Destroying Democracy: Worse than Watergate, More than Mueller

John Oliver dubs it “Stupid Watergate,” but many believe that the lies and smear campaigns Trump and many Republicans are flinging to discredit the FBI and derail investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congressional committees into Trump/Russia have already done more damage to our democracy than the GOP’s bungled break-in, attempted cover-up, and Saturday Night Massacre did back in 1973.

As Mueller’s investigation into collusion and obstruction of justice allegations closes in on the Current Occupant of the White House, fears of a constitutional crisis mount. Initially, the triggering event for a crisis was seen as Trump firing Mueller, mirroring Nixon’s orders to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. But in what is more like “Evil Watergate” the strategy has morphed into escalating assaults on the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and others. The Current Occupant, several GOP toadies, and right-wing media are sowing chaos, pushing fake scandals, and besmirching reputations, in not-even-thinly veiled attempts to divert, curtail, or shut down the investigations.

Adjusting to the new (not)normal, MoveOn, Indivisible, and other groups have updated their original call for all of us to flood the streets if Trump fired Mueller. MoveOn and Indivisible list the “red lines” that, if crossed, should prompt emergency rallies:

  • If Trump fires Mueller
  • If Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (Rosenstein oversees Mueller)
  • If Trump issues blanket pardons of witnesses or key figures being investigated
  • If Trump takes another action that prevents the investigation from being conducted freely (such as repealing the regulations establishing the office)

Although we still hope none of this will happen, the threat is real enough to justify preparing an immediate, strong response.

What you can do now:

  • Find and RSVP to attend a Nobody Is Above the Law rapid response rally near you 
  • No local rally? Sign up to host one
  • Spread the word by sending the link to everyone who’d be interested
  • Ask Congress to prevent Mueller from being fired. See Indivisible’s article with info and a great call script here, and see the Wall of Us action
  • Read background info at our original article, and our updated article
  • Read the Lawyers for Good Government 33-year timeline of Trump-Russia connections here

Canvass With Swing Left in District 21

By Dave Halsing

Editors’ note: The information in this article is presented by Swing Left East Bay, one of IEB’s community partners.

Swing Left East Bay is an all-volunteer group that connects East Bay residents to events aimed at “flipping” House seats in nearby Congressional districts in the November 2018 election: electing Democrats in districts that currently have Republican representatives. Swing Left East Bay volunteers focus on canvassing, a high-impact method to connect with voters by knocking on doors where registered Democrats and unregistered voters live. Our primary goals are to provide information and increase voter awareness, registration and participation. Because our ultimate goal is to win elections, we target “flippable” – that is, winnable – Congressional districts.

Bay Area volunteers are focusing mainly on California Congressional districts 10 (CA-10, Modesto) and 21 (CA-21, Fresno County). Both are represented by Republicans who are fully committed to the destructive Trump and Republican Party agenda, and Swing Left and other Democratic activist groups have been working in both. Because CA-10 is closer to the Bay Area it has gotten the most attention, but since we must win in CA-21 (only 3 hours away) to retake control in Congress, we’re ramping up our work and calls for volunteers there. 

PLEASE SIGN UP TODAY TO JOIN SWING LEFT EAST BAY IN CA-21!

Canvassing is THE MOST EFFECTIVE strategy to flip Republican districts to the Democratic column. Most first-time canvassers find it rewarding and fun, and easier than they thought it would be. The canvassing app we use with tablets or smart phones guides our conversations and records all responses. The data is uploaded immediately, so it can be shared with other groups to get the most out of our interactions and avoid duplicating efforts. We train you on-site right before you start, and will pair you with an experienced canvasser if you want. 

Volunteers have the option to meet up in the East Bay and carpool to the canvassing location. Many volunteers choose to spend a night there between two days of canvassing, but that’s not required. See more details on carpooling and lodging options below.

Note that while we have a real need for canvassing volunteers in general, we’re especially looking to increase the number with a working knowledge of Spanish. PLEASE share this request with your Spanish-speaking friends and family members.

