Democrats, Time to Call the Question on MTGCuckoo

Media reports, https://wapo.st/3blQSS0, for example, indicate that Marjorie Three Names, real name Marjorie Taylor Greene, known to me as MTGCuckoo, has once again violated House rules and norms of behavior by openly confronting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outside the House chamber, screaming at her and calling her names. WAPO reports that this led “the New York congresswoman’s office to call on leadership to ensure that Congress remains “a safe, civil place for all Members and staff.”

Indeed. It can be frustrating at times to observe the extreme formalities used by Members of Congress in addressing each other during hearings and debates, but those formalities serve a vital purpose. They are a device for keeping the focus on the issues being discussed and to reduce the flaring of tempers and personal recrimination that serious disagreements about serious matters can inspire. By and large they work.

Or at least they worked until the arrival of Donald Trump on the American political scene. Trump consistently behaved like the trashy human being he consistently proved to be. He labeled his political adversaries in his own party with offensive nicknames, made derogatory remarks about their physical appearance and their families, mocked a disabled reporter and on and on and on. His Republican competitors vehemently objected to Trump’s schoolyard behavior until he won the presidency. Then, like the miracle that was supposed to end the COVID crisis at its inception, they bent the knee to him, seeking jobs, swearing fealty to him personally and adopting his constant lies as “alternative facts.”

Trump inspired a new wave of Republican leaders who have adopted his tactics, among them is MTGCuckoo, a QAnon conspiracist among her other charming propensities. She cares nothing for tradition, standards of personal respect or any other norm of civilized conduct, just like her idol, Trump. With the support of 11 Republicans, she was stripped of her committee assignments in February because her extremist remarks that included

questioning whether deadly school shootings had been staged and whether a plane really hit the Pentagon on 9/11.  A supporter of the fantastical QAnon conspiracy theory, she also shared videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment, and expressed support for violence against Democratic leaders in Congress.  [https://cbsn.ws/3yazBF6] ….

Greene has made a number of incendiary and false statements in recent years, among them that Black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party,” that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — represented “an Islamic invasion into our government offices,” and that Jewish megadonor George Soros collaborated with Nazis.

She had previously harassed David Hogg, one of the teenage survivors of the Parkland school shooting, on the Capitol grounds and, reportedly, another member of Congress in a hallway dispute over Greene’s refusal to wear a mask.

This obnoxious and dangerous behavior has not harmed Greene’s appeal with the Trump base. She continues to collect large donations from them. In typical fashion, Republican House leadership has done nothing meaningful to rein in Greene’s manic conduct.

This is on the Democratic leadership. MTGCuckoo is violating every rule  and norm of behavior for a Member of Congress. She craves attention and will do almost anything to get more of it. One of these days someone is going to get hurt because of her low class schoolyard behavior. It may be her or someone else, but Democrats control the House and should put a stop to this immediately before it gets further out of hand. Many of the Trump sycophants look to people like MTGCuckoo for guidance regarding their own behavior. She doesn’t care a bit if she inspires some craven Trumper to act out their violent fantasies on a Member of Congress or someone else.

Closing Note: no doubt someone will decide to chastise me for hypocritically name-calling Greene in the fashion that I am criticizing her. Guilty as charged. Now they don’t have to bother. Greene has earned the nickname I gave her on Twitter, and I’ll continue to use it as long as she behaves like a tantrum-throwing child who makes statements that are, by any standard, beyond the realm of rational behavior. She belongs in rehab, not in Congress. My choice of nickname relates to her behavior, not to her appearance or her family. Apologies, however, to cuckoos.

Views from the Roof & Other Places

When we lived in New York City on the 50th floor of a mid-town tower with large windows on two sides, we enjoyed spectacular views, day and night. The photo above is the traffic headed south on 9th Avenue in the Before Times.

Here are a few examples of what could be seen from our windows on any given day/evening:

Washington, of course, is a “flat city” in the sense that is subject to a legislative decree that limits the height of buildings to 10 stories. Our apartment building, however, enjoys a developed rooftop extending all around the building that occupies most of a city block. Here are some of the views we enjoy from “up there:”

It’s not New York but nothing really is. We nonetheless enjoy our views, enhanced by a balcony that overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue just west of Washington Circle. All-in-all, pretty fine.

Has the Washington Post Gone Over to the Dark Side?

I was astonished and disturbed that the Washington Post would give a member of the January 6 insurrection streaming time on the Washington Post Live, but that’s exactly what it did with Senator John Hawley on May 4. The full transcript may be read here: https://wapo.st/3eT235C

I am doubly disturbed about this now that I am aware that it was the Washington Post that invited Donald Trump to sit at its table at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association Dinner at which then-President Barack Obama mercilessly and deservedly chided Trump for Trump’s role in the birther conspiracy regarding Obama’s birthplace. Trump was clearly very unhappy at being the butt of President Obama’s humiliating jokes. I’ll have more to say about that when I review Obama’s magnificent memoir, A Promised Land.

The interview at hand was conducted by Cat Zakrzewski, identified as a tech policy reporter and author of The Technology 202 newsletter. She was chosen, perhaps, because the program was billed as “The Missouri senator discusses breaking up big tech, antitrust reform and the post-Trump era for the Republican Party,” but it did not go well, in part because Zakrzewski opened the interview by testing Hawley on other subjects for which she was, it seemed, ill-prepared to cope with his aggressive style.

