My nominee (found on Twitter — creator anonymous::
I recently reported on this blog an issue involving the use of PayPal to perpetrate sophisticated scams. https://bit.ly/3Eldbp6
Since that post, two things have occurred. An article in the UK’s Telegraph reported that PayPal was joining other large tech companies and firing 2,000 staff. https://bit.ly/3IE0A33 Second, I checked my PayPal account again and discovered that the bogus charge and fake American Express security phone line are still listed in my account. This is so many weeks after I reported the problem and was assured that PayPal was hard at work fixing it.
I must wonder how many other phony transactions are showing up on PayPal accounts with bogus phone numbers to call to cancel the transactions. Why is it still possible for foreign actors to post false information in individual PayPal accounts and have them remain for weeks or longer?
I can only repeat my warning to everyone with a PayPal account. Beware.
Special Counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed former Vice President Mike Pence to testify before a Grand Jury investigating attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Pence has stated he will not testify, citing the Speech & Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 6, Clause 1). https://politi.co/3xw9GZs
That Clause states:
They [Members of Congress] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
Pence claims that because his involvement in the coup was limited to presiding over the Congress’s final tally of electoral votes and certification of Joe Biden’s victory, he was acting in a “legislative capacity” and thus cannot be questioned.
On its face there are a multitude of problems with Pence’s position. First is that he has insisted, correctly, that his acts on January 6 were purely ministerial and that he lacked any discretion under the Constitution and laws to evaluate the validity of state vote counts or other acts leading to the election certification. His job was to open envelopes and announce their contents. This alone raises fundamental doubts about the “legislative nature” of what was intended to be protected by the Speech & Debate Clause.
Second, even if his January 6 actions were covered to some extent by the Clause, he cannot justify total refusal to be questioned about other matters arising out of the January 6 coup attempt and subsequent insurrectionist activities by Trump and others of which Pence may have knowledge. His immunity claim sweeps too broadly. In fact, it seems unlikely Special Counsel is much interested in Pence’s non-discretionary acts on January 6. Rather, the investigation more likely seeks his knowledge about actions by Donald Trump and others supporting his coup/insurrection attempt to overturn the election. As far as I am aware, Mike Pence conducted no legislative activities about any of that, other than his non-discretionary overseeing of the final electoral count tally.
Thus, Pence cannot plausibly argue that “because I performed one legislative act that day, I am immune from disclosing any information I may have about other matters related to the insurrection that day.”
To my knowledge, no one has suggested that Pence’s conduct on January 6 was questionable constitutionally or otherwise. Except Donald Trump, of course, who want berserk when Pence refused to go along with the false attack on the election.
Politico reports that Pence “feels it really goes to the heart of some separation of powers issues. He feels duty-bound to maintain that protection, even if it means litigating it.” Maybe, but it’s more than coincidental that, as Politico also notes, Pence’s resistance ”will allow him to avoid being seen as cooperating with a probe that is politically damaging to Trump, who remains the leading figure in the Republican Party.”
I do not understand how “Trump’s months-long crusade to pressure his vice president to derail Biden’s win — which is central to Smith’s investigation — focused entirely on Pence’s [ministerial] duties as Senate president, which legal scholars say lends credence to Pence’s case.” Josh Chafetz, a Georgetown University constitutional law professor, supports the argument that Pence may be on to something by observing that “a lot of the action here took place in terms of arguments about how he should rule from the chair.”
But the “action” around this issue was generated by Trump, not by Pence, who consistently resisted the argument that he had any more authority/responsibility on January 6 than opening envelopes and announcing their contents. Such “acts,” even if judged “legislative,” were not likely what the framers had in mind in protecting the legislators from encroachment by the other two branches.
Roy Brownell, former counsel to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that “Pence … could characterize his pre-Jan. 6 conversations with Trump and others as research into how he might rule on matters related to the Electoral College.” True, Pence could try that, but the courts are not bound by claims like that. Pence was researching anything and if he had been, it would certainly not have been by asking Donald Trump whose credentials as an expert on the Constitution are less than zero.
