Category: To Do Lists

SwingLeft

SwingLeft home page
SwingLeft home page

SwingLeft connects users with their closest swing congressional district that voted Republican. The site has a specific goal—to turn the district Democrat—but this focus makes it one of the most strategic tools currently available.

The idea is that the voting margin was so narrow that a concerted effort can be made to swing the district left. The site focuses on the House of Representatives, because it perceives the Senate as having a more difficult to contest majority (at least for 2018).

The user can join a passive e-mail list to receive weekly tasks to affect this outcome. The user can alternately or additionally complete a more comprehensive form for volunteer activities.

For issue-minded activists, this may not appear to be the most attractive form of direct action. However, a considerable portion of the government’s impact on citizens (as well as those around the world) comes from the actions of Congress. The House makes policy concrete by passing legislation; the contents of these bills span the whole spectrum of interest groups. For those that are seriously pursuing the impeachment path, please note the House can bring charges against federal officials. Ensuring the right individuals are placed in the House then becomes imperative for any cause.

Holy Fuck The Election

As previously mentioned the wealth of resources for facing the coming Trump administration means there is something for every activist. Clara Beyer’s Holy Fuck is the most aptly-named resource of the bunch (kudos to the melanin in that middle finger emoji), as well as one of the most structurally streamlined and intelligently written.

Users are first asked, “Are You Okay?” to gauge whether some self-help (in the form of puppy & kitten videos, topical coloring books, or inspirational Buzzfeed ‘content’)  is needed or whether one is “ready to fuck shit up.” The latter response feeds into several banner issues that arose during the election cycle: increasing Democrat representation, racism, LGBTQ, misogyny/sexual assault, and climate change. Each topic is sub-divided by whether the user can spare “money” or “time,” and then branches out again to other resources to explore.

The tone of the site strikes a balance of outrage, humor, and compassion, which is helpful for people less familiar or put-off by the language of progressive politics and/or activism.

 

What Do I Do About Trump?

Less than a month after Election 2016 there are already a number of fantastic resources for collecting one’s thoughts, researching issues, and taking concrete steps to plan a full-court press on the coming Trump Administration.

One site that collects a broad range of resources is What Do I Do About Trump?  The site emphasizes individual and collective action. Individuals looking to commit to a document can create a customized action plan via the “Make A Plan” section. Individuals looking to browse different methods of activism can explore the “Get Involved” section, which links to resources ranging from prescribed daily/weekly action listscalling elected officials, interpersonal connections, and more.

Of note is the “Protect Yourself” section on security. There are separate sections based on types of security—web, sexual/gender identity, personal—all of which are worth investigation, regardless of one’s background.

Also worth highlighting is the site’s resources for fostering new collective/group action. The “Inspire Friends” section provides resources for creating “Action Pods” to structure, support, and direct the energies of an individual and a manageable number of loved ones.

Thanks to Marit for sharing this and several other fantastic resources (which will be shared in the coming days)!

Conflicts of Interest and the Emoluments Clause

Let’s not bury the lede: you’ve probably read about Trump’s conflicts of interest. Maybe you’re wondering what can be done about it. The current answer is: convince Congress to investigate, but that approach has little chance of happening and recourse. So, I’m not sure.

But first a little explanation:

Since Trump announced his candidacy his potential conflicts of interest have been widely reported. The Atlantic‘s “Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet” lists specific conflicts in an accessible manner. The Guardian visualized them. And The New York Times’  in-depth “Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for Trump, the Businessman President” explores possible political repercussions. Many of these pieces also point out that Trump would be exempt from conflicts due to a clause in the Constitution, Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code. The clause deals with financial interests of executive branch officers and employees, but has historically not applied to the President and Vice President.

Much of the current understanding stems from a recent interpretation. In considering Nelson A. Rockefeller for the Vice Presidency in 1974, Acting Attorney General Laurence H. Silberman wrote opinions for the Office of the President and the Committee on Rules and Administration (which held a hearing on Rockefeller’s nomination) arguing that the “officer or employee of the executive branch” language in Title 18 Section 208 did not encompass office of the Vice President.

In Silberman’s 28 August 1974 memo (“Conflict of Interest Problems Arising Out of the President’s Nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller to be Vice President under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution“) to Richard T. Burress, an assistant to President Ford [emphasis added]:

1. Section 208 does not expressly apply to either the President or the Vice President. The legislative history shows no such intention, and contains some indication to the contrary. The text of subsection (b) of section 208, by referring to “the Government official responsible for appointment to his position” tends to indicate that the section applies only to appointed officials–which category, at the time section 208 was enacted, could not include the Vice President. Some doubt exists as to the constitutionality of applying section 208 to the President; and such doubt is avoided with respect, to the Vice President only because his single constitutionally enumerated function (presiding over the Senate) is not an, “Executive Branch” function–which fact removes it from the reach of section 208, but also arguably removes the Vice President from coverage. For these reasons, it seems likely that section 208 should not be interpreted to apply to the President or Vice President.