Zakrzewski opened the discussion by asking the open-ended question, “what responsibility do you feel for the cascading events that resulted on January 6th?” This presented Hawley with the perfect opening to gaslight, both-sides and what-about the country regarding his role. And he did. Hawley claimed that what he did was nothing compared to Democrats who had lodged objections to three past presidential elections.

True, as far it goes. But there are a few critical differences Hawley conveniently failed to mention. They are set out in detail at https://bit.ly/33kU7ES Suffice to say that in 2000, after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 extremely questionable decision to stop the Florida recount, it was Al Gore, the losing Democrat, who, serving as Senate President, enforced the rules to stop the objections. In 2004, overwhelming bipartisan votes rejected the objections lodged by just one member from each house. In 2016, it was again a Democratic Vice President who insisted that the rules be followed in the final certification and, absent any support in the Senate for objections, the tally in Trump’s favor was approved.

In 2020, on the other hand, Republicans brought, and lost, more than 60 legal challenges to multiple swing state outcomes. They never produced evidence of voter fraud on which the claim of “The Big Steal” was based. The entire claim was nonsense and Hawley knew it. His disassociation from facts mirrors the subordination of the entire Republican Party to the Big Lie by Donald Trump that the election was stolen.

Hawley then ran away with the interview in a late-in-coming exegesis on his disapproval of the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol, the same attack he encouraged with the fist pump that was photographed and seen by millions. And, again, Hawley attempted to minimize the attack by deflective references to other acts of violence to which he also objected, returning at the end to refer to the non-existent issue of “election integrity” that he insists was at the root of his objections to the Electoral College certification.

…in terms of having a debate about election integrity, I promised my constituents I would. I did, and I don’t regret that at all. That’s me doing my job.

When Zakrzewski challenged Hawley, noting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had dismissed challenges to the Pennsylvania count, Hawley rejected the Court’s decision, claiming it was not on the merits, was partisan,  that the court “also interfered with the count itself,” and was “in violation of their own precedent.” In other words, Hawley rejected the action of the highest court in Pennsylvania because he disagreed with it and proceeded to demand the overturning of the election in that state. So much for Republican devotion to “law and order.” Zakrzewski barely got a word in.

On the subject of a national 9/11 style commission to investigate the January 6 attack, Hawley, being the loyal Trumpist, objected to focusing on the attack and argued that the commission should instead address the security failures that allowed the attack to take place. Those issues, however, have already been investigated and Hawley has no explanation, other than deflecting from the core issues of the attack and its inspiration by Trump, for expanding the commission’s scope to other issues. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee how a commission with a multiple-element mandate would be derailed by Republicans who clearly intend to protect Trump from accountability for his role in directing the assault. Just watch any hearing in which Rep. Jim Jordan participates and you’ll understand.

When again asked about the attacks on Capitol Police, Hawley again deflected to other incidents, mentioning for the second time the Nation of Islam. No objection from Zakrzewski. When asked about the fist-pump incident, Hawley, for the third time brought up BLM protests and riots.

The interview then shifted to other subjects related to the power of tech companies and Hawley’s proposal to break them up. Hawley was able to talk over Zakrzewski on every issue. It brought to mind the first Biden-Trump debate in which Trump simply ran over the moderator throughout the program. After each Hawley monologue, Zakrzewski just moved on to the next topic. But when she tried to explore the effects of the Big Lie about the stolen election, Hawley just continued his rant about political censorship by tech companies. She let him get away with it and turned to the then-pending plan to remove Liz Cheney from leadership to which Hawley demurred (she’s in the House so their problem).

The “interview” ended with Zakrzewski asking “would you support former President Trump running again for office in 2024?” Hawley again deflected, saying Trump’s decision was his to make, Hawley would never give him advice, etc. In short, no answer. Interview over.

Other than providing Hawley a platform from which to practice his both-sides deflection routines, what did the Washington Post accomplish by giving this supporter of January 6 this exposure? Whatever it was, it didn’t work. Instead, Hawley was given the opportunity to promote himself and his  “oh, no, it wasn’t me. I’m opposed to violent protest in all forms. Did I mention Portland? I was just doing what my constituents wanted me to do. Oh, yeah, I’m just a humble servant of the people of Missouri, though I reserve the right to reject the rulings of the highest courts in states like Pennsylvania and vote to overturn elections whose outcomes I don’t like. Did I mention antifa? Riots? Yeah, I’m for law and order unless it means following the decisions of the highest courts in a state whose election result I don’t like.”

If the Post is fooled by Hawley’s professed devotion to protecting free speech and the First Amendment, we are in even more serious trouble than I have thought. The Post should know by now that it cannot escape the fascist propensities of the rightwing politicians who shout at every opportunity, “fake news, enemy of the people” about the mainstream media. I fully accept that the Post should report genuine news – the Capitol attack on January 6 was news – but it should stay out of the business of creating news by giving platforms to the very people who would destroy the free press in a heartbeat if given the power. @WashingtonPost, do better. Before it’s too late.

Will DC Statehood Bring Down Our Representative Democratic Republic?