In any event, the question here is not whether some specific aspects of Pence’s conversations were privileged – he is refusing to testify at all, arguing that there is nothing the Special Counsel could legitimately ask him about his knowledge of Trump’s attempt to overthrow the government. That, I suggest, is facially preposterous and inconsistent with extensive case law on the limitations of privilege assertions in all contexts.
As reported elsewhere by Politico,
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the South Carolina Republican’s [Senator Lindsey Graham] claim that he is constitutionally immune from such questioning. Though Graham may not be questioned about any conversations he had in support of his legislative activity, the panel ruled, prosecutors may question him about his “coordination” with the Trump campaign to arrange his calls with Georgia officials, as well as efforts to pressure those officials amid their ongoing audit of Georgia’s presidential election results.
The Supreme Court declined to intervene on Graham’s behalf.
We should also have regard for the literalist interpretation of the Constitution favored by “conservatives” and “originalists.” The Speech & Debate Clause refers expressly to “Senators and Representatives.” The Vice President is neither of those. The fact that he has limited, ministerial duties to perform in the legislative branch every four years does not make him one. He is there as the Vice President, conducting ministerial, non-discretionary acts involving no legislative work.
United Press International reports that Pence said at a campaign rally:
I’m going to fight the Biden DOJ’s subpoena for me to appear before the grand jury because I believe it’s unconstitutional, and it’s unprecedented. No vice president has ever been subject to a subpoena to testify about the president with whom they served. [https://bit.ly/3lC9Co9]
Unprecedented it may be, but no president has ever tried to overthrow the government and reinstall himself despite having lost the election. Arguing the lack of precedent just doesn’t work here.
At the end of the day, what Pence’s position comes down to is this: he is desperate to appease Trump’s loyalist political base and in fact supported Trump’s attempt to overturn the election while cleverly, but rightly, refusing to actively participate in the coup attempt. Pence wants it both ways – no responsibility for the insurrection but avoiding the appearance of attacking Trump, while simultaneously undermining Trump. He hopes Trump’s loyalists will overlook his refusal to play along on January 6 if he appears to defend Trump while not actually defending him.
Pence thinks Trump’s loyalists are a bunch of cultish dopes who will, when push time comes, choose him as Trump’s successor.
Pence is only slightly less a traitor than Trump. Special Counsel Smith is not going to fall for this nonsense and should vigorously contest Pence’s claim to immunity from subpoena by the Grand Jury.
In its continuing quest to out-stupid Fox News, CNN has published a rambling collection of actual and implied attacks on the U.S. government regarding the shooting down of four “things” by U.S. fighter jets under the direction of our Commander in Chief, the President of the United States. https://cnn.it/3lw7wGi
One “thing” has been identified as a Chinese surveillance balloon. The other three remain UFOs. OMG!!!! UFOs! In American airspace. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
The CNN headline says the “trio of new intrusions leaves America’s leaders grasping for explanations.” Grasping. Well, maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, the people we entrust with our safety against foreign forces of darkness and evil have decided it’s smarter to not be talking too much until they know more, by, for example, retrieving and examining the wreckage of these “alien” craft.
But we can clear up a few points right off the bat. If these three UFOs are genuine alien craft, do we really believe it would be so simple a matter as to send up a few fighters to blow them out of the sky? If it is that simple, and they are aliens visiting Earth for surveillance, is this a version of intergalactic “rope-a-dope” in which they let us shoot down these useless devices to “see what we’ve got” while we punch ourselves out” and then they swoop in and take over the planet? Has Marjorie Taylor Greene talked to QAnon and gotten the inside skinny on this, fed it to CNN and, well, go there if you like.
A deepening national security mystery is threatening a political storm after US fighter jets scrambled three days in a row to shoot down a trio of unidentified aerial objects high over the North American continent….the thin details trickling out of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill about are making an already highly unusual international episode even more bizarre and confusing.
