Thursday, January 23, 2020

Last Call For Church Is State

After Wednesday's depressing US Supreme Court hearing on state funding for parochial schools, it seems the only remaining question is how far the inevitable conservative 5-4 decision will go in allowing the Trump regime to force tens of billions of dollars to be taken from public schools to give to religious institutions and homeschoolers.

In a case with potentially profound implications, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority seemed ready to invalidate a provision of the Montana state constitution that bars aid to religious schools. A decision like that would work a sea change in constitutional law, significantly removing the longstanding high wall of separation between church and state.

The focal point of Wednesday's argument was a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that struck down a tax subsidy for both religious and nonreligious private schools. The Montana court said that the subsidy violated a state constitutional provision barring any state aid to religious schools, whether direct or indirect.

On the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday, Kendra Espinoza, a divorced mother of two, explained why she is challenging that ruling.

"We are a Christian family and I want those values taught at school," she said. "Our morals as a society come from the Bible. I feel we are being excluded simply because we are people of religious background."

Thirty-seven other states have no-aid state constitutional provisions similar to Montana's, and for decades conservative religious groups and school-choice advocates have sought to get rid of them. On Wednesday, though, that goal looked a lot closer.

Five of the justices at some time in their lives attended private Catholic schools, and some of them were particularly vocal. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the history of excluding religious schools from public funding has its roots in the "religious bigotry against Catholics" in the late 1800s. He seemed to dismiss arguments made by the state's lawyer that Montana had completely rewritten its constitution in 1972, without any such bias.

Mae Nan Ellingson, one of the delegates to that convention, said afterward that there were ministers and "people of all faiths" at the convention who overwhelmingly had supported the no-aid provision.

"We didn't think that public funds should be used to support private parochial education but rather that public funds need to support public education," she said.

The justices, however, seemed uninterested in that record.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito compared the exclusion of parochial schools from taxpayer-funded aid programs to unconstitutional discrimination based on race.

That view suggested that Wednesday's case has the potential for much broader public funding of parochial schools.

It wasn't enough, for instance, that the Montana court treated all private schools the same way, whether they were religious or not. As Justice Elena Kagan put it, once the Montana court invalidated the tax subsidy for all private schools, weren't they all "in the same boat?"

No, replied lawyer Richard Komer, representing the religious parents. He maintained that the no-aid provision in the state constitution is itself a violation of the federal constitution. And he also argued that because the state constitution illegally discriminated against religious schools and families, the tax-credit program must be revived. In short, that the state has no discretion to abolish it.

"That would be a radical decision," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Stephen Breyer wondered where the plaintiffs' equal-treatment argument would end. He noted major school systems spend billions in taxpayer money to fund the public schools. "If I decide for you," he asked, would these school systems "have to give proportionate amounts to parochial schools?"

Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, representing the Trump administration, basically answered "yes."

"You can't deny a generally available public benefit" to an otherwise qualified institution "based solely on its religious character," he said.

In June we're going to have a ruling that forces states to give billions to religious schools and in the wake of Hobby Lobby, it could be a major decision that forces states to fund churches, period.

You can thank Trump being able to appoint two justices for this one.  Should he be able to replace any of the four remaining liberals, the US becomes an autocratic theocracy overnight.

The people who see Trump as a messiah figure are getting their wish.

Water You Waiting For, Con't

The Trump regime destruction of the environment continues as the Trump EPA will finalize plans to gut the Clean Water Act and remove 2015 Obama-era protections on streams and creeks this week.

The Trump administration on Thursday will finalize a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and other water bodies, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.

From Day 1 of his administration, President Trump vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” regulation, which had frustrated rural landowners. His new rule, which will be implemented in the coming weeks, is the latest step in the Trump administration’s push to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws, loosening or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protections.

Mr. Trump has called the regulation “horrible,” “destructive” and “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” he told the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas on Sunday, to rousing applause.

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” added Mr. Trump, whose real estate holdings include more than a dozen golf courses. (Golf course developers were among the key opponents of the Obama rule and key backers of the new one.)

His administration had completed the first step of its demise in September with the rule’s repeal.

His replacement on Thursday will complete the process, not only rolling back 2015 rules that guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act to certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or run temporarily underground, but also relieves landowners of the need to seek permits that the Environmental Protection Agency had considered on a case-by-case basis before the Obama rule.

It also gives President Trump a major policy achievement to bring to his political base while his impeachment trial continues.

“Farmers coalesced against the E.P.A. being able to come onto their land, and he’s delivering,” said Jessica Flanagain, a Republican strategist in Lincoln, Neb. “This is bigger news for agricultural producers than whatever is happening with the sideshow in D.C.,” she added.

The new water rule will remove federal protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands, and hundreds of thousands of small waterways. That would for the first time in decades allow landowners and property developers to dump pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers directly into many of those waterways, and to destroy or fill in wetlands for construction projects.