On April 13, the Attorneys General of 20 Republican-led states wrote a letter to President Biden, the Speaker of the House and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate informing them that if the pending Washington DC Admission Act (H.R.51 and S.51) is passed and signed, these “legal officers” will challenge the statute in court on grounds that it is unconstitutional and “bad policy.”

As a legal document, the AGs letter is one of the silliest creations I have ever seen. Here’s why.

  1. Courts don’t have jurisdiction to decide whether a statute is “bad policy.” Policy (good, bad or otherwise) is the purview of the Executive and Legislative branches of government. You would think that these “legal officers” would understand that most fundamental principle of American jurisprudence.
  2. A simple summary of the AGs’ arguments goes something like this: a. The Constitution granting Congress “exclusive authority” over DC means that authority cannot be delegated. In other words, “exclusive” really means “permanent.”

Oops. The dictionary does not square with that idea. “Exclusive” does not mean “permanent.” There is also a problem that the Supreme Court has in effect ruled otherwise. A few  quotes from District Of Columbia V. John R. Thompson Co., Inc., 346 U.S. 100 (1953):

The power of Congress to grant self-government to the District of Columbia under Art. I, § 8, cl. 17 of the Constitution would seem to be as great as its authority to do so in the case of territories.

The power of Congress over the District of Columbia relates not only to ‘national power’ but to ‘all the powers of legislation which may be exercised by a state in dealing with its affairs’. [citations omitted] There is no reason why a state, if it so chooses, may not fashion its basic law so as to grant home rule or self-government to its municipal corporations.

A municipal corporation, in the exercise of all of its duties, including those most strictly local or internal, is but a department of the State. The legislature may give it all the powers such a being is capable of receiving, making it a miniature State within its locality.

3.  The “exclusive authority” language also means that the Constitution’s text providing for admission of new states simply does not apply to DC because … the AGs said so. They gave no other reason, and none is apparent.

4. The Constitution says DC may not exceed “ten Miles square,” but that actually means the capital District may not be reduced below that size.

Sorry, but the District of Columbia is only 68 square miles now. Clearly, it can be reduced below “ten Miles square”

Virginia asked for the land in what is now Alexandria to be returned from its original ceding of land for the capital and this was done (with Congress approval, of course). It follows that both the natural meaning of the original text and the history of Congressional action indicate that the size of the District is not immutable, no matter how much the AGs might wish it were otherwise.

5.  The federal presence in DC consists of just a “few federal buildings and surrounding parks and it self-evidently cannot have been the Framers’ intent to permit the District to be so reduced.

In fact, the boundaries of the Capital District as set out in HR 51 occupy some 12 pages of legislative text setting out the capital district boundaries street by street, to be confirmed by a metes-and-bounds survey. Quite a bit more than a “few federal buildings” are encompassed in that space. We are talking about the entire federal government for the United States in the present time, not it’s condition in 1787. Perhaps the AGs reference to a “few federal buildings” simply reflects their ignorance regarding the scale of , or merely their contempt for, the federal government.

6.  Adoption of the Twenty-third Amendment, giving Electoral College votes to DC, would been unnecessary if creating a new state were possible, or less difficult, so since the Twenty-third was adopted, it follows that statehood is forbidden.

This is apparently intended to say that Congress could have made DC a state but chose not to do so. Instead, it was easier to give DC some Electoral College votes, while still denying it voting representation in Congress. No doubt that was the easier course. But that says nothing about whether Congress had the authority to do more.

7.  Statehood will create all manner of “practical problems” involving “utilities and the provision of basicservices”

Hoo boy, that’s good one. Can you imagine that something as complex as providing electricity to federal buildings, something that happens routinely every single day now, would befuddle the government of the “greatest nation on earth” in dealing with the new state? The Republican AGs would fail any respectable law school exam with that argument. Oh, and recall how Texas failed to provide electricity during the recent storm. Based on the Republican AGs argument, Texas should it forfeit its status as a state and return to territorial status.

Beyond the issue of delegation, the AGs argue that,

“the Constitution’s provision of exclusive authority over the District of Columbia to the United States Congress cannot be wiped away simply by ordinary legislation. Rather, the only lawful way to provide statehood to the District of Columbia is to amend the Constitution.”

The operative language in Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the Constitution says, “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District….”

The AGs see Clause 17 as a self-evident permanent mandate to rule the territory ceded as the capital district rather than a grant of authority to be exercised through “exclusive Legislation” that can, among other things legislation can do, delegate control to local authorities consistent with Congress’ correlative authority to admit new states under Article IV. In the AGs’ view, Clause 17 is not merely enabling; it overrides Article IV, section 3, clause 1 of the Constitution which permits the addition of new states to the Union through Congressional action:

New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.

Not one word of Article IV-3-1 directly or by reasonable implication has anything to do with whether DC can be made a state by legislation because none of the constraints in the text has any application to the current state of the District’s physical relation to surrounding states. The Republican view that the conclusion is otherwise is not based on facts or evidence, just an assumption that what they prefer is how things are or should be.

Finally, the AGs get to the heart of the matter:

[HR 51’s] enactment would be antithetical to our representative democratic republic, and it wouldconstitute an unprecedented aggrandizement of an elite ruling class with unparalleled power and  federalaccess compared to the existing fifty states in the Union.