Naturally, Republicans are using the situation, CNN calls it “an information vacuum,” to attack President Biden. CNN notes the “intrigue” ,,, unfolding against a tense global situation” which, if given a moment of sober thought, might explain why the administration is reticent to just start throwing around explanations and accusations in an evolving and potentially dangerous situation. Even putative Democrats like Jon Tester of Montana (yes, there) could not contain himself:
The military needs to have a plan to not only determine what’s out there, but (to) determine the dangers that go with it.
Fantastic. Why do we assume our military, the largest and most expensive in the world by far, does not have a plan? Because they aren’t revealing it to the entire world? Is there a coherent military person or other serious thinker who thinks it’s a good idea for the military, faced with a possible threat, to race out with details of its defensive plans so that the party(ies) behind the threat will learn the plan? Anyone think that’s a good idea? Anyone?
Orson Welles, where are you when we need you?
Well, we have CNN:
It’s not normal for Americans to settle down for the Super Bowl with their president firing off orders to blast unknown objects out of the North American sky.
Yes, we certainly don’t want Americans’ Super Bowl experience to be infringed by the War of the Worlds. CNN, always ready to help us understand current events, and undeterred by the possibility of unnerving Super Bowl fans, raises the specter of questions that remain unanswered but loom over us like a brooding omnipresence potentially ready at any moment to destroy the United States or indeed the entire world:
Can you imagine the Republicans’ hysterical reaction if Biden had ordered an immediate take-down and Americans on the ground were hit by debris? And, what if the debris were alien in nature – a virus worse than COVID? Worse than the common cold? OMG!!! Alien debris. Run for your lives!
CNN then reveals that “The political blame game is heating up.” Well, that’s a shock. Can you imagine that Republicans would pass the opportunity to attack the President when matters of national security were at stake? You can’t because they never would.
Republicans, however, don’t really know what they want. GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio (of course) objected on the one hand that the President “didn’t act quickly enough before” while simultaneously claiming the administration was “somewhat trigger-happy.” Then, to round out the complaints, CNN notes that China has claimed the U.S. had been flying “high-altitude balloons into its airspace more than 10 times since January 2022,” a charge the White House denied. [If it were true, do we seriously believe the U.S. would have admitted it?}
Finally, CNN joins the chorus by noting that Biden “has yet to speak to Americans in person about the trio of incidents over the weekend.” And it repeats, in case you forgot it, that Biden is under attack for waiting to shoot down the Chinese balloon while also noting that “New speculation and criticism could be premature as officials work to fully understand the sequence of events and more about the objects.”
On the other hand, CNN notes that It’s possible that “in a unique, fast-moving situation, the government may not know much more than it is saying.” But … “the piecemeal emergence of details is adding to the confusion.” On the other hand, on the other hand….
CNN wraps up with the Republican clincher:
Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana [again] appeared to make a direct link,,, between the Chinese balloon and the latest objects, even if there is no confirmation so far that they are connected.
It doesn’t give me much safe feelings knowing that these devices are smaller,” he said. “I am very concerned with the cumulative data that is being collected. … I need some answers, and the American people need answers.”
I can’t begin to tell you how concerned I am about the anxiety and lack of “safe feelings” being experienced by Republicans because mean old Joe Biden won’t tell them everything they want to know (if he did, they’d attack him for revealing too much).
“Such speculation may be premature, CNN acknowledges, “But fierce political debate over the balloon has clearly changed Biden’s tolerance threshold for unknown aerial objects. It’s now a case of shoot first, investigate later.”
Do you have a coherent idea what that means? In the context of the presence in U.S. airspace of unknown “flying objects,” it is particularly ridiculous. Do we really want the U.S. government to speculate about this situation? Would Republicans rather the U.S. investigate first or shoot first? Doesn’t seem like you can have it both ways.
As for me, we’re making plans to move to Area 51. If this really is aliens, that seems like the safest place to be.
The New York Times published an interesting piece about the Republicans’ unprecedented outbursts during President Biden’s State of the Union address: Heckling of Biden Reflects a New, Coarser Normal for House G.O.P., https://nyti.ms/3Xq479c While it bore similarities to my own comments in The Barbarians Are Inside the Gate, it was a bit too abstract for my taste and replete with “both sides” implications, a now all-too-common trait of main stream media.
