Is running the US government based too much on ‘norms’ –  and not enough on rule of law?

Vox article heading

I read the Vox article Are We In a Constitutional Crisis Yet? with a mix of interest, curiosity and concern. While all of the 13 law professionals interviewed agree that we’re in a difficult situation in regards to how the United States government is being run today, some say we’re not in a Constitutional crisis until the president refuses to obey a court order – an order which could be issued if Congress’ demands for information relating to its task of rounding up materials needed to impeach government officials are ignored.

The article’s easy to read format helped me understand the subject of impeachment much better, and appreciate the difficulties inherent in handling proceedings against a sitting president who has little apparent respect for the laws and procedures which form the norms by which America lives and works. Note: Impeachment is a process known by the term ‘indictment’ when charges are made in a court setting, rather than a government one.

The legal opinion voiced in the article that best captured my attention, points out that a central problem which has repeatedly arisen in regards to Donald Trump’s flouting of the rules governing the behaviour of top US government officials, may stem from the fact that many of the rules are more guidance and suggestion – what NYU law professor Melissa Murray calls ‘norms’ – than they are codified legal requirements.

Prof Murray writes:

It seems like we’ve been careening from constitutional crisis to constitutional crisis as this administration has repeatedly refused Congress’ oversight requests. The fact that this involves an impeachment inquiry — Congress’ ultimate check on the Executive — amplifies the sense that this is different from what preceded it. “THE LETTER FROM THE WHITE HOUSE IS A POLITICAL STUNT THAT MISINTERPRETS THE CONSTITUTION, IGNORES RELEVANT PRECEDENTS, AND DEFIES COMMON SENSE”

So does this leave us in a constitutional crisis? Maybe. But to my mind, the thing that is most concerning about all of the administration’s frequent clashes with Congress is that they make clear how much we rely on norms, rather than rules (whether constitutional or not), for the government to operate effectively and efficiently. 

In the past, when the administration and Congress disagreed over oversight requests, they negotiated a mutually agreeable outcome, and failing that, resorted to the courts to resolve the dispute. The norm of interbranch negotiation and resolution has fallen by the wayside with this administration. It’s unclear whether it can be resurrected going forward. The abrogation of the norms on which the exercise of constitutional powers depend might be the real constitutional crisis here.

Congress clearly does not require the president’s permission or agreement to impeach him. Georgia U law professor Diane Marie Amann points out, “…the White House cannot just refuse across the board to cooperate with subpoenas. Persistence may result in a finding of contempt of Congress, a federal crime punishable by up to a year in prison.” But it is also not clear at all whether there exists an individual in any branch of the US government or judiciary who would feel him/herself empowered to arrest and jail the POTUS.

Our deepest problem may be more the enforcement of law, when it comes to high-profile government official, than it is a matter of identifying either legal violations – or their remedies.

‘Searing’ eyewitness account found chronicling the destruction of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa massacre

Franklin’s typewritten Tulsa massacre account

The grandson of a survivor of the Tulsa massacre is a senior program manager at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where now resides the manuscript detailing the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre and its impact on Black Wall Street residents. It is a first person account written by attorney Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960), who survived the massacre although his law practice was burned to the ground.“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” he wrote. 

Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps … “The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

More by the Smithsonian

The best chance for anti-people politicians is to discredit Bernie Sanders – and they’re trying.

Bernie talks to youth

Bernie’s taking heat for his supposed position on reparations for the US slave trade but do we know what he actually said? A Sanders America would be one where justice, equity, fairness and inclusion are goals that we strive to reach as a nation, with support from our president and national leadership. That’s exactly why Power is united in working so hard against Bernie:

“Media outlets like CNN … stacked the audience with well connected questioners at a town hall this past Monday.

One of them, who asked about the suddenly hot button issue of reparations for slavery, worked for the centrist Aspen Institute and now works for a non-profit whose board includes executives for the world’s biggest private equity firm, the Carlyle Group and the former employer of leaker Edward Snowden, Booz Allen Hamilton. This and other obvious conflicts were not disclosed by the network who presented the questioners as ordinary voters.

On the issue of reparations itself, as Briahna Gray of the Intercept wrote after the town hall, Sanders gave the right answer to the question, that first it will be important to define what the term means, as centrists Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are using it to describe different programs, none of which are directly focused on redressing the historic grievances of African Americans and the inequalities that persist in these communities to this day.”