Our canvassing is working!

In a single weekend in mid-January, our group of 10-12 East Bay-based Swing Left volunteers knocked on 832 doors over one and a half days. We talked with 160 residents, a contact rate of over 19% – almost double the expected rate. We got approximately 40-50 pledge cards from people who said they are committed to voting for the Democratic candidate.

The likely CA-21 Democratic candidate, Emilio Huerta, was also out canvassing the neighborhood that weekend. We gave people information on Huerta, who learned community organizing and leadership from his mother, Dolores Huerta, the famed labor organizer and activist. A lifelong resident of the Central Valley, Huerta has deep roots to the community and is now a practicing civil rights lawyer. We also informed people about Republican incumbent David Valadao, including his negative voting record to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut corporate taxes, and his denial of climate change and opposition to same-sex marriage.

Upcoming Canvassing Events

Please visit the Swing Left CA-21 Calendar and sign up for a canvassing/voter registration event! Please RSVP so the host can schedule enough turfs and provide snacks and water.

In the details for each event on the calendar, you’ll find a link to a shared spreadsheet to sign up to carpool from the Bay Area (either as driver or passenger). Free lodging is available with 2 weeks’ notice (sleeping bags on a carpeted floor of a church that has offered to also provide breakfast if needed). The Hotel Piccadilly, 2305 W Shaw Ave, Fresno is a very good budget hotel option for ~$77/night. There are also Airbnb and HomeAway options available with other team members if you’re interested.

The next canvassing events include:

For more information, please contact canvassCA21@gmail.com

Dave Halsing is a project manager at an environmental consulting firm; his recent projects combine restoration, flood protection, and recreation in and around the margins of San Francisco Bay and other tidal areas in Northern California. 

 

 

 

 

Crowded Slate Vies for State Assembly District 15 Seat

There were nine candidates on stage and a large engaged audience at the California Assembly District 15 Candidates Forum hosted by the Albany Democratic Club at Albany High on January 29. Although the candidates competed to drop names and out-progressive each other, they appeared for the most part to agree closely on the issues. Even on SB 827, the divisive transit housing density bill by Senators Wiener and Skinner, everyone was in agreement that while they appreciated the spirit of the bill and the conversation it provoked, it needed significant changes to affordability, environmental, and local control provisions before they could support it. The only disagreements were on degree: whether single payer is “ideal” or “necessary”; whether a Prop. 13 (property tax) reform campaign to close the corporate loophole goes far enough. The organizers promised that video of the forum will be available soon on KALB.

I left better informed, but no closer to knowing who I plan to vote for in the primary this June.

Want to know more? Mark your calendar for the Assembly District 15 LGBQTI Candidate Forum, hosted by Lambda Democratic Club of CCC & East Bay Stonewall Democrats, February 21, 6-8 PM. All info here.

Read our earlier article about this race.

The candidates:

Do No Harm, Mostly: Federal Government Opening New Doors to Denial of Health Care for Women

In January 2018, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its decision to offer support to medical professionals who decline to provide care – primarily abortion- and transgender-related healthcare – because of their personal beliefs. These beliefs don’t have to be written down anywhere, don’t have to be part of an organized religion or group, and don’t even have to be beliefs that anyone else holds. The person just has to say, “This goes against my conscience,” and the newly-empowered HHS Office of Civil Rights will get to work on finding ways to help them defend that belief by denying care.

This opens a valley-sized doorway to denial of care. This isn’t religious freedom: it’s a taxpayer-funded tool that will allow caregivers to hurt people who might depend on them.

While this might sound like a huge change or an affront to the Hippocratic Oath, belief-motivated denial of care isn’t a new concept in American health care. In fact, since 2010, more and more women have been reporting that they were denied abortion care or tubal ligation (having your “tubes tied” to ensure sterility), even in cases of emergency, right from their hospital bed.