That word salad looks like something taken from a Donald Trump stump speech back in the day. This is not a position grounded in the Constitution, and no evidence is offered in support of the claim that granting statehood to DC would undermine the “representative democratic republic,” that is the United States.

What in the world are the AGs thinking? Granting the benefits (and obligations) of statehood to an area representing 68 square miles out of the total 3.797 million square miles of the United States (or .0018 percent) will bring down the “representative democratic republic?”  Can’t wait to see that presented in court.

The District of Columbia, according to the Republican AGs would be a “super-state that would have primacy over all others.” The AGs seem to have confused the introduction of the Declaration of Independence (”We hold these truths to be self-evident”) with their Trumpian version of reality. A super-state!? An elite ruling class!?

The AGs next “argument” was put in a footnote, fittingly:

[the legislation] does not address the potential conflict with the requirements that “no new State shall beformed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3.

This beyond incoherent. The statute does not take land from other states; it reorganizes the existing land known as the District of Columbia.

Finally, I know I’m skipping some crazy stuff, the AGs object to the provisions granting liberal voting rights to DC residents that may be more voter-friendly than some of the restrictive regimes favored in Republican-dominated states. So what?  Some states have better voting laws than others. Why should the District of Columbia be deprived of the opportunity to have the most vote-friendly system?

At the root of this nonsense is likely an animus against a community with a majority of Black and Brown citizens that tends to vote for Democrats. It is not hard to imagine that if the vast majority of DC residents were white and voted Republican, the Republican AGs would have a different view. No doubt some people with balk at the suggestion that the Republican AGs determination to deny statehood to DC is race-based. If they are right, they should be able to produce better arguments than the sorry stuff of the AGs’ letter.

We have good reason to believe that the Republicans in the Senate will defeat the DC Statehood legislation. Democrats everywhere should take note and understand that the only way real progress is going to be made in the United States is by removing the obstructionist/insurrectionist party from political power.

Court Eviscerates Barr Attempt to Whitewash Mueller Report

Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday issued a 35-page opinion (exclusive of attachments) rejecting the claims of the Department of Justice that it can withhold  a memorandum behind then-Attorney General Barr’s attempt to whitewash the Mueller Report.  Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department Of Justice,  Civil Action No. 19-1552 (DC DC May3, 2021). [Note: bolding of text is mine]

You may recall that, as brilliantly reported by Judge Jackson, and at the risk of giving away the conclusion,

 On Friday, March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III delivered his Report of the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election to the then-Attorney General of the United States, William P. Barr.

But the Attorney General did not share it with anyone else.

Instead, before the weekend was over, he sent a letter to congressional leaders purporting to “summarize the principal conclusions” set out in the Report, compressing the approximately 200 highly detailed and painstakingly footnoted pages of Volume I – which discusses the Russian government’s interference in the election and any links or coordination with the Trump campaign – and the almost 200 equally detailed pages of Volume II – which concerns acts taken by then- President Trump in connection with the investigation – into less than four pages. The letter asserted that the Special Counsel “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” and it went on to announce the Attorney General’s own opinion that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

The President then declared himself to have been fully exonerated.

The Attorney General’s characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball.

When, almost a month later, Barr presented the Mueller Report to Congress, “He asserted that he and the Deputy Attorney General reached the conclusion he had announced in the March 24 letter “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers.” CREW immediately filed Freedom of Information Act requests for any documents related to those consultations. Predictably, DOJ resisted, citing exemptions from disclosure based on “deliberative process” and “attorney-client privilege.”

At issue then before the Court were two memoranda to the Attorney General. The DOJ justification for withholding the first one, the Judge noted, was poor, but the Judge conducted an in camera [private, in chambers] review of the document and gave DOJ a helping hand:

there was a particular, immediate decision under review to which the document pertained, that it also addressed another specific issue that was likely to arise as a consequence of the determination made with respect to the first, and that the entire memorandum was deliberative with respect to those decisions.

Judge Berman therefore held that document need not be disclosed to CREW.

The other document, however, was another cup of joe entirely. It was dated just two days after Mueller gave Barr the report and “specifically addresses the subject matter of the letter transmitted to Congress.” Most of the document is redacted in the Judge’s opinion but she also conducted, over DOJ’s strenuous objections, an in camerareview of that document.

Noting first CREW’s objections to the timeline represented by DOJ attorneys:

DOJ’s . . . arguments rest on the demonstrably false proposition that the memo was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in making a legitimate decision on whether to initiate or decline prosecution of the President for obstructing justice . . . . [H]owever, the Special Counsel already had made final prosecutorial judgments and the time for the Attorney General to challenge those judgments had passed. Whatever the contents of the March 24, 2019 OLC memo, it was not part of a deliberation about whether or not to prosecute the President….

The absence of a pending decision for the Attorney General to make necessarily means the memo did not make a recommendation or express an opinion on a legitimate legal or policy matter. Instead, it was part of a larger campaign initiated by Attorney General Barr to undermine the Special Counsel’s report and rehabilitate the President . . . .”

The Judge concluded:

the redacted portions of Section I reveal that both the authors and the recipient of the memorandum had a shared understanding concerning whether prosecuting the President was a matter to be considered at all. In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given.

In a footnote, most of which is redacted, the Judge noted, “DOJ made a strategic decision to pretend as if the first portion of the memorandum was not there.” Ooof.