But what struck me most were the comments that gleefully recalled the moment when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up Trump’s speech following one of his SOU addresses to Congress. In essence, those comments claimed that the obscene heckling of President Biden was justified by Pelosi’s previous conduct. What’s good for the goose, and all that. Hypocrisy, they say. You can’t have it both ways, they say.
I confess I didn’t read all the 666 comments the Times allowed before closing comments (a curious number, I note in passing – assess as you will), but of those I did read, not one noted the obvious difference between Pelosi’s demonstration of hostility to the then pretend president and the yelling and disruption that occurred during Biden’s speech.
I refer to the obvious fact that when Pelosi tore up Trump’s speech, Trump’s speech was over. He was finished talking. Should Pelosi have waited until Trump departed or until she was in the hall outside or called a press conference later to show her contempt? Maybe. But there is a fundamental difference between her post-speech demonstration and the multiple interruptions and crass behavior during the speech by members of the Republican Party. Her action did not disrupt Trump’s remarks, no matter how distasteful they were to her. The Republicans, on the other hand, did everything they could to disrupt and disorient the President. And they failed.
My final (maybe) observation: the writers at the New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers that still claim to some degree of objectivity in matters political should stop calling these Republican Party louts “conservatives.” There is nothing “conservative” about most of them. They don’t just want less government; they want no government.
Just two days ago, Ted Cruz, officially the U.S. Senator from Texas, tweeted: “Abolish the IRS.” https://bit.ly/3Ih6PtCCruz is not the only Republican to advocate that. You may also recall that many other leading Republicans have advocated abolishing the Department of Education and other federal agencies, including Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) introduced a bill in early 2021 with co-sponsors including (unsurprisingly) Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), to do that very thing.
To be clear, I for one believe the United States Tax Code is a monstrosity. One fine day, I plan to write about it in some detail. But the idea that we can in one swoop “simplify the Code” and then eliminate the IRS while still effectively collecting enough revenue to pay for the U.S. Miliary, among many other federal services that help assure this country’s safety and prosperity, is blatantly stupid.
The National Taxpayer Advocate did a Microsoft Word count of the tax statutes and implementing IRS regulations in 2012 and came up with roughly 4 million words. At roughly 450 words per page, that works out to around 9,000 pages. The National Taxpayer Advocate also noted that the tax code changed 4,680 times from 2001 to 2012, an average of once per day. https://bit.ly/3DYxWa8
That was ten years ago. Most likely the Code is substantially larger today. Much of it is designed, by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, to foster or discourage various forms of economic and other behavior. Changing it to a simpler system whose focus is mainly, if not solely, to fund the government is highly desirable in my view but it’s not something that can be done overnight in a sudden “simplification.” Advocates for that approach are not “conservatives. They are either anarchists or … well, this is a family blog, so I won’t go further.
Suffice to say, the complexities of the Code and its pervasive influence on the conduct of American businesses is such as only a prolonged and careful reexamination has any chance of success. But the Code’s very complexity and influence has spawned entire industries of tax lawyers, tax-specialist accountants, software companies and tax preparers, all of whom have a vested interest in keeping the complexity. And then there are the giant corporations that benefit from manipulating their operations and accounting to pay less tax than the might in another system.
To return to the main point, the Republican Party has become the Party of Grievance. Their appeal to the good old days, when white people ran everything and most things were thought to be cheaper and readily available at all times, those days are gone. Permanently. The Republican Party is the Party of the Past, a past that never really was and that was unsustainable. You may be able to turn back the clock, but you cannot undo time. It moves forward whether your clock, or your mind, keeps up or not. To believe in the past that the Republican Party is selling is to believe in a mirage, a false idol that leads you to your destruction.
The Republicans can yell and scream until the dogs come home. They have nothing constructive to offer the American people or the country. Joe Biden was too gracious, too composed and, in boxing them in on Medicare and Social Security, too clever for the screamers. They won’t learn anything from it. They’re out there every day justifying what they did because Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings. Grievance and more grievance – the Republican Party’s true platform.