Pases grátis a parques nacionales para estudiantes del 4º grado | Free passes for 4th graders to government parks

Los pases se proveen a los estudiantes del 4º grado y sus familias. Son validos por un año y son grátis de costo. Visite everykidinapark.gov para conseguir su pase hoy! Esta oportunidad es proporcionada por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos.

Passes are available for 4th Grade students and their families. They are valid for one year and are completely free. Visit everykidinapark.gov to get your free pass today! This opportunity is brought to you by the U. S. Government.

NJ State Senators act to end prison-based gerrymandering

Two New Jersey State Senators proposed legislation to end prison-base gerrymandering and it was approved by the senate 25-9.

This is how prison-based gerrymandering works and why it’s so destructive to the families of incarcerated individuals:

This system makes it possible for districts where prisons are located to appear to have a low median income by claiming inmates as residents. Because inmates don’t earn money, when they are counted as residents of the district they lower the median income for the entire population. Meanwhile, back at home where his family lives, the no-wage prisoner is not being claimed as a resident and the income for that district is artificially high – so his home district doesn’t get funding and all of the attendant resources that could provide real help to the single parents left behind who are struggling to keep their families well, despite one parent being away and unable to contribute to the family coffers.

Prisoners’ families don’t get that funding, because the communities where parents are being jailed are the ones getting it – even though those communities don’t need the funding anywhere near as much as the home communities do.

In fact, residents of towns where prisons are located can live comfortably on the perks associated with having a prison in town. Besides benefiting from extra funding for their district due to prison-based gerrymandering, residents also benefit from prison jobs … and local businesses are bolstered by sales to prison workers and maybe, also by selling goods to the prison itself. The prison industry provides for folk in the towns where prisons are located, pretty well overall.


Newark Mayor to Trump: Forget the wall, fix the water system

By Kimi Wei [current_date]

Newark, NJ Mayor Ras J. Baraka sent an open letter to President Donald J. Trump yesterday calling on the federal government to fix the nation’s failing water infrastructure rather than fund the border wall. The decaying infrastructure of our drinking water system in cities and small towns is affecting the health of millions of Americans every single day – from Newark, New Jersey, across America’s heartland, to Oakland, California.

“I want to bring your attention to a true emergency that puts millions of our citizens at risk: the decaying infrastructure of our water systems which has generated a crisis in Newark, the State of New Jersey and across America,” wrote Mayor Baraka. “This crisis mainly affects older black and brown cities with limited resources and serious health issues that are systemically overlooked by every level of government. In prioritizing environmental justice, saving children and their families within these cities is a must… the only real solution is to save this and future generations of children is to replace lead service lines.”

Each day, children in black and brown communities are being exposed to dangerously high lead levels from deteriorating outdated lead service pipes, entering homes and children’s blood. No level of lead in blood is safe. Elevated blood lead levels harm young children’s developing brains, which can lead to learning disabilities and behavioral problems. The lead service line issue crisis affects not only Newark, but over 20 New Jersey communities and thousands of urban and rural communities across the country. The cost of fixing the nation’s failing water infrastructure falls disproportionately on low-income communities that lack adequate funding resources to cover the astronomical cost of replacing lead service pipes.

“It will cost an estimated $70 million to replace the lead service lines in Newark, hundreds of millions more to replace them in New Jersey, and an estimated $35 billion to replace all of the lead service lines in America. Achieving this is possible only with financial help from the federal government,” continued Mayor Baraka.

The City of Newark has developed a unique public-private partnership with the State of New Jersey to help finance the replacement of lead service lines impacting thousands of homes across the city. The city is also implementing a new corrosion control system, conducting free water testing and distributing water filters to residents. According to Mayor Baraka, the only commonsense, permanent solution to protect public health is to replace all lead service lines, which carries a cost few municipalities can match alone.

Some ways the GOP tax bill will destroy the environment

Margaret Mead Quote
Source: quotefancy.com

Camila Thorndike offers a list of some ways the GOP tax scam intends to destroy the environment. She found these items less than a day after the 500+ page tax bill was released to Capitol Hill politicians for the first time last night, just an hour before the GOP began pushing for the bill to be voted on. So more horrible measures will probably be found over time.

  • Hands out a billion dollars to oil companies and preserves $14 Billion in fossil fuel subsidies, more than renewables by a 7:1 ratio.
  • Suddenly axes tax breaks for electric vehicles.
  • Eliminates the commercial solar investment credit.
  • Jeopardizes wind energy by reducing credit for future projects by a third and threatening those underway.
  • Randomly opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, making an industrial oil field of this wild land, which is sacred to the indigenous Gwich’in people and home to 250 species and migratory birds from all 50 states and 6 continents. This, after three generations of bipartisan protection.
  • Further weakens the EPA (think: drinkable water, breathable air, EJ), DOI (think: national parks and public lands
  • and NOAA (think: oceans, weather), and then all state agencies that will scramble to fill in the gaps.