Tamesha Means sits in a living room with two other people, one of them a young boy. Family photos crowd two large frames on the wall above them.
Tamesha Means suffered a miscarriage at 18 weeks; the miscarriage, a painful and traumatic experience, lasted days. Rather than offer abortion care that could have saved Tamesha from untold suffering, her Catholic hospital sent her home with Tylenol three times. Image: ACLU.

The reason behind the denials is simple: these women are in Catholic hospitals that follow the Catholic Directives, a series of rules laid out by bishops that specify what Catholic hospitals can and cannot do. In 2016, one in six hospital beds in the United States was in a hospital bound to the Catholic Directives; in California, it’s almost precisely that percentage, with the Directives covering 15.9% of all beds. It gets worse when you talk about health-related emergencies: Catholic hospitals control at least 40% of all acute care beds in five states. Ten of the nation’s 25 largest health system are Catholic-owned. And the situation only grows worse every time a Directives-bound organization buys up another hospital or health system. If you weren’t aware of any of this, you’re not alone: you can blame the fragmented and opaque structure of the American health care system for the largely unnoticed proliferation of Catholic hospitals.

On the ground, this translates directly into a significant reduction in the number of reproductive care procedures women receive. There are health systems in the country where women, particularly those in rural areas, don’t have access to a hospital that will care for their reproductive needs. This impacts their lives in countless ways.

Crucially, these hospitals also refuse to train new doctors in how to perform abortion, which is a very safe and relatively straightforward procedure for someone with the right expertise to perform. In Texas, for example, there are barely any clinics or universities left that offer courses in abortion. Volunteer groups like Medical Students for Change are doing what they can to train practitioners and keep this knowledge alive, but they face incredible challenges in their work. 

We’re going to see more and more of this, too, as HHS gets more familiar with its new powers.

This situation has led to devastating consequences for women seeking care. This report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) details case after case where women were subjected to painful and traumatic miscarriages, some of them lasting days, which would have been alleviated by abortion care in any non-Catholic hospital. There are cases where women who have reached their ideal family size, or who need to avoid pregnancy for medical reasons, were denied sterility procedures. Weaving throughout the stories are statements from doctors and nurses who wanted to provide the best care for their patients, including abortion care, but who were kept from doing so by hospital administrators.

A close-up of Mindy Swank sitting in a family room.
Mindy Swank was thrilled to discover she was pregnant a second time; she was devastated when she miscarried, and sought medical help when her body couldn’t complete the process. Her Catholic hospital refused to perform an abortion despite multiple hemorrhages and undeniable proof that Mindy’s baby wouldn’t survive. They finally induced labor at 27 weeks, when Mindy was hemorrhaging severely and after she had endured weeks carrying a baby she knew couldn’t live. Her baby died a few hours after delivery. Image: The Journal-Register.

This isn’t how health care should operate. Patients have the right to determine what happens to their body, and they have a right to have that spectrum of care include procedures and medicines that are safe and readily available, without having some options foreclosed because the practitioner objects to them. The ACLU and others have struggled to prosecute cases around denial of care based on religion or morality for numerous reasons, including the complexity and narrowness of medical malpractice law.

As with all things, the best way to remedy this situation is to elect lawmakers and local officials who will stand up for their constituents’ right to access health care with no strings attached. We hope you’ll join us in 2018 as we put in the work that will lead to a future where this ridiculous, discriminatory, and potentially life-threatening rule is completely rescinded, and Catholic hospitals are required to provide a complete spectrum of care to their patients.

Voting in High School: More Than For Homecoming Queen

By Ward Kanowsky

Did you know there are approximately one million juniors and seniors in California’s high schools who may be eligible to vote in the upcoming mid-term elections? Indivisible East Bay’s CA-15 (Congressman Eric Swalwell) team has been working with other organizations, most notably the League of Women Voters, on an initiative to increase voter registration among high school students in California.