Similarly, Judge Jackson later observed,

the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted …. raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment

and,

summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits in FOIA cases, when “they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.” But here, we have both.

Noting a previous court opinion (the EPIC case) that found,

The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report – a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.

Judge Jackson found,

the [DOJ] affidavits are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.

and,

the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.

and,

A close review of the communications reveals that the March 24 letter to Congress describing the Special Counsel’s report, which assesses the strength of an obstruction-of-justice case, and the “predecisional” March 24 memorandum advising the Attorney General that [redacted text] the evidence does not support a prosecution, are being written by the very same people at the very same time.

As to the claim of attorney-client privilege, Judge Jackson was equally incisive and for similar reasons:

… since the memorandum was being written at the same time and by the same people who were drafting the Attorney General’s letter to Congress setting forth his views on the basis for a prosecution, and the record reflects that the priority was to get the letter completed first one simply cannot credit the declarant’s statement that the Attorney General made the “decision” he announced based on the advice the memo contains.

Finally,

The Court emphasizes that its decision turns upon the application of well-settled legal principles to a unique set of circumstances that include the misleading and incomplete explanations offered by the agency, the contemporaneous materials in the record, and the variance between the Special Counsel’s report and the Attorney General’s summary.

These devastating (for the DOJ attorneys) findings confirm the suspicions that I and many other expressed at the time that the fix was in at the Barr Justice Department and that Barr was acting more as personal counsel to Trump than doing his job as Attorney General of the United States.

Judge Jackson gave DOJ until May 17 to move for a stay pending appeal, but it is unlikely that AG Merrick Garland is going to do anything to resist the force of Judge Jackson’s definitive analysis. Stay tuned. The release of an unredacted version of the Judge’s opinion will be an explosive eye-opener about the extent of corruption in the Trump-Barr Justice Department.

 

Faux Election Integrity Fever Identified in Texas & Florida

Like coronavirus, “Faux Election Integrity Fever” (hereafter “FEIF 2021”) moves quickly across state lines and attacks Republicans with a vengeance. In this case the evidence indicates that Georgia’s sudden post-election awakening to the realities of demographic change and resistance to racism (see https://bit.ly/3njQqbC and https://bit.ly/3aGt0rQ) has morphed into a collection of proposed voter suppression legislation in Texas and Florida.

The odd thing is that Trump won 2020 Texas handily and the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are among Trump’s most devoted sycophants. Cruz in particular is an avid member of the Sedition Caucus that voted to overturn the 2020 election and hand it to Donald Trump as, in effect, Dictator of the United States. So what is going on with the Texas variant to FEIF 2021?

Trump also won Florida — by more than 370,000 votes, split largeyn,ly by urban (Biden) and non-urban (Trump) preferences. Florida also sports two Trump shills in Senators Rubio and Rick Scott.

Disclosure: I am relying on published reports regarding the content of the legislation that, based on past experience, are highly reliable sources for such information. Texas GOP Targets Access for City Voters [print headline 4/25/21] https://nyti.ms/3gls1vc and Florida Legislature OKs Bill That Limits Voting By Mail, Ballot Drop Boxes, https://n.pr/2RgSnte 

The NY Times online report regarding Texas notes:

Republicans Target Voter Access in Texas Cities, but Not Rural Areas

In Houston, election officials found creative ways to help a struggling and diverse work force vote in a pandemic. Record turnout resulted. Now the G.O.P. is targeting those very measures.

The NPR report indicates many of the Florida provisions are similar to those recently adopted in Georgia.

Defenders of these bills argue that they include some provisions that make voting easier and more secure. The problem is that there are other provisions that either make voting harder or create the danger that Republicans, motivated as they have shown regarding the 2020 election to overturn important election losses, will use the tools contained in the legislation to simply override the voters’ choices in the future. This is not fantasy.

Given that (1) there is no credible evidence of voter fraud in any of the states where Trump challenges were mounted, (2) these states all had highly detailed vote regulatory laws in place before the new legislation, (3) these are states where 2020 turnout set records, creating (4) reasonable doubts that the Republican-controlled legislatures’ real goal is to enable even great turnout in the future. No, the most reasonable inference is that the huge turnouts in 2020 that resulted in Trump’s defeat have led not to sudden enthusiasm to increase Democratic opportunities going forward but have inspired renewed efforts to suppress Democratic voting in future elections.

These areas of focus are more than a little curious, considering certain other facts about Texas and Florida that one might think would be the real subjects of interest by the governing bodies of those states.

For example, Texas ranks 36th nationally in per-student education spending. While some conflicts exist about the exact amounts spent, https://bit.ly/2S8gyuz, the real losers in the squabbling over the state’s stinginess are the students. As for the mothers of those students,

While maternal mortality is decreasing in most countries, maternal death rates in the U.S. have been increasing and Texas is recognized as having the highest maternal death rate in the country. Texas’ own study on maternal deaths indicates that Texas’ rates have nearly doubled in recent years.