San Juan mayor responds to 45’s genocidal tweets: without help we will die

Mayor Cruz

The Nation reported on October 12, “San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz woke up to Trump’s vindictive tweets on Thursday, and she texted a long message to Representative Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, who shared it with reporters.”

Follow Mayor Cruz on Twitter


Here’s the body of the Mayor’s message:

Puerto Ricans have suffered greatly in the past month. Two hurricanes devastated our homes and our electrical infrastructure leaving us without the essentials to survive: drinkable water, food and medicine. But perhaps more frustrating has been the devastating actions, time after time, by a President whose tweets, comments and actions seem to be taken out of a book on “how to add insult to injury” rather than a book on “how to help during a humanitarian crisis”. He is simply incapable of understanding the contributions, the sacrifices and the commitment to democratic values that Puerto Ricans have shown over decades. His actions are unbecoming of a leader of the free world.

Mr President, you seem to want to disregard the moral imperative that your administration has been unable to fulfill. Your replacement of the FEMA Coordinator in Puerto Rico is an admission that things are not going the way they should. Your tweets and comments just show desperation and underscore the inadequacy of your government’s response to this humanitarian crisis. It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done.

Ever since this ordeal began, San Juan has had over 300 sustained volunteers from the United States. Good, hard working people from New York, Florida, California, Texas and many others who embody the fundamental values of compassion, ingenuity and hard work that you are certainly unable to express. These men and women, most of them union workers, have literally taken care of our bodies and souls. They did not come for a photo op or to throw paper towels and insults at us. They came to help, something you seem to be unable to grasp. These volunteers have seen the horror that you continue to want to dismiss. They embody the true spirit of the American values that you dismiss with every inappropriate and derogatory action and comment.

Tweet away your hate to mask your administration’s mishandling of this humanitarian crisis. While you are amusing yourself throwing paper towels at us, your compatriots and the world are sending love and help our way. Condemn us to a slow death of non drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us since they face the impediment of the Jones Act.

I ask every American that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico and let this President know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE. I ask the United Nations, UNICEF and the world to stand with the people of Puerto Rico and stop the genocide that will result from the lack of appropriate action of a President that just does not get it because he has been incapable of looking in our eyes and seeing the pride that burns fiercely in our hearts and souls.

No one needs an invitation to help, to feed the hungry, to cure the sick, to give a helping hand to those in need. Simply put: HELP US. WITHOUT ROBUST and CONSISTENT HELP, WE WILL DIE.

Mr. President fulfill your moral imperative towards the people of Puerto Rico.

Carmen Yulin Cruz
Mayor of San Juan

Southern California Public Radio shares images of the damage to Puerto Rico in pictures.

Sen Gill urges Secretary of State to reject Trump commission request for NJ voter data

What Trump Commission has asked for
Screenshot from report by Lauren Weinstein
Senator Nia H. Gill (D-Essex, Passaic) today called on the New Jersey Secretary of State to reject a request by President Trump’s election commission to turn over state voter data. The commission was established to investigate unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

The commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Vice Chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent letters to 50 states and the District of Columbia last week asking for information, including names, addresses, birth dates and party affiliations of registered voters in each state. It also sought felony convictions, military statuses, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting records dating back to 2006, according to published reports. To date, 44 states have already refused to comply, according to a story published today on CNN.com:

President Trump has made claims for months that millions of people voted illegally in the last election, without a shred of evidence. Now he is using those unfounded claims to justify the collection of personal information and voter data from all 50 states.

This request is alarming. Under no circumstance should the state of New Jersey turn over our residents’ information to this commission. I am calling on the Secretary of State to protect our state’s voter information, and refuse to comply with this illegitimate request.

No one believes this Trump-created panel is interested in protecting the right to vote. The commission was created with the goal of legitimizing Trump’s widely discredited claims of voter fraud and is headed by Kris Kobach, the politically-driven Kansas Secretary of State.

New Jersey should not contribute to the president’s effort to undermine the integrity of the election system. The Secretary of State must inform the people of New Jersey if she intends to share the personal information of the residents of the state with this illegitimate panel – silence in not an option.