We are letting high school students’ families know about the Joint Letter written by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson that encourages high schools to have voter education weeks, to help eligible students learn more about registering to vote as part of civic engagement. We will encourage families to work with – and, when necessary, to put pressure on – schools to provide voter registration materials and information to their students; it may only take one concerned parent to get a school involved.

Representative Swalwell and his staff are supportive of this initiative. We have a meeting planned with Swalwell’s staff to discuss strategy as well as their own voter registration initiative, #ishouldprobablyvote. In addition, our team is working with Indivisible National’s West Coast organizer about how best to engage other Indivisible chapters to talk to high school students’ families about the Joint Letter, with a focus on red districts.

Have questions? Want to help? Email the CA-15 team or contact @ward on Slack.

Ward Kanowsky is co-lead, with LeAnnKanowsky, of the Indivisible East Bay CA-15 Team.

Photo of CA-13 team leads Ward and LeAnn Kanowsky with Rep Eric Swalwell 

 

No Taxation Without Representation

More than 6 million American citizens are not permitted to vote because they have a past criminal conviction. California is better than many states in allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote once they have successfully finished probation, but nearly 180,000 California citizens, most of them people of color, are prohibited from voting only because they’re in state prison or on parole. Initiate Justice, which advocates for “people directly impacted by incarceration, inside and outside prison walls,” believes this is a wrong that can be righted; the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018 (VRDA), their statewide ballot initiative, would restore voting rights to these citizens and prohibit the disenfranchisement of voters because they are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.

Help California join Maine and Vermont, currently the only states that don’t deprive felons of their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated. For more information see this article about states’ varied approaches to voting rights for felons; and read Restoring the Right to Vote, a pdf booklet by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In order to get the VRDA initiative on the November 2018 California ballot, Initiate Justice needs to get more than 550,000 signatures from registered CA voters by April 17, 2018. You can help:

  • Before you begin, read complete talking points; and watch the video at this page
  • This page on the Initiate Justice website has complete instructions and links for you to download and print signature-gathering petitions, or have them mailed to you
  • Want to help more? Email IEB’s voting team, or join the voting-issues channel on Slack (email info@indivisibleeb.org for an invite to IEB’s Slack platform).

And while we’re on the subject — all of you who ARE eligible to vote, don’t squander that precious right! Please, right now:

  • Are you eligible and not registered? Register online to vote in California
  • Do you have to re-register? Check when you must, here, and if so, re-register!
  • Haven’t checked your registration? Check it now!
  • Do you know any 16- or 17- year olds? Check their eligibility, and help them pre-register online, to vote at 18!
  • Then: ask everyone you know the above questions, and if they’re eligible to vote, help them follow the same steps.

Here are some other very helpful sites which can be used for people in states other than California.

  • Vote.org offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to receive election reminders, get registered to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote
 Graphic by Democracy Chronicles / Creative Commons

Liberty and Justice For All

“Liberty and Justice for All” – these are words we don’t always associate with this administration’s immigration policy. But Contra Costa Deputy Public Defender Immigration Attorney Ali Saidi informed and inspired a large crowd in El Sobrante on January 27 about “Immigration Realities” and the new, innovative Stand Together CoCo immigrant rapid-response program. Courageous Resistance / Indivisible El Sobrante – Richmond hosted the talk, which was attended by local political leaders, community members, and representatives of progressive groups including Indivisible East Bay and CA-11 Team United.

Saidi outlined Stand Together CoCo, which will officially begin on March 1 and will provide wide-ranging education and support services and some legal consultation and services. Among these services:

  • Paid community responders will staff a 24/7 hotline to verify and provide accurate information about immigration-related activities reported in the community.
  • Team members will be dispatched when necessary to respond to reports of ICE raids.
  • Legal observers will document and collect data.
  • Community Supporters will provide immediate support to families and individuals who have been targeted or detained.
  • When possible, lawyers will meet with detainees (at present, there is funding for only three lawyers).