Silberman leans on history to demonstrate the intent of the statue was not to include the President and Vice President: “Moreover, the legislative history of sections 202-209 (the conflict of interest provisions), as evidenced by committee reports and debates in the Senate and the House of Representatives, fails to demonstrate that section 208 was intended to apply to the Chief Executive and his immediate successor.”

The heart of Silberman’s argument is in his explanation of the unique position of the President and Vice President in the Executive Branch:

The role of the Presidency is a vital aspect of the administration of conflict of interest restrictions in the executive branch, and the proper function of the Chief Executive in this field is a major center of consideration in this study. But the conflict of interest problems of the President and the Vice President as individual persons must inevitably be created separately from the rest of the executive branch. For example, as Chief of State, the President is the inevitable target of a running stream of symbolic gifts pouring in from all over the world, for reasons ranging from the best to the worst. The uniqueness of the President’s situation is also illustrated by the fact that disqualification of the President from policy decisions because of personal conflicting interests is inconceivable. Personal conflict of interest problems of the Presidency and the Vice Presidency are unique and are therefore not within the scope of this book.

His 20 September 1974 memo to the Committee on Rules and Administration, “More on Conflict of Interest Law and the Nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller to be Vice President,” elaborates on these arguments. He repeats many of his interpretations of Title 18 Section 208, adding (on p. 4) that, “The effect of applying section 208 to the President is certainly either to disable him from performing some of the functions prescribed by the Constitution or to establish a qualification for his serving as President (to wit, elimination of financial conflicts) beyond those contained in the Constitution.”

He also cites Title 18 Section 431 because of a question raised regarding the permissibility of Rockefeller having financial connections to government contractors while holding office. The statute deals with members of congress holding contracts, and much of the letter grapples with the question of whether the VP is truly a “Member of Congress.” (Silberman argues no).

Subsequently the “Emoluments Clause” has been invoked as a possible method of restraint. The relevant part of the Constitution is Article I, Section 9:

No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

Writing for the Washington Post Jonathan Adler lays out the legal ambiguities and difficulties of citing this clause.

Which leaves us with Congress. Rep. Elijah Cummings requested that Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, begin a review of Trump’s financial arrangements. After receiving no response, Cummings sent a follow-up (co-signed by all 17 Democratic members of the Committee) on 28 November. To date, Chaffetz has not responded.

On 30 November Trump posted on Twitter that he would be taken “completely out of business operations.” The U.S. Office of Government Ethics replied (possibly as a joke) that the Office “applauds the ‘total’ divestiture decision.” Evidently even the OGE recognizes that humor is one of the few responses remaining.

Questions to Ask Loved Ones Who Voted the Other Way

The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro hosted The Run-Up podcast to discuss Election 2016 in the weeks leading up to 9 November. Since the election, Barbaro continues to produce episodes that explore the aftermath. Just in time for the late-November holidays when numerous families reunite, the 18 November podcast outlined a script for facilitating potentially difficult conversations with family members who voted differently.

The likelihood of a person memorizing this script or carrying it with them while talking seems low. However, a key takeaway from reading through the nineteen questions is to focus on 1) the relationship between those speaking; 2) one’s feelings about policies and the status of the country; and 3) the impact of those feelings on the relationship between the speakers. The technique is a helpful reminder to stray away from behaving like surrogates for a candidate, but to instead have a conversation about the state of the country while keeping the sanctity of the relationship rooted.

The entire script is on the podcast website, and the podcast itself recorded conversations with pairs of Clinton and Trump voters.

How to call your reps when you have social anxiety

Calling representatives is frequently characterized as an accessible form of direct action. Perhaps this apparent ease explains why calling campaigns circulate so regularly on social media. However, for anyone who experiences social anxiety calling may not be such an easy task.

Which is why Echo Through the Fog’s How to call your reps when you have social anxiety is a terrific addendum to the “We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet. This illustrated instructional guide walks a person through concrete steps to both achieve the goal of calling while managing and embracing one’s anxiety.

Proactive Things To Do

The Proactive things to do to not be defeated by the next 4 years is a starting point for those approaching the Trump election from the perspective of, “Fuck, how do I help un-fuck this situation?” It’s literally a simple to-do list of modest actions.

The list highlights bureaucratic protest (e.g., calling elected officials), administrative tasks (filing labor complaints, downloading public data sets) and daily routines (media consumption, donating) that seem mundane, but can form the basis for solving larger problems down the road. Some of these tasks are manageable and easily actionable, which can give clear guidance and goals for the user. Others make assumptions about users’ access to resources (paying parking tickets, clearing criminal records). Most of these are best viewed as individual long-term tasks to incrementally chip away at injustice.

Some notes are geared towards white people, with its mention of being an accomplice and not an ally, and for recommending the SNL episode hosted by Dave Chappelle (“You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be“).

I came across the list on Facebook and I can’t trace where I found this, so I can’t provide source information. Anyone recall where this came from?