[https://www.texmed.org/MMM/]

U.S. News https://bit.ly/3noOXRc ranks Texas in these categories among the states:

Health Care – No. 31

Education – No.34

Opportunity – No. 39

Economic Opportunity – No. 40

Equality – No. 45

Crime & Corrections – 37

Natural Environment — 40

Population without Health Insurance

                   Texas 24.5 %

                  National Average 12.9 %

And that’s despite having the nation’s 9th largest economy and net inbound population growth, due, it is reported, to little regulation, low taxes and low labor costs.

The Florida story is similar. Despite its famously aged population, Florida ranks:

Health Care                25

Infrastructure            20

Opportunity               33

Crime & Corrections  26

Florida ranks 3rd in Education, driven, however, by the large higher education establishments. It’s only 16th in PreK-12.

You would think that with those standings, the governing parties would be focused on more than just voter suppression but apparently not.

Much of the Republican hullabaloo about voting has no factual or logical foundation. Putting aside the absence of meaningful evidence of voter fraud (all this legislation is directed at a non-existent problem), if you can file taxes online, then why not voting online?  Maybe we need to reconsider leaving all this to the states. Maybe, just maybe, the federal government could do a better job of securing voting systems under a well-crafted legislative plan.  Surely there is a way to do this safely. And, if not, then why not establish through federal legislation a uniform system of manual voting that affects everyone the same way across the country?

Beyond actual voting, why is there a concern that sending out absentee ballot applications, or real ballots, to everyone is a problem, given that voting is highly regulated with detailed checking and matching of ballots to registrations before votes are counted?  Why are drive-through voting sites a problem? In many places you can get a COVID vaccination at a drive-through. And millions routinely do bank transactions at drive-through windows. What is the problem, other than the fact that these practices make it easier for more people to vote?

Biden Speaks & Republicans Whine

President Biden gave a long address to a joint session of Congress. Within minutes, Republicans cynically rolled out Republican Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina to criticize him.

The genius of Biden’s speech was that it was presented largely in plain speak, addressed to the real audience, the American people, rather than the collection of politicians in the chamber with him. Biden went big. His proposals were designed to say to the people: these are the benefits you can have  that will make America competitive in the 21st Century and that will reward you with good-paying jobs, better educational opportunities and improved/more affordable healthcare, among other things. This is bold stuff, designed to look forward and not back to the mythological past favored by white supremacists. Being the old pro that he is, I have no doubt Biden is quite aware of the challenges his agenda faces from the Republican Party of No.

Republicans sat like statues throughout, resisting the slightest show of support for anything Biden had to say, no matter how much it might address real problems of people not included in the richest upper class to whom the GOP owes its primary allegiance. During Biden’s speech, McConnell could have been replaced by a blow-up doll and no one could have distinguished the doll from the immobile person.

The Republican official response, delivered by Sen. Scott, was entirely predictable: NO. NO. NO. You can read the NPR fact-check here if you like. https://n.pr/3eDUCPC  I will not waste my time or yours with the details.

Suffice to say that the Republicans are in a bad place here. They are going to adopt the same agenda of obstruction they used against President Obama even as the country and the world were on the precipice of a major economic catastrophe. Republicans really didn’t care. Mitch McConnell made clear the agenda was to make Obama a one-term president, regardless of the cost to the country.

That plan failed. But we got Trump instead, perhaps because many Americans believed that Obama’s election represented a real turning point away from the country’s checkered past and that voting wasn’t necessary. It doesn’t much matter now. Trump was elected, almost certainly with the help of foreign powers, and the rest is history. We are approaching 600,000 dead Americans because Trump downplayed the virus and refused to accept the science. Yeah, sure, he started Operation Warp Speed, but it was going nowhere fast when Biden took over. Now over 200 million doses of vaccine have been injected in Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Turning to the Republican rebuttal, and at the risk of touching on touchy subjects, the fact is, I believe, that the Republican Party, in an effort to blunt accusations that it has become the party of white supremacy, produced Sen. Scott to assure us “it ain’t so.” ­The data strongly indicates it is so, but OK, what else could we expect from their chosen mouthpiece? Other than the standard Trumpist party lines, he had no real data to offer in support of his gaslighting generalizations.

Scott assailed President Biden with the all-too-familiar Republican trope that Biden promised to unite the country, be bi-partisan, “lower the temperature” etc. and so on. Ad nauseum. “We need,” Scott said, with rhetorical flourish:

policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart.

I won’t waste your time tonight with finger-pointing or partisan bickering. You can get that on TV anytime you want. I want to have an honest conversation about common sense and common ground. About this feeling that our nation is sliding off its shared foundation, and how we move forward together.

But first, a word about me, me and me. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. But, surprise, God saved me. And He will save you too if, four or five paragraphs later, we had opened our schools the way other (unnamed) countries did.

Any time a Republican politician tells you he/she wants to have an “honest conversation,” secure your wallet and your mind. Scott saying he’s not going to engaged in finger-pointing or partisan bickering is just cognitive priming in the hope you won’t notice that is exactly what he is doing.

The English translation of Scott’s rebuttal is simple enough: the stimulus bill Biden got passed was not the bill Republicans wanted so we voted against it. “Closer together” means doing things the Republican way, period: it’s not bi-partisan unless it’s the Republican agenda. If Democrats did things our way, we’d be all in on bipartisanship. But if you won’t let us control all the legislation, we’ll just whine about lack of bipartisanship and vote ‘no’ on everything.

