Officials broach idea of charging for National Mall protests
By KEVIN FREKING
Sunday, October 14
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Park Service is exploring whether to require protest organizers to pay for the cost of providing law enforcement and other support services for demonstrations held in the nation’s capital.
The proposed rule also could shrink a significant portion of the sidewalk outside the White House that is accessible to pedestrians, leaving a five-foot wide sliver. The public has until the close of Monday to comment on the proposal.
More than 7,600 comments have been submitted so far, the vast majority in opposition, including many who consider it an effort by the Trump administration to deter some of the major protests that have marked his presidency.
“Requiring these burdensome fees will dissuade Americans from demonstrating,” wrote Gayle Copeland of San Antonio, Texas. “This new rule is not reflective of American values or history to peacefully protest.”
The National Park Service issues about 750 permits a year for demonstrations within the National Mall and at nearby parks. The agency said its proposed rule is designed to provide greater clarity about how and where demonstration can occur in a manner that protects historically important public land.
There have been several large demonstrations on or near the National Mall since President Donald Trump assumed office. The Women’s March in January 2017 brought protesters from throughout the country to Washington, and that has been followed by protests of the president’s actions on climate change and guns, to name a few.
National Park Service Spokesman Brent Everitt said the agency will always support the First Amendment right of free speech and assembly. But citing an event preceding the Trump presidency, he noted that the cost of providing law enforcement and other support services for Occupy DC in 2012 came to about $480,000. The protesters sought to bring attention to social and economic inequality in the wake of the financial crisis and set up a makeshift tent camp that raised health concerns.
“We want to know the public’s views on whether this is an appropriate expenditure of National Park Service funds, or whether we should also attempt to recover costs for supporting these kinds of events if the group seeking the permit for the event has the ability to cover those costs,” Everitt said.
Everitt said the National Park Service is not recommending charging a fee for demonstrations, but raising the question of whether it should.
The ACLU’s chapter in the District of Columbia said many of the changes the National Park Service is considering would be unconstitutional if adopted. Arthur Spitzer, the group’s legal co-director, said that if cost recovery requirements had been in effect in 1963, the historic march featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech probably couldn’t have happened.
“The National Park Service cannot seek to balance its budget on the backs of people seeking to exercise their constitutional rights,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said the ACLU’s Washington chapter supports some of the changes the administration is considering, such as adding to the list of areas where large numbers of people can demonstrate in the nation’s capital without permits. It says these venues are often more convenient for demonstrators and have plenty of room to accommodate hundreds of people without disruption.
Spitzer said a proposal to shrink pedestrian access in front of the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue would violate a court order. He said it’s also inconsistent with the Secret Service’s plans to install a taller, stronger fence with special anti-climbing features. The new fence is designed to allow the public access to the historic site while also meeting modern-day security standards. Under the proposed rule, about 80 percent of the White House sidewalk would be closed off, leaving a five-foot portion for “pedestrian access.”
A spokeswoman for the National Park Service said the proposed change to the sidewalk came at the request of the Secret Service.
Associated Press news researcher Monika Mathur contributed to this report.
Opinion: Happy Deficit Day
By Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan
Imagine that the federal government received all the money it was destined to collect for the entire year on January 1. This year, that pile of cash would total $3.3 trillion. Now imagine that the government spent all the money it was destined to spend for the year at a constant daily rate. It would spend $11 billion a day. The problem is that all that spending comes to a total of $4.2 trillion, which is a lot more than the $3.3 trillion the government collected. With $3.3 trillion in hand and bleeding cash at the rate of $11 billion per day, the government runs out of money well before the year is over.
This year, the money runs out on October 19. That’s Deficit Day.
Starting on October 20, every dollar the federal government spends goes on its credit card. And who gets stuck with that bill? Not the politicians who spent the money, but the taxpayers. And not just current taxpayers, but generations of taxpayers yet unborn.
The closer the federal government comes to balancing its budget, the further toward December 31 Deficit Day falls. This year’s Deficit Day is the earliest since 2013. Putting aside the four years immediately following the Great Recession when the federal government spent at a prodigious rate, even by its own standards, the last time Deficit Day fell this early was 1992, when it came on October 15.
But why does government borrowing matter? Every dollar the government borrows today creates interest expense every year into the future. Currently, the government pays 2.5 percentinterest on its $21.6 trillion debt. That’s more than half a trillion dollars in interest each year, or around three-quarters of the entire U.S. defense budget. Each day earlier that Deficit Day falls increases annual interest payments by almost $300 million — every year into the future. And that’s at the current historically low interest rates.
One of the rarely noted problems of such gargantuan debt is that the federal government is running out of places to borrow to feed its voracious appetite. In order, those who have lent money to the federal government are: U.S. people and companies (32 percent of the debt); the Social Security trust fund (almost 15 percent); other U.S. government entities (almost 15 percent); foreign people, companies and governments (28 percent); and the Federal Reserve (almost 10 percent).