The reference is, of course, a play on the title of a famous book and movie about the battle to get control of RJR Nabisco in the late 1980s. Wikipedia tells the story well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RJR_Nabisco The subtitle of this post is: “When They Tell/Show You What They Are, Believe Them.”
The original thought for this post began with the revelation that the Republicans, newly in the House majority, had disbanded the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, reported everywhere at the end of January. But it goes way beyond that.
I refer now to the disgraceful desecration of the Capitol by Republicans during the State of the Union address by President Biden on February 7. Picking up where one of their number yelled “you lie!” at President Obama during a 2009 address to the Congress on health care reform, the Republicans as a group and individually heckled and shouted at President Biden multiple times during his speech. It reminded me of the chaos we sometimes see in foreign legislatures where yelling and disruption are commonplace, where physical violence occurs between disputatious parties. But not here. Not here.
Obviously, no rational person expects the Republicans to agree with much of what Biden proposes. But the State of the Union address is not a place for street rabble to shout down the President. Historically, the displeasure of the party out of power has been adequately demonstrated by their silence when the rest of the Congress applauds usually while standing. It’s a strange ritual, to be sure, but it’s been going on for a long time and everyone understands what the play is.
Until now. The gang of Republican traitors and criminals who helped orchestrate the January 6 attack on the Capitol to try to overturn the 2020 election have turned the State of the Union evening into a circus-like affair. They show no respect for the office of the President, no respect for the sitting President, no respect for each other, and no respect for the American people.
To be clear, this isn’t just about bad manners. This same group is composed of QAnon believers (Marjorie Taylor Greene who shouted “liar” at the President), proponents of automatic weapons everywhere (Lauren Boebert), people whose moral compass has led them repeatedly to deny the reality of what happened on January 6, 2021, and who was responsible (see this video for the reality they continue to deny: https://nyti.ms/3HM77XH). They are the real election thieves, the book burners, the science deniers.
They are led by Donald Trump whose brazen disregard of the law and mores of American society and politics have led him to commit multiple crimes the complete listing of which would fill many pages. He and his sycophantic followers continue to deny the truth about the 2020 election. It was Trump who called the Secretary of State in Georgia to demand that he “find” just enough votes to overturn the will of the people of Georgia. Everyone has heard the tape by now. It was Trump who tried to extort the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of his political opponent. Everyone has read the “transcript” by now.
And yet, and yet, Trump continues to walk free, to continue his false narrative, to continue stealing from his supporters, to continue as the most dishonest, corrupt political leader in modern American times and perhaps at any time in American history. The boorish display by Republicans at the State of the Union is just a symptom of a much greater and more important danger. Democracy itself is on the line.
And yet, and yet, many Republican commentators continue to raise the specter that if Trump is held accountable for his crimes, there will be civil war, or the door will be opened to retribution by the succeeding administrations intent on punishing their predecessors. If that is true, the idea of America as the Founding Fathers envisioned it is indeed already dead.
It doesn’t have to be that way. But those in charge of the many “investigations” must act and act soon and aggressively to change the course, the curse, of events. The evidence of Trump’s crimes is both overwhelming and widely known. His so-called defenses – mainly the ludicrous “lack of intent” claim – are preposterous but whether they are or not is beside the point. If it is true that “no man is above the law,” if it is true that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, then the salvation of American democracy demands that Trump be prosecuted for all his crimes in every legal regime where jurisdiction exists. He can make his defenses there where the rules of law and evidence govern.
I have no better idea what is going on, or not going on, at the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s office than anyone outside the inner sanctums there, but time is running out. The government must act, or it will be destroyed by the fascist proponents of winning at all costs, the believers in “alternative facts” when the truth denies their self-serving goals. Those people have made clear (just look at Kari Lake’s post-election conduct in Arizona and Ron DeSantis’ abuses of government power in Florida), they will stop at nothing to get what they want. The system that made America one of the most important countries in the world is on the line. It’s past time to call the question.