The program will also hold education and support events all over the county, including Know Your Rights, legal consultation and services, workshops for people detained in the West County Detention Facility, clinical consultations, and training for trainers/leadership development.

The audience was eager to hear how it could help, and Saidi provided a Volunteer Interest Form with a variety of ways community members can step up to support  immigrant neighbors and friends. The volunteer program, which is being administered primarily by Catholic Charities of the East Bay, is looking for people interested in conducting Know Your Rights presentations or helping with outreach to spread the word about immigrant rights and the hotline; presenters to assist at community meetings; supporters who can accompany people to ICE appointments or help them find resources; and more.

If you want to volunteer to help, please fill out the online volunteer application. Have questions? You can email Joseline Gonzalez Soriano, Stand Together CoCo’s Interim Coordinator, for information. More info will be posted soon on the Catholic Charities’ website.

You can also help by spreading the word about Stand Together CoCo and other rapid response networks. See this list of networks in California to report ICE activity and enforcement. To report ICE action in Contra Costa before March 1, contact Alameda County’s rapid response program, ACILEP, at 510-241-4011.  

Saidi, whose family moved from Tehran, Iran, to Los Angeles when he was five years old, recalled that he didn’t really understand the Pledge of Allegiance when he said it in school for the first time, but he liked the sound of the final words: “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Saidi encouraged the audience to work for “liberty and justice for all,” and emphasized that the words are not a description of what America is but of what it might be – and that “pledge” means committing to putting in the work to reach the goal. We at Indivisible East Bay could not agree more.

Photograph of Ali Saidi by Judy Weatherly,  Courageous Resistance / Indivisible El Sobrante – Richmond 
Judith Tannenbaum contributed to this article. Judith is a writer and teacher. Her books include Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin.

Protect the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Christina Tarr

First enacted in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill,” possess, sell, purchase, or ship any migratory bird or any part, nest or egg of a migratory bird unless authorized by regulation. More than a thousand bird species are currently protected under the statute. It has saved many species of birds, including the snowy egret, from extinction.

The MBTA provides industry with incentive to adopt simple practices that save birds’ lives, such as covering oil waste pits, and it gives government the ability to enforce accountability and recovery after events that kill large numbers of birds. After the Gulf oil spill killed one million birds, for instance, MBTA enforcement was responsible for BP paying $100 million to restore habitat. Read more about the history of the Act here.

But now Republican-introduced legislation in Congress (HR 4239) and a new interpretation of the MBTA by the Department of the Interior could end the Act’s effectiveness in holding industries accountable for bird deaths by removing its authority to prohibit “incidental take.” These proposals would prevent enforcement of “incidental” bird deaths, thus removing incentive for good practices and eliminating penalties for industry practices that kill birds. You can read the Interior Department’s Memorandum M- 37050, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Does Not Prohibit Incidental Take” here.

Of local interest is our own Lake Merritt, declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1869 (the oldest in the United States), and an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific flyway. Click here to see the migratory and resident birds you can find at Lake Merritt.

Please call your members of Congress and tell them to uphold the MBTA and its current provisions:

Also, contact the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, at feedback@ios.doi.gov

What to say:

Please defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including the Act’s ability to address the incidental take of birds. The MBTA has saved many species of birds from extinction for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Proposals like HR 4239 and the new interpretation by the Department of the Interior would threaten the MBTA’s ability to protect birds and prevent collateral environmental damage. Please defend against attacks on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

For more information, check out the National Audubon Society’s Action Center’s talking points.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Photo of egret in Lake Merritt by Heidi Rand

Evolve California’s Plan to Reform Prop 13

By Ted Lam

On a school night – Tuesday, January 23 – over 20 people sat in El Cerrito High School’s auditorium for an hour to hear Ben Grieff, the campaign director for Evolve California, talk about the drive to reform Proposition 13.

Evolve California is working to reform the infamous Prop. 13 so that owners of commercial property valued at $2 million or more would pay the 1% market rate property tax.