Since 2009, foreigners and the Social Security trust fund have been cutting back on their lending. U.S. citizens and companies are lending slightly more. But, the amount the Federal Reserve lends to the government has more than quadrupled.
This is the shape of things to come. Our government has borrowed so much money that there aren’t many places left on the planet where it can borrow more. As trillion-dollar deficits become routine and as Social Security surpluses turn into shortfalls, the Federal Reserve, the so-called “lender of last resort,” will become the lender of only resort.
And that’s where we set ourselves up for true disaster.
Today, interest on the debt costs more than four times the Department of Education and Homeland Security budgets combined. Based on Congressional Budget Office projections, within five years the amount our government spends on interest will equal the entire defense budget. Within seven years, it will equal the entire non-defense discretionary budget.
As the CBO has a solid track-record for producing optimistic projections, the reality is likely worse. The truth is that there will come a day when it is literally impossible to keep up with the payments. Responsible people call that bankruptcy. Politicians, unfortunately, call it business as usual.
Happy Deficit Day.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words & Numbers. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Bloomberg’s New Hampshire event fuels White House bid talk
By PAUL STEINHAUSER
Sunday, October 14
NASHUA, N.H. (AP) — A quick stop by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Saturday in the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House is sparking more speculation about a possible White House bid by the billionaire media company founder and gun safety advocate.
Bloomberg was the main attraction at the get-out-the-vote rally for six candidates running for New Hampshire’s state House of Representatives. The event was organized by Moms Demand Action, an arm of Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization set up after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Bloomberg’s trip came just days after he re-registered as a Democrat after years as a Republican and an independent. Asked by The Associated Press if he has any timetable for deciding on a presidential bid, he said “right now I’m focused on November 6, plain and simple.”
But he added that after the midterm elections, “we’ll see what happens down the road.”
Speaking in front of dozens of Moms Demand Action activists, many of them wearing the group’s red T-shirts, Bloomberg told the crowd “together, Moms Demand and Everytown have landed some big punches against the NRA. We haven’t knocked them out yet, not by a longshot, but we’ve got them on the ropes. And while we’re getting stronger and stronger every day, they’re getting weaker.”
He also thanked gun safety activists in New Hampshire for helping to defeat earlier this year in the Statehouse “two bad bills that would have forced colleges to allow guns on campus and punish cities and towns for enacting strong guns laws. You did that. You did stop them.”
Bloomberg, who’s spent millions of his own money this year to help elect Democrats in the midterms, said “we’ve got to send a message to elected officials. Vote for commonsense gun laws or we will throw you out.”
Prior to the event at Nashua City Hall, Bloomberg met with the city’s longtime major, Jim Donchess, who’s a member of Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group. He also met with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, a supporter of tighter gun restrictions, and the six state legislative candidates who were endorsed by Moms Demand Action.
While November’s election and the issue of guns were the focus of Bloomberg’s visit to the Granite State, the trip fueled speculation that the 76-year-old former three-term New York City mayor is serious about a 2020 presidential run. Bloomberg mulled, but decided against White House runs in 2008 and 2016.
Asked if the party he left nearly two decades ago has become increasingly liberal, he said “I don’t know that it’s moved further left. I think that’s conventional wisdom by some people.”
Instead, Bloomberg argued that “there are an awful lot of other people who say if you talk to Democrats, they’re much more centrist than people understand.”
Donchess told The Associated Press that if Bloomberg ultimately decides on running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he may fare well in New Hampshire thanks to his advocacy on gun safety.
Keeping it real: Democrats push candidates to be authentic
By KEN THOMAS
Monday, October 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — Beto O’Rourke’s response to a question during a Houston town hall meeting this past summer lasted only four minutes. But for some Democrats it said everything. It was authentic.
In an exchange that quickly went viral, the Democrat congressman and Senate hopeful was asked whether he found NFL players who knelt during the national anthem to be disrespectful. A passionate O’Rourke told the room of Texans, not necessarily a sympathetic crowd, that he could “think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights.”
Clips of his answer were viewed millions of times online, generating buzz in O’Rourke’s uphill battle against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
For national Democrats, it was the type of moment that epitomized a common buzzword in Democratic circles — “authenticity” — and the push to present candidates in a more open, unvarnished manner offering a window to their values.
One of the widely accepted lessons from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 to Republican Donald Trump was that voters gravitate toward candidates they perceive as real, even if flawed. They’re drawn to politicians willing to deliver unexpected candor.
“I don’t think politicians give voters enough credit for the fact that people want to know who you are, what you stand for and what your values are,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist. “Even if they disagree with you, if they think you’re coming from a principled position, they can respect that.”
In an effort to deliver that authenticity this election season, the party has tried to assemble a group of candidates with nontraditional backgrounds. They’ve recruited veterans, women and politicians with diverse histories. They’ve encouraged them to talk openly about their lives in ads and to make casual, unscripted social media posts.