I evaluated his statement in categories, as a primer to what was really going on. His statement was comprised of 1908 words in 39  paragraphs (New York Times version of transcript).

My categories were:

Racial messaging (overt or covert)

Trigger words/phrases & religious messaging for Republican base

            Anti-partisanship/reverse partisanship

Victimhood

Racial messaging accounted for 14 paragraphs and 778 words, or 36 percent of the total paragraphs and 40 percent of the total words in Scott’s statement. The central message was “I’m Black and I have suffered as a Black man in America so you can trust me when I tell you Republicans are not racist and neither is America.” Perhaps, but likely not, accidentally, he used one of Donald Trump’s standard lines, “believe me,” and claimed his efforts to fund police body cameras  and his “even bigger police reform proposal”  were blocked by Democrats who even rejected debate by using the filibuster. Implication: the real racists are Democrats.

The problem with that song-and-dance number is that Scott’s legislation was rejected by Democrats in 2020 because it did not include bans on chokeholds or “no-knock” search warrants and did not address qualified immunity that prevents effective lawsuits against police officers using excessive force. Democrats saw the bills as non-starters because Republicans made clear that the protective umbrella of qualified immunity was non-negotiable. Our way or the highway. So much for bipartisanship.

My second category includes classical Republican talking points/trigger words & phrases/religious references to appeal to the GOP base. These accounted for a small share of the total words, but were center cut from the Donald Trump playbook and calculated to get the biggest rise from the base:

“Even more taxing, even more spending, to put Washington even more in the middle of your life — from the cradle to college”

“Weakening our southern borders and creating a crisis is not compassionate”

 “The beauty of the American dream is that families get to define it for themselves”

“Washington schemes or socialist dreams”

“America is not a racist country”

            “Washington power grab”

Details were sparse but when you’re throwing fresh meat at the mob, you don’t need them.

Scott’s assault on the bona fides of Biden’s appeal to unity and bipartisanship accounted for 16 paragraphs and 621 words. Race-related messaging thus won the day as a share of Scott’s statement.

He also played the victim card. Since he remains a disciple of Donald Trump, asserting victimhood is hardly a surprising move. It accounted for six paragraphs and 278 words.

Finally, Scott closed out his statement with a blessing, comprised of 2 paragraphs and 141 words. This seems bizarre because while Scott is reportedly an evangelical Protestant, he is not ordained as a minister.

So, there you have it. No doubt the Republican base will love Scott and believe that he effectively showed up President Biden. More important, however, is the question how this struggle is going to play out with the American population as a whole. Biden has shown the country what is possible, what they can have if they have the courage to get it. Republicans will continue to fulfill their role of obstruction with a side of commitment to the wealthiest Americans whose financial welfare is the prime mover of Republican philosophy and policy.

If Republicans really wanted bipartisanship, they would stop saying ‘no,’ to almost everything Democrats propose. They have now undergone their standard re-conversion back to “conservative” principles, by demanding smaller government, less regulation and rejection of science. With those as their touchstone, there is little prospect for bipartisan solutions to anything resembling a real problem. Biden has offered the people a roadmap to a future of possibilities and promise for better lives in an increasing complex and uncompromising world. The question now is: how will they choose?

 

Didn’t Take Long, Did It?

President Biden gave a long address to a joint session of Congress. Two hours later (12:04 a.m. this morning), Leana S. Wen,  filed a 775-word response as a “Contributing Columnist at the Washington Post.  https://wapo.st/3xyYfPc Dr. Wen (a title I use out of respect but is curiously omitted from her byline) is prodigiously educated and experienced in matters medical. However ….

The gist of Dr. Wen’s instant response to the President was that by requiring masks & physical distancing, Biden undermined the effort to achieve herd immunity through vaccination because the images of the audience of politicians in masks will support rather than negate vaccine hesitancy. She took this position despite the rule in place since January that requires masking while on for federal properties.

My first draft of this post went on at length about Dr. Wen’s curious choice of hills to fight on, but after a short walk, I concluded “so what?” The truth is probably that no matter which course President Biden took (assuming he was even involved in the decision), it would have been wrong in some “expert’s” eyes. Too cautious, not cautious enough, ad nauseum.

To her credit, sort of, Wen also attacked the CDC for “overly-cautious guidelines” that she says may lead people to conclude, “What’s the point of getting inoculated if not much changes?” She goes back and forth between “Biden sent the wrong message” and “CDC needs to urgently change its recommendations” that Biden followed.

Pretty mushy messaging in the end. Somebody’s at fault, but who? In the end, in my opinion, her attack on the speech arrangements added more fuel, not less, to the ignoramuses who claim that the vaccines are unsafe, contain secret devices to …. oh, never mind.

 

Is DC Sinking?

Since returning to live in DC four months ago, one thing that has struck me, literally and figuratively, is the condition of the District’s streets. Roads I drive on frequently, long sections of I Street NW, Pennsylvania approaching Washington Circle from the east and in the 24-to-25th block, and long stretches of L Street NW, are in really poor condition. A remarkable number of axle-busting holes are everywhere and either jolt you out of your kidneys or cause cars to suddenly veer out of their lanes in avoidance maneuvers. And then there are the manhole covers. Some streets are “littered” with them and they seem to be set in the precise path that car wheels follow if the car is centered in the lane. All too frequently the covers are an inch or more below the road surface. These are not acceptable conditions for the capital city of what purports to be the greatest nation on earth.