Grieff reminded us that Prop. 13 passed in June 1978, almost 40 years ago, as part of an anti-tax/anti-government campaign by Howard Jarvis, a wealthy property owner. California voters were willing to vote for Prop. 13 even if it meant less money for schools, which it indeed did.

Before Prop. 13, California was tied with New York State in fifth place for spending on education. Forty years later, California is in the bottom ten states for educational spending, and the lack of funding strikes hardest in the communities that can least afford it. California’s Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) raise $600 million a year, sometimes to pay for basic needs in schools; and rich communities can raise large sums that poorer communities can’t. Rich communities can also afford to raise parcel taxes or establish private foundations to make up for revenue lost due to Prop. 13.

It’s more important now than ever to talk about reforming Prop. 13. The Trump tax cuts greatly reduce California’s ability to deduct property taxes, while Congress added another huge last-minute benefit to corporations that own commercial real estate. All of this means even less money for crucial services like education.

Proposals to reform Prop. 13 could make huge corporate beneficiaries of the Trump tax bill pay their fair share. They could restore $11 billion every year (approximately half for schools and half for special districts, like fire districts) through the county property tax process. Seventy-seven percent of revenue from this reform would come from the 8% of commercial properties in California that have owned land since 1978. It wouldn’t change Prop. 13 for any residential properties, AirBnB property owners, renters, or those with second homes. No small businesses ($2 million or less) would be affected. In fact, as recommended by small business owners, the reform would eliminate the small business taxes. The reforms would be phased in over time to allow businesses to adjust. The proposed 1% property tax rate is less than in New York and other states.

Grieff offered this thought in El Cerrito High: Disneyland has increased its ticket prices over 800% since 1978. Yet unless Prop. 13 is reformed to require corporations to pay their fair share, when Grieff’s hypothetical future grandchildren go to Disneyland, the park will be paying the same property tax as it did in 1978 – and the average homeowner will be paying more property tax than Disneyland.

Evolve California’s website has estimates for how much money each county in the state would receive if Prop. 13 was reformed to include corporate payments (for example, Contra Costa County would get $350 million every year through commercial property tax re-assessments).  

Evolve California and other coalition partners have submitted their proposition name and description to the California Attorney General, and will begin collecting signatures between February and early May to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. They are looking for signature collectors, and will train them. They need 585,000 signatures in total but hope to get 900,000 signatures by May.

If and when the proposition appears on the ballot in November, it will require only 50% plus one of the total votes cast. Three of the four declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates support Prop. 13 reform. If the facts about Prop. 13 and the need for reform are spread widely, we hope the public will, too.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.

Join a Phone Banking Party!

Local progressive groups with extensive phone banking experience are holding phone banks to reach out to voters in other states ahead of upcoming election. Phone and text banking are extremely effective ways people in blue areas can help flip red or purple districts.

The hosts will gladly train you on the script and how to make the calls. Bring your phone, charger, earbuds (for your comfort), and a laptop or tablet (or when you sign up, let them know you’d like to borrow one). Don’t forget your good cheer and positive energy to resist — and your friends!

For full info, including locations, times, and a link to RSVP, go to the Commit to Flip Blue website and enter your zip code into the search box.

And check out these upcoming phone banks (mostly in Oakland) listed by Sister District and Together We Will on Eventbrite:

Sister District/Together We Will Oakland Phone Bank Parties
 
  • Sunday, January 28, 2018, 12:00-3:00 PM PST, Oakland – Temescal (near BART)
  • February 4, 2018, 12:00-3:00 PM PST, Oakland – Rockridge (near BART)
  • February 11, 2018, 12:00-3:00 PM PST, Oakland – West Oakland, Emeryville border
  • February 13, 2018, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM PST, Oakland – Upper Dimond District
Save the Date in El Cerrito – hosted by Sister District/Together We Will
  • Monday, February 12, 2018, 2:00-5:00 PM PST, El Cerrito – East Richmond Heights
Graphic © Sister District