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country. I’ve also heard from Republicans that demand that Democrats now be shamed and shunned by all. They anticipate the party’s demise. 

An anonymous Democrat created a meme clarifying the issue. “Just to be clear: I support police officers, but not the ones who commit crimes.  I support protestors, but not the ones who commit crimes. It really is THAT simple.” 

Yes, it is.  

Unsurprisingly, Republicans who see all Democrats at fault, don’t comprehend that they are in a parallel position. Many Americans see all Republicans guilty of supporting armed militias that bully elected officials and of condoning police killings of unarmed civilians.

I suspect many Republicans ignore violence by right-wing groups because it doesn’t threaten them; it’s such a constant in our country that it seems normal; and they don’t feel responsible for the actions of people they don’t even know. 

Other Republicans, however, including well-known media pundits, applaud armed militias and brutal police.

A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies states that since 2010 left-wing violence has killed 21; jihad violence, 95; and right-wing violence, 117.  In 2019 “right-wing extremists perpetuated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States.”

Moreover, our police kill far more persons each year than other major countries. In the most recent statistics, the number of police-caused deaths per 10 million people in the United States was 33.5; in Canada, 9.8; in Australia, 8.5; in Germany, 1.3; and in England and Wales, 0.5 (Prison Policy Initiative, June 5, 2020).

If the United States breeds so many more dangerous criminals, we need to figure out why. But seven bullets into the back of a man walking toward a car where three of his kids wait reveals a different, and equally serious, problem.  

The fact the Kenosha police welcomed armed vigilantes really bothers me. Apparently, they felt that a gun and good intentions was all that’s needed for their job. Either they had little other training themselves or they felt it had been a waste of time. 

You got a gun?  You’re one of us.  

Unarmed?  You’re a curfew violator and deserve whatever happens.

Imagine this scene. A gunman with an AK-47 fires off some shots. People are startled and scared and scrambling for cover. But a few unarmed men step forward and risk everything to save others.

Anthony Huber, Joseph Rosenbaum, and Gaige Grosskreutz are heroes. Yes, they reached for Kyle Rittenhouse’s gun. No, that didn’t justify killing them.  

Yet, Rittenhouse is lauded on Fox News and social media and within hours gets $100,000 toward his legal fees. 

We live in sad times.  

Fears sustain support for Republicans

Some days I feel that people fall into two categories: those that work at mitigating problems and those that would rather intensify conflicts. And I suspect that solving problems involves a lot of research and negotiation that escapes attention while conflicts prove more entertaining.   

Idaho had its share of problems even without Covid-19–a shortage of teachers, especially in math and science; a high number of young people who don’t continue their education after high school; jails crowded with reoffenders; a high suicide rate; wages too low to cover housing costs; rapidly increasing property taxes; and aging bridges-just to name a few.  

Yet, somehow, legislation concerning transgender persons received more time and publicity this past legislative session than efforts to control property taxes or fund infrastructure. Even though Idaho had lost a major court case for not allowing transgender individuals to change their birth certificates, legislators renewed the restrictions. The estimated $2 million in legal fees didn’t deter them.  

Now Idaho, having lost its second  lawsuit on the issue, is gearing up for appeals. 

 Idaho’s legal costs in fighting gay marriage ran over $1 million. The cost of fighting an inmate’s sex change operation was over $430,000. 

Our legislature–80% Republican–is willing to pay these fees because it animates the party’s base. It’s part of the “guns, gays, and God” trio that drives voters to ignore real problems that continue to grow year after year.

Last fall Caldwell City Council candidate Evangeline Beechler–by nature cheerful, courteous, and concerned about others–cited attracting good-paying jobs and holding listening sessions around the city as her major issues.   

Opponents attacked her as a Democrat and, therefore, a threat to our gun rights. They spread word that Beechler–and all Democrats–had a “hidden agenda” menacing to gun owners.

It didn’t matter that Idaho law allows only the state to regulate guns and not even Boise’s Democratic-led city council has challenged that. Nor did it matter that the Idaho Democratic platform calls for limiting gun rights only for convicted domestic abusers and those who don’t pass background checks.

Idaho gun laws are among the most lax in the nation, yet Republicans see a need to attack some regulation each election year.  This year they made concealed carry legal for all U.S. citizens here. They will probably reintroduce a bill allowing employees to carry guns on school grounds without informing administrators.  But what can they do after that?        

As with LGBT regulations and gun rights, Idaho laws have gone as far as the courts allow in limiting abortions. We require state-directed counseling; a waiting period; restrictions on private, AFA and state insurance coverage; parental consent; and no abortions after “viability” unless the patient’s life is endangered. (Idaho has lost cases limiting abortions after 20-weeks in 2013, 2015, and 2020.)   

We even have a law stating that if court rulings ever allow it, abortion will be illegal in Idaho. 

Yet, abortions occur whether they are legal or not. A 2018 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that in Latin America, where abortion is highly restricted, abortion occurs up to four times as often as in the U.S. 

Making abortions illegal will shame, endanger, and, perhaps, jail women who seek them. But increasing access to contraceptives and improving economic conditions will lower the overall number of abortions. 

Which route benefits Idaho the most?      

 By generating fears of extremes evident elsewhere, Idaho Republicans get elected year after year even though they fail to deal with an increasing number of problems affecting the state’s families, workers, schools, and infrastructure.