There’s no hiding that some of this effort borrows from the man Democrats are hungry to beat.
Trump’s fans often say they admired his candor and willingness to defy political conventions. Another model is Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Clinton for the nomination, which was marked by the Vermont senator’s unwillingness to play the part of a slick, poll-driven candidate as he railed against income inequality. Clinton was often described as too careful, rehearsed and robotic.
The push also coincides as the #MeToo movement has demanded greater accountability, and social media allows a candidate such as O’Rourke to draw thousands of Twitter views of his speeches from behind the wheel of his pickup truck.
His campaign announced a record $38.1 million raised during the past three months.
Democrats who may consider a White House run in 2020 are watching closely. They’ve become more accessible in the months before the formal start of that campaign.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released a decade worth of tax returns, held frequent town hall meetings and started engaging with journalists for Senate hallway interviews after shunning them in the past.
In one notable move, Warren cooperated with an exhaustive Boston Globe investigation during the summer. The paper found that the senator’s career as a law professor was not helped by her assertions that she has a Native American heritage.
Other senators who are potential 2020 contenders, including Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, displayed a visceral reaction to the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and tried to delay the proceedings during the then-judge’s first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Harris later staged a walk out before a key vote as senators considered allegations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh.
“We are at a point in this country where there is greater distrust of politics and political institutions than at any point in modern history,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and veteran of presidential and congressional campaigns. “If you can’t show what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, nobody will believe you will actually do it.”
In less contentious settings, potential candidates such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are pointing to their unusual backgrounds to vouch for their every-man appeal. Hickenlooper notes that he was laid off from his job as a geologist during the 1980s, a period that led him to open a Denver brew pub. He later became the city’s mayor.
“I was out of work for almost two years and you see a different person in the mirror,” Hickenlooper said at a recent Brookings Institution event alongside Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, as he pointed to the need for skills development.
The emphasis on authenticity has been a hallmark of a number of Democratic candidates this year who are pledging to challenge status-quo politics.
Kentucky congressional candidate Amy McGrath, for example, has drawn nearly 1.9 million views on YouTube for an ad that describes her path to becoming a combat pilot in the Marines and her pledge to protect health care.
The South Dakota’s race for governor features Billie Sutton, a state senator and former rodeo star who was paralyzed from the waist down more than a decade ago after he was thrown from his horse at a North Dakota rodeo. Sutton, an underdog against Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican backed by Trump, says the injuries were a turning point in his decision to enter public service.
OPINION: Our American character and you the voter
By Tom H. Hastings
When we speak of people from a particular identity group—ethnicity, nationality, regional group, state, town, or one of many others—we often essentialize, that is, generalize. Sometimes that’s fair, sometimes not. Of course, it’s always inaccurate unless it’s stated as a tendency, not an absolute, and unless it’s offered as a viewpoint, not proven fact.
What are we to think about our character, as Americans? How do we square the following observations?
· Donald Trump occupies the White House, busily alienating allies and befriending dictators, pulling out of any international agreements that keep the peace or protect the planet, and appoints top officials who operate with stunning head-in-the-sand obduracy in those arenas.
· Like Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, the Proud Boys support Trump and routinely engage in violence at his rallies and in the streets of our cities, targeting immigrants, gays, and Muslims.
· Republicans rule the Senate, the House, and the Supremes.
· Republicans use endless dirty tricks and chicanery to gain and remain in power. I mean, is it fathomable that Brian Kemp, the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia is the official responsible for overseeing the elections and he’s at the top of the ticket, running for governor, and sitting on 53,000 voter registrations, overwhelmingly from African Americans, and his opponent is also African American, Stacey Abrams? This is buck-naked overt racial voter suppression.
· And in Texas, same game, Republicans have tried and often seriously succeeded in suppressing African American voters, always by lowdown tactics such as switching address requirements at the last minute and effectively stealing the franchise from thousands of black college students, as they just tried on the students at black university Prairie View A&M.
· Merrick Garland. I mean, cripes. Could Republican Mitch McConnell be more unethical? Dubious.
With the exception of the last minute victory for democracy in Waller County, when the glare of publicity forced officials to allow the Prairie View A&M students to vote, we Americans have allowed all these travesties and many more to stand, all the while wondering if public protest is OK or not, and debating how demure we need to be in the face of the ruination of the first modern democracy, our American experiment.
We can take the first steps back from the ledge very soon, on November 6, election day, if we might like to regain our balance, our democracy, our power as citizens. From local races to ballot initiatives to statewide offices to our federal elected officials, we will either continue our trend away from a strong democracy—one which protects the rights of the minorities with as much vigor as it bows to the decisions of the majority—or we will begin to roll back the poor policy decisions of the past two years (more if we consider the anti-democratic measures of the Republican Senate in the past several years).
It is up to us. No one can vote for you and your vote matters—we have seen many elections decided by just a few votes and several decided by a single vote. You are important.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.