Bill Maher guest talks about Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s excellent training

Bill Maher guests
Bill Maher guests

If you’re still wondering whether Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is worth putting time into, here’s another testimony to mull over. On Bill Maher’s RealTime, guest Bradley Whitford talks about the high quality training CCL offers to teach Americans how to talk about climate change with Republicans. Because climate change needs to be a lobbying priority and conversations about it must take place on both sides of the aisle.

Free Press community empowerment event in Hackensack Wed June 7 – all welcome!

FreePress - freedomWhat: Our Voices, Our Future: What Residents and Civic Leaders Want in Local Media
When: Wed., June 7th, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.)
Where: Johnson Public Library, 274 Main St, Hackensack NJ

Here’s what you can expect at the event: Free Press members, residents, journalists, and community leaders will be gathering to share ideas on how local media can better serve the public. You’ll get a chance to meet others like you, take action to address New Jersey’s local news crisis, and brainstorm about the steps we can take together to improve coverage in your community.

Gerrymandering helped the GOP win big – so they seek to expand their advantage by sabotaging 2020 Census

The Census in the Constitution

Bill Moyers points out, “the Census is key to the work (of) researchers and journalists,” so hobbling the Census’ data collection process will hobble the ability of independent analysts to examine the realities of American life and to tell accurate and authoritative stories about it. Furthermore, funding to serve Americans is allocated according to the composition of neighborhoods and households – and these characteristics are established through the Census.

And by the way, did you know that the U.S. Census is required in our Constitution?


Marquette University archivist William Fliss tells how census data shows the transformation of the United States from a new republic to the nation it is today.

Slate shares a short synopsis of the Census’ importance in terms of services for Americans:

The decennial census is critical to ensuring that Americans are fairly represented in Washington, since it’s used as the basis for congressional redistricting. A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage…

The best description of the Census’ importance comes, naturally, from the Census Bureau website (at least until Trump removes it):

The U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years. The data collected by the decennial census determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.

The 2010 Census represented the most massive participation movement ever witnessed in our country. Approximately 74 percent of the households returned their census forms by mail; the remaining households were counted by census workers walking neighborhoods throughout the United States. National and state population totals from the 2010 Census were released on December 21, 2010. Redistricting data, which include additional state, county and local counts, will be released starting in February 2011.

“The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct.”

~ Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States

Gerrymandering is what has allowed elections to be skewed toward Republican control

That bit about Census data driving the way election districts are drawn and how many Congressional Representative each state gets: is actually the reason why Republicans have recently acquired increasing control over Congress even during Democratic presidencies.

Bill Moyers’ David Daley opened up discussion about the power of gerrymandering in August 2016.

For all of the misleading nonsense about “rigged elections” coming from the Trump camp this summer, we haven’t talked enough about the way our electoral map really was rigged by Republicans after the 2010 census. These tilted (gerrymandered) maps make it possible for the Republicans to govern with a supermajority in Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin – despite getting less votes overall.

The WaPo elaborates:

How do conservative Republicans maintain so much power in the House, even though Americans reelected a liberal president and polls show that the GOP suffers from high disapproval ratings?

Salon editor David Daley’s punchy, though overstated, new book lays the blame for Republican power in the House on partisan gerrymandering, the byzantine process through which state legislatures draw district lines to favor incumbents from one party. Challenging the claim that increased partisan polarization is a result of voters naturally sorting themselves into red and blue states, Daley argues that a group of operatives in the Republican Party did the sorting for them. The GOP poured money into an unprecedented effort to control governorships and state legislative bodies in 2010 and to then redraw congressional districts so that the party could turn the House into a firewall against the Democrats.

While the term “gerrymander” has been around since the early years of the republic, computer technology and big money have allowed governors and legislatures to perfect the process in ways that have never before been imagined, according to Daley. The same technology that allows Amazon to figure out who buys what in any home on a given block now allows party officials to do the same with elections.

Although his argument might not be as sexy as talking about how money corrupts politics or how the 24-hour news media leaves us all screaming, the success of Republican legislatures and governors at redrawing congressional districts is the reason, he says, House Republican incumbents have increased their power and don’t have to worry about any “wave” election that would shift control to the other party.

So now: Why did the Census Bureau’s director quit?