I recently learned, courtesy of the DCist newsletter, https://bit.ly/3sWOXZT, that a monster machine, named Chris, has just finished digging and lining the walls of a 5-mile, 23-foot-wide tunnel 100 feet below the city. The 650-ton machine is reportedly longer than a football field (100 yards for the unknowing). We better hope that Chris does not become sentient one day and decide it doesn’t like working underground anymore.

Anyway, the purpose of the tunnel is to “prevent sewage overflows into the Anacostia River and stop flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, including Le Droit Park and Bloomingdale,” which seems like a really good idea. My theory, however, is that one explanation for the condition of the roads may be subsidence induced by Chris’s underground excavation.

My theory is no doubt a bunch of hooey, but I need to understand why Washington’s roads are in such terrible shape, so I make up stuff. There is, however, some hope. This morning I noticed, as I was flung about the interior of my car, that a long section of I Street NW has been “shaved,” perhaps by a relative of Chris, in preparation for resurfacing. Now the manhole covers protrude above the road surface. It was dodge-em cars the entire stretch as drivers tried to avoid blowing tires on the edges of the covers that, as I have noted, seem to be everywhere and in all the wrong places.

I am now aware that Mayor Bowser “has committed to eliminating all poor quality roads in the District by 2024.” More details than you want to know may be seen at the DDOT Paving Plan. https://bit.ly/3dZbpxh Hmmh. 2024? That’s easier to grasp if you look at the history of road improvement expenditures. https://tabsoft.co/3nqSxKM To paraphrase a paraphrase, it’s a long road ahead.

 

Congress is Failing the Country Again

The Washington Post reports that the prospects for Congress establishing an independent commission to investigate and report on the January 6 attack on the Capitol are dimming. https://wapo.st/3v3Nh2o In a report that could have emerged from Alice in Wonderland, the Post says,

Congress’s pursuit of an independent investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection is facing long odds, as bipartisan resolve to hold the perpetrators and instigators accountable erodes, and Republicans face sustained pressure to disavow that it was supporters of former president Donald Trump who attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Once again, it seems, “political interests steadily overtake lawmakers’ appetite to push for accountability.”

Apparently, the Republicans in the House are demanding “equal representation” and “subpoena authority” despite their position as the minority party in Congress. If Republican resistance continues, which seems a virtual certainty, Speaker Pelosi reportedly could appoint a “select committee” or allow the multiple Congressional committees already bogged down in multiple proceedings. Republicans have undermined efforts to move ahead in the manner of the post-9/11 commission by demanding, in classic deflection style, that any such commission also investigate “left-wing extremism” which would include the “antifa” movement.

Republican resistance is reportedly still driven by the bizarre reality that “a majority [of rank-and-file Republicans] still believe the election was stolen from Trump.”

Norm Ornstein, an emeritus scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, was quoted in this confession:

“The political imperative at this point is to discredit any investigation, to deny any ties either to Donald Trump or to the members of Congress . . . who either helped to plan the [riot] or helped to incite it.”

The Republican strategy is apparently working, as

“public hearings held by the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees have devolved into shouting matches, as GOP members accuse Democrats of ignoring threats from the far left, while Democrats accuse them of equivocating to distract from the fact that far-right extremists have become an active force in the Republican Party.”

Much of the current focus appears to be on the question of how the government security apparatus was caught off-guard and failed to respond properly to the unfolding threat to the Capitol. Those are certainly important questions that must be addressed. But the most significant forward-looking issue is how the attack came to pass: who planned it, who inspired it, who coordinated it, who supported it? Those questions include not only the active participants in the insurrection but the critical question whether Members of Congress were involved in any actions related to planning and/or executing the attack. The purpose of the assault was to stop the Constitutional process of final accounting for the election outcome and certification of the Electoral College votes. There are numerous indications of involvement by Members of Congress in both houses.

It is time to move this process forward rapidly and to focus on the key questions. It is obvious now that the Republican Party is 100 percent dedicated to preventing any substantive accountability for the attack that led to multiple deaths, many severe injuries and exposed members of Congress to possible capture and even death. Recall the battle cry of the insurrectionists: “Hang Mike Pence!”

The stalling and deflection by the minority party are unconscionable. It’s time for the Biden administration to take charge and get his task done. There is no space for “bipartisanship” here – Republicans have no interest in that, so it’s fine to ignore them.

The administration should bring this to a head by having the Justice Department take charge of the investigation on a top priority basis. Every passing month with no answers to the complicity of the Republican Members of Congress makes it that much harder to get political accountability in the mid-term elections as memories fade and new bright objects overtake the public consciousness of the threat to democracy that the January 6 attack represented. If Members of Congress are culpable, action should be taken against them promptly. They do not enjoy the same privileges regarding indictment and arrest for criminal conduct as does the President. https://bit.ly/3n1lH2H  Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606 (1972).

Attacks on the central elements of our democracy cannot be tolerated. The First Amendment allows Americans in most circumstances to advocate many types of change in the operation of government. It does not sanction violence to stop the execution of Constitutional duties related to national elections. That is what was attempted on January 6 and justice must be brought to bear on the perpetrators inside as well as outside the Congress.