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” said Blan Holman, a lawyer specializing in federal water policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.” 
Mr. Holman also said that the new rule exemplifies how the Trump administration has dismissed or marginalized scientific evidence. Last month, a government advisory board of scientists, many of whom were handpicked by the Trump administration, wrote that the proposed water rule “neglects established science.”

But farmers and fossil fuel groups supported the change.

This is a big win for farmers, and this is the president delivering what he promised,” said Donald Parrish, senior director of regulatory affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which had lobbied for years to weaken the Obama administration’s water rules.

If you thought for a moment that Trump voting rural farmers were going to break from the GOP after Trump's tariffs squeezed them for billions, this will more than make up for it.  Scrapping the Waters of the US rule will give Trump "Big Damn Hero" status out here in the Midwest.

Say goodbye to wetlands and clean drinking water for tens of millions of Americans.  Maybe Cleveland's rivers will catch fire again, just to remind us how far we're going backwards.

Or newly polluted rivers will catch fire, more likely.  Enjoy, America.

Impeachment Reached, Con't

The opening arguments for the impeachment case against Donald J. Trump by House Democrats was staggering, with GOP senators looking on with obvious discomfort, most likely hearing the evidence against Trump for the first time.

And on the first day, Democrats unleashed the flood.

One by one, the seven House impeachment prosecutors seeking President Donald Trump’s removal from office reconstructed a case against the president so dense — at times, head-scratchingly complex — that it was hard for senators new to the material to keep up.

After a lofty introduction by the House’s lead manager, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Democrats shed any pretense of offering a streamlined, made-for-TV version of events meant to captivate the Senate or the nation. For much of the day, they cast aside any attempt to make a narrowly tailored case to Republicans that they should support calls for additional witnesses.

Instead, they decided to hammer senators with everything they had: an all-day torrent of intricate information, peppered with screenshots of deposition transcripts, emails, text messages and about 50 video clips — nearly three times more than House Republicans used during the entirety of their arguments in the 1999 Clinton trial.

It was a presentation that seemed designed to demonstrate what Democrats have long professed: that the facts of the Ukraine scandal threatening Trump’s presidency are so overwhelming as to be almost infallible. As Republicans harangued Democrats for failing to “do their homework,” the House managers were intent to emphasize just how much “homework” they did.

“We have some very long days yet to come,” Schiff warned the Senate as he kicked off the House’s arguments on Wednesday. He added, “Over the coming days, we will present to you and to the American people the extensive evidence collected in the House's inquiry into the president’s abuse of power, overwhelming evidence ... despite his unprecedented obstruction into that misconduct.”

What followed was a painstaking chronology of Democrats’ case that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and obstructed Congress' investigation of the alleged scheme.

The Democrats included lengthy reconstructions of the April ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump's associates viewed as an obstacle in their quest to launch the investigations. They picked apart Trump’s decision in May to cancel Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Ukraine, which Ukraine had sought as an important gesture of support.

The House lawmakers also dissected a two-week stretch in July during which administration officials agonized over Trump’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine amid his call for investigations. And they recounted at length the turmoil this hold on aid provoked in the diplomatic corps in August and September.

To one Senate Republican, the firehose of evidence was an education in itself, for him and his colleagues.

“Nine out of 10 senators will tell you they haven’t read a full transcript of the proceedings in the House,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) quipped. “And the 10th senator who says he has is lying.”
Some Republicans even sounded envious of the Democrats’ use of multimedia during the trial and wished Trump’s defense team would follow suit. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of Trump’s top defenders, said Democrats have been presenting their case to the public like it's "cable news" — but lamented that the defense team’s case presented more like “an 8th grade book report.”

“Actually, no, I take that back,” he added, because an 8th grader would actually know how to use PowerPoint and iPads.

I'd like to think that the presentation given today would be the turning point in American history that would snap the hold Trump had over the jurors in his case.  In some alternate dimension, there are Republican staffers on the phone with the White House saying Trump is in dire trouble, and that his acquittal is no longer assured by any means.

Sadly, that reality is not one we inhabit currently.

Well into Schiff’s second hour of opening arguments, he moved on from discussing the first of two charges against Trump.

“Now let me turn to the second article,” Schiff said. That prompted several senators to shift in their seats and smile at each other in apparent bemusement. It also sparked a small exodus for the cloakroom, especially on the Republican side, including Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Within the first hour, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia could be seen at his desk in the back row, leaning on his right arm with a hand covering his eyes. He stayed that way for around 20 minutes, then shifted to rest his chin in the same hand, eyes closed, for about five more minutes. Despite the late-night votes, Warner’s day had started as scheduled at a 10 a.m. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

Crow, a military veteran speaking on the impact of Trump’s holdup of military aid to Ukraine, had trouble holding the Senate’s attention. Some senators left their seats and headed to cloakrooms, stood in the back or openly yawned as he spoke. At one point during his address, more than 10 senators’ seats were empty.

Crow wondered aloud if the Senate wanted to take a recess.

No dice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there would be no break until dinner, more than an hour later.

Several GOP senators got up and left during Schiff's presentation.  They did so because as impressive as the Dems' opening arguments were, the outcome of this trial was preordained months ago.


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