We were privileged last week to tour the People’s House, courtesy of Rep. Don Beyer. While it was sunny, it was probably the second coldest day of the winter so far. But we braved it with a stop at the White House Visitors Center first. There, curiously, we underwent security checks that rival anything you would experience at an airport. Then, at the White House itself, to which we walked on the street unguarded, it was just empty your pockets of metals and step through magnetometer. We were, however, sniffed by a guard dog on the grounds after we entered the final stretch to the main House.
I am delighted to say that the public portions of the White House revealed very little evidence that the Trumps had ever occupied it. Most of the photos and other artwork feature other presidents – you know, the real ones.
The tour surprisingly was self-guided, but people moved along without issue, taking many photos. We too did our share of gawking and photographing. A sample follows. When we moved back outside to leave and turned to photo the portico, who should appear but Senator Tammy Duckworth and an aide, moving fast to escape the cold.
The final charm occurred after we left the grounds. A youngish tourist couple with a child stopped us to ask if we had taken the tour and was it wonderful. We exclaimed about the experience and explained how to get on the list. They remarked how lucky we were to have done this. Indeed.
Long before the final curtain dropped, you could sense what was coming. It was in the tone of the applause that broke out periodically In appreciation of virtuosic solo performances, not unlike the applause of knowledgeable jazz audiences for solos in the middle of longer pieces.
Last evening, we were privileged to witness the stunning performance of Giselle by the United Ukrainian Ballet company in its United States premiere. The core story, set in medieval times, is simple enough. A peasant girl with a weak heart is fooled by a desirous nobleman passing himself off as an ordinary man. The man is already engaged to marry the daughter of the Prince. A woodsman, also smitten by Giselle, discovers the nobleman’s sword and reveals his identity to Giselle. The girl cannot believe the revelation at first but, as the truth sinks in, she descends into despair and dances herself to death as her heart gives out.
In Act Two, the nobleman finds Giselle’s grave in the woods. He too is in despair at the loss of his love. The Wilis then appear, all in white. They are apparitions of girls who have died when betrayed by their lovers on the eve of their weddings.Any man caught by them between midnight and dawn will be forced to dance until he dies. Giselle is now one of them, but she saves the nobleman, whom she still loves, by delaying his death until sunrise forces the Wilis to withdraw. She, of course, disappears with them.
Last night, Giselle’s (Iriyna Zhalovska) descent from joyous dancing maiden into overwhelming grief was portrayed with astonishing changes in her appearance and demeanor as she danced furiously in the growing realization that she had been betrayed. The stage presence of Kateryna Derechnya was stunning as the cold-hearted Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. The corps de ballet created a perfect illusion of joyous country dancing in the village and later as the ethereal and intimidating Wilis.
As said at the beginning of this post, the momentum to inevitable conclusion grew as the ballet unfolded. When the curtain fell, there was a short period of silent anticipation. When it rose again, the audience went crazy, immediately on their feet, yelling, whistling, and applauding with enthusiasm appropriate to the remarkable performance we had seen.
First on stage were the two principals. They produced a now familiar blue and gold Ukrainian flag. Then as the entire cast and crew assembled on stage, there was mostly silent respect as they dancers and crew sang, hands on hearts, the Ukrainian national anthem. One of the flags they held had writing on it: Make Dance Not War. When they finished, more extravagant applause.
Tragically, the genocidal attack by Russia on Ukraine continues. The appearance of the United Ukrainian Ballet company in Washington is nothing short of a miracle. You can, for a short time, read about the company and its dancers, its history, and their extraordinary survival story here: https://bit.ly/3YlIhEP Don’t skip over the “Message from the Producers” that tells the story of the company’s escape from the Russian attack.
Other reviews are here: https://unitedukrainianballet.com/press/ Unfortunately, by the time you read this, there likely will be only one performance remaining at the Kennedy Center and it is, I am happy to note, Sold Out, as well it should be.
I have not found a list of future performances but surely there will be more. If you can, don’t miss it. It may break your heart as it did Giselle’s, but you will be better for it.