Sabotage is probably the reason Census Bureau Director John Thompson resigned today on 11 May 2017. He probably looked at the writing on the wall and understood that the Trump administration has little intention of allowing a fair, impartial and complete Census of the American people to be held this cycle. Slate share some of the ways the sabotage is being carried out:

  • To make matters worse, the administration has reportedly toyed with the idea of adding a question to the once-a-decade survey about immigration status, which some experts believe could scare many households out of responding.
  • Congress (just) handed the census an appropriation “that critics say is woefully inadequate.”
  • Thompson also testified to Congress last week that a snazzy new electronic data collection system that was meant to save expenses would cost 50 percent more than expected.

Spend 2 minutes to learn why net neutrality is more important than you think

Website throttling
Your favorite website will be in the “Everyone Else” lane if Net Neutrality is lost Source: Iowa State Daily
Washington Post gives a neat synopsis of what The People stand to lose if Trump appointed Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gets his wish and finds a way to reverse the Obama era protections establishing net neutrality, which WaPo defines as, “the regulations that forbid Internet providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic.”

The rules, approved by the FCC during the Obama administration, classified Internet providers as “common carriers” — a move that allowed the agency to regulate those companies more strictly than before. In addition to banning the blocking or slowing of Internet traffic, the regulations also gave the FCC the ability to investigate business practices among Internet providers that it deemed potentially anticompetitive.

Supporters of the regulations argue that they are a vital consumer protection that prevents Internet providers from abusing their strategic position between Internet users and the rest of the Web. Without strong regulations, they say, Internet providers will be free to raise costs for consumers — such as charging customers extra to keep their personal data private, or to be able to view certain websites or use certain apps. Meanwhile, advocates say, ISPs could be allowed to charge website owners extra fees to reach consumers’ screens, and determine what apps and services may flourish online.

NJ Sen. Loretta Weinberg hailed as champion of a free press and gov’t transparency

Press freedom via freepress.net
Press Freedom source: freepress.net
Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg received the National Newspaper Association Open Government Award for her legislative advocacy to promote government transparency and accountability. The award was presented to the senator Thursday by NNA President Matt Paxton during the 2017 Community Newspaper Leadership Summit at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“Whether at the state or national level, an attack on the media is an attack on our democracy. Particularly during these uncertain times, we have to stand in support of a free and independent press. I am committed to continuing the fight for government transparency and accountability and am honored to receive this award from the National Newspaper Association,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “I am also dedicated to continuing the work that I’ve done over the last several years to reform the state’s open government laws to make government more accessible to the public. A strong press and transparent government are the best safeguards for truth in our state and our country.”

Senator Weinberg led the fight against legislation that would have eliminated the requirement that public notices are published in newspapers, and was successful in blocking the bill from advancing late last year. The senator has also championed reforms to New Jersey’s open government laws, the Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act, that would update and modernize the state’s decades-old laws.

Established in 1885, the National Newspaper Association (NNA) is a not-for-profit trade association representing the owners, publishers and editors of America’s community newspapers. NNA’s mission is to protect, promote and enhance America’s community newspapers. Today, NNA’s 2,200 members make it the largest national newspaper association.

In addition to Senator Weinberg, those speaking at the event included Martin “Marty” Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, who previously served as editor of The Boston Globe which, under his leadership, won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into clergy sex abuse and was the basis for the movie Spotlight.

Trump shut down NPS for climate change tweets but can’t block new unofficial Twitter account

@AltNatParkSer
Over at the Palmer Report, Bill Palmer tells us the way National Park employees found to stand up to Trump, who is blocking federal employees from commenting on climate change to the extent that he has issued a gag order to prevent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from mentioning it and has deleted tweets made by the National Park Service (NPS) and even suspended the Twitter account of one park account that tweeted about climate change. An anonymous group of individuals has created an unofficial Twitter account for park and climate change news that Trump can’t touch.

The anonymous Park Service account is @AltNatParkSer, which bills itself as The Unofficial “Resistance” team of U.S. National Park Service. Not taxpayer subsidised!

Here are the details of what happened:

In his first days in office, Donald Trump has made a point of censoring and restricting what the National Park Service can and cannot say on its various official Twitter accounts. After the NPS tweeted photos of Trump’s small inauguration crowd, he temporarily suspended its Twitter privileges. And when the Badlands tweeted about climate change today, those tweets were then deleted. But now some unnamed individuals within the National Park Service have created an unofficial Twitter account that Trump can’t touch.

Trump doesn’t have the ability to shut down a Twitter account, or to suspend it from being usable; only Twitter the company would be able to do that. Instead he’s been sabotaging the National Park Service Twitter accounts by presumably threatening to fire people if they dare to tweet things he doesn’t like, or if they tweet during times when he’s put them in the penalty box. But he can only do that if he knows who’s tweeting.